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Forced March -- Miklos Radnoti

Guest poem submitted by Dave Fortin:
(Poem #1325) Forced March
 You're crazy. You fall down,    stand up and walk again,
 your ankles and your knees move
 but you start again    as if you had wings.
 The ditch calls you, but it's no use    you're afraid to stay,
 and if someone asks why,    maybe you turn around and say
 that a woman and a sane death    a better death wait for you.
 But you're crazy.    For a long time
 only the burned wind spins    above the houses at home,
 Walls lie on their backs,    plum trees are broken
 and the angry night    is thick with fear.
 Oh if I could believe    that everything valuble
 is not only inside me now    that there's still home to go back to.
 If only there were! And just as before    bees drone peacefully
 on the cool veranda,    plum preserves turn cold
 and over sleepy gardens    quietly, the end of summer bathes in the
 Among the leaves the fruit    swing naked
 and in front of the rust-brown hedge    blond Fanny waits for me,
 the morning writes    slow shadows---
 All this could happen    The moon is so round today!
 Don't walk past me, friend.    Yell, and I'll stand up again!
-- Miklos Radnoti
This poem appeared in today's Washington Post Book World.

Miklos Radnoti was born in Budapest in 1909, and orphaned at the age of
12. He published a number of collections of poems before the war and was
a fierce anti-fascist. In the 1940's he was interned in various work
camps, the last time being in Bor, Yugoslavia at a copper mine, to which
he was driven in a forced march with other internees. Along the way, he
and 22 other prisoners were murdered near the town of Abda sometime
between November 6 and 10, 1944 and tossed into a mass grave. After the
war, his body was exhumed and his last poems were found in his field
jacket, written in pencil in a small Serbian exercise book.

The above poem is part of this collection, published in 1946 as "Sky
With Clouds". It is dated September 5, 1944.

There are a number of poems around, written by Holocaust survivors or
others who faced the atrocities of modern warfare. This one strikes me
having that ring of truth -- of memeory unvarnished by the passage of
time. I am particularly moved by how the poet conveys the way a person's
mind wanders to happier times and almost loses touch with the horrors of
the present in the second half of the poem, and then is yanked back into
the on-going atrocity by the fear of falling behind.

Dave Fortin.

48 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Magda & George Roth said...

I am reacting quite late to the publishing of this poem, but I had no idea
that it was printed in the US.
I am an immigrant from Transylvania, and as such I used to read Radnoty in
Hungarian. What a powerful voice, what a tragic destiny!
He represented for me the life (if one can call it living) in the forced
labor camps where my father spent years, and so many found their deaths.
But beyond the tragic period of those times, Radnoty proved himself to be a
wonderful writer, tender in love forceful in his believes, strong in his
desire to live and survive. Thank you for publishing the poem.


Magda Roth
Homewood, Illinois

Simon said...

This translation does not do justice to Radnoti.

paul hartal said...

Radnoti is one of the truly great poets of the modern era.
I graduated from a highschool named after him in Szeged, Hungary. The poet's Jewish background was never mentioned by my teachers, nor is it revealed in the 1963 Magyar Helikon edition of his collected poems, which is in my possession. The omission is not a coincidence but part of the denial of the truth, that Radnoti was murdered not because he was a communist, or because he became a catholic, but because he was born a Jew.
The translation of Forced March appearing as #1325 distorts the original. A more faithful rendition of the first line, for example, should read:
"Lunatic, who sinks to the ground rises and marches again",

Paul Hartal

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