Tuesday, May 08, 2012

`Bold Calligraphy'

The truest way to honor a writer is not to give him prizes but to read his words and remember them. Awards are an arm of publicity, a publisher’s tool. Attentive reading is an homage, a reader’s act of gratitude. A friend read my post on Saturday devoted to Miklós Radnóti and said: “I’m still recovering from that. The only other poet who affected me that way the first time I read him was Hopkins.” She ordered several translations of Radnóti’s poems from an online dealer.

Her linking of Radnóti with Hopkins stuck with me. Radnóti’s language, at least in translation, is less mannered than Hopkins’, less strictly musical and besotted with its own sound. Still, his Keatsian lushness seems to run deep. Over the weekend I was reading Foamy Sky: The Major Poems of Miklós Radnóti (Princeton University Press, 1992), translated by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner. “Calendar” is a sequence of twelve poems, one devoted to each month, written between 1939 and 1941. I thought of “June,” dated “February 28, 1941,” as I walked across the engineering quadrangle Monday morning and saw the first of the season’s dragonflies flashing in the sunlight over the grass:

“Behold the noon in its miraculous power:
above, the flawless and unwrinkled sky;
along the roads, acacias in flower;
the stream throws out a comb of golden ply,
and in the brilliance, bold calligraphy
is idly, glitteringly, written by
a boastful, diamond-budded dragonfly.”

After speaking with my friend, I thought of Hopkins’ sonnet beginning “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw flame.”

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