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This review is taken from PN Review 209, Volume 39 Number 3, January - February 2013.

The Sound of Silence jános pilinszky, Passio, trans. Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri (Worple Press) £6.95

For anyone interested in Central European poetry written during or just after the Second World War, János Pilinszky's poetry offers an interesting and unusual perspective. A Catholic, born in Budapest in 1921, Pilinszky was conscripted into the Axis forces towards the end of the war, at the time of the Nazis' retreat from the city. Put on a train but not told where it was going, he arrived one month later in Harbach, Germany, where he saw - among other things - prisoners from a concentration camp. This experience became the subject of his most memorable poems: 'Harbach 1944'; 'The French Prisoner'; 'The Passion at Ravensbrück'; 'On the Wall of a KZ Lager' - translations of which can all be found in this extremely slender (there are only fourteen poems included), but attractive publication from Worple Press. As Clive Wilmer argues in his introduction to this volume, Pilinszky's war poems remain 'his overwhelming achievement'.

This is not the first time Pilinszky's poems have been translated into English: their most notable precursor appeared back in 1976, when Carcanet published his Selected Poems, translated by János Csokits and Ted Hughes. Later reissued by Anvil as The Desert of Love, this selection is still readily available; yet apart from three new additions, Wilmer and Gömöri have chosen to make their own translations of poems from this earlier publication. Indeed, Wilmer's helpful introduction soon makes it apparent that providing an alternative to what Gömöri once described as 'the “Hughesian” Pilinszky of ...

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