Reflection on Maps
Albert Szent-Györgyi, who knew a
thing or two about maps,
By which life moves somewhere or other,
Used to tell this story from the war,
Through which history moves somewhere or other.
From a small Hungarian unit in
the Alps a young lieutenant
Sent out a scouting party into the icy wastes.
It began to snow, it snowed for
two days and the party
Did not return. The lieutenant was in distress: he had sent
His men to their deaths.
On the third day, however, the
scouting party was back.
Where had they been? How did they manage to find their way?
Yes, the man explained, we certainly thought we were
Lost and awaited our end. When suddenly one of our lot
Found a map in his pocket. We felt reassured.
We made a bivouac, waited for the snow to stop, and then with the map
Found the right direction.
And here we are.
The lieutenant asked to see
that remarkable map in order to
Study it. It wasn’t a map of the Alps
But the Pyrenees.
from the Collection Poems Before &
Brief thoughts on Maps
The young lieutenant of a small
Hungarian detachment in the Alps
sent a reconnaissance unit out onto the icy wasteland.
It began to snow
snowed for two days and the unit
did not return.
The lieutenant suffered:
he had dispatched
his own people to death.
But the third day the unit came
Where had they been? How had they made their way?
Yes, they said, we considered ourselves
lost and waited for the end. And then one of us
found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down.
We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map
we discovered our bearings.
And here we are.
The lieutenant borrowed this
and had a good look at it. It was not a map of the Alps
but of the Pyrenees.
The Times Literary Supplement (TLS),
Feb 4, '77