Friday, February 05, 2010

Zbigniew Herbert



Mr Cogito
decided to return
to the stony lap
of his fatherland

the decision is dramatic
he will regret it greatly

he can however no longer
stand the colloquial turns
- comment allez-vous
- wiegeht's
- how are you

questions apparently simple
require convoluted answers

Mr Cogito will rip off
bandages of kind indifference
he has lost all faith in progress
he cares about his own wound

displays of abundance
fill him with boredom

he grew fond only
of a Doric column
a church in San Clemente
a portrait of a certain lady
a book he never finished
and a few other little items

so he returns

he now sees
the border
a plowed field
murderous watchtowers
a thicket of barbed wire

without a whisper
a bulletproof door
closes slowly behind him

he is
in the treasure house
of all misfortune

so why does he return
he is asked by friends
from the better world

he might stay here
somehow settle in

entrust his wound
to the dry cleaner

leave it in the lounge
of an enormous airport

so why does he return

- to childhood waters
- to his tangled roots
- to memory's embrace
- to the hand the face
burned on time's grate

questions apparently simple
require convoluted answers

perhaps Mr Cogito returns
to give an answer

to promptings of terror
to impossible happiness
to a blowout of the blue
to a treacherous question

Zbigniew Herbert, The Collected Poems 1956-1998,
translated by Alissa Valles, Harper Collins, 2007

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