Dreams of Love



Pastoral muse! Accompany me to this sleepy coffeehouse
from the light-drenched riverbank and its burrowing, sightless
moles and their rising molehills... from the sunburnt fishermen
with white teeth and noble proportions, stretching out
asleep in their slippery barges after the morning catch!

My pastoral muse, accompany me to this urban district –
Those seven carousing travelling salesmen should not deter you:
pathetic lads, they are burdened by the pressures of business...
nor should those doctors of law to the right: not one of whom can
remember how to play the flute... and how they suck their cigars!

Accompany me! I’m a teacher and, between classes, I’ve chosen
this place for a moment’s peace in the smoke to ponder on passion.
A tweet from a tiny bird can rejuvenate an old poplar.
A call from a woman has lifted me high to the peaks of youth
and flung me back to the wild adolescent lands of desire.

My pastoral muse, assist me! Today, the triumphant trumpets
of dawn resounded in praise of the fleeting flash of her smile,
describing the feel and form and the heat and cool of her body,
and how it reflects the moon, and the way she gives herself,
and the joyful, dancing rhythm of sighs that escape her lips.
My pastoral muse, assist me! Allow me to serenade love
despite my nagging sadness, despite the unending pain
that hounds me through this world. I know I soon shall perish.
The trees grow awry and mine pits collapse and, in my dreams,
I hear that even the very bricks in the houses are screaming.

My pastoral muse, assist me! The poets are dying in droves.
The sky is collapsing on us. No mounds will guard our remains,
nor graceful urns like in classical times – only the odd
surviving poetic fragments. How then can I sing about love?
But... her body is beckoning. Pastoral muse, assist me! 



A raven, like a pregnant woman, waddles
across the road that lies in peace again.
At last a bird, thank goodness! sighs the road,
and pours out all her recent woes and pain.

The wounded crops are also listening.
The battle-broken district rests her eyes...
she still remembers, even though the evening
approaches softly with sweet lullabies.
A small live landmine lurking in the ground –
it darkly dreams of death but would not dare
to detonate... its rage restrained by a stern
cabbage with a disapproving glare. 

Behind the sagely drooping sunflowers yonder,
afloat beneath young trees above the mud
extends a horizontal steel-blue cloud:
dense barbed-wire, still tense with thirst for blood. 

But when the dew of the dawn caresses the wire,
a yellow flower creeps along a narrow
gap carefully (its tender stalk a fuse)
and opens gold – the flower of the marrow.

And silence will again spray on the land
and storks alight where parapets stand now...
The trenches are abandoned to the rabbits,
but Flórián will put them to the plough. 

The men will take up their neglected crafts –
the former weavers once again will make
good clothes and nightly dream of threads until
in pearly mornings peacefully they wake. 

The women will again bend to their chores
and by their feet, a clamorous world will grow
of graceful girls in poppy-coloured dresses
and boys like butting kids, so far to go...

Thus will return the wise eternal order
evolved beneath the stars within the pool
of life, the scheme of animals and crops,
a strict but tame, unmilitary rule.

Miklós Radnóti (1909-1944)

Translated from the Hungarian and edited by
Thomas Land

The author of these poems was almost certainly the greatest among the Holocaust poets. His work in Thomas Land’s English translations appears in two new, landmark anthologies: 
Survivors: Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust translated & edited by Thomas Ország-Land, (Smokestack Books, Middlesborough) and Summer Grasses, An Anthology of War Poetry (The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Santa Barbara, California).

If you have any comments on these poems, or on his translations in general, Thomas Land would be pleased to hear from you.