Louis Esterhuizen. Die gedig as waarheidsbeeld van die lewe


“Poetry’s only obligation is to the truth.

Whether this truth is widely popular or not, is irrelevant.

It should be the best truth possible

and that is the only quality that gives it any hope of survival.”

(George Szirtes)

Hoe vreemd dat selfs maande na die onlangse Dansende Digtersfees by Spier daar nog steeds bepaalde gesprekke en opmerkings is wat deur ‘n mens se gedagtes bly maal en maal … Soos die vrae rondom die essensie van die digkuns en watter “effek” dit tot gevolg het binne ‘n bepaalde maatskaplike bestel; vrae wat in wese neerkom om die kwessies van etiek (of integriteit) binne die digkuns. Vele sprekers tydens die verskillende paneelbesprekings het uitmuntend op dié probleemstellings reageer. En tog, daar is soveel rondom hierdie indringende vrae wat, byna per definisie, ongesê bly.

Via ‘n onderhoud wat SJ Fowler van 3:AM Magazine met die uitgeweke Hongaarse digter, George Szirtes (foto), gevoer het, het ek egter op ‘n hele aantal fassinerende opmerkings afgekom wat direk verband hou met hierdie gesprekke tydense die Dansende Digtersfees.

Maar eers, by wyse van inleiding: George Szirtes is in 1948 in Budapest gebore en in 1956 het hy saam met sy ouers na Engeland gevlug. Sy eerste gedigte het in 1973 verskyn, met sy debuutbundel The Slant Door, in 1979. Met hierdie debuut het hy die Faber Memorial Prize ingepalm. Sedertdien het daar al vele bundels van hom verskyn, en het hy bykans alle beskikbare literêre pryse verower, met as die mees onlangse, die T.S. Eliot-prys wat in 2005 toegeken is aan sy bundel Reel. Vir verdere toeligting kan jy gerus na George Szirtes se persoonlike webblad gaan, of na sy weblog.

Fowler se onderhoud met die digter op 3:AM Magazine is omvattend en sentreer meestal rondom die kwessies van kultuur-vervreemding en identiteit. Ook oor Szirtes se eie digkuns en die rol wat hy speel in die bevordering van sowel die Hongaarse as die Britse digkunste.

Die een aanhaling wat ek egter uit dié onderhoud wil voorhou, is die gedeelte wat direk aansluit by die kwessie van etiek:

3:AM: Huge generalisations here, but how do you view poetry and its potential for personal change, for influence, for aesthetic revelation as it relates to the individual poet and reader? Do you conceive of it as something utterly personal, or impersonal, something that goes out into the world after being written and is thus detached from you and your intentions for it, or do you give it an ethical power, an agency for moving the individual that relates specifically to your force behind it?

GS: You are right – these are huge questions so the answer must be a little longer.

The human race has been composing, reciting and hearing poetry from the very start. The conclusion must be that it is of some use to us. It is useful in making sense of a world that is part memory, part imagination. It does so by giving that world a shape in language. It makes us realise things we didn’t know we knew. It utterly changed my life at 17 when I started reading and writing it. I thought the shapes it made were magical in that they held things together by transforming them. It humanised the world for me. It was a form of power, like magic.

The poet is personal: the language is impersonal. Language is not a stable or static entity – it moves and crumbles and grows at the same time. The poet’s art lies in listening intently to the micro-movements of language while never forgetting the sense of the world as the pre-language – as instinct, apprehension, desire – that drove him or her to the threshold of language in the first place. Of course there are subjects and themes but that’s about as far as intention can go. As I see it is not a matter of wanting to say something, then finding the words to say it. You discover what you and the language have to say by entering the process of saying. The ethical power of poetry lies in its precise tension with language not in any broadly stated programme of doing good. The programme is advertisement. Technique, suggested Pound, is the test of sincerity. I think he was on to something.

The reader is as personal as the writer. Like the poet, the reader looks to reinvent himself / herself within a language shape that feels like the world. That shape is as impersonal to the reader as it is to the writer. Neither of them owns it. Reader and writer enter it at different angles, from different locations, with different baggage. But they share it. The solitary voice speaking to the solitary imagination is, paradoxically, the deepest shared experience. That sharing is the useful thing, the art that does some good: the ‘message’ is to be discovered not sent.

Wat vir my persoonlik opval van sy antwoord hier, is dat hy die essensie van die digkuns vierkantig plaas binne die raamwerk van taal; ‘n siening wat ook regdeur sy T.S. Eliot-gedenklesing, wat hy op 5 November 2005 gelewer het, eggo.

