International Poetry الشعر শ্লোক ကဗျာ ליבע ਪਿਆਰ өлүм

guest editor Michael R. Burch

Miklós Radnóti [1909-1944], a Hungarian Jew and fierce anti-fascist, was perhaps the greatest of the Holocaust poets. Before Radnóti was murdered by the Nazis, he was known for his eclogues, romantic poems and translations. Born in Budapest in 1909, he published his first collection of poems, Pogány köszönto (“Pagan Salute”) in 1930 at age 21. His next book, Újmódi pásztorok éneke (“Modern Shepherd's Song”) was confiscated on grounds of “indecency,” earning him a light jail sentence. In 1931 he spent two months in Paris, where he visited the “Exposition colonial” and began translating African poems and folk tales into Hungarian. In 1934 he obtained his Ph.D. in Hungarian literature. The following year he married Fanni (Fifi) Gyarmati and they settled in Budapest. His book Járkálj csa, halálraítélt! (“Walk On, Condemned!”) won the prestigious Baumgarten Prize in 1937. Also in 1937 he wrote his Cartes Postales (“Postcards from France”); these poetic “snapshots” were precursors to his darker images of war, Razglednicas (“Picture Postcards”). During World War II, Radnóti published translations of Virgil, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Eluard, Apollinare and Blaise Cendras in Orpheus nyomában (“In the Footsteps of Orpheus”). Conscripted into the Hungarian army, he was forced to serve on forced labor battalions, at times arming and disarming explosives on the Ukrainian front. In 1944 he was deported to a compulsory labor camp near Bor, Yugoslavia. As the Nazis retreated from the approaching Russian army, the Bor concentration camp was evacuated and its internees were led on a forced march through Yugoslavia and Hungary. During what became his death march, Radnóti recorded images of what he saw and experienced. After writing his fourth and final “Postcard,” Radnóti was badly beaten by a soldier annoyed by his scribblings. Soon thereafter, the weakened poet was shot to death, murdered on November 9, 1944, along with 21 other prisoners who were unable to walk.  Their mass grave was exhumed after the war and Radnóti’s poems were found on his body by his wife, inscribed in pencil in a small Serbian exercise book. Radnóti’s posthumous collection, Tajtékos ég (“Clouded Sky” or “Foaming Sky”) contains odes to his wife, letters, poetic fragments and his final Postcards. Unlike his murderers, Miklós Radnóti never lost his humanity, and his empathy continues to live on through his work.

               Michael R. Burch

Postcard 1
by Miklós Radnóti
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Out of Bulgaria, the great wild roar of the artillery thunders,
resounds on the mountain ridges, rebounds, then ebbs into silence
while here men, beasts, wagons and imagination all steadily increase;
the road whinnies and bucks, neighing; the maned sky gallops;
and you are eternally with me, love, constant amid all the chaos,
glowing within my conscience — incandescent, intense.
Somewhere within me, dear, you abide forever —
still, motionless, mute, like an angel stunned to silence by death
or a beetle hiding in the heart of a rotting tree.

Postcard 2
by Miklós Radnóti
loose translation by Michael R. Burch


A few miles away they’re incinerating
the haystacks and the houses,
while squatting here on the fringe of this pleasant meadow,
the shell-shocked peasants quietly smoke their pipes.
Now, here, stepping into this still pond, the little shepherd girl
sets the silver water a-ripple
while, leaning over to drink, her flocculent sheep
seem to swim like drifting clouds.

Postcard 3
by Miklós Radnóti
loose translation by Michael R. Burch


The oxen dribble bloody spittle;
the men pass blood in their piss.
Our stinking regiment halts, a horde of perspiring savages,
adding our aroma to death's repulsive stench.

Postcard 4
by Miklós Radnóti
loose translation by Michael R. Burch


I toppled beside him — his body already taut,
tight as a string just before it snaps,
shot in the back of the head.
"This is how you'll end too; just lie quietly here,"
I whispered to myself, patience blossoming from dread.
"Der springt noch auf," the voice above me jeered;
I could only dimly hear
through the congealing blood slowly sealing my ear.


This was his final poem, written October 31, 1944 near Szentkirályszabadja, Hungary. “Der springt noch auf” means something like “That one is still twitching.” Michael R. Burch

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