To an extent rare in our age of pampered poets who are tenured professors, the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert
(1924–1998) combined a life of torment with writings distinguished by equanimity, indeed ataraxia, a term from Stoic philosophy which describes transcendence of material things. Herbert was a bellicose Stoic who bragged about fighting duels over matters of honor in life, and did the same in his poems. An overdue assemblage of his published verse, "The Collected Poems: 1956-1998" […], reveals a writer of courageous strength, willfully unhysterical at a time marked by war and communist tyranny, as well as long experience of physical and emotional suffering.Herbert himself is significant — like Frost and Auden, he’s a poet whose failure to win the Nobel Prize says more about the prize committee than about the writer.
- David Orr, The New York Times
[…] Surely the present poems will [remain], as generously and selflessly edited here by Robert Hass, a former American Poet Laureate and close friend and translator of Milosz. The pioneering translations which Milosz did of Herbert in collaboration with Peter Dale Scott, a former Canadian diplomat and English Professor at Berkeley, are left unchanged here. Milosz himself worked in diplomacy, and these two diplomats produced invaluable translations of a violently undiplomatic truth-teller like Herbert. Instead of the much appreciated translations of Herbert by John and Bogdana Carpenter, this book substitutes many credited to a Warsaw-based translator, Alissa Valles. – Benjamin Ivry, The Sparring Poet: Zbigniew Herbert, New York Sun, February 7, 2007
Herbert (1924–1998) lived to witness his hometown of Lwow, Poland, occupied by the Soviets in 1939, the Nazis in 1941, and the Soviets again in 1944. This exposure to systematic and violent oppression awakened in Herbert a protective and motivating skepticism that pervades all his poetry: "If you put trust in your five senses/ the world contracts into a hazelnut." This impeccably, newly translated and edited volume finds Herbert, strongly anticommunist throughout his life, determined to resist the reduction of the human to anything easily measured, manipulated and forgotten, even if history keeps reminding us that "only our dreams have not been humiliated." Tender, wary, melancholy and wry, the poems visit ideas of redemption as one might visit a grave site, i.e., knowing that what you seek can only be experienced in the heart and mind. If one attempts through poetry to "offer to the betrayed world / a rose," Herbert's world-weary, tragicomic alter-ego, Mr. Cogito – one of last century's most memorable poetic personages–warns us that the gesture will probably go unnoticed, especially in an age when even "the temple of freedom/ has been turned into a flea market." Finally, the work of this powerful master of 20th-century literature is all in one place. – Publishers Weekly Zbigniew Herbert
(1924-1998) was a spiritual leader of the anticommunist movement in Poland. His work has been translated into almost every European language, and he won numerous prizes, including the Jerusalem Prize and the T. S. Eliot Prize. His books include Selected Poems, Report from the Besieged City and Other Poems, Mr Cogito, Still Life with a Bridle, and King of the Ants, all published by Ecco.PURCHASE