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The witness.


Evening approaches the barracks and the ferocious oak fence braided with barbed wire, look, they dissolve in the twilight. Slowly the eye thus abandons the bounds of our captivity and only the mind, the mind is aware of the wire's tension. Even fantasy finds no other path towards freedom. Look, my beloved, dream, that lovely liberator, releases our aching bodies. The captives set out for home.

Clad in rags and snoring, with shaven heads, the prisoners fly from Serbia's blinded peaks to their fugitive homelands. Fugitive homeland! Oh - is there still such a place? still unharmed by bombs? as on the day we enlisted? And will the groaning men to my right and my left return safely? And is there a home where hexameters are appreciated?

Dimly groping line after line without punctuation, here I write this poem as I live in the twilight: inching, like blear-eyed caterpillar, my way on the paper; torches and books have all been seized by the Lager guard, mail has stopped and the fog from the mountains muffles the barracks.

Riddled with insects and rumours here in the mountains, Frenchmen, Poles and dissident Serbs, loud Italians, dreamy Jews - fevered, a dismembered body, we lead a single existence, waiting for news, a sweet word from a woman, and decency, freedom, waiting for miracles, guessing the end obscured by the darkness.

Lying on boards, I am a captive beast among vermin, the fleas renew their siege but the flies have at last retired. Evening has come; my captivity, behold, is curtailed by a day and so is my life. The camp is asleep. The moonshine lights up the land and highlights the taut barbed wire fence, drawing the shadow of armed prison guards, observed through the window, walking, projected on walls, and spying the night's early noises.

Swish go the dreams, behold my beloved, the camp is asleep, and the odd man who wakes with a snort turns about in his little space and returns to his dreams at once, his face glowing. Alone I sit up awake with the lingering taste of a cigarette butt in my mouth instead of your kiss, and I get no merciful sleep, for neither can I live nor die without you, my love, any longer.


Collapsed exhausted, only a fool would rise again to drag his knees and ankles once more like marching pain yet press on as though wings were to lift him on his way, invited by the ditch but in vain, he'd dare not stay ... ask him, why not? maintaining his pace, he might reply: he longs to meet the wife and a gentler death, that's why. But he's insane, I tell you, because above the homes, since we have left them, only a scorching whirlwind roams, the walls are laid, the plumtree is broken, and the night lurks there among the ruins in fearful, bristling plight. Oh, if I could believe that all things for which I yearn exist beyond my heart, that there's still home and return ... return! the old verandah, the peaceful hum of bees attracted by the cooling fresh plum jam in the breeze, the still, late summer sunshine, the garden drowsing mute, among the leaves the swaying voluptuous naked fruit, and Fanni waiting for me, blonde by the russet hedge, while languidly the morning re-draws the shadow's edge ... It may come true again - the moon shines so round - be wise! Don't leave me, friend, shout at me, shout! and I will arise!



The roar of cannon rolls from Bulgaria dense and broad, resounds upon the mountain crest, then hesitates and ceases; the maned sky runs above; but recoils the neighing road; and men and beasts are tangled, and wagon, thought and load. You"re deep and constant in me despite this turbulence and glowing in my conscience, forever still, intense and silent like an angel when wondering he sees destruction, or as beetles entombed in dying trees.


Nine kilometres from here, look, the haystacks and homes consumed in blaze; the peasants smoke in silence by the meadow and huddle in a daze. But here, the shepherdess leaves in the water light ripples in her wake and gently dipping down, her curly flock drinks the clouds up in the lake.


The oxen slaver red saliva. People pass urine mixed with blood. My squadron stands disorganized in filthy bunches. Death blows overhead its cold, infernal breath.


I slump beside his body. It turns over already taut as string about to break. Shot in the nape. You too will end like that, I whisper to myself. Lie calm, be patient. Death's flower blooms in silence while I wait. Blood mixed with dirt grows clotted on my ear. A soldier quips: There's one who'll get away yet.
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Author:Radnoti, Miklos
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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