The rhythm of Pilinszky’s “Keringő” (“Waltz”)

When I started setting Pilinszky’s six-line poem “Keringő” to music, I tried at first to make it waltz-like, but quickly found that the poem resisted this. So instead I followed the poem’s own rhythm, as I heard it. One line kept tripping me up, because it has a rhythm of its own: “szemközt a leáldozó nappal” (“across from the sacrificing sun”). I realized that I could make this a transition into a waltz, and from there a waltz rhythm would prevail. I don’t know how this sounds to a Hungarian ear, but to me this changing rhythm also works with the meaning of the poem. Only the last line of the poem really sounds like a waltz, but then the music keeps on going for a little while.

Pilinszky János, “Keringő”

A zongorát befutja a borostyán,
s a gyerekkori ház falát
szétmállasztja a naplemente.

És mégis, mégis szakadatlanúl
szemközt a leáldozó nappal
mindaz, mi elmúlt, halhatatlan.

In my rough translation, with some minor liberties:

János Pilinszky, “Waltz”

The piano is entangled by the vine
and the setting sun crumbles
the wall of the childhood house.

And yet, and yet, without fail,
across from the sacrificing sun,
all that is past is immortal.

I spent most of the day recording it, but it is still a draft. I now have seven musical renditions of Pilinszky and plan to re-record them all, maybe with a few others. My renditions of “Metronóm” and “A tengerpartra” are also on YouTube (in draft form); I think this is the best of the three, but all three will be better over time.

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  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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