Miklós Radnóti--Hungarian

Miklós Radnóti


Radnóti is regarded as one of Hungary’s foremost 20th-century poets.  Born in Budapest, he was orphaned early in life, lived with relatives and completed his education in 1927, becoming an accountant. His first collection of poems, Pogány köszöntoPagan Salute), were published in 1930, when he was 21.  His second book, Újmódi pásztorok éneke (Song of Modern Shepherds), published the following year was confiscated by the government on grounds of indecency.  For this, Radnóti received a jail sentence.  In 1940 he was identified as a Jew and forced to serve on a series of labor battalions.  In 1944 he was sent to a compulsory labor camp in Yugoslavia.  The camp was evacuated as the Soviet army moved on the Eastern Front.  Radnóti and 3,200 of his fellow internees were forced to march from Yugoslavia to Hungary.  He was shot to death with other prisoners who were too sick and weak to walk.  Several poems were found in his trench coat. (

And so will I wonder...?

I lived, but then in living I was feeble in life and
always knew that they would bury me here in the end,
that year piles upon year, clod on clod, stone on stone,
that the body swells and in the cool, maggot-
infested darkness, the naked bone will shiver.
That above, scuttling time is rummaging

through my poems
and that I will sink deeper into the ground.
All this I knew. But tell me, the work—did that live on?

Translated by Gina Gönczi

Peace, Dread

I went out, closed the street door,

and the clock struck ten,
on shining wheels the baker rustled by and hummed,
a plane droned in the sky, the sun shone, it struck ten,
I thought of my dead aunt and in a flash it seemed
all the unliving I had loved were flying overhead,
with hosts of silent dead the sky was darkened then
and suddenly across the wall a shadow fell.
Silence.  The morning world stood still.

The clock struck ten,
over the street peace floated: cold dread was its spell.

Translated by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner


Excerpt from Razglednicas


The oxen drool saliva mixed with blood.
Each one of us is urinating blood.
The squad stands about in knots, stinking, mad.
Death, hideous, is blowing overhead.

I fell beside him and his corpse turned over,
tight already as a snapping string.
Shot in the neck. "And that's how you'll end too,"
I whisper to myself; "lie still; no moving.
Now patience flowers in death." Then I could hear
Der springt noch auf, above, and very near.
Blood mixed with mud was drying on my ear.

Translated by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner

 Lines from "Maybe"

But don't leave me, delicate mind!
    Don't let me go crazy.
Sweet wounded reason, don't
    leave me now.

Don't leave me. Let me die, without fear,
    a clean, lovely death,
like Empedocles, who smiled as he fell
    into the crater.


Translated by Steven Polgár, Stephen Berg and S. J. Marks

Foamy Sky

The moon sways on a foamy sky,
I am amazed that I live.
An overzealous death searches this age
and those it discovers are all so very pale.

At times the year looks around and shrieks,
looks around and then fades away.
What an autumn cowers behind me again
and what a winter, made dull by pain.

The forest bled and in the spinning
time blood flowed from every hour.
Large and looming numbers were
scribbled by the wind onto the snow.

I lived to see that and this,
the air feels heavy to me.
A war sound-filled silence hugs me
as before my nativity.

I stop here at the foot of a tree,
its crown swaying angrily.
A branch reaches down -- to grab my neck?
I'm not a coward, nor am I weak,

just tired. I listen. And the frightened
branch explores my hair.

To forget would be best, but I have
never forgotten anything yet.

Foam pours over the moon and the poison
draws a dark green line on the horizon.

I roll myself a cigarette
slowly, carefully. I live.

Translated by Gina Gönczi

Forced March

He's foolish who, once down, resumes his weary beat,
A moving mass of cramps on restless human feet,
Who rises from the ground as if on borrowed wings,
Untempted by the mire to which he dare not cling,
Who, when you ask him why, flings back at you a word
Of how the thought of love makes dying less absurd.
Poor deluded fool, the man's a simpleton,
About his home by now only the scorched winds run,
His broken walls lie flat, his orchard yields no fruit,
His familiar nights go clad in terror's rumpled suit.
Oh could I but believe that such dreams had a base
Other than in my heart, some native resting place;
If only once again I heard the quiet hum
Of bees on the verandah, the jar of orchard plums
Cooling with late summer, the gardens half asleep,
Voluptuous fruit lolling on branches dipping deep,
And she before the hedgerow stood with sun bleached hair,
The lazy morning scrawling vague shadows on the air ...
Why not? The moon is full, her circle is complete.
Don't leave me, friend, shout out, and see! I'm on my feet!

Translated by George Szirtes