Enigmas solved

In 1977 came out the first number of the journal Poesía. Revista ilustrada de información poética, created and financed – o tempora, o mores… – by the Spanish Ministry of Culture and directed in an admirable way by Gonzalo Armero. Since the first issue we were hooked on its impeccable design and exalted feeling of discovery promised by every page of it. It was an essential part of our aesthetic education. In 1980 the ninth edition of the journal included an unforgettable essay by Luis Robledo Estaire. We read there for the first time about the “enigmatic canons” and learned with curiosity the name of Juan del Vado (1626-1691), the compositor of those unusual sheets of music. Later we also met and befriended Luis Robledo who now, after so many years finally published the canons in a book, although slightly changing the definition of the genre. The book which has been just published is entitled Los emblemas musicales de Juan del Vado (The musical emblems of Juan del Vado, Madrid: Fundación Caja Madrid, 2009). It includes an introductory study on the musical emblems and the figure of Juan del Valdo, the reproduction of the handwritten pages now preserved in the Biblioteca Nacional of Madrid, as well as the edition of the music in form of modern scores which solve the enigmas and leave them ready for interpretation.

These musical emblems were arranged by Juan del Vado as a prologue to a book of Mass completed between 1677 and 1679 and offered to Charles II’s stepbrother Juan José de Austria for use in the Chapel Royal.

“Instead of sonnets, I offer these enigmatic imprese or musical problems at the beginning of my book, which will have their keys – the musical keys, bars and pauses – at the end of the book. Some of these keys have several teeth, thus they are hard to falsify, and whoever has the genius to open these secret with a skeleton key, merits praise rather than punishment. Observe them as they are worthy of remark, and I entitle you to judge my book as you like, for I have done it to the books of others, too, so we are all equal.” (Biblioteca Nacional, Ms. M/1323, “Introduction to the masters and learned censors of this faculty”).
The manuscript M/1325, also by Juan del Vado, also includes these two pages which finally were omitted from the book delivered to the Chapel Royal.

Too bad the book does not contain a CD to listen to the music of Charles II’s ingenious master of harpsichord whose bequest included 20 Masses, 2 Lamentations, 96 religious compositions in Spanish and the partitures to six comedies performed in the theatre of the Palacio del Buen Retiro in Madrid. At least now, with the clarifying transcription by Luis Robledo, anyone can try to play it.

Enigmas resueltos

En 1977 salió el primer número de la revista Poesía. Revista ilustrada de información poética, creada y financiada —o tempora, o mores…!— por el Ministerio de Cultura y dirigida de manera admirable por Gonzalo Armero. Desde el primer número quedamos enganchados a su impecable diseño y a la sensación de descubrimiento exultante que suponía pasar cada una de sus páginas. Formó parte esencial de nuestra educación estética básica. En el número 9, de 1980, se encontraba un trabajo de Luis Robledo Estaire que se nos grabó en la memoria. Allí oímos hablar por primera vez de «cánones enigmáticos», y atendimos con curiosidad al nombre de Juan del Vado (1626-1691), el músico autor de aquellos pentagramas insólitos. Andando el tiempo conocimos a Luis Robledo y trabamos amistad. Hoy él ha publicado y comentado extensamente los cánones, aunque cambiándoles levemente la definición genérica. El libro que acaba de aparecer se titula: Los emblemas musicales de Juan del Vado (Madrid: Fundación Caja Madrid, 2009). Lleva un estudio introductorio sobre los emblemas musicales y la figura de Juan del Vado, la reproducción de las páginas manuscritas autógrafas (que se conservan en la Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid) y la edición de la música en limpias partituras que resuelven los enigmas y los dejan listos para ser interpretados.

Estos emblemas musicales los había dispuesto Juan del Vado como exordio a un libro de misas completado entre 1677 y 1679 y que entregó al hermanastro de Carlos II, Juan José de Austria, para utilizarlo en la Capilla Real.

«En lugar de sonetos ofrezco a la curiosidad esas empresas enigmáticas o problemas musicales en el principio del libro, que tienen sus definiçiones al fin, adonde se hallan las llaves de los secretos que ençierran, que son con propiedad las claves, y las guardas, las pausas. Algunas hay que tienen muchos dientes y, por eso, difíçiles de falsear, mas tal puede ser la sutileça que a fuer de gançúa las abra y manifieste, y en lugar de castigo mereçerá alabança. Nótalas, que son dignas de reparo, y, con todo, te doy facultad, y tú la tienes, de juzgar de mi libro como te pareçiere, que lo mismo he hecho yo de otros, y así, quedamos iguales todos.» (Biblioteca Nacional, Ms. M/1323, «Prólogo a los maestros y dignos çensores desta facultad»).
En el manuscrito M/1325, también de Juan del Vado, se encuentran estos otros dos emblemas musicales que finalmente descartó del libro entregado a la Capilla Real.

