Miklós Radnóti: Learn… To Write Upon The Skies
Translated from the Hungarian & edited by Thomas Ország-Land (March 2016)
We’re sitting in the brightness
and scowling in the glare,
a rosebush is leaping
over the hedgerow,
the light leaping also
as the rain-clouds gather,
lightning streaks by
and the lash of thunder
clashes with thunder
again and again, high
high up in the sky,
below them the blue
of the lake is withering,
its waters rising –
come into the house
and take off your dress,
out there it is raining,
and take off your blouse
and let the rain, the rain
wash our hearts together.
LITERARY LOVERS: Miklós Radnóti and his wife Fifi
YESTERDAY & TODAY
Yesterday two sizzling lovers with peach-ripe lips
emerged from the kneeling shrubs in the cooling
drizzle and, leaning each to each,
walked past, proceeding across the meadow;
and today, ferocious cannon with muddy wheels
emerged at daybreak with steaming soldiers –
grey combat helmets protecting their skulls,
strong, heavy odours dragged by their bodies:
the flags their of urgent, male loneliness.
(Oh, seedling blond childhood, how far you have passed!
oh, dove-white old age, I shall never reach you!
the poet stands knee-deep in slippery blood
and each song he sings is always his last.)
BROTHERS-IN-CRIME: Hitler and his Hungarian ally Horthy
IN YOUR ARMS
In your arms I lie, you rock me
In my arms you lie, I rock you
In your arms I lie, an infant,
In my arms you are a child, I’m
hearkening, watching, sensing you.
In your arms, I’m locked embraced
when I’m alarmed.
In my arms, when I embrace you,
I’m not alarmed.
In your arms, the great, the final
stream of silence
will not frighten me.
In your arms, death will arrive –
light and graceful
like a dream.
GROUP PORTRAIT: Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz
THE FOURTH ECLOGUE
No! – You should have asked me before I was born.
No! – I knew the answer. I knew, I knew.
No! – I screamed my retort to this brutal world:
No! – Its darkness pounds me! Its light cuts me through!
…All that howling only strengthened my lungs.
I’ve survived. My skull has only hardened.
The crimson waves of measles and scarlet-fever
both tossed you safely ashore. And once a lake was
about to swallow you – but it spat you out.
So why do you think that time has embraced you, why?
And why do your lungs’ great wings, your heart, your liver,
your moist, mysterious, entity serve you, why? –
And even cancer, that deadly, fearful flower,
may not have spread its roots within your flesh.
I was born, protesting. I’m alive.
I’ve grown up. What for? I do not know.
All my life, I have desired freedom.
All my life, I’ve been escorted by guards.
You have ascended to wind-worn, radiant, peaks.
You have beheld a kneeling, humble doe
at dusk among the shrubs of the mountain side
and watched a tree-trunk’s resin drop in the sunlight
and seen a naked woman emerge from the river…
A stag-beetle once alighted on your palm.
Even such visions disappear in bondage.
Would I were but a bird, a word or a mountain,
just a fleeting, consoling thought or a gesture
momentarily, boastfully mimicking God –
Liberty, help me at last to find my home!
Give me the peaks, the wood, the shrubs, the woman!
Show me the blazing wings of the soul in the wind!
Let me be born anew to a better world
where the rising sunlight heralds a promising
day emerging through the golden vapours…
Silence prevails. But I sense the breath of a storm.
Ripening fruit are swaying from the branches.
Lightly tossed by the breeze, a drifting butterfly
balances. Death is whispering in the garden.
Now I can see: I’m too maturing for death.
Soon the waves of time that bore me high must
plunge me down. My captive isolation
slowly grows, like the crescent of the moon.
I shall find my freedom. The earth will unbind me
while, above me, this routed world is finally
burnt away. The writing tablets are shattered.
Soaring imagination, spread out your wings!
The fruit of the garden must sway and ripen and fall.
Your pain will end in the deep earth steeped in memories.
Till then, let the smoke of your anger rise, and learn
to write upon the skies, if all else be broken.
Miklós Radnóti (1909-1944), probably the greatest among the world’s Holocaust poets, murdered by the retreating Hungarian Army at the close of the Second World War. His poetry has won a robust international reputation and made him a beloved figure in Hungarian culture despite the current resurgence of antisemitism in his native land shamefully exploited by the ultra-nationalist government.
Thomas Ország-Land (b. 1938), a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent writing for New English Review from London and his native Budapest. His last book, Survivors: Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust (Smokestack/England, 2014) includes English translations of some of Radnóti’s most moving poems recovered from a mass grave after the war.
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