The Tragedy of Man

Imre Madách

Translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes
Introduction by George F. Cushing; illustrations by Mihály Zichy



In space. A segment of the Earth is seen in the distance, growing ever smaller,

until it seems as distant as a star, indistinguishable from the others. The scene

begins in a twilight grey, which slowly darkens to pitch black. ADAM is a very

old man. He and LUCIFER are flying through space.




How furiously we have flown. Where are we?




Did you not wish to rise above the earth

To higher spheres, where, if I understood you

Quite correctly, you have heard the cries

Of fellow spirits?




                                That is true, but I

Never imagined the way to be so barren.

This world is all so alien and deserted

That to trespass in it seems a sacrilege,

And I am subject to an inner conflict:

I feel the meanness of an Earth that bound

My aspirations, and long to break its hold,

And yet I’m homesick, breaking free is painful. —

Ah Lucifer! Just look back at our planet,

The flowers were first to vanish from our sight,

And then the trembling branches of the forests;

Our well-known haunts, a hundred favourite nooks

Have levelled down, become a featureless plain.

Whatever thrilled us has been washed away.

Now even the cliffs have shrunk to useless clods,

The thunder-bellied cloud which terrifies

Peasants below, who take it for a portent,

Has thinned to a poor drifting shred of vapour.

The endless grumbling ocean—where is that?

It sits there Eke a grey patch on the face

Of one poor planet lost among the others,

And this was once the whole wide world to us.

Oh Lucifer! And then there’s her, yes her —

Must she remain below, so far from us?




Unfortunately, from this eminence

First the beautiful, and then the noble

And the powerful all fade away, until

Nothing’s left but a series of cold figures. —




We’re leaving the very stars behind us now,

I see no end, I feel no obstacle.

What’s life without the striving and the passion?

This deep cold terrifies me, Lucifer!




If this is the limit of your vaunted courage

We should return to playing in the dust.




Who said it was? No, forward, let's go forward:

It only hurts until the ties are broken,

Each web of rope that holds me to the earth. —

But what is this? I find it hard to breathe, 

I’ve little strength, my thoughts are all confused.

The tale that tells how Antaeus could survive

Only until his feet still touched the ground —

Was it more than legend?




                                             More indeed.

You know me well, the Spirit of the Earth,

It is only I that breathe in you, remember.

Here is the border, the limit of my power,

If you return you live—go on, you perish,

You squirm and wriggle like a worm in water —

That puddle is the whole wide world to you.




Then I defy you, you have failed to scare me. —

My body may be yours, my soul is mine,

The power of thought and truth is infinite,

And came before this material world of yours.




Vain man! Attempt it, what a fall awaits you.

Did her fragrance anticipate the rose,

The form the body, the ray of light the sun?

If only you could see your orphaned spirit

Circling through the endlessness of space,

Seeking vainly for a shred of meaning

Or expression in an alien universe,

But understanding nothing, feeling nothing,

You would shudder. And that is because each sense,

Each single feeling you possess is only

An emanation of this core or matter

Which you have called your Earth, which were it different,

Neither you nor it would have existed.

All your ideas of fair or foul, of blessed

Or cursed, you have gleaned from me alone,

It is my soul that permeates the fabric

Of your little world. Oh, what passes here

For eternal truth might be incredible

Elsewhere and the impossible seem natural.

No gravity exists, life does not move,

What here is air might very well be thought,

What here is light might over there be sound,

A plant-like growth here, there might be a crystal.




You cannot shake me, my spirit will press on.




Adam, Adam, you have but a few minutes:

Go back, on Earth you might achieve true greatness,

But once you have forced your spirit through the ring

Of all existence, God will not permit you

To approach Him—He will shrink and wreck you.




Would earth not also wreck me in the end?­




Oh not the foolish words of that old lie,

Do not repeat them here among the spirits. —

The whole of nature shivers at the sound. —

That is the sacred hidden seal of God,

Reserved unto Himself. Not even the Fruit

Of The Tree of Knowledge could break that seal.




Then I will.


They fly on. ADAM screams out and freezes


I have perished!





