zbigniew herbert | a ballad that we do not perish

30 12 2009

Poetry Dispatch No. 306 | December 31, 2009

ZBIGNIEW HERBERT

I close this Poetry Dispatch year of 2009 with a poem, most memorable words from the winged pen of that great old, European poet, Zbignew Herbert.

What does “a room grown cold a few books / an empty inkwell white paper—“ have to do with a writer’s words ? a reader’s interests? loss of time? hope in the coming year?

Everything.

A Happy 2010 to you all. Thank you for your interest and support of this site. Stick around: I have more promises to keep… And merci, merci, Monsieur K. –norbert blei

A BALLAD THAT WE DO NOT PERISH

Those who sailed at dawn
but will never return
left their trace on a wave—

a shell fell to the bottom of the sea
beautiful as lips turned to stone

those who walked on a sandy road
but could not reach the shuttered windows
though they already saw the roofs—

they have found shelter in a bell of air

but those who leave behind only
a room grown cold a few books
an empty inkwell white paper—

in truth they have not completely died
their whisper travels through thickets of wallpaper
their level head still lives in the ceiling

their paradise was made of air
of water lime and earth an angel of wind
will pulverize the body in its hand
they will be
carried over the meadows of this world

—ZBIGNIEW HERBERT (1924-98)

[ From The New Yorker, August 10, 1998 / Translated, from the Polish, by John and Bogdana Carpenter]

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