The Message in the Bottle

Frigyes Karinthy

      (The poet is asked why he no longer writes poems.)
(A few lines illegible, then . . .)

. . . my fingers
are frozen. This bottle in my left. The right
holds the joystick. It has grown very stiff.
Thick ice on the wings. I donít
know whether the engine can take it. Queer
snoring noises it makes, in here. It's terribly cold.
I donít know how high I am
(or how deep? or how far?).
Nearness and distance, all empty. And all
my instruments are frozen. The scales
of Lessing and the compressometer of the Academy;
the Marinetti altimeter, too. I think
I must be high enough because the penguins
no longer lift their heads as my propeller
drones above them, cutting across
the Northern Lights. They no longer hear me. Here are
no signs to see. Down there some rocky land. New land?
Unknown? Ever explored before? By whom? Perhaps
by Scott? Strindberg? Byron, Leopardi?
I donít know. And I confess
I donít care. Iím cold, the taste
of this thin air is bitter, horribly bitter . . .
Perhaps my nose has started to bleed.
Iím hungry . . . Iíve eaten all my biscuits.
Some unknown star is blinking
at the point where I gaze. The pemmican
has gone maggoty. What star can that be?
Perhaps already . . . from the Beyond? . . . What is the date?
Wednesday? Thursday? Or New Yearís Eve? Around
the homely hearth who sits now? Little brothers,
singing birds,
beside the anxiously guarded hearth
of petty feelings; brother birds, in the depths
of the human heartís jungle . . . Hullo! hullo!
Does no one hear this exiled fellow-crow, myself?
A little while ago
something crackled through the rusty antenna of my radio . . .
I hear that Mr. D has found a fine adjective
in Banality Harbour,
while C has discovered a new metaphor
between two rhymes in Love Canal.
The Society reports it. Congratulations!
Iíll . . . tell you all . . . that I . . .
. . . when I get home. . . and land . . .
. . . all that I . . . felt here . . . only when †
he escapes . . . can . . . the traveller . . . relate it . . .
But does he ever escape to return?
Now I put these few confused lines
into the empty wine bottle
and drop it through the hatch. Like rolling dice!
If an uncouth pearl-diver finds it, let him
throw it away, a broken oyster,
but should a literate sailor find it,
I send the message through him:

Here I am, at the Thirteenth Latitude of Desolation,
the Hundredth Longitude of Shame,
the Utmost Altitude of teeth-gnashing Defiance,
somewhere far out, at the point of the Ultimate,
and I still wonder whether it is possible to go any farther . . .

trans. Paul Tabori

SOURCE: Karinthy, Frigyes. “The Message in the Bottle,” translated by Paul Tabori (1964), in Voyage to Faremido. Capillaria; introduced and translated by Paul Tabori (Budapest: Corvina Press, 1965; New York: Living Books, 1966), p. xiii-xv.

to Frigyes Karinthy’s Voyage to Faremido & Capillaria
by Paul Tabori

Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English

Frigyes (Frederiko) Karinthy (1887-1938) en Esperanto

Futurology, Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation
in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
Select Bibliography

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