Lástima que el libro no lleve un CD donde poder escuchar los juegos del ingenioso maestro de clave de Carlos II, en cuyo testamento consta la escritura de 20 misas, 2 lamentaciones, 96 composiciones religiosas en romance y la música en partitura de 6 comedias representadas en el coliseo del Palacio del Buen Retiro de Madrid. Al menos, con la aclaradora transcripción de Luis Robledo, ahora cualquiera puede atreverse.


I was touched by this flower I saw day after day in Pucón.

It grew with a persistent fragility in an insignificant crack of the concrete.

Its strength and perseverance seemed exemplary: facing the challenges and overcoming the difficulties of a hostile environment and, in spite of so much struggle, not losing its beauty, freshness and joy of life.

It would make a good emblem.


Me emocionaba esta flor que veía todos los días en Pucón.

Crecía con pertinaz fragilidad en un mínimo resquicio del cemento.

Su fuerza y perseverancia resultan ejemplares: sobreponerse a las adversidades, vencer las dificultades del entorno hostil, sin perder –a pesar de tanta lucha– la belleza, frescura y lozanía.

Serviría de imagen para un buen emblema.

The Bor Notebook

If the poems of Miklós Radnóti left in manuscript and mentioned in the previous post were never published, it would not be a great damage to Hungarian literature. But he has another manuscript whose eventual loss would have deprived us from his greatest, most mature and distilled poems. And it was a close call that this manuscript did not perish. It is the Bor Notebook.

“My Dear Life, the inspection took place today. Now it is definitive that five companies,
including ours, will go to Serbia, to Bor or Bory, I don’t know, to the copper
mines (…) I’m completely apathetic, I only know that I would
like to live with you and work for some more time.”
Radnóti’s letter on 24 May 1944

The German army occupying Hungary on 19 March 1944 demanded the Hungarian Ministry of War to send to Serbia three thousand Jewish men called up for forced labor service. The company of Radnóti arrived in early June to Lager Heidenau around Bor. The place of the lager is known to us, some remains still stand there, but I could only approximatively indicate its place on the map on the basis of the descriptions: “Above Žagubica in the mountains”, as Radnóti wrote in the dating of the first five poems of the notebook.

Title page of the Bor Notebook. The images of the notebook’s pages are linked to the respective pages of our homepage on the Radnóti bequest.

This notebook is a simple Serbian exercise book. It is not known how it got to Radnóti, for in the lagers around Bor it was strictly forbidden to get in contact with local population. Its printed title is almost certainly a patriotic fancy name, borrowed from the Avala mountain south to Belgrade where in 1934 a mausoleum to the Serbian heroes of WWI was erected and where – a peculiar coincidence with the notebook’s fate – a monument to the victims of WWII was also set up after the war.

The Avala mountain, from here

Alexander, King of Serbia lays wreath on the heroes’ monument on the Avala, 1934

Radnóti wrote ten poems in the notebook between 22 July and 31 October 1944. Their dating probably refers to their putting down rather than to their composition, for he entered his Eighth Eclogue first with the date of 22 July, then crossed it and wrote it again, almost unchanged, on 23 August.

The first, crossed version of the Eighth Eclogue

We do not know whether Radnóti wrote only these ten poems during his last labor service, or he composed more but entered only these ten into his notebook. The book begins with his Seventh Eclogue, although his last known eclogue before that was the Fifth, written in November 1943. Either he considered his Fragment, written on 19 May as the sixth one, or he composed a Sixth Eclogue in the lager, but did not include it in his notebook.

The first five poems were born in the lager, while the other five at various places along the route of the labor bataillon from the Serbian mountains to Hungary. Radnóti, before setting out, made separate copies of the first five poems – Seventh and Eighth Eclogue, Letter to My Wife, A la recherche, Forced March – and handed them over to his fellow captives by asking them to take them home. The other five poems, mostly written along the way – Root, First, Second, Third and Fourth Razglednica – have survived only in the notebook.

The Fourth Razglednica foretelling the death of the poet. It was written on 31 October, four days before Radnóti’s death, on a separate paper, the reverse of a cod-liver oil can’s label.

On 4 November, when Radnóti and twenty-one of his fellow captives were killed near to Abda by the soldiers accompanying them, the notebook was buried with him. It laid under earth more than one and half year. When the mass grave was opened in late June 1946, the text of those five poems that had been also handed over in separate copies to Radnóti’s companions were already rather blurred. However, the other five poems that have survived only in the Bor Notebook are perfectly legible.

