When contemplating on the bookshelf the great classics’ Complete Works that emanate an aura of authority and reliability, one could not imagine that there exists any Work that has survived and nevertheless has not found its way into the Complete. Especially in the case of so important authors like Miklós Radnóti. However, there are such works. Although the cataloging of the Radnóti bequest which got into the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 2009 is still in process, the provisional report of Antal Babus to be published tomorrow on the site presenting the bequest reveals that it includes a good number of poems, fragments, translations, essays and other prosaic works which are unknown to the general public up to the present day.

From the examples listed in the report now we want to mention only one to arouse curiosity and to introduce the presentation of the site that will take place tomorrow: Radnóti’s satirical verse against Mihály Babits, the greatest authority of the Hungarian literary scene between the two wars.

True, this poem is not completely unknown, for Győző Ferencz, the administrator of the bequest has already mentioned it in his monumental monograph on Radnóti, published in 2009 on the centenary of his birth. However, it has never been included in any collection of Radnóti’s poems, and its manuscript is also published now for the first time.

Győző Ferencz dedicates a special chapter to the relationship of Radnóti and Babits (which can be read here in its entirety in Hungarian). From there we know the antecedents of this poem. In February 1933 Radnóti published his book of poetry Convalescent Wind. The book generated a number of reviews, mostly by Radnóti’s fellow university students and, accordingly, in a positive tone, but the most important one, written by Babits in the 16 February edition of the authoritative literary journal Nyugat (Occident) severely criticized the unnaturalness of its poetic language and its artificial folksy idioms:

“…[Miklós Radnóti], whose new book is laying on my bed and under whose uniform woven 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…

Where even 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 Kraftausdrucks, spontaneity by sloppiness, the vocation by peasant birth, and the talent by provocation.”

Radnóti took the criticism much to heart. On 17 February he wrote in his notebook: “The new Nyugat has come. Babits has brutally attacked my new book.”

And on 12 April he put down on paper the above poem entitled April. Nevertheless, he never published it. And he did well. For this poem itself proves that Babits was right when judging immature and affected the poetry of the young Radnóti at the beginning of his career.


Mélán, rozsdálló róka
zászlós farkára száll
a csipogó madár
és fene farkasokkal
göndör barik ügetnek együtt,
hogy lássák, ha kontyba űl
asszonyom fején
a kemény aranysörény.

És csudálják róla verseim,
melyek gurulnak ott
az ég tetején;
madár eltátja csőrét
úgy csudálja
s csudálja róka, farkasok.
Barik is olykép: hogy
Szájukból kibillen fogsoruk!


Ó, emberek! Babitsnak torkát
Fojtsa füstként e boldog ének
és pöttyentsen fejére
fán rejtező madár.

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.

This rage continued to fuel Radnóti in the following years against Babits who, in his opinion, failed to recognize his talent. Győző Ferencz quotes a number of his outbursts from his unpublished diaries and letters (to whose evaluation see also the review of György Vári, in Hungarian). He seemed to be reconciled only from 1936 on, when Babits finally let him to the table of Nyugat and even adjudged to him the prestigious Baumgarten Prize. And on 5 August 1941 he was deeply staggered by the news of the death of Babits:

“Yesterday in the night Babits died. I went for the new edition of Nyugat to the editorial office, and the younger Oszkár [Gellért] told it. I stood there for a long while. Well, I knew about his illness, but it was already so many times that he felt «extremely bad». (…) I felt very lonely. I was not his «confidential friend», but the knowledge that he was living, even if ill, that he was living… who will defend now (how difficult it is to say what) what must be defended?! Whose look will we feel on our writing right hand? Either consenting or contradicting him, he was always the model and the measure. (…) He was the Professor, the Great Professor, the «great professor» of poems.” (Gemini)

He wrote on the death of Babits the poem Only Skin and Bones and Pain. Its manuscript – which also includes a never published strophe – will be also published for the first time on the site of the Radnóti bequest. These two poems from 1933 and 1941 demonstrate not only the long way of Radnóti from the refusal of Babits his acknowledging as a master, but also the enormous development of his poetry during these eight years. A development in which the criticism of 1933 by Babits indisputably had its part.

