21st July 2022


4 minutes read

George Szirtes

Landscapes of Desire

21st July 2022

4 minutes read

Definitions become ever harder, especially in the realm of sensibility. So the distinctions between, say, desire, craving, lust, passion, and words like raunch on the one hand and romance, say, on the other are hard to compartmentalize. Where does one stop and the other begin? In law? In politics? In language? In urgency? In impact? In unspoken signals?

One might have a craving for food or drink or tobacco, for possession of an object, or for something more abstract, like comfort, or fame. The word implies a form of dependency in that one cannot live without, or cannot resist, the thing craved. In any case, it suggests something potentially illicit. Maybe, in English, it is simply because the word crave rhymes so neatly with the word deprave. It is excessive, intemperate, well beyond the supposed Golden Mean.

Desire is nobler than that. We all claim to understand and indeed to glory in it. It takes the best out of the notion of passion. Passion and desire are the driving forces of a heroic, if potentially tragic life.

But craving? Does that not imply something slavish?

Isn’t there something a little humiliating about it?

The figure in Lili Hanna Seres’s poem, ‘Admonitions’, is concerned about possible ways of articulating what it was to have been the subject of a sadistic act, an act that can have an erotic aspect in the course of sex, although we cannot be sure that sex is the context. The speaker may have been the subject of anger or intimidation but, to consider that, is to realize the close relationship between desire and violence. What, after all, was the nature of the experience? Is it locatable in gender relations? Not entirely perhaps as the poet tells us:

There’s no men and women.

Only you and him.

The thinning air.

Only the pillow and the wall.

The poem itself begins to treat the experience in the partially eroticized terms of easing in, re-living, increased heart rate and thirst, but then takes out its word-scalpel to convert the physical into the ‘cold excitement’ of literature and ends with the final image of the tightrope walker.

It is difficult to distinguish one significance from another.

Perhaps significances merge in some exchange of energy. Craving here is, we understand, primarily the suffocation of one party by another as experienced by the subject of craving, a subject whose own craving is for another kind of excitement.

Lenka Kuhar Daňhelová’s short poem ‘Waning’ plunges us into the condition of desire but is focused on a moment of it. The circumstances are made clear. Everything in that moment is powered by desire. The morning bed is too big for one, birds scream, elderberry ripens and turns into ‘precious beads’, the afternoon is positively scorching and the air hangs heavy. At the same time we know that summer is waning and therefore just beyond its climacteric. Desire is aware of its potential loss and knows its power is all too finite. That is an elegiac feeling. Donne and Marvell have written of the conjured pressure of such moments in the course of seduction. Unless repressed desire is satisfied, they argue, desire is faced with its own mortality in both the speaker and the subject. We are familiar with this argument and may regard it as somewhat underhand but there is no suggestion here of constraining violence above and beyond the screaming, ripening, and heaviness. The feeling is not implanted in the speaker but arises out of her (we assume it is her). There is no concrete object of desire here. The object is yet to appear and will, at some stage, vanish.

Desire is urgency and implication.

The question of air is raised in both poems: thin air and dense air. Life is impossible without air.


written by

George Szirtes

More about the author

Issue 02


More about this issue


Propositional Erotica by George Szirtes
A poem by the British poet and translator, born in Budapest, George Szirtes.
Landscapes of Desire by George Szirtes
George Szirtes introduces our poets, and considers the topography of craving and its synonyms; the terrain, landmarks, and boundaries.