Esperanto
Author: David Poulson


La Kolosa Diletanto

Author: David Poulson
Published on: May 28, 1999

Sed mi neniam volis esti bardo
kaj se en mia koro estis ardo,
g^i estis por la lingvo: mi g^in volis prepari, perfektigi, por genio post mi venonta.

But I never wanted to be a poet,
and if in my heart there was enthusiasm,
it was for the language: I wanted
to prepare and perfect it for a genius who would come after me.

From: Jubilea Letero al Julio Baghy.

How ironic and characteristic that Kalocsay, the enigmatic rascal, should make such a claim in a poem! And yet there is definitely some truth in the statement.

"La Kolosa Diletanto," as Reto Rossetti once described him, was only one of many people who have been absolutely delighted with and captivated by the International Language of Dr Ludovic Zamenhof. Even to the extent of making it his first literary language. And, as we learned from the previous article, Kalocsay's achievements in the linguistic field were truly impressive and of great importance to the development of the language.

However, it has been said - and said so many times by so many outstanding Esperanto writers that it must be believed - that the greatest contribution that Kalocsay made to Esperanto was contained in the aggregate of his poetry. And, since the greatest volume of that work was translation, the question now needs to be asked: "Why, did Kalocsay choose to expend his considerable talent and his very limited time translating other people's poetry rather than writing original works of his own?" He was, undoubtedly, a fine poet. Of a special kind. Here is what Reto Rossetti has to say about it:

"A poet is born, not made, it is said. But, in fact, both kinds exist: Baghy was the first kind and Kalocsay the second...But nobody has yet proved to my satisfaction that the first kind is, poetically speaking, superior to the second...Kalocsay, essentially an artist of language, put on seven-league boots to make himself a poet, and even believed that other people could do the same, by following his example."

Well, in fact, the question relating to the predominance of translations among his work was asked of Kalocsay when he was 80 years old and his answer is so interesting and raises so many questions about literature in general, that I will provide it in full. Kalocsay's mastery of Esperanto combined with his eloquence is such that I cannot possible give a close, literal translation into English. What follows is more of a paraphrase, or interpretation than an exact translation. But I have tried to remain faithful to the sense of what Kalocsay said. Here are the reasons he gave.

1. The Zamenhof tradition of poetry dealing with Esperantist patriotism (ie poems dealing with the aspirations and ideals of the Esperanto movement) was irreversibly out-moded. (Ie, by the mid 1920's).

2. Something was missing - if not always, then frequently and regularly. And that was the external stimulation, the echo, the mutual vibration set up between the singer and his audience, without which the strings become rusty. (I take this to mean that Kalocsay missed a sufficent response to his poetry from a sufficiently well-informed and receptive readership with a sufficent mastery of Esperanto to appreciate and react to original works.)

3. Poetry as a whole has become unfashionable in Esperanto-land. (The fact that a second edition of William Auld's La Infana Raso appeared only (!) 15 years after the first, is considered to be an outstanding success).

4. Poetry, considered as a literary genre, is itself in crisis. Rhythm and rhyme are regarded as ridiculous and tawdry ornaments; personal lyricism is excommunicated; the noses of critics wrinkle in disgust if they detect the whiff of a theme or even - God forbid! - any sense in a poem.

5. Until I was an old man, I worked in a non-literary profession (as a specialist in a hospital for the treatment of infectious diseases and as a teacher of medicine at the University of Budapest). It was, therefore, easier for me to devote certain times of the day to quick excursions into the world of Dante, or Baudelaire, or Shakespeare, than it was for me to drown myself in the profound introspection necessary for the creation of original poetry.

6. I developed for myself a poetic language which allowed me to interpret, precisely and faithfully, thought and feeling, even when expressed in complicated and technically difficult forms. It would have been senseless if instead of using this instrument to translate masterpieces, I had used it to create original poetry which, conforming to the dictates of modern taste, was most carefully crafted to be incomprehensible!

7. I already said that I regard translation as very important. The Esperanto of the future must be prepared by producing the best possible translations of literary masterpieces.

Well there you are! Food for thought, I hope you agree!

Next I want to tell you just what Kalocsay did say about the importance of translation. And then I'll tell you how his heroic labours in that field transformed the Esperanto language. However, this article is already well past the 800-word mark so I'm going have to leave all of that until next time.

In the meantime, here is a link to a good and extensive collection of Kalocsay's poetry.
Esperanto-speakers, be sure to check it out! Non-Esperanto-speakers...why not have a look anyway (it's only part of a really marvellous web site of Esperanto resources) and feel free to start a discussion about this article.

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