By George Szirtes, UK/ Hungary (Published in Issue 6)
You think of the universe and those lumps of rock
Hurtling through an incomprehensible space
And realise, not without a shock,
That one of them is your face.
Great lump that you are, parents drone in your sleep
As you lie lumpen in your childhood bed,
The lumps are falling through the deep
Chasms of your childish head.
Lumpen the day, night smoothes it with its dark,
The lumps begin to glow in their fixed scheme
Of being, each a leaping spark
Between dream and dream.
Great lump of a world, of word: a sugar cube
To sweeten emptiness with parts of speech.
Word shuffles down the syntax tube
Beyond all reach.
It is like laying stones out in a garden
according to some Zen pattern
whose rules are unwritten.
Stone after stone arranged around space
On an unpromising surface
But set into place
As if in possession of the secret
Of the universe, or at least the planet,
Like a voice saying Not yet, not yet.
Not yet and never, the pair a leitmotif
Endlessly recurring in relief:
Stone, grass, sand, leaf.
Image from XXe Siecle (Chroniques du Jour),
Gino Severini (1939)
George Szirtes was born in Hungary and emigrated to England with his parents—survivors of concentration and labor camps—after the 1956 Budapest uprising.
Szirtes studied painting at Harrow School of Art and Leeds College of Art and Design. At Leeds he studied with Martin Bell, who encouraged Szirtes as he began to develop his poetic themes: an engaging mix of British individualism and European fluency in myth, fairy tale, and legend. Szirtes’s attention to shape and sound, cultivated through his background in visual art and his bilingual upbringing, quickly led to his successful embrace of formal verse. In an essay in Poetry magazine defending form, Szirtes argues that “rhyme can be unexpected salvation, the paper nurse that somehow, against all the odds, helps us stick the world together while all the time drawing attention to its own fabricated nature.”