July 05, 2007

Immortal

A while back, I ordered The Collected Poems: 1956-1998, by Zbigniew Herbert; because I asked Amazon to ship it with a backordered item (I don't think I actually asked Amazon to do this, since I have Amazon Prime--I suspect that occasionally the Amazons frown on particular works and perniciously delay their shipping), it didn't arrive unti today. In any case, I'm glad it's here. I am not a particularly avid fan of poetry (although I suppose I read more of it than the average person): much contemporary poetry strikes me as purposelessly vague or forced. In the second book of De Rerum Natura, Lucretius uses snake handed ones instead of elephants, in the first book, he substitutes bearers of scales for fish. Much modern poetry strikes me as suffering from the same defect: hiding simple ideas in needlessly complex language.

Herbert is the opposite -- crisp, clean, economical with words, a minimum amount of embellishment. There is something bracing about reading him.

The discovery this volume brought is Herbert's prose poems (I've read his essays -- Still Life with a Bridle is among the most important books I've ever read), but had never encountered these shorter gems. It is better to reproduce one than to try to characterize them:

ANYTHING RATHER THAN AN ANGEL

If after our death they want to transform us into a tiny withered flame that walks along the paths of winds -- we have to rebel. What good is an eternal leisure on the bosom of air, in the shade of a yellow halo, amid the murmur of two-dimensional choirs?

One should enter rock, wood, water, the cracks of a gate. Better to be the creaking of a floor than shrilly transparent perfection.

Of course, our material selves -- our atoms, the Latin poet quickly points out -- will enter rock, wood, water, the cracks of a gate, in time. For some reason, theologians are not satisfied with this species of immortality.

Posted by Ideofact at July 5, 2007 11:52 PM
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