Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Zbigniew Herbert: Collected Poems 1956–1998

Zbigniew Herbert (1924–1998) was a Polish poet, dramatist, essayist. Influential, honoured and well regarded in the west, he is one who needs to be read. So I tackled the Collected, not a simple task as it's almost 600 pages long. I've covered about a third and am taking a break.

Interesting poetry, no punctuation but skilfully done so that is not a problem. His poetry is calm, personal and political, remarkably when you consider the events he lived through.

He is quoted as saying that as regards poetry "The word is a window onto reality". He has written a number of prose poem, a form I am not fond of but I think this one is delightful:

  The hen is the best example of what living constantly with humans leads to. She has completely lost the lightness and grace of a bird. Her tail sticks up over her protruding rump like a too large hat in bad taste. Her rare moments of ecstasy, when she stands on one leg and glues up her round eyes with filmy eyelids, are stunningly disgusting. And in addition, that parody of song, throat-slashed supplication over a thing unutterably comic: a round, white, maculated egg.
  The hen brings to mind certain poets.

(translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott)

The Collected Poems, 1956–1998 by Zbigniew Herbert, edited and translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles, with additional translations by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott and an introduction by Adam Zagajewski.

Review article by Charles Simic here. One by Craig Raine here. Herbert article at the Poetry Foundation here.

Picture: Statue of Zbigniew Herbert in Kielce, Poland.

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