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On one of the corners of St Stephen’s square

is a café, the California

Coffee Company, with cheery slogans,

in English, extolling the benefits

of the bean. A window seat gives a view,

across the square, of the west entrance

to the basilica of Szent Istvan,

its portico embossed in gold with

‘Ego Sum Veritas et Vita’.


Our backs to the basilica we walk

down Zyrini Street towards the Danube,

Buda rising high on its western slopes.

As we pass the Cognitive Department

of the Soros-funded University

of Central Europe – which the government

has shut down – three students emerge carrying

a mattress in plastic wrapping, one wearing

a sweatshirt marked ‘#istandwithceu’.


On the embankment near the Chain Bridge –

designed and built by British engineers

after the ’48 revolution –

are empty sparkler packets, New Year’s discards.

The gun metal water is fast, turbulent.

Upstream is a row of cast iron boots and shoes.

There, while the Red Army shelled the city,

the Christmas and New Year of ’44/

’45, the Arrow Cross (whose informal

motto was ‘Perseverance’) shot thousands – Jews,

communists, Roma – forcing them to remove

their footwear first, and stand on the embankment’s edge

their backs to the river.




© Copyright David Selzer
6 Responses
  • Catherine Reynolds
    January 31, 2020

    The contrast between tourism and terrorism is telling. The present, of Coffee Shops and students, almost masks a terrible and frightening past, which is within living memory. The shoes and boots tell of the last desperate moments of people whose lives were tragically cut short. The water carrying them away. They are not forgotten.

  • Alan Horne
    January 31, 2020

    As so often in these poems you bring the past into the present with great beauty.

  • John Williams
    February 1, 2020

    ‘New Year, Budapest’

    The poem takes the reader to St. Stephen’s Square in Budapest where the poet takes a new year vacation. He is taken with signage: a cheery advert for coffee, the message outside the Basilica of Szent Istvan, a logo on a student’s shirt, a message on the Chain bridge and mottos from World War II. Particularly striking is ‘Perseverance’, the motto of the Hungarian fascists who controlled the city and murdered Jews and Roma.

    The emblems hint at a number of contrasts; the cathedral represents the Age of Faith and contrasts with the University of the Age of Reason. The sacred is set against sin in the massacre of the Jews and Roma. A youthful student echoes the revolutionary fervour of a previous generation of Hungarian youth from the 1848 Revolution. Details like the sparkler packet, gunmetal river, iron boots and shoes, suggest an uneasy relationship; momentary joy on the one hand and endless human suffering on the other, a sparkler packet against a row of iron boots.

    However, a deeper irony lies in the signage. Both signs and poem are in written language. The poem demonstrates that however bleak human history, language has the potency and resources to express it. And poetry, language at its most articulate and ceremonious, acutely shares a depth of feeling and sense of communal suffering with the reader. This is what ‘New Year, Budapest’ achieves. Thank you, David.

  • David Selzer
    February 1, 2020

    Thank you for your cheeky exegesis, John. All my travelogues unmasked at the stroke of key or two! They have no message!

  • Clive Watkins
    February 3, 2020

    It is to take nothing away from your poem, David, to observe that there are very few places in Europe (where most of my overseas travel has occurred) that are not haunted in this way. It does require an eye to see, however, and a mind to absorb. I recall being in Périgueux several years ago. We had been staying for a few days with an acquaintance, a British man, who lived in the countryside about thirty minutes from Périgueux and had done so for many years. He had visited Périgueux many times but knew nothing of what had happened there during World War II – the operations of the Resistance, the deportations, including of the Jewish population, the mass executions in the street – despite the plaques prominently posted at significant locations. The house he lived in had originally been built in the sixteenth century and added to later. It was in effect a fortified farmhouse. It had survived the Wars of Religion and the Revolution, but he was completely incurious about this history and what it might have to tell him. Another of my non-literary comments!

  • David Selzer
    February 4, 2020

    You have diagnosed the British Disease, Clive. Since the past has been comparatively kind to most of the inhabitants of the British Isles most of them are indifferent to it, wherever they happen to live.

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