The Poetry of Heartbreak

By Hirsch, Edward | World Literature Today, Autumn 2019 | Go to article overview

The Poetry of Heartbreak


Hirsch, Edward, World Literature Today


In 100 Poems to Break Your Heart, the author's current book-length project (in progress), Edward Hirsch offers short essays on poems he finds especially heartbreaking, including Dunya Mikhail's "The War Works Hard," Meena Alexander's "Krishna, 3:29 a.m.," Zbigniew Herbert's "Mr Cogito and the Imagination," and Rose Ausländers "My Nightingale." The following is an excerpt.

Miklós Radnóti's poems have an anguished intimacy and intensity. This modern Hungarian poet, killed during World War II at the age of thirty-five, clung with a desperate serenity to the classical values of the Western tradition at a time when those values were close to extinction. Radnóti's poems were deeply felt and thoroughly modern-filled with his sense of anxiety, uncertainty, and fate-but their formal values tend to be classical. This makes him akin to his Russian contemporary, Osip Mandelstam. One feels in reading him a growing level of despair countered by such aesthetic and moral ideals of antiquity as the clarity of poetic form, the virtues of reason, and the philosophical rectitude of Stoicism.

I have learned a great deal from Radnóti's eight eclogues (the sixth one is missing), a discontinuous series that he wrote in the late 1930s and early '40s. In 1938 he translated Virgil's ninth eclogue, which instigated his own dark pastorals. The term eclogue, a short dialogue or soliloquy, was first applied to Virgil's Bucolics, which later became known as the Eclogues. These formal poems develop a pattern, first established by Theocritus in the Idylls, in which urban poets turn to the countryside for sustenance. Radnóti's eclogues were written in hexameters, the classical sixfoot metrical line that is somewhat unnatural in English but well suited to Hungarian. Radnóti employs it to refashion the pastoral form to address an era when morality is turned upside down and right and wrong have switched places. He calls on the shepherd muse to assist him in trying to preserve the values of civilization. "Pastoral Muse, O help me!" he writes in "The Third Eclogue," "this age must murder its poets" These poems sing to overcome terror, invoking the splendors of memory, the landscape of childhood, and the necessity of love when "reason falls apart"

Here is the most blunt and startling poem in the sequence:

The Fifth Eclogue

(Fragment)

To the memory of György Bálint

Dear friend, you don't know how this cold poem made me quake,

how afraid I was of words. Even today I tried to escape them.

I wrote half-lines.

I tried to write about other things,

but it was no use. This terrible, hidden night calls me:

"Talk about him"

Fear wakes me, but the voice

is silent, like the dead out there in the Ukrainian fields.

You're missing.

And even autumn doesn't bring news.

In the forest

the promise of another furious winter whistles today. In the sky,

clouds heavy with snow fly past and halt.

Who knows if you're alive?

Even I don't know today. I don't shout

angrily if they wave their hands painfully and cover their faces

and don't know anything.

But are you alive, wounded?

Do you walk among dead leaves, circled by the thick smell of

forest mud,

or are you a smell too?

Snow drifts over the fields.

He's missing-the news hits.

And inside, my heart pounds, freezes.

Between two of my ribs, a bad, ripping pain starts up,

quivers, and in my memories, words you spoke a long time ago

come back sharply and I feel your body's as real

as the dead's-

And I still can't write about you today!

November 21, 1943

Translation from the Hungarian

By Steven Polgar, Stephen Berg & S. J. Marks

Radnóti dedicated "The Fifth Eclogue" to the memory of his close friend, the essayist and critic György Bálint. He first got the idea for "Ötödik Ecloga" in the spring of 1943 when he was serving his own ten-month stint of forced labor. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Poetry of Heartbreak
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.