The Manchester Review
George Szirtes
Four Poems
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After Caroline Wright

1.The Rower

At which point was the boat quite lost to sight?
At which point did the rower realise?
At which point did the single oar lose meaning?
At which point did the land entirely vanish?
At which point did the waves become a wall?
At which point did the mind become the sea?

Because if mind and wave and wall and sea
are of one substance, and the loss of sight
result in loss of meaning - so that wall
is where the mind is - should we realise
our utter loss, we might entirely vanish
into a sea that never had a meaning.

But then, being alone with lack of meaning,
blank sea and brittle oar, the place we vanish
into is somewhere we can’t name as sea,
and where we drown is just an oversight.
There’s nothing there to know or realise.
It’s all the sound of wave hitting sea-wall.

I wish we could hear the voice that is the wall -
a single voice that concentrates all meaning
into oar or wave. How good to realise
that sense of being alone on a blank sea
in voice or name, to find ourselves in sight
of any land, even one due to vanish.

You’ll find this card tomorrow. The days vanish
in the usual haze however we stonewall.
I like it here. The sea is quite a sight,
darker than usual, flat, yet still a sea.
The weeks are almost endless. I’ve been meaning
to write you this. A card, I realise

is just a gesture. One can’t realise
all one’s ambitions. I seem to vanish
in myself. I’ve long been out at sea
without a landmark, no familiar wall
to climb or peep over. What kind of meaning
could I ascribe to it? Where is the sight

equal to this? What wall holds meaning
the way this does? I realise the sea
is more than sight, and some things always vanish.

2. Reverse side

Received the parcel
Safely, many thanks, Bella¹.
Monday. Leamington².

Received the parcel
Safely. Now it is Wednesday
And the sea is calm.

Received the parcel
Safely in the second year
Of the war³. Thursday.

Received the parcel
Safely, with many thanks. Sea
Calm. Nellie, with love.

Received the parcel
Safely. It is still Friday
And the sea is calm.

¹Name illegible. Bella or Ella or Nellie.
²Postcard sent from 30, Grove Street. Leamington Spa to Mrs W. Yerrill, 30, Mount Road, Haverhill in Suffolk. Neither place is by the sea. The sea is inner.
³Postcard dated 16th September, 1915, a Tuesday.