The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Seventh Eclogue” is a poem in seven stanzas, written in the classical form of the eclogue. The poem begins at twilight, in a military encampment. It soon becomes clear that the poet is a captive, confined in a stockade enclosed by “cruel wire.” With the fading of sunlight, the wire becomes physically invisible. The poet knows that the constraining wires are still there even though it is night. Yet the fact that he cannot see them fills him with a visionary hope, a fantasy of escape and liberation.

The second stanza presents the imagined escape of the prisoners. References to Serbia, where the Hungarian Army was engaged fighting on the German side during World War II, make clear the poem’s setting and wartime milieu. The poet glimpses a release to “the hidden heartland of home” that is actually so far away. He wonders whether his homeland, or perhaps literally his home itself, is as it once was. Might not the terrible bombing and carnage of the war have destroyed it? The stanza ends with perhaps the most striking line of the poem, “Say, is there a country where someone still knows the hexameter?” The hexameter is a six-beat poetic meter traditionally used in classical Greek and Latin verse, also used in this Hungarian poem in which the poet is deliberately evoking classical forms. By asking if the hexameter is still known in his homeland, the poet is wondering about the survival of civilization itself. Have the expressions of higher...

(The entire section is 529 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

An “eclogue” refers to a classical poetic form most commonly associated with the Roman poet Vergil. Eclogues sometimes involve dialogue between two characters (as in Radnóti’s own “Fourth Eclogue” (1943), but they can also be a monologue such as this one. Eclogues are written in hexameter, or six-beat meter, and traditionally describe a pleasant natural scene that may then suffer calamity or deprivation. Radnóti’s prison-camp setting is a particularly dire enactment of the traditional idea of the fallen or violated landscape. The first line might suggest a traditional pastoral scene, with its brooding twilight mood. But the sudden introduction of the “cruel wire” in the second line conveys the agony and emotional directness characterizing the rest of the poem. This is in obvious contrast to the conventionality and formal mood of the classical eclogue, though Radnóti is really extending the classical form, not overturning it. Indeed, Radnóti’s combination of emotional power and classicism, rare in twentieth century poetry in any language, is strikingly in evidence in this poem. The classical meter and precedent help contain the suffering and thwarted hope of the poem; they explain it and give it meaning.

Radnóti uses the eclogue form not only to frame the poem but also to contribute to its meaning. In the almost inconceivable barbarism of World War II, classicism—in times of peace merely a way of expressing kinship with literary...

(The entire section is 460 words.)