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This poem is taken from PN Review 175, Volume 33 Number 5, May - June 2007.

Four Poems (translated by John Ridland and Peter Czipott) Míklós Radnóti
Translated from the Hungarian by John Ridland and Peter Czipott Miklós Radnóti (1909-44), already renowned in Hungary before the Second World War, was one of the great poets of the twentieth century. Being Jewish although a Catholic convert, he was called up three times into a forced-labour brigade, from 1940 to 1944. In a small notebook procured during his labour in Bor, Serbia, he continued to write poems. As the Allies approached the mine where he was interned, he and his brigade were led on a forced march towards northwest Hungary. Labourers who straggled - from illness, injury or exhaustion - were shot by the roadside and buried in mass graves, and on 9 November 1944, near the village of Abda, he too was shot on the roadside by guards who were anxious to reach their camp by nightfall. Buried in a mass grave, his body was exhumed over a year later, and the coroner's report mentions finding the 'Bor Notebook' in the back pocket of Radnóti's trousers. Fair copies had been made of all but five poems while in Bor,and smuggled out by a survivor. When his widow Fanni received the notebook, most of the poems had been rendered illegible, saturated by the liquids of decaying flesh. The only poems not smuggled out - the four Razglednicas and one other - happened also to be the only ones still decipherable in their entirety in the notebook.

In late summer 1937 Radnóti had made his second visit to France, accompanied by Fanni. Although this was a year before Kristallnacht , Hitler's move into Czechoslovakia, and the first discriminatory 'Jewish Law' in Hungary, there was plenty of other 'terrible news' in the papers, as mentioned in 'Place de Notre Dame' and hinted in 'From Chartres to Paris': the Spanish Civil War, the Japanese invasion of China, and of course the increasing threats from Hitler's Germany. These two short poems come from a set of five titled by Radnóti in French Cartes Postales , referring to the picture postcards tourists mail home. Radnóti was probably alluding ironically to this earlier sequence with the title of his final four poems, Razglednicas , the Serbian word for postcard in a Hungarian plural form.

The other two poems here, 'After April Rain' (1932) and 'In Your Two Arms' (1941) demonstrate the intensity of Radnóti's happiness before such feelings were swept away by the Holocaust and the Second World War. Poems in this mode have rarely been translated into English before, leaving an unbalanced impression of the scope and depth of Radnóti's achievement.

PETER CZIPOTT and JOHN RIDLAND



After April Rain

After Miklós Radnoti, Aprilisi Esö Után - 18 April 1930

As happy, with a woman on my chest,
as when the sun shines after April rain,
I shout! and straight away, clean-rinsed in light,
my voice rings, like that bird's up to his middle,
now, in the crystal puddle.


Postcards from France
August- September, 1937

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