Cover image for Elegy for the departure and other poems
Elegy for the departure and other poems
Herbert, Zbigniew.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Poems. Selections. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
Hopewell, N.J. : Ecco Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
132 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PG7167.E64 A23 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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.

Author Notes

Zbigniew Herbert: October 29, 1924 - July 28, 1998.

Polish poet and playwright Zbigniew Herbert was born in 1924. His works have been translated in most European languages. His awards include the Jurzykowski Prize (1964), the Austrian Government Prize for European Literature (1965) and the Petrarch Prize (1979). He created the character of Mr. Cognito.

Herbert died in Warsaw in July, 1998.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

These may be the last books by the late Herbert (1924^-98), except for the probable collected editions and possible roundups of fugitive work. Elegy includes, besides all of his last book, first published in Poland in 1990, new translations of poems from his first (1956), second (1957), and third (1961) collections and of prose poems dating from 1957 to 1969. King is a set of seriously fanciful speculations on the characters and fates of figures from Greek mythology. Both are books that, once read, it is easy to imagine rereading, a poem here and an essay there, again and again. Some of the poems are parable-like little stories whose protagonists, whether subjective or objective, are Everyperson; others reimagine such resonant events as the trial of Jesus, the subsequent life of Barabbas, and Tolstoy's panicked flight from his home at the end of his life; and still others question the conceptions of revolutionaries and reformers, such as Rousseau's sentimentality about nature--did he know of the carnivorous pitcher plant, Herbert asks. Always they uphold the traditions of common life and of art and the integrity of the person against the tyranny of ideology--a tyranny that, as a twentieth-century Pole, Herbert knew very well. Although he calls them essays, the prose pieces in The King of the Ants can and will be read as thought-provoking and often highly amusing short stories. Each essay takes a figure (usually a deity) from classical Greek and Roman mythology and speculates on what about him or her has not come down to us in the extant literature. The ugly, disputatious warrior Thersites, mentioned only once in the Iliad; the warrior-king Ajax, whose subjects, the Myrmidons, were bestowed by Zeus in a dream in which a rain of ants became humans; Atlas, the Titan who holds up the world forever and, Herbert says, deserves to be better remembered than as "the catatonic of mythology" --these are some of the mythic protagonists Herbert makes simply and sympathetically human and whose emotions and thoughts he imaginatively reconstructs in order, it seems, to remind us that the gods and humans are the same kind of beings. Both books give new luster to that frayed ideal, humanism. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

Many consider Herbert's work the equal of his fellow Polish poets Wislawa Szymborska and Czeslaw Milosz, nobel laureates both; his death this past summer sadly precludes his joining them. Although his more familiar poems couch their approach to the public and political in the terms of the personal, this luminously translated collection expressly represents Herbert at his most lyrical. A beautiful prose poem, "The Button" (below in full) captures a dilemma of the lyric mode‘the need to balance the particularity of subjective experience with a meaning accessible to others: "The best fairy tales of all are about us, how once we were small. I like the one about how I swallowed an ivory button. My mother was crying." This volume brings together work uncollected in English from throughout his career, culling from his early works of 1956-1969 and from a 1990 volume. The poems quickly move from obscure, self-consciously modernist fragmentary meditations marked by flashes of brilliance to assured, confident wholes, though there are standouts among the early efforts. "Chosen By The Stars," for instance, superbly reworks the Icarus myth to explore the poetic psyche, while the meditation "What Our Dead Do" ("out of gratitude/ we imagine immortality for them/ snug as the burrow of a mouse") shows, with masterfully understated irony, how the dead structure the imagination of the living. His recurring alter ego "Mr. Cogito" (who "always defended himself/ against the smoke of time") returns in the later poems, "so when the hour comes/ he can consent without a murmur// to the trial of truth and falsehood/ to the trial of fire and water." In sum, this collection will only serve to broaden and deepen our appreciation of this remarkable late-century poet. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Herbert was not just a great Polish poet but one of the great poets of the latter 20th century. This book collects poems not yet translated into English. Spanning from 1950 to 1990, they give a good feel for his development. The poems in Part 1, drawn from Herberts first collection, feature dislocated images of loss and melancholy and sometimes feel a little scattered. By his second and third collections, from which the poems in Part 2 were taken, Herbert has hit his stride; pared down, ironic, and showing the poets steely control, these exemplify his best work. Witty and full of biting social commentary, the chronologically arranged prose poems in Part 3 are better than most in the genre. Finally, Part 4 includes all the poems in the 1990 volume Elegy for a Departure and are indeed elegiac in tone. This volume does have the feel of collecting what is left, and libraries that can afford only one or two volumes of Herberts work should probably stick to Report from the Beseiged City or Mr. Cogito. But any library collecting seriously in contemporary poetry should include this work.Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



I I can't find the title of a memory about you with a hand torn from darkness I step on fragments of faces soft friendly profiles frozen into a hard contour circling above my head empty as a forehead of air a man's silhouette of black paper (Continues...) Excerpted from Elegy For The Departure by Zbigniew Herbert Copyright © 2003 by Zbigniew Herbert Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.