We are all of us guests on this planet
And with guests  —  you know how it is
Some are nice and some are tiresome
And some behave as if they were hosts
and even as they die they believe 

that they have owned the sun and the air and the history that took place
even before they were born.

(from Collected Poems)



Some naive lovers of semantics believe
that if only our leaders
(of all sorts)
could understand the meaning of their own pronouncements
they would amend their ways.
What an illusion!
They - the leaders
know the mechanism of Language much better than all the semanticists,
linguistic philosophers,
& logical formalists put together.
It's only that they use their knowledge for their own purposes.
And when a Poet
or a Novelist becomes a demagogue
the same applies to him.
Because POETRY as well as POLITICS may be morally vicious,
and intellectually dishonest.
In such cases both Poetry and Oratory
(political, religious, philosophical)
are like Crime.
The greater a Crime is
the more impressive it is
but the less excusable.
when all is said and done
one finds that no poetic rhymes
and no politic aims
are more important
than decency of means.
Because when all is said and done
decency of means
the aim of aims.


Jankel Adler or an Artist seen from one of many possible angles. 1948

Aesop, The Eagle & the Fox, the Fox & the Eagle. 1949

Bayamus (and the Theatre of Semantic Poetry).1949

Wooff Wooff or Who killed Richard Wagner? 1951

Professor Mmaa's Lecture. 1953

The Adventures of Peddy Bottom. 1954

factor T (philosophical essay). 1956

Kurt Schwitters in England.1958

The Bone in the Throat (one-act play). 1959

Cardinal Polatuo. 1961

Semantic Divertissements. 1962

Tom Harris.1967

Apollinaire's Lyrical Ideograms. 1968

St Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio (an opera, libretto and music). 1972

Special Branch (a dialogue). 1972

Logic, Labels and Flesh (ten philosophical essays). 1974

On Semantic Poetry. 1975

General Piesc (The Case of the Forgotten Mission).1976

The Chair of Decency (Johan Huizinga Lecture). 1982

The Urge to Create Visions. 1983

The Mystery of the Sardine. 1986

Hobson's Island. 1988

Collected Poems, 1999

The central concerns of Stefan Themerson's writing are ethics and language. He wrote in Polish, French and, after he came to live in England in 1942, in English. He wrote novels, poetry, philosophical essays, some essays on art, a play, an opera (libretto and music), and a book on photograms and experimental cinema. During the 1930s, in Warsaw and then in Paris, he also wrote books for children illustrated by his wife.

He invented 'semantic poetry' which first appeared in his novel Bayamus (1949). It is a sort of poetry that prefers the matter-of-fact meanings of words in dictionary definitions to the romantic euphemism of poetic conventions.

His novels range from elaborate allegories to satirical thrillers. The humanitarian philosophy that underpins them all was crystallised in The Chair of Decency, a talk given as the Huizinga lecture in Leyden in 1981. It contrasted the innate sense of good with which man is born, with the impassioned pursuit of belief and causes by which he is subsequently deluded. Means are more important than Aims, Themerson said. Aims are cultural but the proper means are biological.
Stefan Themerson, 1951