Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who knew a thing 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.

At once

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 had they managed to find their way?

Yes, the men 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 Pyranees.


From On the Contrary and Other Poems by Miroslav Holub (Newcastle-on-Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1984 – translated from Czech by Ewald Osers)