(Rezső Seress. 3 November 1899 - 11 January 1968)
Seress wrote that song after he broke up with his girlfriend. His original lyrics were, however, not about love affairs - it's a clear and obvious, even a bit naïve, message of sadness about imperfection of modern world in general and an emotional pacifist protest. Seress's original lyrics were not broadly used if were used at all. The version of lyrics, with which the song became widely known, was written by László Jávor, a popular Hungarian decadent poet of the time. It is in them where the words 'Szomorú vasárnap' first appeared. After the song was out, the girlfriend came back to Seress for a short time, but very soon she committed suicide by poisoning herself. It's said that a note she left only had two words: "Szomorú vasárnap".
According to urban legend, the song inspired hundreds of suicides in Hungary and across Europe, and it lead the officials of radio networks to ban any usage of the song. When the song was first marketed in the United States, it became known as the "Hungarian suicide song". However, there is no systematic substantiation for such claims, as it is not documented where any such allegations appear in press coverage or other publications of the time.
Although the song became very popular both in Europe and United States, it didn't bring any happiness or satisfaction to Seress. Maybe it was too difficult for him to accept the fact that he cannot repeat his success with any other song, or he was uncomfortable with the infamity the song brought to him, or he felt guilty about his girlfriend - who can tell now? The fact is, that he himself committed suicide not long after his 69th birthday by walking out of a window. Of course, author's death only added to the song's already gloomy reputation.
Whether or not the song is connected to suicides, it is a perfect reflection of gloomy and pessimistic atmosphere of the thirties and the Great Depression, as well as the no less gloomy and depressing communist regimes of the time - an era of exceptionally pure decadance when suicide was an act of self-determination and pretty much the only way for a simple human to protest the repressive reality. And for me, personaly, Szomorú Vasárnap is also one of the most recognizable symbols of Hungarian culture - extremely rich and stunningly beautiful, but in the same time incredibly dark and depressing poetry, music and literature. In my opinion, it is for no small part thanks to it that Hungary has always been in top 10 of WHO's list of countries by per capita suicide rate (though in latter decades it's being overrun by ex-Soviet and ex-Yugoslavian countries).
So, here's the original Hungarian text by Rezső Seress:
|Original text||Literal translation|
|Ősz van és peregnek a sárgult levelek|
Meghalt a földön az emberi szeretet
Bánatos könnyekkel zokog az öszi szél
Szívem már új tavaszt nem vár és nem remél
Hiába sírok és hiába szenvedek
Szívtelen rosszak és kapzsik az emberek...
Meghalt a szeretet!
Vége a világnak, vége a reménynek
Városok pusztulnak, srapnelek zenélnek
Emberek vérétől piros a tarka rét
Halottak fekszenek az úton szerteszét
Még egyszer elmondom csendben az imámat:
Uram, az emberek gyarlók és hibáznak...
Vége a világnak!
|It is autumn and the leaves are falling|
All love has died on earth
The wind is weeping with sorrowful tears
My heart will never hope for a new spring again
My tears and my sorrows are all in vain
People are heartless, greedy and wicked...
Love has died!
The world has come to its end, hope has ceased to have a meaning
Cities are being wiped out, shrapnel is making music
Meadows are coloured red with human blood
There are dead people on the streets everywhere
I will say another quiet prayer:
People are sinners, Lord, they make mistakes...
The world has ended!
It's obvious that such depressing and in the same time obviously political message could not be accepted by neither Communist nor Western Democratic regimes of the time. Very soon after Seress started performing the song, he agreed to replace his own lyrics with more melancholic, mourning and decadent, but in the same time more recreational and less political version of lyrics by László Jávor:
|Original text||Literal translation|
|Szomorú vasárnap száz fehér virággal|
Vártalak kedvesem templomi imával
Álmokat kergető vasárnap délelőtt
Bánatom hintaja nélküled visszajött
Azóta szomorú mindig a vasárnap
Könny csak az italom kenyerem a bánat...
Utolsó vasárnap kedvesem gyere el
Pap is lesz, koporsó, ravatal, gyászlepel
Akkor is virág vár, virág és - koporsó
Virágos fák alatt utam az utolsó
Nyitva lesz szemem hogy még egyszer lássalak
Ne félj a szememtől holtan is áldalak...
|Gloomy Sunday with a hundred white flowers|
I was waiting for you my dearest with a prayer
A Sunday morning, chasing after my dreams
The carriage of my sorrow returned to me without you
It is since then that my Sundays have been forever sad
Tears my only drink, the sorrow my bread...
This last Sunday, my darling please come to me
There'll be a priest, a coffin, a catafalque and a winding-sheet
There'll be flowers for you, flowers and a coffin
Under the blossoming trees it will be my last journey
My eyes will be open, so that I could see you for a last time
Don't be afraid of my eyes, I'm blessing you even in my death...
