Tuesday, 13 July 2010

More on Miklós Radnóti and the acacia tree

Calendar - July

Fury, up there, cramps the cloud's belly -
The cloud pulls a face.
Showers of rain run about barefoot,
Wet hair all over the place.
They get tired, creep into the ground, and then
It is evening time.
And the heat, its body bathed, hangs over
The trees, whose faces shine.

Miklós Radnóti

I first read about Miklós Radnóti last year in Fiona Sampson's On Listening. It made me want to read his work but as is the way of life, other things crowded in and I forgot to look him up. The circumstances of his life – and death – were as compelling as his poetry - when I read it recently - turned out to be. He died at the age of 35, while on a forced march, as a prisoner during WWII, from Serbia to Hungary. His last poems, written while on this march, were discovered only after his death and there were intimations in these, that death was not far away. Mixed with the lyrical beauty of his descriptions of nature. The title of the collection is Forced March.

Calendar – June, which I put in the last posting, struck me particularly because of the lines ...and all/the acacias by the roadside are in bloom. It immediately reminded me of a particular acacia tree in the garden of the residence at Vauvert, near Nimes, where I was fortunate enough to spend two months, in 2007. Both the tree and remembering the tree, while I was in a train coming back from a few days away in Carcassonne and Foix, were particularly potent. I don't know why. Sometimes images just reach into some place in memory that feels original and expansive, without limits, way before words arrived with their packaging energy, their brown paper and lengths of string, their scissors and their sorting. This glimpsed place is not our familiar self, it's not our worldly address, it is vast and wild and sometimes – longed for. As if we have continents and worlds of memories that we don't remember in our daily lives but every so often, they are touched by something and though they remain a mystery, it feels quite wonderful to be touched by a mystery.

'In the corner of the garden there's a singing tree. It hums, and if one listens, one can detect different notes, different threads of sound. It's a large tree, and it leans over the wall. Its creamy flowers, adored by bees, are small, but form huge clusters and the tiny petals fall on the road beyond the garden sprinkling it with pale golden dust.'

Such was the acacia tree in the garden of the writers residence near Vauvert.

During this residency, I read with Le Scriptorium writers of Marseille at the Coudoux Festival. Dominique Sorrente created le Scriptorium group of writers, and I met him when we were both reading, along with others, at le Marche de la Poesie Festival in Paris earlier that year. We were both residents again at Les Avocats du Diable near Vauvert last year, where we translated each other's poems. When Dominique was on a brief visit to Scotland last month we met up and visited the Poetry Library in Edinburgh together. As I was browsing idly through the shelves, not looking for anything in particular, I came across Miklós Radnóty's collection and so finally got to read his marvellous work. And that's where I came across '...and all/the acacias by the roadside are in bloom'. Which immediately took me straight back in my imagination to Vauvert....

I don't have a picture of the acacia tree but this was the landscape that I woke up to every morning and, when I was not writing, explored during the day, particularly in the evenings, when the temperature had cooled down.

And, in another part of the world -

I travelled overland to Dubrovnik and when I finally arrived at the bus station three or four people pressed forward to offer rooms to stay. I spied a very small old lady at the back, and chose her. Her name was Roza, and she lived very close by she said, just a short walk up a hill from the bus station. But, as the hill was quite steep, we should take a bus, she said. She indicated that she had a coin to pay my fare. ......
You can read the rest of this article at
Balkan Travellers

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