Miklos Radnoti was born into a Hungarian Jewish family in 1909 .Radnoti’s first collection of poetry ‘Pagan Invocation’ , was published in 1930. Two others followed in 1931, and 1933. In 1934 Radnoti moved to Budapest and started writing for a literary magazine titled Nyugat . Cultural life in Hungry began to reflect contemporary cultural tensions, Radnoti was firmly aligned with the more Left-leaning writers and artists of the day whilst German economic domination and political influence was growing. Radnoti still had collections of poetry published and married his school sweetheart Fanni Gyarmati, and a lot of his poetry was inspired by her.
A fair amount of his poetry featured eerie premonition of what calamity was going to befall Hungary. Radnoti avidly followed the Republican cause in Spain.
In 1936 he brought out a collection titled ‘ Keep Walking, you the Death Condemned’ . The poem of the same name was also a strange premonition of Radnoti’s own fate.
“In front, the dark trees ranged in line
Topple towards you; bushes hide
A cat and the chill wind. The road
Turns white with fear, arching its spine.
Shrivel away now, autumn leaves!
Shrivel, oh terrifying world!
Cold hissing from the sky is harsh,
And on stiff, rusty blades of grass
The shadows of wild ducks are hurled”
Following World War 1, the first country to pass antisemitic legislation was Hungary. A short-lived Communist seizure of power under Bela Khun, took place in 1919. And this was followed by a White Terror, and the establishment of Admiral Horthy’s regime which lasted until the German invasion of 1944.
” I write about everything-write even for you, up there,
So that flying you make know of my life and of how I fare
When between the rows of houses, blown up and tumbling down,
The bloodshot light of the moon reels drunkenly around
When the city squares bulge, all of them terror stricken,
And the planes keep coming on, then disappear, and then
Swoop, like jabbering madness, down from the sky again”
From the Second Eclogue, a dialogue between a bomber pilot and a poet written in April 1941
In September 1944, the Germans had to evacuate the Balkans following the advance of the Red Army and the growing confidence of Tito’s partisans. The Hungarian Jewish labourers,who were partly guarded by Hungarian soldiers, were made to join a forced march back into Hungary, them most likely, to Austrian or Germany. Cold weather, near starvation, damaged health, and exhaustion led to many casualties. Around the 8th November 1944 , near the town of Gyor, Radnoti was amongst 21 sick and exhausted Jewish labourers who were separated from the main column. The following day, near the town of Abda, in the west of Hungary, the Jews were made to dig a ditch, then shot one by one.
After the War, the bodies were exhumed. It was discovered that Radnoti had hidden a notebook of his poetry in his coat. In 1948, a posthumous collection of poetry was published.
Ultimately Radnoti’s work was inspired by Jewish culture, with a growing Christian influence, Anti-Fascism, reverence for nature, an instinctive humanitarian viewpoint, with a haunting fatalism. A feeling that however hopeless his predicament must have seen as a Jew with liberal-Left views, trapped in central Europe dominated by the Axis, Radnoti was never going to abandon his idealism.
However harrowing Radnoti’s war poetry could be, thought that it was fitting to end with some lines that showed that Radnoti was poet who wrote about love. And this must not be forgotten. Here are the final three verses of ‘Autumn Begins Restlessly’… written in August- September 1941.
“The landscape falls asleep.
Death, lovely in his white glide,
Settle on the countryside.
The sky cradles the garden.
Look: in your hair’s an autumn leaf that’s golden.
Above you, branches weep.
Ah but your flame must rise above death and autumn
And raise me, love, along with you.
Let the wise thing be to love me today-
Be wise and kiss me, hungry for dreams too.
Joyfully love me, do not me, fall
With me into the dark sky sleep creates.
Let’s sleep. Out there, the thrush is well asleep.
The walnut, falling on fallen leaves piled deep,
Makes no harsh sound. Reason disintergrates. “
Images appropriated from ‘Wikipedia’
Original and shorter version from https://worldwar2poetry.blogspot.com/