George Szirtes

George Szirtes (born 29 November 1948) is a Hungarian-born British poet, writing in English, as well as a translator from the Hungarian language into English. He has lived in the United Kingdom for most of his life.

Born in Budapest on 29 November 1948, Szirtes came to England as a refugee in 1956 aged 8. He was brought up in London and studied ...
Popular Poems
O, my America, discovered by slim chance,
behind, as it seemed, a washing line
I shoved aside without thinking -
does desire have thoughts or define
It was the empty chairs he feared,
not those with a proper behind rammed into them,
not those littered with stray bits of food or waste paper.

It was the voices that did not speak,
the wheezes and creaks the chairs didn't make.
The kicking over, the collapse,
the broken legs of chairs, the everyday business.

To see them ranged about a table
turned in on themselves as for a ritual,
that was the unsettling thing, and that one there,
yes, that one with its open arms
and its invitation to sit,
its somnolence, its stab at dignity
its emptiness, was the very devil.
The hard beautiful rules of water are these:
That it shall rise with displacement as a man
does not, nor his family. That it shall have no plan
or subterfuge. That in the cold, it shall freeze;
in the heat, turn to steam. That it shall carry disease
and bright brilliant fish in river and ocean.
That it shall roar or meander through metropolitan
districts whilst reflecting skies, buildings and trees.

And it shall clean and refresh us even as we slave
over stone tubs or cower in a shelter or run
into the arms of a loved one in some desperate quarter
where the rats too are running. That it shall have
dominion. That it shall arch its back in the sun
only according to the hard rules of water.
Finally we arrived at the city of silence,
enormous, high-walled, its furious traffic lights
signalling in panic. The streets were covered over
in thick rugs. It was a place without doors, a series
of moving mouths.
Their eyes, of course, spoke volumes,
vast encyclopaedias. There was little light reading.
Their white gloves fluttered before them
with grotesquely dancing fingers.

It was written that all this should be as it was.
Their thought-crimes, hand-crimes, and heart-crimes
were listed in long numbered chapters.
Policemen pulled faces or pointed at notices.
The civic authorities were sleeping in the park.
DO NOT DISTURB, said the signs.

The rest went on feeding and breeding.
They were planting tongues in the cemetery,
thick flowering shrubs of silence.
My father carries me across a field.
It's night and there are trenches filled with snow.
Thick mud. We're careful to remain concealed

From something frightening I don't yet know.
And then I walk and there is space between
The four of us. We go where we have to go.

Did I dream it all, this ghostly scene,
The hundred-acre wood where the owl blinked
And the ass spoke? Where I am cosy and clean

In bed, but we are floating, our arms linked
Over the landscape? My father moves ahead
Of me, like some strange, almost extinct

Species, and I follow him in dread
Across the field towards my own extinction.
Spirits everywhere are drifting over blasted

Terrain. The winter cold makes no distinction
Between them and us. My father looks round
And smiles then turns away. We have no function

In this place but keep moving, without sound,
Lost figures who leave only a blank page
Behind them, and the dark and frozen ground

They pass across as they might cross a stage.


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