No. 4 & 5


Zbigniew Herbert  

Translated from the Polish by Ryszard J. Reisner  


In a Town

In a town  once Polish to which I will not return
there is this winged rock light and enormous
lightening keeps striking this rock that is winged

In my far away town to which I will not return
there is a heavy and nutritious water
whoever gives you this water in a tumbler 
says – I’ll be back once here again 

in my town which no world map shows
there’s this bread that can feed
for life black like a wayfarer’s fate like
rock, water, bread, persistence of towers at dawn

The End

And now I won’t be found in any 
group photo ( proud proof of my death is
in all the world’s literature weeklies) when someone
will say look see – that’s Zbyszek – pointing a finger
at the man struggling with a suitcase – but that’s not
me that’s someone else not even in this line
I’m not here - no not here - complete void
even if I forged my will on a single point
I couldn’t for a moment even in a flash of magnesium
come to be - so - not here
full stop!
like a tyrant’s edict - not here - as if now I’m the enemy 
of the revolution and before basked safe in the glory
of number one

A Language Of Dreams

when I sleep
like all
before dayset
I wind the clock

disappear on white
sailing ship
a wave washes me 
from white sailing ship
I search for the key
I slay the dragon
who is laughing
I turn on the lamp 
and most of all

I suspect
everyone dreams pictures
but tell myself
all these silly stories
as if sleeping
in a puff of

but it should be thus
a language of dreams
a language beautiful far reaching
in flight 
when it drops grammar
phonetic principles
a language of invective
a language which I don’t know 

when I sleep
where cat does
a shudder pierces
coppered body
a groan a melody

when I sleep
where cat does
a shudder pierces
the body at times 
once groaned a melody
the ears can hear

then it
comes to a close
a language of dreams
not giving in
to tiredness

a language of sweet menace 

Lyrical Sphere

A view over park and walls in the falling twilight
as in Corot – skin of lemon skin of cheek talcum after the ball
air gold brushed and here not a thing heard no whispers 
or muffled exclamations damp handshakes gallopades
only the spirit turns painful a flimsy spiderweb
and hangs in the air like a smiling Giaconda
of Etruscan damsels 

a smiling Sphinx


help us think up a fruit
crystal image of a sweet
as well as the meeting of both expanses
dayset and daybreak
seek out from the folds of sea 
a bass crystal deep
as well as the girl
blind as fate
the girl who sings - belcanto


Now that we’re alone we can talk prince man to man
though you lie on the stairs and see as much as a dead ant
that is a black sun of broken rays
Never could I think of your hands without a smile
and now when they lie on stone like knocked down nests
are just as defenceless as before  This in fact is the end
Hands lie apart  Sword lies apart  Apart the head
and feet of knight in soft slippers

A soldier’s funeral you will have though you were not a soldier
it is the only ritual of which I know a little
No candles and song just fuses and canon fire
crepe trailing pavement helmets hobnail boots artillery horses drum beat drum beat I know no beauty
these will be my manoeuvres before taking power
one has to take the city by the throat and shake it a bit

This way or that you had to die Hamlet you were not for life
you believed in crystal notions and not in human clay
you lived always twitching as if asleep you hunted chimeras
greedily you wolfed down air only to bring it up
you knew no human thing not even how to breathe knew you

Now you have peace Hamlet you have played your part
and you have peace  The remainder is not silence but belongs to me
you chose the easier role a clever thrust
but what is heroic death compared to eternal watch
with cold orb in hand on a high chair
with a view of anthill and clock dial

Farewell prince a sewer projects awaits me
and decree on the matter of prostitutes and beggars
I have to also consider a better system of prisons
since you rightly noticed Denmark is a prison
I depart to my affairs  This night is born
a star Hamlet  Never shall we meet
that which remains after me won’t be the subject of tragedy

Not for us to greet nor bid farewell we live on archipelagos
and that water these words what can they what can they prince



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everything published 
here remains 
with the author's.


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