In early March 1930 Radnóti published his first book of poetry Pogány köszöntő (Pagan Salute) with the publisher Kortárs. Dezső Baróti, who was on friendly terms with Radnóti in Szeged remembers the period of the book’s birth like this: “The composition of the volume was no small matter to him. Mostly because he himself had to raise the money necessary for printing. The publisher Kortárs, which figures as the editor on the title page of the volume had constant financial difficulties, so they could not provide but their name. Similarly to the greatest – and the best! – part of contemporary young poets, he had to collect the costs of printing on lists of subscription. I myself heard of him that the sum collected was not that high. This may have also influenced the selection.
14. OÚ VAS-TU, PETIT?
15. VERS L’OEUVRE DE DOUCEUR.
16. IL DIT ENCORE: NON. PUIS Á MOI QUI
PARTAIS, IL DIT: QUAND BEAUCOUP DE
JOURS SE SERONT PERDUS, TU REVIEN-
DRAS ICI, UN JOUR
“14. Where do
you go, little boy? 15. Towards
the deeds of kindness. 16. He said
again: No. And then to me who have already parted: After many days will be lost,
you will return here some day.”
According to Győző Ferencz the title of the volume emphasizes the young poet’s literary debut and his outsider position as well as his chosen style, the pastoral poetry akin to neo-popular lyricism. On the other hand, the motto by Barbusse formulates a program of “goodness”. Thus the adjective pagan in the title does not mean “irreligious” but rather “rebellious”. The young poet saw the social revolutionary in Jesus.
The reception of the volume was moderate but
benevolent and understanding. György Bálint, a future close friend of Radnóti
who also wrote acknowledging criticisms on his later volumes, already recognized
Radnóti’s talent in the Pagan Salute, and exposed it in the leading
literary journal Nyugat: “…in the dissolved, free forms of this exclusive
lyricism the style of expressionism meets the bucolic tone. […] This is how one
can be both modern and poetical at once. And one does not have to be a great
poet to that. Only a talented one.”
SONG OF MODERN SHEPHERDS
The world view of the volume as well as its title was influenced by the Communist agitation novel of the Transylvanian author Andor Szilágyi, the New Shepherd. The title is also repeated in the poem My Dear One Is Ill:
Can you hear me, dead father? in my skirted
age you taught me lightly blowing prayerss:
pray for her now, for I’ve become estranged
from you, come among modern shepherds, who are
not used to singing prayers!
This book embraces the literary product of a year.
The earliest one, Twilight
was written on 16 March 1930, while the last one, Lament
on 30 January 1931. Nineteen out of the thirty-one poems were born in Szeged.
The volume is divided in four cycles:
• Elegies and Laments
• Youth after Girl
Two poems of this volume,
Fall Berries Redden in the Sun
Now caused much trouble to Radnóti.
I’m twenty-two years old. This is how
Christ must have looked in the fall
at that age; as yet he had no
beard; he was blond, and girls
dreamed about him at night!
Fall Berries Redden in the Sun Now
A bonde, pagan girl, that’s my lover; she believes in
me alone, and when she sees a priest
she whispers, in fright: There’s only grass and trees,
the sun, moon, stars, and the animals
on the colorful meadows. And runs away. Dust
flies happily at her footsteps.
Up there, though, toward the gardens,
a crucifix sees her kisses too, and
joyfully the cornflower falls down before her,
for a lovesick, bearded male saint
admires her every time in vain.
She’s eighteen, and when she is not with me,
she walks silently, as walks, between forest
banks, summer water at noon, and
in herself she nurses gleaming worry that
we’ll never be sated with kisses, and
she’s sad. Fall berries redden in the sun now.
On 14 April 1931 the Prosecutor of Budapest had the volume confiscated for indecency and offence against religion. They also ordered to sequester the manuscript and all the copies of the book wherever they can be found. They confiscated fifty copies in Radnóti’s sublet at Széchenyi square 8, while the rest was hidden by his friends. This event was recalled in his poem 19 April 1931 that begins with the verse “Yesterday they confiscated my new book”.
On 8 December 1931 the proceedings on
his book took place. The court of first instance sentenced him for eight days of
prison for offence against religion committed with his poems Portrait
Fall Berries Redden in the Sun Now.
Radnóti appealed against the judgment, also attaching a letter by his professor
of modern literature Sándor Sík. The Piarist priest of great prestige defended
his student in a tactical way against the charges. His opinion obviously had
great weight, as the next proceedings, while not changing the previous judgment,
suspended it for one year of probation.
Not only Sándor Sík, but also Béla Zolnai, Radnóti’s
professor of French literature and language fought for his student. In the very
period of the proceedings he published some of Radnóti’s poems in the journal of
Szeged Széphalom, edited by him. “It is nice of Zolnai that he published
that poem of mine even after the confiscation of the book. This has been a
courageous support. In fact, that journal is the official press of the
professors of the university.”
