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Zbigniew Herbert

Lament

To the memory of my mother

And now she has over her head brown clouds of roots
a slim lily of salt on the temples beads of sand
while she sails on the bottom of a boat through foaming nebulas

a mile beyond us where the river turns
visible-invisible as the light on a wave
truly she isn't different-abandoned like all of us

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Nothing Special

nothing special
boards paint
nails paste
paper string

mr artist
builds a world
not from atoms
but from remnants

forest of arden
from umbrella
ionian sea
from parkers quink

just as long as
his look is wise
just as long as
his hand is sure -

[...] Read more

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Objects

Inanimate objects are always correct and cannot, unfortunately, be reproached with anything. I have never observed a chair shift from one foot to another, or a bed rear on its hind legs. And tables, even when they are tired, will not dare to bend their knees. I suspect that objects do this from pedagogical considerations, to reprove us constantly for our instability.

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Home

A home above the year's seasons
home of children animals and apples
a square of empty space
under an absent star

home was the telescope of childhood
the skin of emotion
a sister's cheek
branch of a tree

the cheek was extinguished by flame
the branch crossed out by a shell
over the powdery ash of the nest
a song of homeless infantry

home is the die of emotion
home is the cube of childhood

the wing of a burned sister

[...] Read more

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A Halt

We halted in a town the host
ordered the table to be moved to the garden the first star
shone out and faded we were breaking bread
crickets were heard in the twilight loosestrife
a cry but a cry of a child otherwise the bustle
of insects of men a thick scent of earth
those who were sitting with their backs to the wall
saw violet now - the gallows hill
on the wall the dense ivy of executions

we were eating much
as is usual when nobody pays

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Pebble

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

[...] Read more

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The Tongue

Inadvertently I passed the border of her teeth and swallowed
her agile tongue. It lives inside me now, like a Japanese fish. It
brushes against my heart and my diaphragm as if against the walls
of an aquarium. It stirs silt from the bottom.
She whom I deprived of a voice stares at me with big eyes
and waits for a word.
Yet I do not know which tongue to use when speaking to
her – the stolen one or the one which melts in my mouth from an
excess of heavy goodness.

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In a City

In an eastern city where I won’t return
there is a winged stone light and huge
lightning strikes this winged stone
I close my eyes to remember
in my city where I won’t return
there is heavy and nourishing water
the one who gives you a cup of this water
gives you the faith you will still return
in my faraway city that has gone
from all maps of the world there is bread that can nourish
throughout life black as the faith you will see again
stone bread water and the presence of towers at dawn

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A Knocker

There are those who grow
gardens in their heads
paths lead from their hair
to sunny and white cities

it's easy for them to write
they close their eyes
immediately schools of images
stream down their foreheads

my imagination
is a piece of board
my sole instrument
is a wooden stick

I strike the board
it answer me
yes--yes
no--no

[...] Read more

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Wasp

When the honey, fruit and flowery tablecloth were whisked from the table in one sweep, it flew off with a start. Entangled in the suffocating smoke of the curtains, it buzzed for a long time. At last it reached the window. It beat its weakening body repeatedly against the cold, solid air of the pane. In the last flutter of its wings drowsed the faith that the body’s unrest can awaken a wind carrying us to longed-for worlds.
You who stood under the window of your beloved, who saw your happiness in a shop window—do you know how to take away the sting of this death?

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