                              And so the old he has triumphed. —


He pushes ADAM away from himself


This puppet god can now go into orbit

Like a planet on which new life might evolve

All over again to give me fresh employment. —




You laugh too soon. He merely brushed against

The alien world. It’s not so easy to break

The bounds of my realm, Lucifer.—Your home

Is calling you; come to yourself, my son.



regaining consciousness


I live again.—I sense because I suffer,

But even suffering is sweet to me,

Annihilation is so horrifying. —

Lucifer, please lead me back to earth,

There where I’ve fought so many useless battles,

I'll fight again and that will make me happy.




So after all these trials you still believe

That these new battles may not be so useless?

That you will reach your goal? Only humanity

Could remain so incorrigibly childish.




I’m quite untempted by that foolish prospect,

I know that I will fail and fail again

And I don’t care. What other goal is there?

It is the end of an honourable contest,

The goal is death, but life consists of struggle,

The struggle in itself must be the goal.




Oh what a consolation, if your battle

Were fought for some commensurate ideal,

But what you prize today you’ll mock tomorrow,

The cause that fired you then will seem like child’s play. —

Did you not bleed at Chaeronea once

Defending the lost cause of liberty,

And later, did you not Join Constantine

In order to establish his great empire?

And were you not a martyr for your faith

And later, with the armoury of science,

Oppose the very faith that you had died for?




That may be true, and yet however false

Ideals they were, they managed to inspire

And raise me up: they all were great and sacred.

It is all one, whatever form it took,

The Cross or science, liberty, ambition,

They all advanced the progress of mankind. —

Oh back to earth, I want to fight again.




Have you so soon forgot the scientist’s words;

Who calculated that the earth would freeze

Four thousand years—­putting an end to struggle?




If science doesn’t challenge that assumption.

But science will, I feel it in my bones. —




And then?—Will there be battles, greatness, power

In that artificial world the human mind

Created round its tidy theorems,

That world which you observed a while ago?





As long as the earth is saved—then it will pass

Like those before, like things that have fulfilled

Their purpose, and once again creative thought

Will re‑emerge and breathe life into it.

Take me back now, I’m burning to see what

New doctrine will inspire me in the world

That has been saved.




                                      Very well then, back. —

SOURCE: Madách, Imre. The Tragedy of Man; translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes; introduction by George F. Cushing; illustrations by Mihály Zichy (New York: Püski Publishing, 1988), pp. 233-240.

The Tragedy of Man: Essays About the Ideas and the Directing of the Drama:
Full Text of the Drama

Imre Madách on national character

Imre Madách’s “The Tragedy of Man” by István Sőtér

La Tragedio de l’ Homo: Kovrilo
de Imre Madách, tradukis Kálmán Kalocsay, bildo de Mihály Zichy (1924)

Imre Madách kaj La Tragedio de l’ Homo” de István Sőtér

La Tragedio de L’Homo kaj Imre Madách” de Kálmán Kalocsay

La Tragedio de L’Homo (Kritiko) de Sándor Szathmári

Al horizonto de la historio de la homaro — pri “La Tragedio de L’ Homo”
de SHI Chengtai

Kompara analizo de tri tradukoj el La Tragedio de l’ Homo de Márton Fejes

"Mór Jókai" de Zsuzsa Varga-Haszonits

Sándor Szathmári (1897-1974): Bibliografio & Retgvidilo / Bibliography & Web Guide

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

Johannes Linnankoski (Pseudonym of Johannes Vihtori Peltonen, 1869-1913):
Literature in English & Esperanto

From Eden to Cain: Unorthodox Interpretations & Literary Transformations:
Selected Bibliography

De Edeno al Kaino:
Malkutimaj Interpretoj & Literaturaj Pritraktoj en Esperanto:

Science Fiction & Utopia Research Resources: A Selective Work in Progress

Sciencfikcio & Utopia Literaturo en Esperanto /
Science Fiction & Utopian Literature in Esperanto:
Gvidilo / A Guide


The Tragedy of Man by Imre Madách
translated by William N. Loew (New York: Arcadia Press, 1908)

La Tragedio de l’ Homo: Drama Poemo de Imre Madách
tradukis Kálmán Kalocsay (Budapest: Corvina, 1965)

Imre Madách - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Tragedy of Man - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Imre Madách - Vikipedio

La tragedio de l' homo - Vikipedio

Sándor Szathmári @ Ĝirafo

The Utopian Vision of Sándor Szathmári”:
podcast by Ralph Dumain, 6 May 2012

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