Authors: Miklós Radnóti

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Hungarian poet

Identity: Jewish

Author Works

Poetry:

Pogány köszöntő, 1930 (Pagan Salute, 1980)

Újmódi pásztorok éneke, 1931 (Song of the Modem Shepherds, 1980)

Lábadozó szél, 1933 (Convalescent Wind, 1980)

Újhold, 1935 (New Moon, 1980)

Járkálj csak, halálraíélt!, 1936 (Walk On, Condemned!, 1980)

Meredek út, 1938 (Steep Road, 1980)

Naptár, 1942 (Calendar, 1980)

Tajtékos ég, 1946 (Sifcy with Clouds, 1980)

Bori notesz, 1970 (Camp Notebook, 2000)

Subway Stops, 1977

The Witess: Selected Poems by Miklós Radnóti, 1977

Forced March, 1979

The Complete Poetry, 1980

Poetry Translation:

Orpheus nyomában, 1943

Nonfiction:

Kaffka Margit művészi fejlődése, 1934

Ikrek hava, 1939 (The Month of Gemini, 1979)

Miscellaneous:

Under Gemini: A Prose Memoir and Selected Poetry, 1985

Biography

Outside his native country, Miklós Radnóti (RAWD-not-ee) is the best-known Hungarian poet of the twentieth century. Though his poetic oeuvre is comparatively small, his poems are a testimony of personal courage and perseverance in the face of the spread of fascism in Europe and the Holocaust which finally consumed him in the last months of World War II.{$I[A]Radnóti, Miklós}{$S[A]Glatter, Miklós;Radnóti, Miklós}{$I[geo]HUNGARY;Radnóti, Miklós}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Radnóti, Miklós}{$I[tim]1909;Radnóti, Miklós}

Radnóti was born Miklós Glatter to middle-class Jewish parents of German descent on May 5, 1909; later he adopted Radnóti as his nom de plume, from Radnot, his father’s birthplace, to make his name sound more Hungarian. All his life, Radnóti was haunted by feelings of guilt and remorse for the death of his mother and his stillborn twin brother, expressed frequently in his early poems and in his prose memoir, Under Gemini.

His father died in 1921; his stepmother, rather than taking the boy with her to her place of origin in Romania, left him in the care of his maternal uncle, a rich textile manufacturer who groomed him for a career in the textile industry. Thus, he studied textile manufacturing in Czechoslovakia in 1927 and 1928. However, after enrolling at the University of Szeged in 1930, he studied Hungarian and French literature, surely encouraged by the publication of his first collection of poems, Pagan Salute. At Szeged he came for the first time into conflict with the increasingly powerful fascist regime of Miklós Horthy when he was charged with subversion and offending public taste after the publication of his second volume of poetry, Song of the Modern Shepherds, in 1931. At his trial he was acquitted of having offended public modesty but condemned to eight days in jail for sacrilege, though the sentence was later suspended. However, this episode contributed to his subsequent decision to convert to Christianity, though Radnóti was neither a devout Jew before nor a devout Christian after his conversion.

Most of his early poems are optimistic and constructive, or celebrate his love for Fanni Gyarmati, whom he married in 1935. During second trip to Paris, Radnóti begins to write poems of his impressions in the form of postcards–brief, fragmented glimpses of his experiences which the reader must piece together. After 1937 his poetry becomes dark and foreboding. Particularly in Steep Road, written under the specter of the Spanish Civil War, Radnóti’s poetry turns into a prophetic vision of the impending spread of fascism and of his increasing certainty that he would not survive the approaching holocaust. This doomsday prophecy is particularly obvious in his poems dedicated to Federico García Lorca, whose death at the hand of the Franco fascists he foresees as his own. During these years he also devotes considerable energy to literary translation and the editing of other Hungarian authors, almost as if he were attempting to save some of these authors’ works from the approaching purges.

Radnóti’s forebodings proved to be accurate. From September to December of 1940 he served his first term in a forced labor camp in the Carpathian Mountains, mainly dismantling mines. After the publication of his collection of foreign poetry, Orpheus nyomában, in 1943, he was again pressed into service in a sugar factory. In May of 1944 he was taken to Lager Heidenau near the town of Bor, in German-occupied Yugoslavia, to build a railroad line in support of the local copper mines. Radnóti was largely spared the inhumane treatment meted out to the inmates of neighboring camps, but when the area was threatened by advancing Russian army units, the inmates were force-marched first to Bor and then sent in two groups of three thousand men each on a grueling fourteen-day march to Western Hungary. His last poems were written during this trek, some of them again called “postcards,” an ironic reference to those poems written during his journey to France.

Radnóti, who had managed to be included in the first group to leave, survived the first massacre of five hundred Jews near the town of Cervenka, and that of another five hundred in Sivac, among them the violinist Miklós Lorsi, an event described in Radnóti’s last poem. However, on November 8, 1944, his premonitions of sharing Lorsi’s fate came true: Sick and unable to walk, Radnóti and twenty-one equally weakened comrades were loaded onto to ox carts, presumably to be taken to a nearby hospital at Györ. The final hours of his life are not documented precisely; according to local witnesses, the men were driven to a dam on the Rabca River, near the village of Abda, ordered off their carts, told to dig a ditch, and then shot and pushed into the shallow grave. The last survivor, who had been ordered to cover the bodies, was killed with shovels. Ironically, nearly all of the three thousand men in the second group to leave Bor camp survived. When the body of Miklós Radnóti was conclusively identified after being exhumed in the summer of 1946, nearly two years after the poet had been murdered, a notebook with his last ten poems and a plea to send them to his best friend after his death was the final remnant found of a short and brilliant career overshadowed by tragedy from the onset. Radnóti had established his reputation as a poet before his time in the labor camps, but the circumstances of his death and the sensational discovery of his last poems brought him widespread international fame.

BibliographyBirnbaum, Marianna D. Miklós Radnóti: A Biography of His Poetry. Munich, Germany: Universität München, Finnish-Ugrisches Seminar, 1983. Connects Radnóti’s poems to events in his life. Useful as an introduction to both.George, Emery. The Poetry of Miklós Radnóti: A Comparative Study. New York: Karz-Cohl, 1986. The best scholarly analysis of Radnóti’s poetry by his leading translator.Gömöri, George, and Clive Wilmer, eds. The Life and Poetry of Miklós Radnóti: Essays. Boulder, Colo.: East European Monographs, 1999. A good collection of critical essays on various, often highly esoteric, themes in Radnóti’s poetry.Ozsváth, Zsuzsanna. In the Footsteps of Orpheus: The Life and Times of Miklós Radnóti. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000. A very readable biography of the poet.
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