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Wed, Nov 14, 2018
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Seeing ***Stars***!

Erika Papp Faber

In times gone by, sweethearts in Hungary would often choose a star as THEIR special one. Memorialized by Petőfi in his poem ”The Four-Ox Cart” (A négy-ökrös szekér), he explained this custom in the last stanza, (as translated by Watson Kirkconnell):

„Ne válasszunk magunknak csillagot?”
Szólék én ábrándozva Erzsikéhez,
„A csillag vissza fog vezetni majd
A múlt időknek boldog emlékéhez,
Ha elszakaszt a sors egymástul minket.”
S választottunk magunknak csillagot...
”If we should choose a star,” I whispered on,
To little Erzsébet, ”the star some day,
If destiny should separate us two,
Will serve to lead us back, where’er we stray,
To a remembrance of the happiest time.”
And she was willing, and we chose a star... 

In folk songs, this same custom may appear with a different twist, when stars are regarded as mediators of messages.  Here is the wartime ditty ”Jóska lelkem, én édes vitézem”, which speaks of using the stars as a means of communication (Send me word too over the starry sky):

  Jóska lelkem, én édes vitézem!   Jóska, my soul (sweetheart), my dear brave warrior!
  Hogyha levelem majd megkapod,   When you receive my letter,
  gondolj csak az itthoni vidékre,   think of these home surroundings, 
  s megtalálod azt a csillagot.   and you’ll find that star.
  Üzenj te is nekem,   Send me word too
  a csillagos egen,   over the starry sky,
  hogy visszajössz    that you’ll return 
  majd győztesen.   victorious.
  És meghallod ismét    And you’ll hear once again
  szívem boldog dalát,   the happy song of my heart,
  hogy vár rád a sírig    that as far as the grave,
  hűséges Pannikád.    your faithful Annie awaits you

In the Transylvanian poet Reményik Sándor’s ”Magyars, everywhere ...” (Magyarok, mindenütt...), the stars also serve as an imaginary ”mail service” to transmit news among family members separated by the Treaty of Trianon, and he urges them all to ”gaze steadily at the same star”:


 ... Magyarok, mindenütt a végeken,  ... Magyars, in the borderlands everywhere,
  Posta nem jár a téli éjeken,   No mail goes through on cold winter nights there.
  Levél nem száll kedvestől kedvesig,   No letters from sweetheart to sweetheart fly,
  Ércdrótok a hírt nem rezegtetik:   No news the metal wires electrify:
  Élünk-e még, vagy sírban pihenünk? –   Are we alive, or in the world beyond?
  Csak a csillagos ég közös velünk.   Only the starry sky’s our common bond.
  Az ezerévnél ősibb csillagok,   The stars more ancient than our thousand years,
  Mint Etelközben, fényök úgy ragyog.   As in Etelköz¹, their light still appears. 
  Fenn a Fiastyúk őrzi fiait;   The Brooding Hen² above guards its young chicks, 
  Mi nagybeteg anyánk virrasztjuk itt.   We’re staying up with Mom who’s very sick.
  Magyarok, kiknek nincsen vértetek,   Magyars, who have no armor for defense, 
  A csillagokra gyakran nézzetek!   Look often at the stars with confidence!
  Egy csillagra nézzünk mi mind, merőn,   Let’s all gaze steadily at the same star,
  Keleten, délen, völgyben, bérctetőn,   East or south, in vale or peak afar.
  És érezze, ki rokonához vágyik:   Let those who yearn to be with their kin, know:
  Ezer mérföldről azt nézi a másik.   A thousand miles away they too watch so. 
  Ha elvész, összeomlik itt a hon:   Should our homeland here be lost in defeat, 
  Találkozunk azon a csillagon.   On that very star once again we’ll meet. 

[1] Etelköz, located on the northwestern shores of the Black Sea, was the last of the ”original homes” of the Hungarians before settling in the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century.

[2] ”Brooding Hen” is the Hungarian term for the Pleiades.

Of course, stars were also used to indicate time. As in the folk song ”Este van már, csillag van az égen” (It’s already evening, stars are in the sky), or in the pop tune ”Legyen a Horváth kertben Budán”:

  Legyen a Horváth kertben Budán,   Be at the Horváth kert in Buda,
  szombaton este fél nyolc után,   Saturday evening after half past seven,
  mikor az első csillag kigyúl,   when the first star lights up, 
  kicsi kis babám hozzám simul...   my little sweetheart snuggles up to me…

In the folk song ”Októbernek elsején” (On the first of October), the second stanza describes the young man’s determination to remain a soldier ”mig az égen egy ragyogó csillag lesz” – as long as there remains one shining star in the sky!  So stars were also regarded as being a sign of permanence.