Radnóti, as if he foresaw his own fate, wrote a request in five languages to the future finder of the notebook to forward it to the address of his friend in Budapest. As we proceed from top to bottom, the text is less and less readable. The English version has been reconstructed now for the first time.

On our site of the Radnóti bequest preserved in the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences that was solemnly presented yesterday to the press, the Bor Notebook received a separate chapter. We have published its complete facsimile, the high resolution pictures of each page, the transcription of the poems from the modern Hungarian edition as well as from Emery George’s English translation, and wherever it was available also the images of the manuscript versions taken home by Radnóti’s fellow captives. And the manuscript of the poem A la recherche – perhaps the most beautiful poem of Radnóti, his very last retrospection on his life – stands behind all the pages of the Bor Notebook as well as of the whole site.

A la recherche

Evenings, gentle and old, you return as memory’s nobles!
Gleaming table, crowned as by laurels with poets and young wives,
where are you sliding on marshes of irretrievable hours?
Where are the nights when exuberant friends were cheerfully drinking
auvergnat gris out of bright-eyed, thin-stemmed, delicate glasses?

Lines of verse swam high round the light of the lamps, with bright green
epithets bobbing up-down foaming crests of the meter;
those now dead were alive and the prisoners, still at home; those
vanished, dear friends, long since fallen, were writing their poems;
on their hearts the Ukraine, the soil of Spain, or of Flanders.

There were those who, gritting their teeth, ran ahead in the fire,
combat-trained, and only because they were helpless against it,
and while the company slept its troubled sleep in its soiled
shelter of night, their rooms made the rounds of their wakeful dreaming,
rooms that in this society had served them as island and cavern.

Places there were where some went in sealed-off cattle cars; places
where they, stiff with fear and unarmed, stood erect in the minefields;
places where, rifle in hand, not a few of them went of their own will,
silent, because they felt that war, down there, was their own cause –
Angel of Freedom, you’ll guard their enormous dreams in the night now.

Places too… never mind. Where did sage wine nights disappear to?
Flying, the callups came round; the poems left scraps grew in numbers,
as did wrinkles swarm at corners of mouths, under eyes: young
women with beautiful smiles; and the girls with the fairy tale-princess
steps: how heavy they grew in the course of the taciturn war years!

Where is the night and that tavern, that table set out under lindens?
those still alive, whom war’s heel flat-ground for nothing but combat?
This heart hears their voices; my hand holds the warmth of their handshakes.
Quoting their work, I watch the proportions of torsos unfold; I
measure them (prisoner, mute) – up in sigh-filled Serbia’s mountains.

Where, where indeed is the night? that night which shall never return now,
for, to whatever is past, death itself lends another perspective.
Here at the table they sit, take shelter in smiles of the women,
and will yet take sips from our glasses, those many unburied
sleeping in forests of foreign, on meadows of faraway places.

Translation by Emery George


When contemplating on the bookshelf the great classics’ Complete Works that emanate an aura of authority and reliability, one could not imagine that there exists any Work that has survived and nevertheless has not found its way into the Complete. Especially in the case of so important authors like Miklós Radnóti. However, there are such works. Although the cataloging of the Radnóti bequest which got into the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 2009 is still in process, the provisional report of Antal Babus to be published tomorrow on the site presenting the bequest reveals that it includes a good number of poems, fragments, translations, essays and other prosaic works which are unknown to the general public up to the present day.

From the examples listed in the report now we want to mention only one to arouse curiosity and to introduce the presentation of the site that will take place tomorrow: Radnóti’s satirical verse against Mihály Babits, the greatest authority of the Hungarian literary scene between the two wars.

True, this poem is not completely unknown, for Győző Ferencz, the administrator of the bequest has already mentioned it in his monumental monograph on Radnóti, published in 2009 on the centenary of his birth. However, it has never been included in any collection of Radnóti’s poems, and its manuscript is also published now for the first time.

Győző Ferencz dedicates a special chapter to the relationship of Radnóti and Babits (which can be read here in its entirety in Hungarian). From there we know the antecedents of this poem. In February 1933 Radnóti published his book of poetry Convalescent Wind. The book generated a number of reviews, mostly by Radnóti’s fellow university students and, accordingly, in a positive tone, but the most important one, written by Babits in the 16 February edition of the authoritative literary journal Nyugat (Occident) severely criticized the unnaturalness of its poetic language and its artificial folksy idioms:

“…[Miklós Radnóti], whose new book is laying on my bed and under whose uniform woven of modern free verses the tender heart of a silent lyricism is beating, sings such flower songs:

All is asleep here; even a couple of flowers lean,
whimpering, on each other…
and, simmering, grow…

Where even flowers are whimpering and simmering, there it is no wonder that the sunlight «has lain down prone and, daydreaming up a creek, scratches its rump». In this poetry, strength is substituted by Kraftausdrucks, spontaneity by sloppiness, the vocation by peasant birth, and the talent by provocation.”

