THE PEBBLE

by Zbigniew Herbert

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

– Pebbles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

Translated by Peter Dale Scott and Czeslaw Milosz

I have been reading The Collected Poems, 1956-1998, by Zbigniew Herbert. Ed. and tr. by Alissa Valles, from Ecco Press. I have been reading Herbert for several years now, and this is a beautiful volume. Recently the review article below appeared in Poetry: it suggests that the translator and publisher ran an end-run around the poets who have been translating Herbert for the past several decades, and that in some respects Valles was not well-suited to the task of a collected poems. I am no scholar of Polish literature, but I will say that the great majority of these poems have been brought over into a simple and colloquial English that leaves me appreciative of Herbert’s genius, his ferocious insistence on a stoical moral stance toward the world, his sardonic wit, his ability to see clear through to the essence of a human situation.

Here is the link to Michael Hofmann’s review essay:

http://www.poetrymagazine.org/magazine/0507/comment_179593.html

And here is an essay by Charles Simic on Herbert from the New York Review of Books that includes a number of Herbert poems:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20132

And here are two sites with poems, information, interviews and commentaries on this remarkable poet. In the coming days I may type a couple of my favorites from the Collected Poems here as well.

http://www.uvm.edu/~sgutman/Herbert.html

http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/336

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