From Shakespeare to Babits to Kisköre and Back

Over the past months I have been working with the Verseghy Ferenc Könyvtár, students, and colleagues to put out a video that shows what we have in mind for next year’s Shakespeare festival. Hours of gathering, editing, subtitling, testing, rebuilding, consulting…. and the video came out yesterday! Eight students contributed home-recorded Shakespeare performances (of two sonnets, the song “Sigh No More” from Much Ado About Nothing, and monologues or scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Othello). There are also a few words from László Molnár, the principal of Varga and from Zsuzsanna Kovácsné Boross, the drama teacher (and teacher of history and Hungarian language and literature). After that, there’s a special contribution by the library: an introduction by Katalin Cserfalvi, a short Shakespeare lecture by ELTE student Györgyi Kovács, and a tour of the library by the library’s director, Katalin Czakóné Gacov. Here it is. Just one important correction: the performer of Bottom’s and Hamlet’s monologues should appear as László Korpás, not Kovács or Korpács. The unfortunate mistake was mine—a result of spending too many hours on the video and not seeing it with fresh eyes. László Kovács is another of my students, and Korpács, though not the same as Korpás, is an actual last name. Well, maybe this is in the spirit of Shakespeare; Györgyi Kovács (yes, Kovács) says of him in her lecture, “His name was spelled in more than eighty ways; even in his own signature, he spelled it differently.”

I was actually pretty tired by the weekend, because in addition to the video, so much has been going on. But I managed to get a new bike on Friday, and made plans to go on a long ride on the birthday itself. On Saturday, after the Shacharit service that I led, Szim Salom honored my birthday in a sweet and heartfelt way; later I also received messages from individuals and from the Szim Salom community as a whole. One person had picked out a Mihály Babits quote for me (from his poem “A második ének“):

Mindenik embernek a lelkében dal van
és a saját lelkét hallja minden dalban.

Everyone has a song in his soul
and hears his own soul in every song.

The verse continues:

És akinek szép a lelkében az ének,
az hallja a mások énekét is szépnek.

And whoever’s soul has beautiful singing,
that one will hear others’ singing as beautiful.

And it actually begins with this:

Megmondom a titkát, édesem a dalnak:
Önmagát hallgatja, aki dalra hallgat.

Sweetheart, I will tell you the secret of song.
Whoever listens to a song hears himself.

So, to put it all together:

Sweetheart, I will tell you the secret of song.
To listen to a song is to hear yourself.
Everyone has a song in his soul
and hears his own soul in every song.
And if your soul has beautiful singing,
you will hear others’ singing as beautiful.

A great birthday gift, if you ask me.

So I took off for Kisköre a little after 10 a.m. on Sunday. I had hoped to go all the way to Tiszafüred but knew it would be tight, since the last train that would get me home before curfew left at 4:15. The day was clear and breezy, perfect for a ride, except that it got quite windy in the middle, and I was slowed down.

Anyway, I saw the Racka sheep near Nagykörű—they’re always there grazing by the side of the bike path. There were some little ones, as I expected there would be.

Nagykörű was in bloom. In a month or so, the cherry trees will be filled with fruit.

I passed by this beautiful little church in Tiszasüly, which I have passed by several times before:

and went on and on. Now it started getting windy, with storm clouds in the distance. But over the whole ride, I only felt a few drops of rain.

The ride was longer than I had remembered before, because of the wind. I thought I might have taken a detour, but then I saw the familiar landmark, which meant I was closer (though not close) to Kisköre.

Then, at long last, arrived in Kisköre! But here the indecision set in. I had hoped to make it at least to Abádszalók and take the train back from there. But there was no way I would make it in time for the last train to arrive back in Szolnok before curfew. In fact, I had missed the last Kisköre train that would get me back before curfew. At a bit of a loss, I biked around a little and came upon the park with a fountain:

I went to the train station, which was closed, and sat on the steps in the back, by the tracks. The next train would get me back to Szolnok, but only at 11:30 p.m., with two transfers along the way (and not really along the way—way out of the way, first in Kál-Kápolna, then in Hatvan). Curfew (part of the Covid regulations) is at 10 p.m., so I wasn’t even sure there would be a train. I thought of ordering a cab, which would be expensive, but maybe worth it. I called one cab company; they said they couldn’t transport a bike. I called another; he thought I wanted him to take me home from the Szolnok train station. When I explained the situation more clearly, he seemed confident that the trains would be running, but welcomed me to call him if I ran into any trouble.

