Surviving the Bombers by Miklós Radnóti

translated from the Hungarian and edited by Thomas Ország-Land (June 2014)

The author of these pieces, Miklós Radnóti (1909-1944), was almost certainly the greatest among the Holocaust poets. His work in Thomas Ország-Land’s English translation is featured in Summer Grasses, a major war anthology just published by the American Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and in Survivors: Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust released by Smokestack Books in England during June.





Last night we flew so far that I had to laugh in rage;
their fighters droned like bee-swarms trying to engage
us from above with strong defensive fire – but, my friend,
our fresh squadrons showed up on the horizon in the end.
I thought they’d prang and pick me up with dust pan and brush
but I’m back, see! and tomorrow cowardly Europe can rush
again to air-raid shelters to hide from me while it may…
but never mind, friend. Did you write since yesterday?

I did, what else could I do? The poet writes his lines,
the pussy cat miaows and the puppy whines,
the fishy coyly spawns. I write about everything
so even you should know, up there, while soldiering,
how I live when the bloodshot sick moonlight staggers down
among the ruined streets as the bombs destroy the town,
walls cave in, homes explode, the squares curl up in fright,
breath falters, even the sky is disgusted with the sight,
the bombers come, persistent, sometimes they disappear
to swoop in rattling frenzy on the houses drowned in fear!
I write, what else could I do… Poems too can be vicious
and dangerous, you know, odd lines are too capricious
for words, demanding bravery… The poet writes his lines,
the pussy cat miaows and the puppy whines,
the fish – and so on. Can you make… anything? No! you sit
fused with your friend the engine. Admit it: your eardrums split
down here because you cannot hear the roar of the plane.
How will you feel next, when flying over us again?

You’ll laugh. I fly in fear… desiring, up, above,
to lie on a bed, eyes closed, caressing with my love.
Or just to hum about her and to conjure up such a scene
daydreaming in the steamy chaos of the canteen.
When I am up, I’d come down! down here, I long to fly,
without a place of my own between my own earth and sky.
I have grown much too fond of the aeroplane too, I know,
we’ve learned to share a rhythm of pain so long ago…
You understand – and please… write about me! make it known
that I too was a man: destructive, homeless, alone
above and below. Who will grasp the causes of my deed?…
Explain me, won’t you?

                                      If I live… with some who still want to read.


A raven, like a pregnant woman, waddles
across the road that lies in peace again.
At last a bird, thank goodness! sighs the road,
and pours out all her recent woes and pain.

The wounded crops are also listening.
The battle-broken district rests her eyes…
she still remembers, even though the evening
approaches softly with sweet lullabies.

A small live landmine lurking in the ground –
it darkly dreams of death but would not dare
to detonate… its rage restrained by a stern
cabbage with a disapproving glare.

Behind the sagely drooping sunflowers yonder,
afloat beneath young trees above the mud
extends a horizontal steel-blue cloud:
dense barbed-wire, still tense with thirst for blood.

But when the dew of the dawn caresses the wire,
a yellow flower creeps along a narrow
gap carefully (its tender stalk a fuse)
and opens gold – the flower of the marrow.

And silence will again spray on the land
and storks alight where parapets stand now…
The trenches are abandoned to the rabbits,
but Flórián will put them to the plough.

The men will take up their neglected crafts –
the former weavers once again will make
good clothes and nightly dream of threads until
in pearly mornings peacefully they wake.

The women will again bend to their chores
and by their feet, a clamorous world will grow
of graceful girls in poppy-coloured dresses
and boys like butting kids, so far to go…

Thus will return the wise eternal order
evolved beneath the stars within the pool
of life, the scheme of animals and crops,
a strict but tame, unmilitary rule.



THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent who writes from London and his native Budapest. His poetry appears in current, forthcoming and very recent issues of Acumen, Ambit, The Jewish Quarterly, The London Magazine, The Hungarian Quarterly and Stand.


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