Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

Zbigniew Herbert (1924 -1998) was considered one of the great poets of modern Poland. He fought against the Nazis in World War II and was an outspoken anti-Communist following the war (which could have cost him a Nobel Prize).

His education in the Humanities, as well as his scorn for political liberalism, can be seen in many of his poems, such as The Return of the Proconsul. In this we can see allusions to Rome in the time of the Caesears (as we would also with many of his poems, such as The Divine Claudius and Transformations of Livy), but I think it would be foolish if we didn't read this poem also as a reflection of Herbert's opposition to the totalitarianism of Polish Communism for, as he once said, "The word is a window onto reality."

The Return of the Proconsul

I've decided to return to the emperor's court
once more I shall see if it's possible to live there
I could stay here in this remote province
under the full sweet leaves of the sycamore
and the gentle rule of sickly nepotists

when I return I don't intend to commend myself
I shall applaud in measured portions
smile in ounces frown discreetly
for that they will not give me a golden chain
this iron one will suffice

I've decided to return tomorrow or the day after
I cannot live among vineyards nothing here is mine
trees have no roots houses no foundations the rain is glassy flowers smell of wax
a dry cloud rattles against the empty sky
so I shall return tomorrow or the day after in any case I shall return

I must come to terms with my face again
with my lower lip so it knows how to curb scorn
with my eyes so they remain ideally empty
and with that miserable chin the hare of my face
which trembles when the chief of guards walks in

of one thing I am sure I will not drink wine with him
when he brings his goblet nearer I will lower my eyes
and pretend I'm picking bits of food from between my teeth
besides the emperor likes courage of convictions
to a certain extent to a certain reasonable extent
he is after all a man like everyone else
and already tired by all those tricks with poison
he cannot drink his fill incessant chess
this left cup is for Drusus from the right one pretend to sip
then drink only water never lose sight of Tacitus
take a walk in the garden and return when the corpse hasbeen removed

I've decided to return to the emperor's court yes I hope that things will work out somehow

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