By Miklos Radnoti
Translated by Steven Polgar, Stephen Berg and S.J. Marks
Maybe if I were a child again…
Or could go crazy.
The world getting bigger and bigger…
Then I would play and float,
then the sun would blaze again,
then the distance would explode with light.
The net of logic opens
And shuts again.
I would be a child, but memory hurts.
Nettles sting like splinters in my tiny fingers.
And leaves grow high on the mulberry tree.
Or maybe I could be a nice madman
And live in yellow house high among yellow
flowers, a small bell tied around my neck…
But I just look around. The ditch is here.
I walk and think and stand, then walk again.
And wait for longer and longer winters.
But don't leave me, delicate mind!
Don't let me go crazy.
Sweet wounded reason, don't
leave me now.
Don't leave me. Let me die, without fear,
a clean lovely death,
like Empedocles, who smiled as he fell
into the crater.
Miklós Radnóti (1909-1944) was probably the greatest among the world’s Holocaust poets, murdered by the retreating Hungarian Army at the close of the Second World War. His poetry has won a robust international reputation and made him a beloved figure in World Poetry.
Miklos Radnoti's poems have an anguished intimacy and intensity, a supreme humanity. This learned Hungarian poet, killed during World War II at the age of 35, clung to the classical values of the Western tradition at a time when those values were radically imperiled.
In Radiotin’s late poems, despair and insanity are countered by the aesthetic and moral ideals of antiquity: the clarity of poetic form, the virtues of reason and the philosophical rectitude of Stoicism.
His poems were deeply felt and thoroughly modern -- filled with his sense of anxiety, uncertainty and fate. He was an avant-garde classicist who, in a mad time, was terrified of madness, as in this great poem "Maybe . . . "
(Note Palinode means a poem (here a stanza) in which the poet retracts a view or sentiment expressed in a former poem. Extracted from “Clouded Sky” New and Revised poems of Miklos Radnoti. A detailed review of his poems by yours truly is there in Goodreads.)
Radoti with his wife before the war