Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As a Hungarian, Radnóti was not necessarily vulnerable to German imprisonment: after all, Hungary was Germany’s ally in the war. However, Radnóti was an independent, left-wing thinker; in addition, he was a Jew. A prime target of Nazi persecution, he lived nearly the entire wartime period anticipating his own death. Although “The Seventh Eclogue” gives voice to rapturous visions of freedom, liberation, and release, the poet knew all the while that, in the real world, he would never be free to return to his home, that his life was to end shortly under the grim conditions of imprisonment. “The Seventh Eclogue” was written in the Haidenau prison camp in the mountains above the Serbian town of Zagubica, where Radnóti was imprisoned by the Germans in July of 1944. Radnóti survived countless ordeals in the following months but was finally shot by the Germans and buried in a mass grave in Hungary in the autumn of 1944.

Yet Radnóti, though recording his torment, does not surrender to it. He attempts to remain a thinker, a poet, a human being; insofar as possible, he goes on as before. This is illustrated by the fact that he had begun writing eclogues before the war, his first being written in 1938, when his own personal heartbreak and his questions about the nature of his poetry seemed far more important than external world events. Thus Radnóti displays an extraordinary consistency, persistence, and courage. He bears witness to the war and,...

(The entire section is 454 words.)