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This outstanding new translation brings a uniformity of voice to Zbigniew Herbert's entire poetic output From his first book of poems String of Light in 1956 to his final volume previously unpublished in English Epilogue Of the Storm Collected Poems 1956 1998 as Joseph Brodsky said of Herbert's Selected Poems is bound for a much longer haul than any of us can anticipate He continues For Zbigniew Herbert's poetry adds to the biography of civilization the sensibility of a man not defeated by the century that has been most thorough most effective in dehumanization of the species Herbert's irony his austere reserve and his compassion the lucidity of his lyricism the intensity of his sentiment toward classical antiuity are not just trappings of a modern poet but the necessary armor—in his case well tempered and shining indeed—for man not to be crushed by the onslaught of reality By offering to his readers neither aesthetic nor ethical discount this poet in fact saves them frorn that poverty which every form of human evil finds so congenial As long as the species exists this book will be timely


10 thoughts on “The Collected Poems, 1956-1998

  1. says:

    ’At night the poet buildsa paradise for his dead’Born from the suffering and slaughter of his countrymen under the totalitarian rule of both the Nazi’s and the Communists alike Zbigniew Herbert the Polish born warrior of words inks out powerful testimonies to the human race To read Herbert is to join him hand in hand on his ’long walks down avenues of burned houses and broken glass’ as he pays homage to the fallen and tries to sueeze bright drops of hope from the darkness Herbert writes in a prose poem of the world moving on past the trauma ’It happens very rarely The earth’s axis screeches and comes to a stop Everything stands still then storms ships and clouds grazing in the valleys Everything Even horses in a meadow become immobile as if in an unfinished game of chessAnd after a while the world moves on The ocean swallows and regurgitates valleys send off steam and the horses pass from the black field into the white field There is also heard the resounding clash of air against air’In 1952 Herbert supplemented his income by selling his blood to survive I can think of no poignant an image of a poet as this At a young age Herbert joined the underground resistance movements and watched many a fellow friend and poet succumb to the bullet and bomb Much of his work reflects on these Fallen Poets as this poem is named ’Silent one receive A shrieking bulletlodged in his arm so he fled surpriseGrass will cover this mound of poemsUnder the malevolent cast of horizonsYour silence will drink to the dregs’A memorial of words to those who have gone before us is erected through this collection 'They who sailed at dawn but now will never return left their trace on a wave' Through the eyes of his prose we witness cities blown apart comrades execute by firing suads Five Men delivers one of the most impactful moments in his whole collection and the sadness of loss However all is not lost and Herbert manages to rise above the sualor and ‘ in dead earnest offer to the betrayed world a rose’ My soul would shudder and crawl yet pages later he offers a warmness that would perk it right back up and fill me with a glow while reading Herbert was a close friend of Czesław Miłosz Polish Nobel laureate and my personal favorite poet whom he learned much of his trade from Together the two took to political activism beyond the written world and were very outspoken against communism Herbert was certainly a poet who walked what he talked raining down bullets potent prose and good old fashion activism against all who stood in his way 'Our steps pounding the pavings skin a proud step that will turn the world into one procession and one slogan' How can you not respect this man? And then take a look at the cover of this life long collection how can you not respect a man with that awesome of a cover photo?While there is a large focus on his political and wartime poetry as well as other dark themes such as abandonment and fear there are still a vast variety of other lighter themes flowering in this collection I personally greatly enjoyed his poetry about poetry and the art of creating it Writing offers a whimsical description of the writing process ’When I mount a chairto capture the tableand raise a fingerto arrest the sunwhen I take the skin off my faceand the house off my shouldersand clutchingmy metaphora goose uillmy teeth sunk into the airI try to createa newvowel ’Herbert also writes heavily about a certain Mr Cogito an alter ego if you will with a name that reminded me of Jim Morrison’s Mr Mojo Rising where he is able to detach and examine the human soul and conscious These are some of the finest and funniest poems in the bunch as harnesses existential dilemmas and irony to create a portrait of his hero Much deals with the search for identity redemption and the will to push on after so much suffering has befallen the countryside There is a comical poem where Mr Cogito reflects on Hell and decides the inner circle is filled with poets artists and musicians but they happy there are because ’Beelzebub supports the arts He guarantees his artists tranuility a healthy diet and complete isolation from infernal life He boasts his artists outdo those in heaven’This is a great collection of poetry especially for those interested in wartime Europe and the Polish poets they do well with the Nobel awards that’s for sure Herbert never received one but he is right up there with Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska The translation seemed fine by me although I have nothing to compare it to only the fact that this edition is a revision of the translations by Miłosz himself Speaking of whom Herbert writes in the poem Czeslaw Miłosz Angels descend from heavenHalleluiahwhen he sets downhis slantedazure spacedletters’ If that’s not a sell for him I don’t know what is Herbert weaves a tapestry of words that will take your breath away He will be missed Rest in peace 1924 199845 we mustarm in armgo blindly ontoward new horizonstoward contracted throatsfrom which risesan unintelligible gurgle


