New work – 1st April, 2008

Forced March (poems)

Miklós Radnóti (1909–1944)

New work–1st April, 2008

New work

Two of Miklós Radnóti's last poems, written in the last months of his life. From Forced March: Selected Poems, translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri.

Forced March
A fool he is who, collapsed,      rises and walks again,
Ankles and knees moving      alone, like wandering pain,
Yet he, as if wings uplifted him,       sets out on his way,
And in vain the ditch calls him      back, who dare not stay.
And if asked why not, he might answer      – without leaving his path –
That his wife was awaiting him,      and a saner , more beautiful death.
Poor fool! He's out of his mind:      now, for a long time,
Only scorched winds have whirled            over the houses at home,
The wall has been laid low,      the plum-tree is broken there,
The night of our native hearth      flutters, thick with fear.
Oh if only I could believe      that everything of worth
Were not just in my heart –       that I still had home on earth;
If only I had! As before,      jam made fresh from the plum
Would cool on the old verandah,      in peace the bee would hum
And an end-of summer stillness      would bask in the drowsy garden,
Naked among the leaves      would sway the fruit-trees' burden,
And Fanni would be waiting,      blonde, by russet hedgerow,
As the slow morning painted      slow shadow over shadow –
Could it perhaps still be?      The moon tonight's so round!
Don't leave me friend, shout at me:      I'll get up off the ground!
                                                                         15 September 1944
From Bulgaria, wild and swollen, the noise of cannon rolls;
It booms against the ridge, then hesitates, and falls.
Men, animals, carts, thoughts pile up as they fly;
The road rears back and whinnies, maned is the racing sky.
But you in this shifting chaos are what in me is contant:
In my sould’s depth forever, you shine – you are as silent
And motionless as an angel who marvels at destruction,
Or a beetle burrowing in a hollow tree’s corruption.
                                                                         In the mountains
                                                                         30 August 1944
No more than six or seven miles away
Haystacks and houses flare;
There, on the meadow’s verges, peasants crouch,
Pipe-smoking, dumb with fear.
Here still, where the tiny shepherdess steps in,
Ripples on the lake spread;
A flock of ruffled sheep bend over it
And drink the clouds they tread.
                                                                         6 October 1944
Blood-red, the spittle drools from the oxen’s mouths,
The men stooping to urinate pass blood,
The squad stands bunched in groups whose reek disgusts.
And loathsome death blows overhead in gusts.
                                                                        24 October 1944

I fell beside him. His body – which was taut
As a cord is, when it snaps – spun as I fell.
Shot in the neck. ’This is how you will end,’
I whispered to myself. ’Keep lying still,
Now, patience is flowering into death.’
’Der springt noch auf,’ said someone over me.
Blood on my ears was drying, caked with earth.
                                                                      21 October 1944

Translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri

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