(b. 1948) Hungary/England
- My sister sow pays homage to St Cecilia.
- I merely pump away at the bellows
- While keeping an ear cocked to her delicacies of feeling.
- She has taken the veil but I am mother
- To a thriving farrow. She tickles heaven
- With her music while the family are tugging at my dugs.
- I know my place well, strictly behind the organ,
- But keep myself clean in the knowledge that
- Whosoever administers to art goes not unnoticed:
- But my sister, she keeps herself quite spotless,
- The perfect nursery pig. Music charms
- The ticks off a scarred hide. It is of immense value to pigs.
This poem comes from a set of poems about misericords that Szirtes first published in November and May (1981). A misericord, or mercy seat, is a small wooden shelf on the underside of a folding seat in a church. Popular in Medieval times, they were installed to provide a degree of comfort for persons – usually the church choir – who have to stand for long periods during prayer. The undesides of these shallow shelves were decorated with ornate hand carvings of common, symbolic or allegorical images.
The misericord pictured below is most likely the very one that inspired Szirtes to create the ‘Concert.’ The pig playing in the organ is certainly a nun of some sort – “She has taken the veil…”, as the headgear indicates this vocation. And the sow that is pumping the bellows is nursing a piglet – “…but I am mother / To a thriving farrow.” This misericord is now housed at Paris’s Museum of the Middle Ages.
In comments about this poem and the misericod that inspired it, Szirtes states that at least one authority has suggested that the creature pumping the bellows is a fox, not a pig. After mentioning this and noting that the claim, that seems denied by piglet suckling at her, Szirtes suggests,
“The reader of the above poem will be aware that by setting the world of art in the world of pigs I am only following the misericord artist. The bellows-pumper may be a fox, of course, as the authority suggests, and while I am pretty convinced it isn’t a fox it is sometimes salutary to bear in mind that it might be.”
About the Poet:
George Szirtes (b. 1948) is a Hungary-born British poet, editor and translator. He came to England in 1956 as a refugee from Hungary. He was brought up in London, going on to study fine art in London and Leeds. Szirtes teaches at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom.
Szirtes has described his poems as buildings and their mainly formal structures do have an architectural quality. However, it’s the still slightly foreign music of his voice, the accent that is hard to place, which expresses the complexities of his work so beautifully. Szirtes translations into English of from Hungarian poetry, fiction and drama are also highly regarded.
Married to the artist Clarissa Upchurch, Szirtes ran The Starwheel Press with her and she has been responsible for most of his book jacket images. Her interest in the city of Budapest has led to over twenty years of exploration of the city, its streets, buildings and courtyards in paintings and drawings. [DES-07/12]