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Forced March: Selected Poems by Miklós…

Forced March: Selected Poems

by Miklós Radnóti

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"On the 9th of November Miklós Radnóti was executed by firing squad. He was thirty-five. He had been encamped in Serbia, attached to a forced labour battalion under German command, but as the axis armies began their retreat from the Eastern front, they drove the labourers westward across Hungary. Near the village of Abda in the north-west, those who were too weak to continue the march into Germany were shot by their guards and buried in a mass grave. When the bodies were exhumed the following year, a notebook full of poems - some written within days of his death - were found in Radnóti's greatcoat".

He was identified by this notebook of poetry, and they were published in 1946 under the title Foamy Sky, and secured his position as one of the giants of modern Hungarian poetry.

Miklós Radnóti, was born Miklós Glatter on the 5th May 1909 in Budapest into an assimilated Jewish family. At his birth he lost both his twin brother and his mother, this was obviously to have a major impact on his future self, along with the fact that a few years later his father died. He was adopted and raised from that point on by a wealthy uncle, this allowed him to receive an education and in 1934 he graduated from Szeged University with a distinction in Hungarian and French. He also had three books of poetry to his credit Pogány köszöntő (Pagan Greeting 1930 ), Újmódi pásztorok éneke (Modern shepherds' song 1931), and Lábadozó szél (Convalescent Wind 1933). This was a time of great insecurity, the nation was governed by Admiral Horthy, an ultra conservative who was distinctly inclined towards the far right of the political spectrum. Horthy guided Hungary through the years between the world wars and in 1941 would take Hungary into an alliance with Nazi Germany, making this not the ideal climate for someone like Radnóti - a libertarian socialist and an idealistic man of letters.

In 1935 Miklós Radnóti married Fanni Gyarmati who would be that one candle flame sustaining him from all that would happen and whose constancy is the optimism that, despite what is happening or will happen, there is light in this world. By 1938 - 39 things took a turn for the worse as the Hungarian Government began to legislate against the Jews, and in 1941 they granted Germany permission to cross its territory & also declared war against the Soviet Union. In March 1944 the Germans occupied Hungary and the German ambassador nominated the government.

In the course of these events the fate that Miklós Radnóti had long foreseen was gradually fulfilled - from 1940 onwards he was conscripted to serve in various labour battalions. Shortly afterwards the Nazi's took over Budapest and he was sent to the copper mines at Bor in Serbia. There he worked on the construction of a railway-line and from there in the autumn of 1944 when Bor was evacuated he and his fellow inmates started the forced march that was to culminate in his death. During this march Radnóti recorded poetic snapshots or postcards of what he saw and experienced, it was whilst he was doing this that he was badly beaten by a militia man annoyed by his scribbling. Battered, badly weakened and unable to walk he was shot to death on the 9th of November 1944, with twenty-one others.

Like Hans Fallada in Germany, Miklós was too sensitive a writer not to be aware of the zeitgeist, not to have noticed the writing on the wall or the fact that his identity did not fit with the promoted image of the ideal citizen being stamped upon the country's identity. According to the Hungarian view, prevalent at that time, Radnóti was not Hungarian, but a Jew, and as such could be humiliated, and destroyed and yet he stayed, witnessed, and recorded even up to the last moment he was writing down his experience, his thoughts and feelings. It is this and the quality of what he wrote that has made him recognised posthumously as one of the greatest Hungarian writers.

forced_march Forced March is made up of poems from Miklós Radnóti's last three books: Keep Walking, You Death Condemned (1936), Steep Path (1938) and the final collection Foamy Sky (1946), providing an introduction to his mature work, to the poetry that came to define him as not just a great writer, but as a great man, or as his friend and fellow poet István Vas, said that "Radnóti's poems are among the rare masterpieces that combine artistic and moral perfection..... not just an exciting body of work, not just truly great poems, but also an example of human and artistic integrity, that is as embarrassing and absurd as it is imperative".

The Second Eclogue


Last night we went far; in rage I laughed, I was so mad.
Their fighters were all droning like a bee-swarm overhead.
their defence was strong and friend, O how they fired and fired!
Till over the horizon our relief squad appeared.
I just missed being shot down and scraped together below,
But see, I am back! And tomorrow, this craven Europe shall know
Fear in their air-raid shelters, as they tremble hidden
But enough of that, let's leave it. Have you written since


I have. the poet writes, as dogs howl or cats mew
or small fish coyly spawn. What else am I to do?
I write about everything - write even for you, up there,
So that flying you may know of my life and of how I fare
When between the rows of houses, blown up and tumbling
The bloodshot light of the moon reels drunkenly around,
when the city squares bulge, all of them stricken,
Breathing stops, and even the sky seems sicken,
And the planes keep coming on, then disappear, and then
All swoop, like jabbering madness down from the sky again!
I write; what else can I do? If you knew how dangerous
A poem can be, how frail, how capricious a single verse...
For that involves courage too - you see? Poets write,
Cats mew, dogs howl, small fish.... and so on; but you who
What do you know? Nothing. You listen, but all you hear
Is the plane you have just left droning on in your ear;
No use denying it, friend. It's become part of you.
What do you think about as you fly above in the blue?


Laugh at me: I'm scared. And I long to lie in repose
On a bed beside my love, and for these eyes to close.
Or else, under my breathe, I would softly hum her a tune
In the wild and steamy chaos of the flying-men's canteen.
Up there, I want to come down; down here, to be back in
In this world moulded for me, for me there is no place.
And I know full well, I have grown too fond of my
True; but, when hit, the rhythm both suffer at is the same....
But you know and will write about it! It won't be a secret
that I,
Who now just destroy, homeless between the earth and the sky,
Lived as a man lives. Alas, who'd understand or believe it?
Will you write of me?


If I live, if there's anyone left to read it. ( )
  parrishlantern | Nov 2, 2013 |
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