Miklós Radnóti: Forced March


Forced March

He’s foolish who, once down, resumes his weary beat,
A moving mass of cramps on restless human feet,
Who rises from the ground as if on borrowed wings,
Untempted by the mire to which he dare not cling,
Who, when you ask him why, flings back at you a word
Of how the thought of love makes dying less absurd.
Poor deluded fool, the man’s a simpleton,
About his home by now only the scorched winds run,
His broken walls lie flat, his orchard yields no fruit,
His familiar nights go clad in terror’s rumpled suit.
Oh could I but believe that such dreams had a base
Other than in my heart, some native resting place;
If only once again I heard the quiet hum
Of bees on the verandah, the jar of orchard plums
Cooling with late summer, the gardens half asleep,
Voluptuous fruit lolling on branches dipping deep,
And she before the hedgerow stood with sunbleached hair,
The lazy morning scrawling vague shadows on the air …
Why not? The moon is full, her circle is complete.
Don’t leave me, friend, shout out, and see! I’m on my feet!

—translated by George Szirtes

Radnóti was a Jew who converted to Catholicism in 1943. He was killed during forced labour near Bor. In one of his poems, recovered after his death, he describes what he was going to experience.



I fell beside him and his corpse turned over,
tight already as a snapping string.
Shot in the neck. “And that’s how you’ll end too,”
I whisper to myself; “lie still; no moving.
Now patience flowers in death.” Then I could hear
“Der springt noch auf,” above, and very near.
Blood mixed with mud was drying on my ear.

(translated by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner)

4 Responses to “Miklós Radnóti: Forced March”

  1. Beautiful poetry…. I heard a wonderful measure of “great” literature the other day – of course I’ve forgotten who said it, but it was something like “The greatness of a piece of literature is shown by the amount of time you spend thinking about it later.” I really like that way of thinking of it.

    • Hevel says:

      I fell in love with his poetry in 8th grade. He has wonderful love poems, and generally, great great poems. The contents of the notebook found on his body are shocking and powerful. Those poems, published posthumously are such a testimony of the horribleness of war.

  2. doesitevenmatter3 says:

    Thank you for sharing this amazing poet with us.
    His words got my senses and emotions stirred up. In a way that will cause me to remember.

  3. Eszter says:

    Radnótit én is nagyon szeretem.
    A Tétova óda (A hesitant ode) az egyik. Olyan szép szavakat használ, szinte zenei élmény a vers a szavak csengése és ritmusa miatt.

    De a Június, A Nem tudhatod…, meg a többi verse is csodás. Nem mondom, hogy mindegyiket ismerem, vagy mindre emlékszem ezek közül, de úgy maradtak meg bennem a versei, mint amelyek egy tiszta lelkű ember gondolatait közvetítik.

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