The last Sunday
It is Jávor's lyrics that gave basis for all latter translations. There were two poetic translations into English, in which the song was performed in US and other English-speaking countries. The first one was made by Sam M. Lewis and was more optimistic. It seems to be describing a bad dream rather than a totally depressing reality:
Sunday is gloomy, my hours are slumberless
Dearest the shadows I live with are numberless
Little white flowers will never awaken you
Not where the black coach of sorrow has taken you
Angels have no thought of ever returning you
Would they be angry if I thought of joining you?
Gloomy is Sunday, with shadows I spend it all
My heart and I have decided to end it all
Soon there'll be candles and prayers that are sad I know
Let them not weep let them know that I'm glad to go
Death is no dream for in death I'm caressing you
With the last breath of my soul I'll be blessing you
Dreaming, I was only dreaming
I wake and I find you asleep in the deep of my heart, here
Darling, I hope that my dream never haunted you
My heart is telling you how much I wanted you
The second variant of translation, made independently by Desmond Carter, was a bit more amateur and much, much more eerie and downbeat, with a bit of stylistic influence of decadent poetry of Edgar Poe. It seems to be no escape from constant nightmare of depressing reality:
Sadly one Sunday I waited and waited
With flowers in my arms for the dream I'd created
I waited 'til dreams, like my heart, were all broken
The flowers were all dead and the words were unspoken
The grief that I knew was beyond all consoling
The beat of my heart was a bell that was tolling
Saddest of Sundays
Then came a Sunday when you came to find me
They bore me to church and I left you behind me
My eyes could not see one I wanted to love me
The earth and the flowers are forever above me
The bell tolled for me and the wind whispered, "Never!"
But you I have loved and I bless you forever
Last of all Sundays
It's no wonder, that most English-speaking performers preferred to utilize the Lewis's translation. Suprisingly, however, the first widely known performance of the song in English used the Carter's version. It was the 1936 performance by Paul Robson, that the 1930's music fans often consider the gloomiest song ever recorded. Of other notable performances of Carter's version of the song I want to mention the extremely driving and enegetic version, recorded in 1992 by a notorious avant-garde singer Diamanda Galás - a personality well worth a separate article.
The song was also translated into another languages. A French translation, called Sombre Dimanche, was made by Jean Marèze and François-Eugène Gonda and recorded by Damia at 28th of February, 1936:
Sombre Dimanche, les bras tout chargés de fleurs
Je suis entré dans notre chambre le coeur las
Car je savais déjà que tu ne viendrais pas
Et j'ai chanté des mots d'amour et de douleur
Je suis resté tout seul et j'ai pleuré tout bas
En écoutant hurler la plainte des frimas
Je mourrai un dimanche où j'aurai trop souffert
Alors tu reviendras, mais je serai parti
Des cierges brûleront comme un ardent espoir
Et pour toi, sans effort, mes yeux seront ouverts
N'aie pas peur, mon amour, s'ils ne peuvent te voir
Ils te diront que je t'aimais plus que ma vie
In 1959 the song went to Finland - yet another decadant, gothic country with long suicide statistics. In Finnish it was called Surullinen Sunnuntai, translated and recorded by Eila Pellinen. Sadly, I couldn't find the Finnish lyrics anywhere in the Net, no matter how hard I tried.
The Spanish version was recorded on a tango motif by Trío Piana-Garza-Kohan, lyrics by Francisco Gorrindo:
"Triste domingo, con cien flores blancas"
Y ornado el altar de mi loca ilusión
Donde mi alma se ha ido a postrar
Mientras mi boca llamándote está
Muere en mi sueños ocasos de hastío
Cansados de espera y de soledad
Tú no comprendes la angustia terrible
De estar esperando, sin verte, llegar
¡Vuelen tus pasos que debo marchar!
No ves que muero con mi loco afán
Quiero que seas la blanca y piadosa
Mortaja que cubra mi hora final
Junto a mi ataúd que circundan muchas flores
Aguarda mi confesión un sacerdote
Y a él le digo:
Lo quiero, lo espero.
No temas nada si encuentras mis ojos
Sin vida y abiertos y esperandoté
Tus manos son quien los deben cerrar
Y acaso entonces yo habré muerto en paz
Siento un doblar de campanas, que
Lugubremente sus voces me ordena marchar
¡Vuela mi vida tu paso querido
Que llega la hora uque debo partir!
Quiero tenerte en mi viaje final
Y algo me dice que no llegarás
Triste domingo visitame amado
Que ahora en mi tumba yo te he de esperar
¡He de esperar!
The origin of the song became the background of the German/Hungarian movie "Gloomy Sunday - Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod" (1999) (A Song of Love and Death), based on the novel by Nick Barkow, co-written and directed by Rolf Schübel and starring Joachim Król, Ben Becker, Stefano Dionisi and Erika Marozsán.