Then it started occurring to me that everything would be fine. I sat and waited for the train. That was actually one of the best parts of the day; the train station was lovely and quiet, except for the breeze in the trees and one worker mulling around. I just listened to the breeze and watched the changing colors. Two dogs came by. The first one tried to pretend to bark at me, but wasn’t convincing; it was more of a half-hearted “grumph” that he kept letting out. The other one, a puppy, came over to say hello.

At last the train came, and the three segments of the ride back home went without a hitch. I might have been the only passenger on two of the three trains, but no one asked me why I was riding so late; the conductors accepted my ticket, and the trains themselves were running just fine, drifting dreamily through towns. Even when I got back to Szolnok, there were no police waiting at the station. I biked home on deserted streets, fed the leaping cats, sat down at the computer for a few minutes to view the streams of birthday wishes, and went to sleep.

And so, to come back to Shakespeare, I end with Sonnet 27:

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts–from far where I abide–
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

The photo at the top is from my students’ June 2019 performance of scenes from Hamlet at the Verseghy Ferenc Könyvtár.

Babits and Beyond

IMG_9536

Today, for the first time in months, I visited my favorite bookstore in Szolnok, the Szkítia-Avantgard Könyvesbolt és Antikvárium. I walked out with an armful of books: some literature textbooks (I want to understand better what students are reading in literature class and what they are learning about these works), a volume of Mihály Babits’s poems, and a big, thick book of Hungarian folk and historical songs.

I first opened up the Babits to p. 48, “Egy szomorú vers” (A Plaintive Poem), narrated by a poet with no friends, which amazed me when I got to here:

barangoló borongó,
ki bamba bún borong,
borzongó bús bolyongó,
baráttalan bolond.

which looks like nonsense syllables, but it isn’t–this not only means something in Hungarian, but makes sense in context. Still, it sounds almost like nonsense, and that brings the loneliness home, because when you’re at the extremes of loneliness, even your own words feel foreign. I have not yet read anything like this in Hungarian, and I see, looking through the rest of the volume, that Babits often plays with words and sounds.

This is the first weekend in months where I haven’t been in the midst of intense preparations- I have much to do–the trip to Dallas is just two weeks away, and I have some other projects–but things are in good shape.

It all came together–Rosh Hashanah, the ALSCW Conference, and Yom Kippur–but I know I took on too much. Even before the conference, before Rosh Hashanah, I had felt a slight sore throat, but I thought I had overcome it, and the conference itself was thrilling. Yet during my flight back to Hungary on Sunday night (with a transfer in Istanbul), I started feeling distinctly sick. This affected my voice badly at the Kol Nidre service on Tuesday evening, which I was co-leading with the rabbi and another lay cantor. By the morning of Yom Kippur, though, I was already a bit better, and halfway into the morning service I had come back into full swing. (The rabbi led most of the morning service so that I could give my voice a break, but it became clear that I could re-enter without qualms.) Shacharit, Mazkir, the afternoon shiur–things became fuller and fuller, and at the end of the day, in the Neilah service, when we all gathered in a circle and sang “El Nora Alilah,” I knew that we had built something together.

My colleagues at school were helpful and kind–those who covered my classes on the days that I was gone, those who asked how everything went, and others too.

I have more thoughts about all of this than I could put down here, or that I even want to put down–but I learned and thought a lot over these past two weeks. More thinking lies ahead, and more learning, and some rest.

  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

  • Always Different

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    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 February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish 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.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    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.

  • ABOUT THIS BLOG

    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.

  • Recent Posts

  • ARCHIVES

  • Categories