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||Miklós Radnóti (1909-1944)|
Hungarian poet and translator, who is considered one of the most important 20th-century poets of his country. Miklós Radnóti was killed at the age of thirty-five during World War II on a forced march toward Germany. After the war Radnóti's last poems, written in a notebook during the march, were discovered from the mass grave in which he was buried.
Without commas, one line touching the other
Miklós Radnóti was born in Budapest into a Jewish family.
mother, Ilona Grosz, died while giving birth to him and his twin
brother, who was stillborn. When he was 12 Radnóti lost his father,
Jakab Glatter (1874-1921), who had remarried – he died of brain
thrombosis. Most of Radnóti's ancestors earned their living in
occupations typical for Jews living in the countryside at that time –
they were small shopkeepers,
vendors, or itinerant peddlers. On his father's side, they also
included two painters. Jakab worked a traveling salesman in
textile firm. He taught Radnóti Jewish prayers and rituals.
Radnóti was not told about his mother's and twin brother's death until he was ten. Later in the autobiographical sketch, Ikrek hava (1939) he described the shock of finding himself an orphan. Also the prose piece 'Gemini' (1939) was an examination of this traumatic expence. Death, guilt, and sacrifice would become a frequent subject of Radnóti's prose and poetry.
Radnóti was brought up by relatives who provided him a good
education, and his stepmother, Ilka Molnár, raised him with affection
and dedication. In 1927 he graduated from a commercial school, after
which his uncle, Dezso Grosz, wanted him to continue the family
business. Although Radnóti had other thoughts, in 1928 he started to
work as an accountant in his firm.
At the age of 21 Radnóti published
his first collection of poems, Pogány köszönto (1930, Pagan
Salute), which reflected influences from French expressionism and
attacked social injustices. His penname Radnóti derived from his
father's birthplace, Radnót. In 1934 he changed his name officially to
Újmódi pásztorok éneke (1931, Song of Modern Shepherds) was confiscated by the public prosecutor on grounds of indecency and Radnóti drew a light jail sentence. In 1931 he also spent two months in Paris, where he visited 'Exposition coloniale' and decided to translate African poems and folk tales into Hungarian.
When Radnóti applied for admission to the Péter Pázmány
University in Budapest, the Numerus Clausus Law of 1920, which made
Jewish attendance at the institutes of higher learning difficult,
barred him from admission. He was accepted in 1930 at
the Ferenc József University at Szeged, where he studied Hungarian and
His dissertation from 1934 dealt with the
artistic development of the Hungarian poet and novelist Margit Kaffka
(1880-1918). During this period he associated with a group of young
intellectuals involved in the populist movement "Szyedi Fiatalok."
Radnóti's friends were attracted by his energy and intensity. Moreover,
his deep, melodic voice added to his success in public debates and
poetry readings. After graduating he tried to find work as a teacher of
literature without much success. To support himself he worked as a
translator, free-lance writer, and private tutor. Also his rich uncle
helped him. Mihály Babits (1883-1941), a poet and critic who edited Nyugat,
welcomed Radnóti's contributions to the influential literary
In 1935 Radnóti married Fanni (Fifi) Gyarmati, the daughter of
head of the Office of Communication of the Hungarian Parliament, and
settled with her in Budapest, where they had an apartment on 1 Pozsonyi
Street. Radnóti had met her already in 1926 at the home of Károly
Hilbert, a secondary school teacher, who tutored him in mathematics;
Fanni was the pupil of Hilbert's wife. Several of Radnóti's love poems
were inspired by his wife Fifi but also by Judit Beck, an aspiring
painter, with whom he had a short affair.
always spoke of Fifi in terms of devotion, in spite of his romantic
involvement with Judith. Her name first surfaced in the Diary in 1941, but he had met her
years before. In 'The Third Eclogue' (June 1941) Radnóti wrote of his
new muse: "And just like a cockeyed wisp of a bird can / resurrect a
dried-out / tree with its song, so I shall be lifted up to the / sky,
beyond the ancient / roofs, then hurled into a savage state by my /
youthful desires." (The
Complete Poetry in Hungarian and English by Miklós Radnóti,
translated by Gabor Barabas; foreword by Győző Ferencz, 2014, p. 141)
with Judit lasted until his draft into the labor service in July 1942.