There was hardly any criticism on this volume,
obviously due also to the fact that most of its copies had been confiscated and
only a few of them got through to the readers and to the colleagues. It is worth
to quote from the one by László Kardos published in Nyugat: “These poems
reveal the true genius at the first reading. This volume has very few poems in
which every word is on its place, but perhaps no poem that would not be worth to
read. Miklós Radnóti is a talented poet and his next volume will stimulate the
critics to a more complete acknowledgement.”
Several reviews were published about the volume, among others by György Bálint, Ignotus, and from the Art College of the Youth of Szeged Anzelm Károly Berczeli, Zoltán Gáspár and Gábor Tolnai. However, the most important among them, the one written by the great critic of the period Mihály Babits was especially painful to Radnóti. Babits in the 16 February 1933 edition of Nyugat reviewed the volume together with a bok of poetry by the folksy poet Kálmán Sértő, and objected to the unnaturalness and forced popular idioms of Radnóti’s poetical language:
“…(Miklós Radnóti), whose new book is laying on my bed and under whose uniform vowen of modern free verses the tender heart of a silent lyricism is beating, sings such flower songs:
All is asleep here; even
a couple of flowers lean,
whimpering, on each other…
and, simmering, grow…
flowers are whimpering and simmering, there it is no wonder that the sunlight
«has lain down prone and, daydreaming up a creek, scratches its rump». In this
poetry, strength is substituted by
spontaneity by slopiness, the vocation by
birth, and the
talent by provocation.”
Radnóti was shocked by the criticism. On 17 February 1933 he noted in his notebook: “The new Nyugat has come. Babits brutally attacks my new book.”
At the same time he “took
revenge” on Babits in two unpublished poems. The manuscripts of both have
survived in his bequest.
The chirping bird
flies on the bannered
tail of the melancholic fox
and curly sheep trot
together with wild wolves
to see how the golden
mane is shining
on my woman’s head.
And they admire my poems
rolling all over there
on the top of the sky;
the bird with its bill agape
the foxes and the wolves
and the sheep all admire them
with open mouth.
Oh, people! Let
the throat of Babits
be suffocated by this happy song as by smoke
and let the bird hiding on the tree
plump on his head.
The other sarcastic poem
The garlanded old man has hurt me; let his
garland be made of onion! and when
he thinks to sit down on soft lawn
let the spine of the hedgehog
accept his rump for a sit.
The volume has a diary structure. Its first cycle is also called Male diary, and the title of each of the first eight poems is also just a date.
Not all the poems of this volume are new. As his Song of Modern Shepherds could not reach his readers, Radnóti included ten poems of the previous volume into the central two cycles (And Now It’s Dew Fighting Frost and Love Lament) of this one.
The fourth cycle is entitled Quince.
The closing poem is the
Song of the Black Man who Went to Town.
This is the most “leftist” volume of Radnóti. It was
in Szeged that he got in contact with illegal Communists, and their views on
class struggle deeply influenced this period of his poetry.
SONG OF THE BLACK MAN WHO WENT TO TOWN
According to printer Lajos Müller, in spite of the good
illustrations they could not sell a single copy of this publication.
In May 1935 the Art College of the Youth of Szeged published his Újhold (New Moon), including eight woodcuts by György Buday who later in British emigration won worldwide reputation. The volume, as well as the list of subscription, both designed by György Buday, are typographic masterpieces.
Radnóti wrote in his notebook: “The New Moon is my sixth book. I have hitherto published five books of poetry and one essay on Margit Kaffka, this latter being my Ph.D. thesis. However, one works on one single work until the death. Each book published is part of the complete oeuvre. Which one is my favorite book? Always the last one. Now the New Moon. If the artist does not get stuck somewhere on the way, he will get along in the battle fought with the material. The work is the realization. Now I feel I have got along again. And it is a special joy and pride to me that this book of mine was designed and decorated by György Buday. Gy. B. is my companion-in-arms, and his art… but let it be now. I intend to write a large essay on him anyway.”
The volume includes twenty-two poems. This is the first book of Radnóti which is not divided in cycles.
One copy of the book was deprived of the Love Poem in the Forest and the woodcut of György Buday accompanying it. Radnóti considered this necessary because the parents of his fiancée Fanni Gyarmati preferred their daughter not to bind her life to a poet of uncertain position, and the eroticism of this poem would have scandalized them, thus increasing their opposition to their future son-in-law. The Gyarmati family in fact received this “censored” copy, but neither this had success in winning their favor.
The reviews underlined correctly that the poetry of
Radnóti was in transition. His friend Gábor Tolnai observed closely the
transformation of his “lyrical tone”: “Yesterday he was a rebel full of hopes
and his formal ideal was the romantic individual. Now he is bitterly deluded,
his model is the polished Ferenc Kazinczy working in the solitude of his studio,
and his style moves away from the free verse along the path of the disciplined
measures of classical and rhymed forms.”
WALK ON, CONDEMNED!