As man’s original GPS, the stars are also mentioned in folk songs to indicate direction.  There is a very poignant song dating from World War I, from the Isonzo area, one of the bloodiest battlefields of that war, where 200,000 Hungarians and 300,000 Italians lost their lives in 11 battles fought over a period of two and a half years.  Entitled ”Kimegyek a doberdói harctérre” – I go out to the battlefield of Doberdó –  the singer looks at the ”great starry sky” and asks: ”Csillagos ég, merre van a magyar hazám, merre sirat engem az édesanyám?” (Starry sky, which way is my Hungarian homeland, where is my mother mourning for me?)

In a happier vein, there is the folk song

  Csillagok, csillagok,    Stars, stars,
  szépen ragyogjatok!    shine nicely!
  Ennek a legénynek   Show this lad 
  utat mutassatok.   the way.
  Mutassatok utat   Show the way
  ennek a legénynek,   for this lad,
  nem találja házát   He can’t find the house
  a szeretőjének.   of his lover.

The stars above are also called on to witness happiness and unhappiness: 

  Nincsen annyi tenger csillag az égen,   There aren’t as many (lit.oceans of) stars in the sky,
  mint ahányszor eszembe jutsz te nékem. as how often you come to my mind.
  Ha te engem úgy igazán szeretnél,   If you really, truly loved me,
  mélyebb lenne, nagyobb lenne   our love would be deeper,
  szerelmünk a tengernél.   greater than the ocean.

And then there is:

  Sűrű csillag ritkán ragyog az égen.   Close-set stars shine rarely in the sky.
  Az én rózsám szénát kaszál a réten.   My sweetheart is mowing hay in the meadow.
  Olyan szépen      He is making his scythe 
  penge-, penge-, pengeti a kaszáját,   ring, ring, ring so prettily,
  oda várja búbánatos babáját.   he is waiting for his sad sweetheart (to come) there. 

After recounting with what difficulty his mother had raised him, spinning by night and doing laundry by day, this singer relates:

  Mikor mentem hazafelé,   As I was going homeward,
  megnyílt az ég három felé.   the sky opened up three ways.
  Ragyogtak rám a csillagok,   The stars shone on me
  mert tudták, hogy árva vagyok.   because they knew I am an orphan. 

The Big Dipper is called ”Göncöl szekere”, Göncöl’s wagon, the stuff of national myths. Among the nomadic Hungarians who entered the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century, Göncöl was believed to have been a very wise and benevolent shaman, who could speak with the animals and trees and went about helping people and healing their ills.  Once, his wagon pole  broke, and he asked for help, but the very people whom he had helped earlier would not help him in his need.  So he whipped his horses and with his wagon flew up to the sky where his wagon with its broken pole may still be seen. 

In this following song, Göncöl’s wagon is invoked just as a starting point, drawing a parallel – seven stars, seven lovers – a very typical device used in Hungarian folk songs. 

  Hét csillagból van a Göncöl szekere.   Seven stars make up Göncöl’s wagon.
  Hét szeretőm  is volt nékem egyszerre.   Seven lovers I also had at the same time.
  A hét közül hűséges csak egy maradt,   Of the seven only one remained faithful (!),
  az is nyugszik temetőben,    and that one is resting in the cemetery,  
  egy virágos hant alatt.   under a flowery grave.

The Milky Way (Tejút) is also called Hadak útja – the Road of the Troops. That name is derived from another legend: When Prince Csaba, son of Attila, was about to die, he told his Székely people that if they were in trouble, they should send him word by fire, water, wind or even the earth, and he would return to help them.  The Székelys were in fact attacked and in dire straits numerous times, but when they sent word by wind or flood or storm and lightning, so the legend goes, he returned to help.  

The last time,  years after King Csaba and his warriors had died, the Székelys were once more attacked.  A fierce battle raged, and went on for a week.  The Székely horses were pounding the ground, sending an S.O.S.  And sure enough, Csaba returned with his troops, this time with his ”ghost riders in the sky”.  They helped defeat the enemy, and then returned the way they came, their horses’ hooves leaving a visible ”starry path”, the Milky Way. This is referred to in the Székely anthem, which asks King Csaba to lead his people once again to victory over the ”path of stars” (csillagösvényen).

Hungarians scattered throughout the world can apply to themselves the words of Reményik Sándor: ”Magyars, in the borderlands everywhere ... Look often at the stars in confidence! ...To unite us all, nothing else remains But the stars above twinkling in the night.”  


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