War & Love by Miklós Radnóti
Translated from the Hungarian & edited by Thomas Ország-Land (August 2015)
Small flames are fluttering and slowly and forever dying –
along the bright meridians, the souls of the soldiers flying.
Souls all alike! no matter who each one had been or done
exposed to screaming icy winds or oppressed by the searing sun,
all serving by cannon, drunk with longing, vomiting in the grip
of crippling fear... all sailors onboard a heaving battleship!
The watch is kept by sensitive death. Below, mines grimly glide.
From time to time, their slimy harvest washed up by the tide –
a swaying catch of corpses and shattered dolphins, lifeless spawn.
There too, the sun still rises, but no-one welcomes such a dawn.
High up, an aircraft rumbles. Its advance across the sky
reflected by its silent shadow drawn upon the sly,
dark waters. Whirlpools hiss towards it. Signals flash their grief...
and blooms of human blood will deepen the red of the coral reef.
The peril howls all day. Light oil seeps from the fine machine.
The ship is tracked by echoing rage, like a hostile submarine.
At last, the sun is drowned in smoke and, like a terrified,
a writhing face, the moon appears upon the other side,
and flames are fluttering again and slowly forever dying –
Along the bright meridians, the souls of the soldiers flying.
A HESITANT ODE
How long I have prepared, dear, to describe to you
the secret constellation of my love,
perhaps its substance only, just in a single image.
Your teeming sense within me floods like life itself
and sometimes it is timeless, certain and secure:
eternal like a fossil shell within a rock.
The silken, feline moonlit night above my head
begins the hunt for buzzing tiny dreams in flight.
And still I have not managed to describe to you
how much it means to me to sense your caring gaze
as it hesitates upon my hand when I’m at work.
No similes will do. I scrap them as they come.
I will begin this whole attempt again tomorrow
because I am worth only as much as the words
within this poem, and my search will keep me going
until I am reduced to bones and tufts of hair.
You’re tired. It’s been a long day for me also.
What can I say? The objects, look! exchange their glances
in praise of you; a broken cube of sugar sings
on the table; and a drop of honey falls and, like
a ball of gold, it glitters on the tablecloth;
and spontaneously now, an empty tumbler rings out:
it’s glad it lives with you. Perhaps I’ll have the time
to tell you what it’s like when it expects you home.
Descending darkly, flocks of dreams approach you lightly,
they flit away yet keep returning to your brow.
Your drowsy eyes still send a last farewell towards me.
Your loosened hair cascades in freedom. You’re asleep.
The lengthy shadow of your eyelids softly flutters.
Your hand, a resting birch twig, falls upon my pillow.
I share your sleep, for you are not a different world;
and even here I sense as a multitude of secret
and thin, sage lines relax in the tranquil palm of your hand.
Miklós Radnóti (1909-1944), a victim and probably the greatest poet of the Holocaust. More of his poetry in Thomas Land’s English translation appears in Survivors: Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust (Smokestack Books, England, 2014).
Thomas Ország-Land (b. 1938), a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent based in London and his native Budapest, who contributes to the New English Review as well as The Jewish Quarterly, The London Magazine and Stand.
(Author Photo by Hajnalka Friebert)
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