In early November 1936 he published his Járkálj csak, halálraítélt! (Walk on, Condemned!). The title of this book was proposed by Fanni Gyarmati.
Radnóti attempted again to raise money for the publication of this volume through lists of subscription. The book was published by Nyugat, a fact that gave high rank to it and also indicated that he had settled his relations to Mihály Babits.
Radnóti’s approach to classical forms, already felt by Gábor Tolnai and others in the previous volume, was completed in this book. Although this turn took place after his studies in Szeged, it may well have been influenced by his professor of literature Sándor Sík, his personality, his aesthetic views and his university readings.
Criticism applauded to this book. György Bálint was
startled by Radnóti’s consciousness of death: “He is not a poet inclined to
melancholy. He is a rebel, he loves life. (…) I know not many poets who are
healthier than him – nevertheless, death is always on his mind.”
According to Antal Szerb, Radnóti found his own voice in this volume: “The
poetry of Radnóti
has smoothed like those evening landscapes whose softening he sings so many
times and in so beautiful ways. The several components, influences and
tendencies in his poetry are here amalgamated in one. The poet and his style
stand ready in front of us. His new volume arouses a gratifying impression of
In early December 1938 Radnóti published with Cserépfalvi his Meredek út (Steep Road). Similarly to his earlier New Moon, it is a remarkable edition also from typographic point of view. The high quality volume, printed on high quality paper in the Kner Printing House of Gyoma, was voted as the most beautiful book of the year. The great typographer György Haiman remembers the birth of the book like this: “Imre Cserépfalvi undertook the publishing of the book, but he could not cover all the costs alone. Our circle of friends had to join forces to realize this dream. My task was to take care of the typography of the book and, thanks to the Budapest representative of a Viennese paper trading company, I also procured free paper to it. Printing was executed by Imre Kner; I do not remember whether for free or for an exceptionally reduced price.”
Radnóti began the series of his Eclogues in this volume, with the publication of the First Eclogue.
Anna Lesznai, an eminent representative of the
generation of Endre Ady wrote with great sympathy about the book: “…Radnóti has
undergone a long development until he arrived his poems of today. Not only his
sympathy with nature has grew deeper and warmer, but he himself has also grown
more mature. The first one alone would be a glory to any young poet, because to
return to the sleeping world of nature is a great magic; but to elevate the
nature to the level of human spirit is more: it is a victory.”
SELECTED POEMS (1930–1940)
In late May 1940 the Almanach Editors published Radnóti’s Selected Poems (1930–1940). The office of the publisher was in front of Radnóti’s house at Pozsonyi street, and it was directed by Vilmos Kaczér, former editor of the journal Toll (Pen).
At the end of Selected Poems the poet included a cycle entitled Newer Poems (1938–1940), including nine never published poems: Love Poem, November, I Sat with Tristan, Naïve Song about the Wife, Early Summer, In a Restless Hour, Flames Flicker, Like Death, and Into a Copy of “Steep Road”.
The Selected Poems was applauded by critics.
Ferenc Szemlér reviewed from volume to volume the art of his fellow poet, and
summarized his opinion like this: “His seven volumes of poetry published in the
last decade attest that Radnóti has deserved the name of a poet, but his
individuality is really marked by this selection..”
Bálint pointed out the essence of Radnóti’s poetry: “Radnóti is long over his
linguistic Sturm und Drang. His voice has crystallized and has become harmonic,
nobly settled and temperate in a Latin way. And what is most important: it does
not remind of anyone else in modern Hungarian lyrics, either of his
contemporaries or of the great poets of the older generation.”
On 31 December 1941 he wrote in his notebook: “Yesterday my booklet Calendar got ready. It was published by Hungaria, they send it out as a New Year’s gift. It is beautiful. I like these twelve poems even more in this format. Yes, presentation is important.”
The poems describing the twelve months were written
between January 1939 and 28 February 1941.
In June 1946 the Révai Institute of Literature published his posthumous volume Tajtékos ég (Foamy Sky / Sky with Clouds). The volume was originally edited by Radnóti, but its final form was determined by his widow Fanni Gyarmati.
Fanni Gyarmati complemented the composition of the volume with the “Bor” poems that Radnóti had handed over to Sándor Szalai in the lager of Bor in the autumn of 1944: Letter to My Wife, Seventh Eclogue, Forced March, Eighth Eclogue and A la recherche.
In the summer of 1946, some days before the publication of the volume the corpse of Radnóti was exhumated from the mass grave of Abda. In his clothes they found the Bor Notebook containing his five last poems that were not included in the Foamy Sky: the Root and the four Razglednicas.
The later meditations of Fanni Gyarmati are left to us in her diary: “I have to think that it was too hasty to publish this volume. Now these poems were omitted, although here some great spiritual power must have worked, for they were found on 19 June, well in advance before the publication of the book at the end of June. (…) The strenuous, wonderful will to serve “the Work” thus worked even beyond the grave. These poems were not permitted to lay hidden and to perish…”