An Excerpt from “Foamy Sky”

The Seventh Eclogue
(From Foamy Sky: The Major Poems of Miklos Radnoti)

Dusk; and the barracks, the oak stockade with its hem
of cruel wire, they are floating–see! they melt in the night.
The faltering gaze unlocks our frame of captivity
and only the brain can measure the twist of the wire.
But see too, my love, only thus may the fantasy free itself:
dream the redeemer dissolves the wreck of the body,
and off they go homeward, the whole campful of prisoners.

Snoring they fly, the poor captives, ragged and bald,
from the blind crest of Serbia to the hidden heartland of home!
The hidden heartland.–O home, O can it still be?
with the bombing? and is it as then when they marched us away?
and shall those who moan on my left and my right return?
Say, is there a country where someone still knows the hexameter?

As thus in darkness I feel my way over the poem,
shorn of its crown of accents, even so do I live,
blind, like an inchworm, spanning my hand on the paper;
flashlight, book, the lager guards took away everything,
and the mail doesn’t come, and fog descends on the barracks.

Amid rumors and pests live the Frenchman, the Pole, loud Italian,
the Serbian outcast, the musing Jew in the mountains:
one life in all of these tattered and feverish bodies,
waiting for news, for a lovely womanly word,
for freedom–for an end how dark soever–for a miracle.

On boards among vermin I lie, a beast in a cage;
while the flies’ armies rest, the fleas renew the assault.
It’s night. Confinement’s another day shorter, my love;
life, also, is less by a day. The camp is asleep.
The moonlight rekindles the landscape, retightens the wire;
you can watch through the window the shadows of guards with guns,
pacing, cast on the wall in the many voices of night.

The camp is asleep. See their dreams rustle, my love;
he who startled up snores, turns in his narrow confinement,
falls asleep again, face in a shine. Alone, awake,
I sit with the taste of a cigarette-end in my mouth
instead of your kiss, and the melting dream doesn’t come, for
I neither can die nor live any more without you.

Lager Heidenau: in the mountains above Zagubica. July 1944.