With Járkálj csa, halálraítélt! (1936, Walk On, Condemned), which dealt with the theme of violent death, Radnóti won the Baumgarted Prize. In 1937 he made a journey with Fanni to France, where he had contacts with left-wing circles. In the early 1930s he had produced activist poems – 'John Love, testvérem,' 'Vasárnap,' 'Füttyel oszlik a béke' and others – and established ties with the illegal Hungarian Communist Party. The Spanish Civil war and the death of the poet Federico García Lorca preoccupied much of his thoughts. With the tightening of censorship, Radnóti started to turn his attention more and more to translation of literature.
During World War II Radnóti published Orpheus nyomában (1942), which contained his translations of poetry, new and old. Commissioned by Imre Waldapfel-Trencsényi, he translated Virgil's 'Eclogue IX' for Pásztori Magyar Vergilius (1938), and composed his 'First Eclogue,' which reflected comtemporary events: "Garcia Lorca is dead! To think that no one told me! . . . " ('The Eclogues of Miklós Radnóti: A Twentieth-century Vergil' by Lászlo Takács, in Acta Ant. Hung. 53, 2013, pp. 311-322) From the modern French writers he translated Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Eluard, Apollinare and Blaise Cendras. Radnóti used much classical poetic forms, which offered a firm cultural ground, ideals of eternal beauty, against the irrationalism, barbarism, and anti-Semitism of his own time. Several of his poems have also religious overtones, such as 'Ének a halálról' and 'Töredék.'
Years before Radnóti converted to Roman Catholicism, he had
Christianity. At the university he had studied with the Catholic poet
and priest Sándor Sík (1889-1963). Formally he converted in 1943. In
1944 Radnóti was sent to a labor camp near Bor in Yugoslavia. As the
Russian army was approaching, the concentration camps in Yugoslavia
were evacuated and his unit was led on foot through Hungary. Radnóti
was shot death by Hungarian guards in November near the village of
Abda, with other 21 internees who were unable to walk. The mass grave
was exhumed after the war and Radnóti's last poems, describing
incidents on the march, were found in his trench coat pocket by his
widow. Radnóti's posthumous collection, Tajtékos ég (1946,
With Clouds) contains odes to his wife, letters, and poetic fragments.
His remains were later reburied in Budapest's Kerepesi Cemetery.
Radnóti's poems were often melancholic and introspective. The
central theme in his later collections was death, the poets stand in
the world "marked with a white cross." Radnóti's language was highly
controlled, serene, and precise, and he did not abandon his cold
objectivity even when he knew he would not survive the horrors of his
last march: "I fell next to him. His body rolled over. / It was tight
as a string before it snaps. / Shot in the back of the head – 'This is
how / you'll end.' 'Just lie quietly,' I said to myself. / Patience
flowers into death now. / 'Der springt noch auf' I heard above me. /
Dark filthy blood was drying on my ear." (translated
by Steven Polgar, Stephen Berg, and S.J. Marks, in How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with
Poetry by Edward Hirsch, 1999, p. 147)
For further reading: Radnóti Miklós: 1909-1944 by Ortutay Gy (1959); Radnóti Miklós költészete by I. Bori (1965); Radnóti Miklós by B. Pomogáts (1977); Introduction to Miklós Radnóti: Forced March by G. Gömöri and C. Wilmer (1979); 'Introduction' to Miklós Radnóti: The Complete Poetry by E. George (1980); 'Training for the Forced March' by I. Sanders, in Commonweal, 22 October (1982); Miklós Radnóti by M.D. Birnbaum (1983); A History of Hungarian Literature by István Nemeskürty et al. (1983); The Oxford History of Hungarian Literature by Lóránt Czigány (1984); The Poetry of Miklos Radnoti: A Comparative Study by Emery Edward George (1986); The Life and Poetry of Miklós Radnóti, ed. by George Gömöri, Clive Wilmer (1999); In the Footsteps of Orpheus: The Life and Times of Miklós Radnóti by Zsuzsanna Ozsvath (2001); 'Foreword' by, in The Complete Poetry in Hungarian and English by Miklós Radnóti, translated by Gabor Barabas (2014); Radnóti Miklós by Fráter Zoltán (2019) - Suom.: Miklós Radnótin runoja on julkaistu antologiassa Unkarin lyyra, toim. Toivo Lyy (1970) ja valikoimassa Taivas irtosi maasta, toim. Anna-Maija Raittila (1986). Vuonna 2003 ilmestyi Hannu Launosen kääntämänä ja toimittamana valikoima runoja, Vaahtopää taivas.