Radnóti took the criticism much to heart. On 17 February he wrote in his notebook: “The new Nyugat has come. Babits has brutally attacked my new book.”

And on 12 April he put down on paper the above poem entitled April. Nevertheless, he never published it. And he did well. For this poem itself proves that Babits was right when judging immature and affected the poetry of the young Radnóti at the beginning of his career.


Mélán, rozsdálló róka
zászlós farkára száll
a csipogó madár
és fene farkasokkal
göndör barik ügetnek együtt,
hogy lássák, ha kontyba űl
asszonyom fején
a kemény aranysörény.

És csudálják róla verseim,
melyek gurulnak ott
az ég tetején;
madár eltátja csőrét
úgy csudálja
s csudálja róka, farkasok.
Barik is olykép: hogy
Szájukból kibillen fogsoruk!


Ó, emberek! Babitsnak torkát
Fojtsa füstként e boldog ének
és pöttyentsen fejére
fán rejtező madár.

The chirping bird
flies on the bannered
tail of the melancholic fox
and curly sheep trot
together with wild wolves
to see how the golden
mane is shining
on my woman’s head.

And they admire my poems
rolling all over there
on the top of the sky;
the bird with its bill agape
the foxes and the wolves
and the sheep all admire them
with open mouth.


Oh, people! Let the throat of Babits
be suffocated by this happy song as by smoke
and let the bird hiding on the tree
plump on his head.

This rage continued to fuel Radnóti in the following years against Babits who, in his opinion, failed to recognize his talent. Győző Ferencz quotes a number of his outbursts from his unpublished diaries and letters (to whose evaluation see also the review of György Vári, in Hungarian). He seemed to be reconciled only from 1936 on, when Babits finally let him to the table of Nyugat and even adjudged to him the prestigious Baumgarten Prize. And on 5 August 1941 he was deeply staggered by the news of the death of Babits:

“Yesterday in the night Babits died. I went for the new edition of Nyugat to the editorial office, and the younger Oszkár [Gellért] told it. I stood there for a long while. Well, I knew about his illness, but it was already so many times that he felt «extremely bad». (…) I felt very lonely. I was not his «confidential friend», but the knowledge that he was living, even if ill, that he was living… who will defend now (how difficult it is to say what) what must be defended?! Whose look will we feel on our writing right hand? Either consenting or contradicting him, he was always the model and the measure. (…) He was the Professor, the Great Professor, the «great professor» of poems.” (Gemini)

He wrote on the death of Babits the poem Only Skin and Bones and Pain. Its manuscript – which also includes a never published strophe – will be also published for the first time on the site of the Radnóti bequest. These two poems from 1933 and 1941 demonstrate not only the long way of Radnóti from the refusal of Babits his acknowledging as a master, but also the enormous development of his poetry during these eight years. A development in which the criticism of 1933 by Babits indisputably had its part.

Csak csont és bőr és fájdalom
Babits Mihály halálára

Látjátok, annyi szenvedés után most
pihen e hűvös, barna test.
Csak csont és bőr és fájdalom.
S akár a megtépett, kidőlt fatörzs
évgyűrűit mutatja,
bevallja ő is gyötrött éveit.
Csak csont és bőr e test.
De most a nemzeté is
csak csont és bőr és fájdalom. Íme,
Balázs, kihez könyörgött, vedd karodba!
Ó, requiem aeternam dona ei… Domine!

Szavak jöjjetek köré,
ti fájdalom tajtékai!
ti mind, a gyásztól tompa értelem
homályán bukdosó szavak,
maradjatok velem:
gyászold omló göröngy,
sírj rá a sírra most!
jöjj, könnyű testű fátyol
ó, takard be,

s akit már régen elhagyott a hang, -
gyászold meg őt, te konduló harang,
lebegő lélek és gömbölyű gyöngy,
s gyászolj megint
te csilla szó, te csillag,
te lassú pillantású szó, hold,
s ti többiek! ti mind!

Tudtuk már rég, minden hiába, rák
marcangol és szemedben ott ragyog
egy messzi és örök dolgokból font világ,
s hogy oly időtlen vagy te, mint a csillagok.

