Zbigniew Herbert Elegy For The Departure

ISBN 13: 9780880016193

Elegy For The Departure

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9780880016193: Elegy For The Departure
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Available for the first time in English, Elegy for the Departure and Other Poems is an important collection from the late Zbigniew Herbert. Translated from the Polish by award-winning translators John and Bogdana Carpenter, these sixty-eight verse and prose poems span forty years of Herbert's incredible life and work. The pieces are organized chronologically from 1950 to 1990, with an emphasis on the writer's early and late poems.

Here Zbigniew Herbert's poetry turns from the public--what we have come to expect from this poet--to the more personal. The title poem, "Elegy for the Departure of Pen Ink and Lamp , is a three-part farewell ode to the inanimate objects and memories of childhood. Herbert reflects on the relationship between the living and the dead in "What Our Dead Do," the state of his homeland in "Country," and the power of language in "We fall asleep on words . . . " Herbert's short prose poems read like aphorisms, deceptively whimsical but always wise: "Bears are divided into brown and white, also paws, head, and trunk. They have nice snouts, and small eyes.... Children who love Winnie-the-Pooh would give them anything, but a hunter walks in the forest and aims with his rifle between that pair of small eyes."

Elegy for the Departure and Other Poems confirms Zbigniew Herbert's place as one of the world's greatest and most influential poets.

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Review:

John Keats, in his "Ode on a Grecian Urn," first described scenes of sylvan revelry before proclaiming, "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,'--that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." In "Fragment of a Greek Vase" Zbigniew Herbert takes a different lesson from the ancient world. Describing the image of a dead Greek soldier, he writes:

he has closed his eyes
renouncing the world
leaves droop in the silent air
a branch trembles touched by a shadow of flying birds
and only the cricket hidden
in Memnon's still living hair
proclaims a convincing
praise of life
Herbert's world-view was indelibly shaped by two events: the Nazi invasion of Poland when he was 15 and the subsequent Communist takeover after the war. His poems are filled with elegiac images of a gentler past juxtaposed with the grim realities that replaced them. In "Three Poems by Heart" he writes first of "the children in our street / scourge of cats / the pigeons-- / softly gray" and then later comments, "the children on our street / had a difficult death / pigeons fell lightly / like shot down air." And in "The Ardennes Forest" even descriptions of wild strawberry leaves and ripening wild pears cannot erase the deeper associations with that place of wartime slaughter: "a charred cloud / forehead branded by black light / and a thousand lids pressed / tightly on motionless eyeballs."

Indeed, the dead are seldom absent from these poems. Herbert describes the objects in a still life as "violently separated from life." In the prose poem "Bears" even A.A. Milne's famous character becomes a potential victim : "Children who love Winnie-the-Pooh would give them anything, but a hunter walks in the forest and aims with his rifle between that pair of small eyes." Herbert, who died in 1998, used a wide variety of poetic forms to explore the power of memory, the betrayal of the past, and the bonds between the living and the dead. Beautifully translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter, Elegy for the Departure is a fitting requiem for its author. --Alix Wilber

About the Author:

Zbigniew Herbert was born in Lwów, Poland, in 1924. In his late teens he fought in the under-ground resistance against the Nazis. Herbert studied law, economics, and philosophy at the universities of Krakow, Torun, and Warsaw. His books include Selected Poems, Report from the Besieged City and Other Poems, Mr Cogito, Still Life with a Bridle, The King of the Ants, Labyrinth on the Sea, and Collected Poems. He died in 1998.

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Herbert, Zbigniew
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ISBN 10: 0880016191 ISBN 13: 9780880016193
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Zbigniew Herbert
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