Graag plaas ek enkele relevante aanhalings hieronder. Maar gaan lees gerus die volledige lesing ook; dit is werklik een van die mees insiggewende – én inspirerende – artikels wat ek in ‘n baie lang tyd te lese kon kry … En dan, soos gebruiklik, sluit ek die stuk met ‘n gedig van George Szirtes.

Geniet dit.


“Poetry is the first of all literary cultures. It appears in the pulse of our mothers’ wombs, in our heartbeat, in our childhood rocking, in our learning of names, our namings, our fantastical confusions, our awareness of the arbitrariness and sheer nonsense of the enterprise of language: the glorious terror and exhilaration of it.”


“The intention of the poet is to write the best possible poem starting out with some as yet incoherent perception relating to an experience or set of experiences. The poet is a person who has realized that language is not a tool but a medium: and, what is more, assumes – has to assume – that the instinctive reader knows this as well as he does. The poem explores the medium by executing a kind of dance across it. It sets out across the ice and begins to cut light patterns in it, following some trainable instinct about the direction and way of moving, the notion of meaning arising out of the motion of the dance as a series of improvisations on the pattern. These patterns present the poet with a number of apparently arbitrary possibilities at any one time. But that is the very nature of language: it is what language continually does. The poet’s patterns, the twirls, wheels and whips of the dance, invite the chance interventions of language: you end a line with the word houses, say, and you are soon invited to consider the possibility of trousers or blouses or almost anything that carouses.”


“Poetry does not console through what it tells: if it consoles at all it does so by creating marvellous, hopeful-yet-hopeless verbal structures of some sort. We may not be able to do anything about death, sickness, loss and pain but look: we can do this! We can make a shape that absorbs us, into which we may sink the energy of our loss. We can transcend private grief by creating firm impersonal events in language, events that begin to look like works of nature. Shelley may cry that he falls upon the thorns of life, he bleeds, but it is not the specific historical figure of Shelley who falls and bleeds for us: it is the human capacity to fall and bleed, to shape out of falling and bleeding something that appears as a shape in the language: the figure a poem makes, said Frost. The figure the skater makes in the ice.”


“The popularity of poetry is a matter for accountants and journalists. I believe – what else can I do? – that a marvellous poem is the same whether seven people or seventy-thousand people read it. I also believe – and have to believe – that the poem is not merely a machine that can remember itself but something lodged in language, locking the light of its moment, its own sense of desire, loss, delight and depth into something crystalline and parapet like.”


“One of the triumphs of poetry is its capacity to convince us, while we are in its presence, that language and experience are parts of a whole. t does not tell us that everything will be all right, not even that anyone will feel much better after taking the pill of the poem. There are no guarantees. It is not that kind of closure, that, to return to Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation, signifier and signified are briefly, triumphantly, consolingly, connected. They are, after all, only words.

God knows where words go.
Dust to dust.
The poet likes and distrusts them.
Someone must.


for Marilyn Hacker

Somewhere there is a perfect architecture
where light, form, shadow, space all move
to form a language beyond architecture,
where to dream of the wrong architecture
is to dream of dying. But waking bans
the dream and reinvents the architecture
of the empty day that is all architecture
and no dream. Is there somewhere a culprit
we might blame for this, and is the culprit
ourselves? We make our own architecture
and live in it as in a house of ill fame,
it being all we desire of fame.

Our fame is inward: it is a private fame
for which we must create an architecture
of outwardness if only because fame
cannot remain private if it is to be fame.
We know our names and must pronounce the bans
from the pulpit of our anonymous fame.
Who can object to this? It is our own fame
we give names to, couple with and move
house with. It is ourselves we move
and no one else. We proclaim our fame
to the walls that recognise a culprit
when they hear one: name itself is culprit.

And what, after all, is it to be a culprit?
It is to have a certain portion of fame
and take it for self, blaming the culprit
for desire to survive merely as a culprit.
It is the self building an architecture
in which it may be possible to be a culprit.
But who could bear always to be a culprit,
a culprit, what is more, at one remove
beyond the self, unable to move
a culprit in a pulpit perhaps but still a culprit,
subject therefore to all the usual bans,
both hating and welcoming such bans?

There’s a certain kind of building the city bans,
the builder of which it treats as a culprit,
applying not only these but other bans,
because cities depend on applying bans
in case the rampant self obscures the fame
due only to cities. Order dictates bans:
bans dictate anonymity. No one bans
no one. None may construct the architecture
that is merely a building calling itself architecture.
The self may bar itself against some bans
but no self can afford to stay still. It must move.
There’s always another building, one more move.

