Monday, June 24, 2019

Miklós Radnóti

Miklós Radnóti (1909—1944) is a Hungarian poet who developed his artistic voice between the wars, studying Hungarian and French literature at the University of Szeged. He was active in Budapest’s avant-garde literary scene. As the days grew politically darker, his second poetry collection, Song of the New Shepherds (1931), was banned — for which he could have been imprisoned. He and his wife travelled to France many times during the 1930s, and they converted to Catholicism.

During WWII, because of his Jewish background, he was drafted three times for forced labour. The third time this happened he had been working in the Yugoslavian copper mines, and was on a forced retreat from Russian forces. In a weakened state, and unable to continue, he was shot; his body was dumped in a mass grave. When the grave was exhumed a year later, his notebook — containing his final poems — was discovered. Miklós Radnóti has been called one of the most significant poetic witnesses to the Holocaust.

The following is from Radnóti’s posthumous collection Forced March, translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri. Here “the poet” is speaking with the prophet Nahum who has just spoken of how “more than of old, today, sin multiplies”.

from Eighth Eclogue

To the slaughter nations scramble.
And the soul of man is stripped bare, even as Nineveh.
What use had admonitions? And the savage ravening locusts
In their green clouds, what effect? Of all beasts man is the basest.
Here, tiny babes are dashed against walls and over there,
The church tower is a torch, the house an oven roasting
Its own people. Whole factories fly up in their smoke
The street runs mad with people on fire, then swoons with a wail,
The vast bomb-bays disgorge, the great clamps loose their burdens
And the dead lie there, shrivelled, spattering city squares
Like a herd’s dung on the pasture: everything, once again,
Has happened as you foretold. What brings you back here, tell me,
To earth from ancient cloud-swirl?

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.