Zbigniew Herbert
Click on photo for a discussion of Herbert's poetry

Herbert was born in 1924 in Lvov, which was then in eastern Poland but is currently in the Ukraine.
Four of his books of poetry have been translated into English:
       Elegy for the Departure, 1993
          Mr. Cogito, 1993
          Report from the besieged city & other poems, 1985
          Selected poems, 1977

Three books of essays have also been translated:

King of the Ants: Mythological Essays, 1999
Still Life With a Bridle : Essays and Apocryphas, 1993
Barbarian in the Garden, 1986

                                   POEMS by ZBIGNIEW HERBERT

These poems, and others by Herbert, are found at http://redfrog.norconnect.no/~poems/poets/herbert.html
which is managed by the Polish Academic Information Center at the State University of New York, Buffalo.

                     by Zbigniew Herbert

                     The pebble
                     is a perfect creature

                     equal to itself
                     mindful of its limits

                     filled exactly
                     with a pebbly meaning

                     with a scent that does not remind one of anything
                     does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

                     its ardour and coldness
                     are just and full of dignity

                     I feel a heavy remorse
                     when I hold it in my hand
                     and its noble body
                     is permeated by false warmth

                      - Pebbles cannot be tamed
                      to the end they will look at us
                      with a calm and very clear eye

                                       Translated by Peter Dale Scott and Czeslaw Milosz

Why the Classics
                         by Zbigniew Herbert

                         in the fourth book of the Peloponnesian War
                         Thucydides tells among other things
                         the story of his unsuccessful expedition

                         among long speeches of chiefs
                         battles sieges plague
                         dense net of intrigues of diplomatic endeavours
                         the episode is like a pin
                         in a forest

                         the Greek colony Amphipolis
                         fell into the hands of Brasidos
                         because Thucydides was late with relief

                         for this he paid his native city
                         with lifelong exile

                         exiles of all times
                         know what price that is

                         generals of the most recent wars
                         if a similar affair happens to them
                         whine on their knees before posterity
                         praise their heroism and innocence

                         they accuse their subordinates
                         envious collegues
                         unfavourable winds

                         Thucydides says only
                         that he had seven ships
                         it was winter
                         and he sailed quickly

                         if art for its subject
                         will have a broken jar
                         a small broken soul
                         with a great self-pity

                         what will remain after us
                         will it be lovers' weeping
                         in a small dirty hotel
                         when wall-paper dawns

                                                Translated by Peter Dale Scott and Czeslaw Milosz

The Envoy of Mr Cogito
                   by Zbigniew Herbert

                   Go where those others went to the dark boundary
                   for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize

                   go upright among those who are on their knees
                   among those with their backs turned and those toppled in the dust

                   you were saved not in order to live
                   you have little time you must give testimony

                   be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous
                   in the final account only this is important

                   and let your helpless Anger be like the sea
                   whenever your hear the voice of the insulted and beaten

                   let you sister Scorn not leave you
                   for the informers executioners cowards - they will win
                   they will go to your funeral with relief will throw a lump of earth
                   the woodborer will write your smoothed-over biography

                   and do not forgive truly it is not in your power
                   to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn

                   beware however of unnecessary pride
                   keep looking at your clown's face in the mirror
                   repeat: I was called - weren't there better ones than I

                   beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring
                   the bird with an unknown name the winter oak
                   light on a wall the splendour of the sky
                   they don't need your warm breath
                   they are there to say: no one will console you

                   be vigilant - when the light on the mountains gives the sign- arise and
                   as long as blood turns in the breast your dark star

                   repeat old incantations of humanity fables and legends
                   because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain
                   repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
                   like those crossing the desert who perished in the sand

                   and they will reward you with what they have at hand
                   with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap

                   go because only in this way you will be admitted to the company of cold
                   to the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
                   the defenders of the kingdom without limit and the city of ashes

                   Be faithful Go

                                                               translated by John Carpenter & Bogdana Carpenter