Wednesday, April 04, 2007

National Poetry Month Recommendation: Praise for Mr. Cogito

The Collected Poems 1956 - 1998
Zbigniew Herbert (Ecco 2007)

"Wam-Bam. Look out ladies and gentlemen, for it appears that one of the great poets of the twentieth century has landed on our shores, and if I'm not mistaken, it looks to be for good. Though he's had slim and piecemeal exposure over time on this side of the Atlantic, Ecco Press has gone ahead and presented the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert in a translation that could float a boat and with a girth of work to sink, if not the self-same boat, a boat. What can recommend this poet? Well, if you have ever wondered what the intellectual rigor of the haute Modernists had looked like if those men of ash and dry bone had had the flagrant tenacity to find worth in the physical world, to approach history with the one-two whammy with the afore said intellect followed by an unadulterated visceral dig into emotions and ecstatics, then this is what we would have, in fact do have, in the shape of Mr. Herbert. It's been a while since I have come across a poet with so much fervor and control, acumen and ardor, both political and apolitical, heroic and hermetic; he's like those two opposing forces that hold up bridges, push and pull, tension and suspension. You know the forces that Jung use as an allegory for the archetype of the psyche? That's close to what Herbert has doen. If you've gotten all that can be had (bless your heart) from Eliot, Auden, Pound, Ashbery et. al. (bless their hearts), Mr. Herbert is the new blood in the veins. It's a goodly thick blood, a lasting one."


Thanks, Jacob. Here's a short selection from "Mr Cogito's Abyss":

At home it's always safe

but just over the threshold
when Mr Cogito goes out
on his morning stroll
he meets—the abyss

this is not the abyss of Pascal
this is not the abyss of Dostoevsky
this is an abyss
to Mr Cogito's size

fathomless days
fear-fraught days

And the first few lines from the prose poem "Armchairs":

Who ever thought a warm neck would become an armrest, or legs eager for flight and joy could stiffen into four simple stilts? Armchairs were once noble flower-eating creatures. However, they allowed themselves too easily to be domesticated and today they are the most wretched species of quadrupeds. They have lost all their stubbornness and courage.


  1. Pascal and Dostoevsky in that poem are very highbrow. This reminds me of the Modernists who frequently made allusions to "the great works".

    The Hood Company

  2. sextonsflower2:43 PM

    It is really encouraging to be able to see poetry out there getting some strokes. Can't wait to check out Herbert's work. Keep up the poetry. Happy Poetry Month!!


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