  2. says:

    Translator's NoteIntroduction by Adam Zagajewski Chord of Light 1956 Hermes Dog and Star 1957 Study of the Object 1961 Inscription 1969 Mr Cogito 1974 Report from a Besieged City 1983 Elegy for the Departure 1990 Rovigo 1992 Epilogue to a Storm 1998 NotesZbigniew Herbert A ChronologyIndex of Titles and First Lines


  3. says:

    in the evening I like to wander along the edges of the cityskirting the borders of our uncertain libertyI watch from above an ant procession of troops their lightsI listen to the noise of drums and barbarians shrieking it is truly beyond me why the City is still defending itselfthe siege is taking a long time our enemies have to take turnsnothing unites them apart from the desire for our destructionGoths Tartars Swedes Caesar's men ranks of the transfigurationwho can count themthe banners change their colors like a forest against the horizona delicate bird yellow in spring through green to winter's black— — —Her burning look holds me fast as if in an embrace She utters wordsmixed up with dreams She invites me You will be happy if you believe andhitch your wagon to a star She is gentle when breast feeding the clouds;but when calm abandons her she runs along the seashore and waves herarms in the airReflected in her eyes I see two angels standing at my shoulders the palemalevolent angel of irony and the mighty loving angel of Schizophrenia— — —I saw prophets tearing their false beardsI saw frauds joining sects of flagellantsexecutioners in sheep's clothingwho fled the people's wrathplaying shepherd's pipesI saw it I saw itI saw a man subjected to torturehe sat safely now with his familytelling jokes eating soupI looked at his parted lipshis gums—two blackthorn twigs stripped of barkit was shameless beyond all wordsI saw the whole nakednessthe whole humiliation— — — She was doing her hair before going to bedand before the mirror it took an infinitely long timebetween one arm bending at the elbow and the otherepochs passed her hair soundlessly spilled soldiers of the second legion called Augustus Antoninian'sRoland's comrades artillery gunmen from Verdunwith resilient fingersshe secured the halo over her headit took so longthat when shefinally began her swaying march toward memy heart till now so docilestood stilland on my skin I feltcoarse grains of salt


  4. says:

    The poet Robert Hass calls him “one of the most influential European poets of the last half century an ironist and a minimalist who writes as if it were the task of the poet in a world full of loud lies to say what is irreducibly true in a level voice” Stephen Stepanchev describes Herbert as “a witness to his time” and Stephen Miller calls him a political poet whose “subdued and casual” poems “shun both hysteria and apocalyptic intensity” Zbigniew Herbert is an avant garde poet whose experiments and precise restrained rhythms have sent Polish prosody off in a new direction Trained in law he is a man with a passion for classical literature and for history and with all the intellectual tautness associated with a poet like T S EliotFor Herbert objects never represented an escape from the human; he continues to be intrigued by them and to study them finding unexpected new ualities and aspects of reality He humanizes them and at the same time respects their fundamental opacityHerbert argues for the acceptance of suffering without big words and dramatic gestures for a deflation of attitudes Herbert's poetry is based on permanent confrontation the confrontation of Western tradition with the experience of a barbarian from Eastern Europe of the classical past with the modern era of cultural myth with a practical empirical point of view Zbigniew Herbert a poet who at least for me transcends the Polish culture and even European intellectualism and speaks to all of humanity


  5. says:

    455Favorite poemsTo ApolloTo Marcus AureliusOn a RoseArchitectureWarsaw CemetaryTestamentNike Who HesitatesI Would Like To DescribeA KnockerRosy EarSubstanceThe Return of the ProconsulPreliminary Investigation of an AngelReport From ParadiseCernunnosCuratia DionisiaLivy's MetamorphosesJourneyWagonMademoiselle CordayA Mirror Wanders the Road living—despiteliving—againstI reproach myself with the sin of forgetting you left an embrace like a needless sweatera gaze like a uestion our hands won’t pass on the shape of your handswe let them go to waste touching common things our eyes reflect a uestiontranuil as mirrored glassunclouded by warm breath every day I refresh my eyeevery day my touch growstickled by the nearness of so many things a rose bows its headas if it had shoulders leans against the windthe wind goes off alone it cannot speak the wordit cannot speak the word the the rose diesthe harder to say rose a good memory curesthe scar a loss leaves radiance may descenddown our bent backsverily verily I say unto yougreat is the abyssbetween us and the light I would like to describe the simplest emotionjoy or sadnessbut not as others doreaching for shafts of rain or sun I would like to describe a lightwhich is being born in mebut I know it does not resembleany starfor it is not so brightnot so pureand is uncertain There are those who growgardens in their headspaths lead from their hairto sunny and white cities it’s easy for them to writethey close their eyesimmediately schools of imagesstream down from their foreheads my imaginationis a piece of boardmy sole instrumentis a wooden stick I strike the boardit answers meyes—yesno—no So many feelings fit between two heartbeatsso many objects can be held in our two hands Don’t be surprised we can’t describe the worldand just address things tenderly by name In a nest pleated from the fleshthere lived a birdits wings beat about the heartwe mostly called it unrestand sometimes love The DeadAs a result of being confined in dark and unaired accommodation their faces have been radically changed They would love to speak but sand devoured their lips Only occasionally do they clutch the air with their fists and try to raise their heads clumsily like infants Nothing can cheer them neither chrysanthemums nor candles They can’t reconcile themselves to their condition the condition of things CryptI can still adjust the devotional picture so your reconciliation with necessity may be known and the scarf as well so that the inscription “to my beloved” might be a cause of tears But what to do with the fly the black fly that creeps into the half closed mouth and carries out the remaining crumbs of the soul? WarA convoy of steel uiffs Boys painted with chalk Aluminum filings bring down houses Deafening missiles are sent into completely crimson air No one flies off into the sky The earth attracts bodies and lead ChimneyOn top of the house grows another house only without a roof—a chimney From it drift kitchen smells and my sighs The chimney is euitable it doesn’t keep them apart One big plume Black very black HeartAll man’s internal organs are bald and smooth The stomach intestines lungs are bald Only the heart has hair—reddish thick sometimes uite long This is a problem The heart’s hair inhibits the flow of blood like water plants The hair is often infested with worms You have to love very deeply to pick these uick little parasites from your beloved’s cardiac hair I could write a treatiseon the abrupt changeof life into archaeology art tries to ennobleto raise to a higher levelpraise in song dance and chatter decayed human matterwashed out sufferings


  6. says:

    For anyone who's ever tried to express the inexpressibleI Would Like to DescribeZbigniew Herbert 1924 1998I would like to describe the simplest emotionjoy or sadnessbut not as others doreaching for shafts of rain or sunI would like to describe a lightwhich is being born in mebut I know it does not resembleany starfor it is not so brightnot so pureand is uncertainI would like to describe couragewithout dragging behind me a dusty lionand also anxietywithout shaking a glass full of waterto put it another wayI would give all metaphorsin return for one worddrawn out of my breast like a ribfor one wordcontained within the boundariesof my skinbut apparently this is not possibleand just to say I loveI run around like madpicking up handfuls of birdsand my tendernesswhich after all is not made of waterasks the water for a faceand angerdifferent from fireborrows from ita louacious tongueso is blurredso is blurredin mewhat white haired gentlemenseparated once and for alland said this is the subjectand this is the objectwe fall asleepwith one hand under our headand with the other in a mound of planetsour feet abandon usand taste the earthwith their tiny rootswhich next morningwe tear out painfully


  7. says:

    As I already said much of what I would say about Herbert's poetry in my review of Mr Cogito included in this the collected works I'll leave it at that Suffice it to say that I enjoy Herbert's gentle humor introspective bent love of art and mythology and habit of slowing me down as a reader by not using much in the way of periods commas or capital letters I take on the burden of careful reader instead and I can't do that very well unless I slow down and reread something every poet would ask of his readers Here's a last poem from his penultimate book RovigoShameWhen I was very ill shame abandoned mewillingly I bared for alien hands surrendered to alien eyesthe poor mystery of my bodyThey invaded me brutally increasing the humiliationMy professor of forensic medicine the old Mancewiczfishing a suicide's remains from a pool of formaldehydebent over him as if he wished to ask him for his pardonthen with a deft movement he opened the proud thoraxthe basilica of the breath fell silentdelicately almost tenderlySo faithful to the dead respectful of ash I understandthe wrath of the Greek princess her stubborn resistanceshe was right a brother deserved a dignified buriala shroud of earth carefully drawnover the eyes


  8. says:

    I truly love Herbert's poems However not that I can read Polish but these are some sloppy translations They come nowhere near the grace and subtle shifts of voice that I found when reading an earlier translation of Selected Poems translated with care and polish tee hee and power by John and Bogdada Carpenter Sometimes the translations in this volume are so unsuccessful that not only do the words have no music but I also have no idea what is going onTake this example from 'Mr Cogito Reflects on Suffering'Valles translation joke around with it very solicitously as with a sick child cajoling in the end with silly tricks a wan smileCompare with how clear the Carpenters translation is entertain it very cautiously like a sick child forcing at last with silly tricks a faint smileAnd just one example from 'Mother' a gorgeous poem Valles translation He fell from her lap like a ball of yarn He unwound himself in a hurry and beat it into the distance She held onto the beginning of life She wound it on a finger hospitable as a ring; she wished to shelter it He rolled down steep slopes sometimes labored up mountains He came back all tangled up and didn't say a word He will never return to the sweet throne of her lapHe outspread arms glow in the dark like an old townBut look at how much nuance how much clear emotion is in the Carpenters versionHe fell from her knees like a ball of yarnHe unwound in a hurry and ran blindly away She held the beginning of life She would wind iton her finger like a ring she wanted to preserve himHe was rolling down steep slopes sometimes he was climbing up He would come back tangled and be silentNever will he return to the sweet throne of her knees The stretched out hands are alight in the darknesslike an old townHowever that being said I can't not be grateful Without this translation I would not have been able to read this previously untranslated haunting and powerful early poem 'How We Were Initiated'I was playing out in the streetno one one was minding me muchI was busy making sand piesabsently muttering Rimbaudonce an older guy heard mewhy you are a poet my boywe're just not putting together a grassroots literary movementpetting my dirty little headhe gave my a big lollipophe even bought me clothesin youth's camouflage colorsI hadn't had clothes as nicesince my first communionshort trousers and a shirtwith a great collarblack patent leather shoesbuckles and white socksthe old guy took my handand led me off to the ballthere were other boys tooin short trousers like metheir faces clean shavenshuffling with their feethave a good time of it ladswhy stand off to the side the older men asked why not form a mill wheelbut we didn't want to playat tag or blindman's bluffwe had enough of geezerswe were nearly starvingso uickly they sat us downaround a magnificent tableand gave us sweet lemonadeand to each a piece of cakenow boys got to their feetchanged into adult clothespraising us in deep voicesrapping us on the knuckleswe couldn't hear a thingwe couldn't feel a thingstaring with eyes wideat those pieces of cakewhich were melting fastin our feverish handsand life's first sweetnesswas lost in a dark sleeve


  9. says:

    Complex poems; most need several readings But they are written by a poet who is exploring a complex and very dark world around him not one writing self absorbed confessional or abstract language poetry My favorites are the Mr Cogito poems for their somewhat whimsical gloss on serious reflections The early poems are interesting for completeness but Herbert seems to really find his voice in the third book Study of the Object Its short prose poems which I usually don't like are wonderfulOf course Herbert treats the political regime in many poems He also draws heavily on the classics and mythology asks the uestions of a yearning skeptic in religious matters and writes of old age and mutual experiences in poems addressed to friends and not friends in later poems No poet makes every poem a masterpiece but this books contains enough excellent work to repay extensive reading


  10. says:

    THREE POEMS BY HEART 1 I cannot find the title for a memory of you with a hand torn from the dark I move on the remains of faces faint profiles of friendsfroze into hard outlines revolving around my head empty as the wind’s forehead— the silhouette of a black paper man2living despiteliving—against I reproach myself with the sin of forgetting you left an embrace like a needless sweater a gaze like a uestion our hands won’t pass on the shape ofyour hands we let them go to waste touching common things our eyes reflect a uestion tranuil as mirrored glass unclouded by warm breath every day I refresh my eye every day my touch grows tickled by the nearness of so many things life purls like bloodShadows softly melt let’s not let the fallen perish—a cloud will pass on their memory— the worn profiles of Roman coins ON A ROSE To Tadeusz Chrzanowski 1 Sweetness bears a flower’s name— Spherical gardens tremble suspended over the earth a sigh turns its head away a wind’s face at the fence grass is spread out belowthe season of anticipation the coming will snuff out odors it will open colors the trees build a cupola of green tranuility the rose is calling youa blown butterfly pines after you threads burst instant follows instant O rosebud green larva unfold Sweetness bears the name rose an explosion— purple’s standardbearers emerge from the interior and the countless ranks trumpeters of fragrance on long butterfly horns proclaim the fulfillment 2 the intricate coronations cloister gardens orisons gold packed ceremonies and flaming candlesticks triple towers of silencelight rays broken on high the depths— O source of heaven on earth O constellations of petals • • • do not ask what a rose is A bird may render it to you fragrance kills thought a lightbrushing erases a face O color of desire O color of weeping lids heavy round sweetness redness torn to the heart 3 a rose bows its head as if it had shoulders leans against the wind the wind goes off aloneit cannot speak the word it cannot speak the word the the rose dies the harder to say rose