Self is an architecture that must move
in order to accommodate. No self bans
movement because it knows that to move
is to survive. Heart must beat, blood move
around the building. To live is to be a culprit.
And then another enters with a neat move
slick as a poem that is obliged to move
the heart, which is all a self can know of fame,
bestowing fame through accommodation. Fame
at last is words like these, constantly on the move
turning the building into architecture
or simply calling the building architecture.

I touch the miraculous architecture
of your face feeling its own solitary fame
knowing myself both self and culprit.
Something inside the word rebels, bans
conversation. It’s language on the move.

© George Szirtes (Gevind by: Guernica Magazine)


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4 Kommentare op “Louis Esterhuizen. Die gedig as waarheidsbeeld van die lewe”

  1. marzanne :

    Uiters interessante en baie leersame blog!

  2. charl-pierre naude :

    Louis, jy wys daarop dat Szirtes digkuns vierkant plaas binne die konteks van taal. Maar in wat ANDERS kan dit tog vierkant geplaas word?? Is ek reg as ek aflei dat die implisiete onderskeid wat jy hier aan die tref is, die een is tussen verbeelding en taal, myns insiens ‘n onderskeid wat ter sprake gekom het in ons plaaslike konteks juis as gevolg van (myns insiens) oorgelewerde beperkinge en inperkinge waarop die begrip “taal” by ons figureer. As jy mooi lees is die manier waarop Szirtes die begrip “taal” gebruik nie dieselfde as wat soms hier by ons die geval is nie. Daar niks van dieselfde inperkings te bespeur is nie, absoluut niks nie, en trouens lees mens tussen die reëls maak hy geen onderskeid tussen die begrippe “verbeelding” en “taal” nie, waarskynlik omdat die verbeeldingsaspek (sowel as die taalaspek) veel wyer betekenis het in die Europese konteks as in ons eie oorgelewerde konteks. (Ek sê juis “oorgelewerd” – want dinge verander baie vinnig hier by ons.) ‘n Digter wat by uitstek ‘n verbeeldingsdigter is – en natuurlik het dit alles met taal te doen – is Tomaz Salamun, wat by Spier gelees het. Miskien wil Marlies Taljard vir ons ‘n beskouing van Salamun gee? Ek is nie besig om naar te wees nie. Ek dink werklik dit sal interessant wees. Groete.

  3. Louis :

    Charl-Pierre, ‘n besonder interessante – en relevante punt wat jy maak … Ongelukkig vind ek my ietwat uit my diepte met dié argument van jou en kan ek nie regtig sinvol daarop reageer nie. Ek vermoed egter wel dat die volgende uitspraak van Szirtes daarby aansluit: “The poet is personal: the language is impersonal. Language is not a stable or static entity – it moves and crumbles and grows at the same time. The poet’s art lies in listening intently to the micro-movements of language while never forgetting the sense of the world as the pre-language – as instinct, apprehension, desire – that drove him or her to the threshold of language in the first place.”
    Taal is immers ook ‘n manier an ordening, van seleksie en interpretasie. Nie net wat vervorm nie, maar sélf vervorm word … In daardie opsig is jy heeltemal korrek. En tog, poëtiese taalgebruik verskil wesenlik van gewone taalgebruik (en dit is waar die verbeeldingsaspekte ter sprake kom, soos jy korrek uitwys). En in daardie opsigte verander (of wysig) die gedig wél ons ervaringswêreld – wat juis die onderwerp was van die besprekingspaneel tydens die Spier-fees waarna ek verwys het, as ek reg onthou.
    Maar of alle digters hierdie enorme gegewe voor oë hou wanneer hulle hul digkuns bedryf, is te betwyfel. Party mense ry immers ‘n Porsche omrede hulle kan – en hou van die “image” – ander ry hom weer omrede hulle vinniger as die ander van punt A na punt B wil beweeg …
    Maar ja, ‘n Porsche bly ‘n Porsche. En ‘n gedig bly ‘n taalkonstrukt, met alles wat daarmee gepaard gaan.
    Dis net dat ek dit nog selde so helder verwoord teëgekom het soos dit die geval is hier met Szirtes.
    Mooi bly.

  4. charl-pierre naude :

    Baie goed gestel, Louis. Ek dink jy het die prentjie wat jy saamgestel het uit Szirtes se uitsprake – en terloops baie, baie dankie daarvoor, dis iets af te laai en te liasseer vir herhaalde raadpleging – nog verder nou vir my verhelder. Mooi loop. C-P