13th December 2022


4 minutes read

Zsófia Balla

A Gloss on the Ten Commandments

translated by Anna Bentley

13th December 2022

4 minutes read

  1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

I know who you are, Lord,

And I’m grateful to you.

But, sweet Lord above,

who else could I believe in,

when you’re Jahweh,

Allah, Buddha, Isis,

Zeus, Jupiter, Ra,

Teotl, Scarabeus,

and Babba Mária,

Bull, Swan and the Bear;

when you’re Pallas Athene,

Demeter, Hera, Charon,

The Ark of the Covenant, Nature

and Mind?

You’re the Invisible and the

Only, constantly changing

your face and your place

for a new one—so every people in

every time can take in what you are,

can come to know you and find you.


You are a column of fire,

a footprint in the sand.


  1. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

So, no replacing your conceptual form

with a picture.


If All is One: and is also You—

then what is left of the world

to depict?

So, when I write, I should

keep your commandment—but how?


  1. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

Anyone who badmouths you, Lord,

has no fear, but does have teeth of iron:

they fear no bolt from heaven…


  1. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.

My Lord,

The servants, the animals, the laborers are resting.

Say ‘Rest!’ to the roaring elements,

say ‘Halt!’ to the avalanches,

to the lightning, the volcanoes, the bitter hail.

Tell hunger and tell thought

to take a break in the middle of a sentence,

tell the barking guns, and tell the

beggars, the children old before their time,

the epidemics and gleeful hatred,

tell the cramps, the fevers, the tumors,

that this is the sabbath, the day of rest—so stop!


For all of these let rest be blessed,

This is the actual Promised Land. Fix all

your eye can see in six days. Then on the seventh

just stand in this Earth, this other-world, and gaze.


  1. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

They’re fallible, parents. Try to understand them,

but not in the hope of a long life—no!

Our old ones’ tears are a concrete weight, their child’s

disgrace. Regret will sweep in like a whirlwind later

and swallow us up.


  1. You shall not kill.

Ah yes! The chief commandment.

I won’t count the beetles, the hens or wasted days.

But who can tell what the naked flesh, the man-beast might

be induced to do by torture? Or terror? What can I promise?

I’m human, I just keep on saying, “I will.”

And hands off even those who kill others—

that’s what you’re asking, right?

If that’s a warning

that life is sacred, then let it be Untouchable,

let it be Unsnuffable, you, you almighty one!


  1. You shall not commit adultery.

My Lord, my darling,

you do harp on about this. And I’m

not dealing with it.

Think of Lot, of Leda—

more come to mind, I imagine?


  1. You shall not steal.

Fine, I’ll try not to; not flowers, not books,

but not a title or an idea, even? Rebbe!

Our postmodern writing will die a death!


  1. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

False witness is like murder, really,

what spurts from some mouths, that sewage-river,

could murder anyone.

People dripping with filthy words flick the dirt

onwards, hoping to blend in among the stained.


  1. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

I covet no one else’s goods.

But what if the body is another’s, Lord?

And my body? Who does it belong to? Is it bad

for another to covet it? That won’t mean it’s lost to you,

Lord! But do not prohibit

the desires that pull us skywards either.

Nor wish us to be wily and tell lies.


You know what it says in La Mandragola: with time

‘all that we have decays, only our morals improve.’


written by

Zsófia Balla

More about the author

Issue 03


More about this issue

translated by

Anna Bentley

More about the translator


A Gloss on the Ten Commandments by Zsófia Balla
“So, when I write, I should / keep your commandment—but how?” a poem by Hungarian poet Zsófia Balla, in Anna Bentley’s translation.