Csak csont és bőr és fájdalom
Babits Mihály halálára

Látjátok, annyi szenvedés után most
pihen e hűvös, barna test.
Csak csont és bőr és fájdalom.
S akár a megtépett, kidőlt fatörzs
évgyűrűit mutatja,
bevallja ő is gyötrött éveit.
Csak csont és bőr e test.
De most a nemzeté is
csak csont és bőr és fájdalom. Íme,
Balázs, kihez könyörgött, vedd karodba!
Ó, requiem aeternam dona ei… Domine!

Szavak jöjjetek köré,
ti fájdalom tajtékai!
ti mind, a gyásztól tompa értelem
homályán bukdosó szavak,
maradjatok velem:
gyászold omló göröngy,
sírj rá a sírra most!
jöjj, könnyű testű fátyol
ó, takard be,

s akit már régen elhagyott a hang, -
gyászold meg őt, te konduló harang,
lebegő lélek és gömbölyű gyöngy,
s gyászolj megint
te csilla szó, te csillag,
te lassú pillantású szó, hold,
s ti többiek! ti mind!

Tudtuk már rég, minden hiába, rák
marcangol és szemedben ott ragyog
egy messzi és örök dolgokból font világ,
s hogy oly időtlen vagy te, mint a csillagok.

Tudtuk, hogy meghalsz, tudtuk s mégis oly
árván maradtunk most a Művel itt.
Nagysága példa. És magasság.
És szédület. Szívet dobogtató.

Ki nézi most tollat fogó kezünket,
ha betegen, fáradtan is, de mégis...
ki lesz az élő Mérték most nekünk?
Hogy összetörte már a fájdalom,
nézd, ezt a költeményt is.
Mit szólnál hozzá?
lám az eljövő
költőnek is, ki félve lép még
most már a Mű a mérték.

S nem érti árvaságunk,
ha bólintunk: halott már...
nem ismert téged, ágyadnál nem ült,
s nem ült az asztalodnál.

Nem tudja majd, mi fáj...
s nem kérdi és nem kérdik tőle sem, –
mint egymástól mi,
évek óta már,
mint jelszót, hogy: „ki járt kint nála?
Ki tudja mondd, hogy van Babits Mihály?”

Halott keze nem fogja már a tollat,
béhunyt szeme nem lát több éjszakát.
Örök világosság, kibomló égi láng
röppen felé a földi füstön át.
Only Skin and Bones and Pain
On the death of Mihály Babits

See now, after all that suffering
this cool brown body is at rest.
Skin and bones and pain – that is all.
And just as the torn, uprooted tree
displays its annual rings,
so he too admits to his tormented years.
This body – but bones and skin.
But now what is nothing but skin
and pain and bones belongs to the nation too. See him,
Blaise, whom he implored, take him into your arms!
O requiem aeternam dona ei… Domine!

Come, words, to surround him,
you surfbreakers of pain!
all of you, words groping in the twilight
of intellect dulled by mourning,
remain with me:
mourn him, crumbling clod of earth,
weep down onto the grave!
come, light-bodied veil,
o cover him,
and whom the voice has long since abandoned,
mourn him now, tolling bell,
hovering soul, and spherical pearl,
and mourn once again,
you gleaming word, you, star,
you word of slow glance, o moon,
and all you others! all!

We have known for long, all is lost: cancer
tears you, and that in your eyes there shines
a world woven of far and eternal things,
and that you are as timeless as the stars.
We knew you were dying, we knew, and yet remained
so orphaned with the Oeuvre here, down below.
Its magnitude is exemplary. It is sublimity.
It makes the heart beat faster. And is vertigo.

Who shall now look on our pen-holding hands,
if in illness, in fatigue, but still?…
who shall be our living Measure now?
Look how pain has broken
even this poem.
What would your judgment of it be? See, for the coming
poet too, as yet shy of his steps,
the published Work is the standard.

Nor does he comprehend our orphaned state
when we nod: yes, dead now…
He never knew you, never sat at your bedside
or at your table, either.

He will not know what hurts…
And will not ask, nor will they ask of him,
as we have of one another – for years now,
like some password: “Who was out there to see him?
Tell me, who knows how Mihály Babits is doing?”

No longer does his dead hand hold the pen,
his shut-down eyes will see our nights no more.
Eternal light, heaven’s unfolding flame,
flies to greet him past this earth’s dense smoke.

Translation by Emery George

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