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from the August 2010 issue

Blessed Margaret

Translator’s Note: Daughter of King Béla of Hungary and his wife Maria Laskaris, Princess Margaret (1242–70) was pledged to the Church by her father if the country survived the Mongolian invasion. Margaret entered a Dominican convent at the age of three, and at the age of ten entered a convent on the island on the Danube between Pest-Buda that now bears her name. Here she was soon revered for her humility, renunciation, and good works, which later became the stuff of numerous folk tales, including one subsequently edited for the press by folklorist Elek Benedek (see Stanza 14.). In 1276 the Church declared her blessed and in 1943 a saint.

Once upon a time
there was a little princess,
and her name was Margaret.

But it’s not true that she was blessed,
that’d be a lie, because to be perfectly frank, she was just as unhappy
as her mommy.

She was, come to think of it,
even more unhappy,
because she’d keep looking out for the flowers of the field
and the birds of the air,
and not her own interests.

And to make things worse, she loved every sweet little creature
with all her heart,
even the big bad wolf
and the common pelican,
and even the serfs
with the most brutal souls,
because she thought,
poor things, what are they
if not creatures of the present political system,
just like the lamb.

And she was not covetous,
and she was not haughty,
and not even on a bet
would she act bumptious.

And no matter what, she wasn’t the least inclined
to drive her father to an early grave,
and for instance, instead of saying to him,
“old King Cole was a merry old arse,
a merry old arse was he,”
she always called him
“Daddy” instead.

And she never asked for a surprise present,
neither a moon probe,
nor a pair of woolen baby boots,
just a bit of attention,
because she knew
that you could always wrap it up again
and give it to somebody else.

In fact,
sometimes she was so niggardly with herself,
she even begrudged herself the time for the most innocent things,
and, for instance, when her girlfriends rang upstairs,
telling her to join them in a game of tar and feathers,
or burning at the stake,
or breaking on the wheel,
she would call from her window
that she was not about to go.

She preferred to stay home and sigh,
and look anemic,
and helpless,
and in what time she still had at her disposal,
would chat withthe servants of the palace,
to learn about their problems.

This is how she whiled away the days, the weeks, the months,
et cetera, et cetera
until one day, in the wake of a friendly family bloodbath
scarcely documented
from a national characterological point of view,
she suddenly decided
she wouldn’t like to escalate the fun,
but learn a bit of humanity instead,
and give away everything she had to everybody.

And the next day she was as good as her word,
and she discarded Attila the Hun’s CD collection,
and her Marco Polo sunglasses,
and Ghenghis Khan’s rubber flip-flops,
and she took leave of her parents,
which is not what they had agreed on at all.

And she boarded the tram headed for Margaret Island,
to live there.

But whether she actually got off at the Island,
or whether she did not,
I have no way of knowing.

Because from this point on I know only
what I myself heard from others,
Uncle Elek Benedek
for instance,
the gist of which is that Blessed Margaret,
this truly capable
but fanciful princess,
gave no indication, either then or later,
that in the interest of certain crown estates
in north-west-south-east Ossetia,
and also in the hopes of acquiring other objects of fabulous value,
she had the slightest intention of entering into dynastic relations
with her cousin,
as a result of which, for many centuries
she continued sitting under the oaks
in her one and only favorite porcupine jacket,

what I mean is, not under the oaks,
but on the contrary, in a cozy little nook
in the underpass of the Nagyvárad Square Metro station
set up by the authorities
for the homeless
and other types of social riffraff,
holding in one hand The Book of Life,
and in the other
the rising,
though unfortunately, later always setting Sun,
when suddenly she had a thought
you won’t find even in the most affecting Hungarian folk tales.

Because, to make a long story short,
she gave something
to every one of her dear disreputable friends.

To one extremely lumpen-looking
expectant young woman, for instance, she gave
the best-endowed counties of Transdanubia,

and to the Devil’s shabby drinking pal
the palace of the Stock Exchange
just undergoing reconstruction,

and to a guy looking like the law was after him
she gave Pest,

and to some other homeless sorts,
she gave Buda,

and a good-for-nothing work-shy truant
who went by the name of Nick
all the riches of the world,
plus the Mátra Mountains,
plus the Fátra Mountains,

plus Lake Balaton,
plus a front-loading cell phone
with double air bags
and three masts.

(And her accumulated stores of medicine, for instance,
she gave to the starving masses of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county.)

And then she just lived from hand to mouth,
gave out tea
and wore cardboard,
offered comfort to those about to die,
the lame, for instance, and the paralyzed,
and those with diplomas in metallurgy,
saying, don’t worry, be happy.

And she even gave the little ones
a wing or leg,
though they spit it out
and made faces
and whined
that this was a twice-chewed bone.

And before long, things came to a pass
where she slept, basically night and day, in one bed with the enemy,
which is as good as inflammation of the ovaries,
not to mention the fact
that the insurance companies frown on such things.

The end, of course,
was predictable,
to wit, that she even gave away her last one hundred forints,
whereas nobody even wanted it.

But the King of Kings
she gave nothing.

And she gave nothing to the Good Lord either.

She figured that
they already had enough.

And the funny thing is,
she was right,

because they really had.

Translation of “Boldog Margit.” First published 2003 in Másmilyen mesék, Magvető.Copyright Virág Erdős. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2010 by Judith Sollosy. All rights reserved.

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