Tudtuk, hogy meghalsz, tudtuk s mégis oly
árván maradtunk most a Művel itt.
Nagysága példa. És magasság.
És szédület. Szívet dobogtató.

Ki nézi most tollat fogó kezünket,
ha betegen, fáradtan is, de mégis...
ki lesz az élő Mérték most nekünk?
Hogy összetörte már a fájdalom,
nézd, ezt a költeményt is.
Mit szólnál hozzá?
lám az eljövő
költőnek is, ki félve lép még
most már a Mű a mérték.

S nem érti árvaságunk,
ha bólintunk: halott már...
nem ismert téged, ágyadnál nem ült,
s nem ült az asztalodnál.

Nem tudja majd, mi fáj...
s nem kérdi és nem kérdik tőle sem, –
mint egymástól mi,
évek óta már,
mint jelszót, hogy: „ki járt kint nála?
Ki tudja mondd, hogy van Babits Mihály?”

Halott keze nem fogja már a tollat,
béhunyt szeme nem lát több éjszakát.
Örök világosság, kibomló égi láng
röppen felé a földi füstön át.
Only Skin and Bones and Pain
On the death of Mihály Babits

See now, after all that suffering
this cool brown body is at rest.
Skin and bones and pain – that is all.
And just as the torn, uprooted tree
displays its annual rings,
so he too admits to his tormented years.
This body – but bones and skin.
But now what is nothing but skin
and pain and bones belongs to the nation too. See him,
Blaise, whom he implored, take him into your arms!
O requiem aeternam dona ei… Domine!

Come, words, to surround him,
you surfbreakers of pain!
all of you, words groping in the twilight
of intellect dulled by mourning,
remain with me:
mourn him, crumbling clod of earth,
weep down onto the grave!
come, light-bodied veil,
o cover him,
and whom the voice has long since abandoned,
mourn him now, tolling bell,
hovering soul, and spherical pearl,
and mourn once again,
you gleaming word, you, star,
you word of slow glance, o moon,
and all you others! all!

We have known for long, all is lost: cancer
tears you, and that in your eyes there shines
a world woven of far and eternal things,
and that you are as timeless as the stars.
We knew you were dying, we knew, and yet remained
so orphaned with the Oeuvre here, down below.
Its magnitude is exemplary. It is sublimity.
It makes the heart beat faster. And is vertigo.

Who shall now look on our pen-holding hands,
if in illness, in fatigue, but still?…
who shall be our living Measure now?
Look how pain has broken
even this poem.
What would your judgment of it be? See, for the coming
poet too, as yet shy of his steps,
the published Work is the standard.

Nor does he comprehend our orphaned state
when we nod: yes, dead now…
He never knew you, never sat at your bedside
or at your table, either.

He will not know what hurts…
And will not ask, nor will they ask of him,
as we have of one another – for years now,
like some password: “Who was out there to see him?
Tell me, who knows how Mihály Babits is doing?”

No longer does his dead hand hold the pen,
his shut-down eyes will see our nights no more.
Eternal light, heaven’s unfolding flame,
flies to greet him past this earth’s dense smoke.

Translation by Emery George

Patagonian Don Quixotes

In Zapala we have encountered around the corner an unexpected inhabitant of the Patagonian steppe.

We are sure that these lands would be an ideal arena for quixotic adventures (as in fact they have been more than once) as well as for lengthy talks with faithful and wise squires.

Restaurant “Don Quijote” in Zapala. The next time we go there we will sit at its tables.

Some days later, on the other side of the chains of the Andes, a Chilean Don Quixote awaited us. Close cousin, perhaps, of that of Regazzoni wandering over the pampas of Argentina, although with less freedom: it was framed in Pucón, between the lake and the volcano Villarica, doomed to go the way his obsession had marked for him.

Don Quijotes patagónicos

En Zapala, provincia de Neuquén, descubrimos, doblando la esquina, un habitante no esperado de la estepa patagónica.

Estoy segura de que estas tierras serían un excelente escenario para aventuras quijotescas (de hecho lo han sido más de una vez), así como también para dilatados diálogos con escuderos fieles y sensatos.

Restaurante "Don Quijote" en Zapala, la próxima vez que pasemos por allí nos sentaremos a sus mesas.

Días después, del otro lado de la cordillera, un don Quijote chileno nos esperaba. Primo cercano, tal vez, del de Regazzoni que recorría la Pampa argentina, aunque con menos libertad: éste se hallaba enmarcado en Pucón, entre el lago y el volcán Villarrica, condenado a recorrer el camino que su obsesión le fijaba.