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( 1909 - 1945 )

» Early Poems (.)
» Mature poetry (.)
» Prose (.)


1909 born in Budapest
1930-34 studies French and Hungarian at the University of Szeged, joins Art Forum of Szeged Youth, an association founded by left-wing intellectuals and artists
1931 his second book of poetry confiscated; the poet condemned to eight days imprisonment for subversion and anti-religious acts; Sándor Sík intervenes to have the sentence commuted
1934 receives doctorate in Hungarian Literature Szeged; moves to Budapest; gets married; frequent contributor to Nyugat, the most prestigious literary journal
1937 wins prestigious Baumgarten Prize
1931-39 three visits to Paris
1938 under the anti-Jewish laws classified as a Jew
1940 called up to serve in a labour battalion for three months, then for ten months (1942-43)
1943 converts to Catholicism
1944 deported to labour camp in Bor (Yugoslavia), forced to march towards Germany, and shot dead by soldiers near Abda, a village in western Hungary

Early Poems

Radnóti translated widely from classical Greek and Latin as well as English, French and German poetry. His earliest volumes are written in the expressionist tone of the avant garde, in free verse, full of evocative visions. While in his first book he addresses his beloved with psalm-like devotion or with pagan worship, his second and third volumes bring a distinct shift toward surrealism, and the poems often have a political undertone. As the translator Zsuzsanna Ozsváth writes, the poems “exhibit an astonishingly impressive poetic development: new configuration of images, new rhythms, new tonalities.” In the poems “New Moon” and “Just Walk On, Condemned to Die!”, idylls are shadowed by the dark clouds of the approaching calamity in Europe.

Mature poetry

In his last volumes, Steep Road and the posthumous Foamy Sky, Radnóti uses classical forms to articulate the anguish of the threatened and persecuted individual, creating works of great compassion and beauty. His finely disciplined poetry (which has much in common with French existentialism) is governed by the threat of death and the loss of freedom. The poems become more philosophical, full of self-analysis. In 1938 he translated Virgil’s Ninth Eclogue (similarly written in hard times), and by 1944, he wrote his own cycle of eclogues, seeking ethical answers and attitudes to situations difficult for the modern man. Radnóti’s matrimonial poetry culminates in the poems written to his wife from the labour camp where he was interned; it is the sustaining power of love that makes possible his stubborn wish to return. In his youth, he used to write “cartes postales”, and this genre also finds its culmination in the last four “Razglednicas”, accurate postcards reporting the details of horror. (Under an anagrammatic pen-name, Eaton Darr, Radnóti wrote a few nonsense poems as well.)


With a fellow-artist’s sensitivity, Radnóti wrote studies about his contemporaries (Babits, Milán Füst, Lőrinc Szabó); he wrote a short memoir (Under Gemini) about his childhood and the discovery of the fact that he had “killed” his mother and twin-brother with his birth. But more interesting is his Diary, kept from 1934, and more regularly from 1937 to October 1943, in which a fine intellect with an outstanding moral stance witnesses literature, the social and political life of the age, and his time in a labour gang. This documentary (which is part of Hungarian Holocaust literature) is a literary work of art in its own right.

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