Synopses & Reviews
Every great poet lives between two worlds. One of these is the real, tangible world of history, private for some and public for others. The other world is a dense layer of dreams, imagination, fantasms. It sometimes happens...that this second world takes on gigantic proportions, that it becomes inhabited by numerous spirits, that it is haunted by leo Africanus and other ancient magi.
These two territories conduct complex negotiations, the result of which are poems. Poets strive for the first world, the real one, conscientiously trying to reach it, to reach the place where the minds of many people meet; but their efforts are hindered by the second world, just as the dreams and hallucinations of certain sick people prevent them from understanding and experiencing events in their waking hours. except that in great poets these hindrances are rather a symptom of mental health, since the world is by nature dual, and poets pay tribute with their own duality to the true structure of reality, which is composed of day and night, sober intelligence and fleeting fantasies, desire and gratification.
There is no poetry without this duality....
And this is the common vector of all Herbert's poetry; let us not be misled by its adornments, its nymphs and satyrs, its columns and quotations. this poetry is about the pain of the twentieth century, about accepting the cruelty of an inhuman age, about an extraordinary sense of reality. And the fact that at the same time the poet loses none of his lyricism or his sense of humorthis is the unfathomable secret of a great artist.
from the introduction by Adam Zagajewski (translated by Bill Johnston)
"Herbert (1924 1998) lived to witness his hometown of Lww, Poland, occupied by the Soviets in 1939, the Nazis in 1941, and the Soviets again in 1944. This exposure to systematic and violent oppression awakened in Herbert a protective and motivating skepticism that pervades all his poetry: 'If you put trust in your five senses/ the world contracts into a hazelnut.' This impeccably, newly translated and edited volume finds Herbert, strongly anticommunist throughout his life, determined to resist the reduction of the human to anything easily measured, manipulated and forgotten, even if history keeps reminding us that 'only our dreams have not been humiliated.' Tender, wary, melancholy and wry, the poems visit ideas of redemption as one might visit a grave site, i.e., knowing that what you seek can only be experienced in the heart and mind. If one attempts through poetry to 'offer to the betrayed world / a rose,' Herbert's world-weary, tragicomic alter-ego, Mr. Cogito one of last century's most memorable poetic personages warns us that the gesture will probably go unnoticed, especially in an age when even 'the temple of freedom/ has been turned into a flea market.' Finally, the work of this powerful master of 20th-century literature is all in one place." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“Now, nearly 10 years after his death, Herberts voice is gathered, uncensored and unimaginably strong, in one dynamic volume.” San Francisco Chronicle
“English readers have cause for celebration...” Philadelphia Inquirer
“Zbigniew Herbert is a poet for this place; above all, for this time.” Joseph Brodsky
A new translation of poetic works by the Polish Nobel Prize candidate includes pieces from his entire body of work, from String of Light to Epilogue of the Storm, in a volume that offers insight into his perspectives on such topics as imagination, art, and exile.
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 SSelected 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 antiquity, 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."
About the Author
Zbigniew Herbert was born in Lwów, Poland, in 1924. In his late teens he fought in the under-ground resistance against the Nazis. Herbert studied law, economics, and philosophy at the universities of Krakow, Torun, and Warsaw. His books include Selected Poems, Report from the Besieged City and Other Poems, Mr Cogito, Still Life with a Bridle, The King of the Ants, Labyrinth on the Sea, and Collected Poems. He died in 1998.