Zbigniew Herbert
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Zbigniew Herbert 263  Zbigniew Herbert (1924–98) Arion This is he—Arion— the Grecian Caruso concertmaster of the ancient world expensive as a necklace or rather as a constellation singing to the ocean billows and the traders in silks to the tyrants and mule herders The crowns blacken on the tyrants’ heads and the sellers of onion cakes for the first time err in their figures to their own disadvantage What Arion is singing about nobody here could say exactly the essential thing is that he restores world harmony the sea gently rocks the land fire gossips with water without hatred in the course of one hexameter lie down wolves and roedeer merlins and doves and the child goes to sleep in the lion’s mane as in a cradle Look how the animals are smiling People are living on white flowers and everything is just as good as it was in the beginning This is he—Arion expensive and multiple the author of giddiness standing in a blizzard of pictures he has eight fingers like an octave and he sings 264 Polish Until from the blue in the west the luminous threads of saffron unravel themselves which indicate that night is coming close Arion with a friendly shake of his head says good-bye to the mule herders and tyrants the shopkeepers and philosophers and takes his seat upon the back of his tame dolphin —I’ll be seeing you— How handsome Arion is —say all the girls— when he floats out to sea alone with a garland of horizons on his head To Marcus Aurelius For Prof. Henryk Eizenberg Good night Marcus put out the light and shut the book For overhead is raised a gold alarm of stars while heaven talks some foreign speech this the barbarian cry of fear your Latin cannot understand Terror continuous dark terror against the fragile human land begins to beat It’s winning Hear its roar The unrelenting stream of elements will drown your prose until the world’s four walls go down As for us?—to tremble in the air Zbigniew Herbert 265  blow in the ashes stir the ether gnaw our fingers seek vain words and drag the fallen shades behind us Well Marcus better hang up your peace give me your hand across the dark Let it tremble when the blind world beats on senses five like a failing lyre Traitors—universe and astronomy reckoning of stars wisdom of grass and your greatness too immense and Marcus my defenseless tears Maturity It’s good what happened it’s good what’s going to happen even what’s happening right now it’s o.k. In a nest pleated from the flesh there lived a bird its wings beat about the heart we mostly called it: unrest and sometimes: love evenings we went along the rushing sorrow river in the river one could see oneself from head to toe now the bird has fallen to the bottom of the clouds the river has sunk into the sand helpless as children and practised as old men 266 Polish we are—simply—free that is—ready to withdraw In the night a nice old man arrives and coaxes us with a deprecating shrug —who are you?—we ask alarmedly —Seneca—say the ones who finished grammar school and those who aren’t familiar with Latin just call me: the deceased The Wringer The inquisitors are in our midst. They live in vast subterranean houses and only the shop-sign WRINGER HERE betrays their presence. Tables with flexed bronze muscles, powerful rollers, crushing slowly but with precision, a driving-wheel, which knows no mercy—are waiting for us. The sheets, which they carry out of the wringer-shop, are like empty bodies of magicians and heretics. Episode in a Library A blonde girl is bent over a poem. With a stiletto-sharp pencil she transfers the words to a sheet of paper and changes them into stresses, accents, caesuras. The lament of a fallen poet now looks like a salamander eaten away by ants. When we carried him away under machine-gun fire, I believed that his still warm body would find its resurrection in his words. Now, as I watch the death of the words, I know there is no limit to decay. All that will be left after us in the black earth will be the dissipated sounds. The accents over nothingness and dust. Peter Dale Scott, 1963 ...