There is no getting around the reverberations of death in Hungarian Miklós Radnóti's poetry. Born in 1909 into a personal and political climate of insecurity, Radnóti lost his mother and his twin the day of his birth and his father soon after. Already in 1920 Hungary was moving toward the ideologies of Hitler, and Radnóti, a libertarian Socialist of Jewish heritage, was destined to be caught in the crossfire. As a result, his poetry became (from the introduction) 'a sort of political seismograph: it could register the slightest tremor in advance of an earthquake.' At the rise of Hitler, Radnóti saw himself a doomed man. The poetry in Forced March
comes from his last three collections and represents the mature work of a man 'writing at the very edge of survival, whose finest work flowered in conditions of intellectual darkness and moral anarchy' (Gömöri and Wilmer). This commitment to truth was accompanied by a return to rhyme and classical meter, a defensive bulwark against the uncertainty of the world. By articulating the horrors of his time, Radnóti transformed them. His poetry sets joy alongside anxiety and beauty beside ugliness. In the stanza following the one above, Radnóti inhabits life's incongruity without despair: 'In sleep the garden breathes. I question it in vain. /Though still unanswered, I repeat it all. /The noonday sun still flows in the ripe fruit /Touched by the twilight chill of the dew fall.' 96 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
Forced March is a new edition of Miklos Radnoti's (1909-1944) selected poems. By the time the Second World War broke out, he was already an established poet. When the Nazis took over his hometown of Budapest, he was sent to a labor camp at Bor in occupied Serbia. Then, in 1944, as the Germans retreated from the eastern front, Radnoti and his fellow laborers were force-marched back to Hungary. On November 9, too weak to carry on, he and many comrades were executed by firing squad. When the bodies were exhumed the following year, Radnoti was identified by a notebook of poems in his greatcoat pocket. These poems, published in 1946 as Foaming Sky, secured his position as one of the giants of modern Hungarian poetry.