Thursday, August 02, 2007

To See by Adam Zagajewski

I liked this poem so much, I decided to post it despite featuring Adam Zagajewski only a few weeks back. The imagery is striking throughout, and I like how Zagajewski conveys a genuine desire to explain the world to his “mute city.” Of course he isn’t just speaking to the city, he’s speaking to the reader, whom the poem helps (deliberately or not) appreciate the variety and depth of experience in the world. And I’m a sucker for the ending: the lush world disintegrating into the “white wasteland.”


To See

Oh my mute city, honey-gold,
buried in ravines, where wolves
loped softly down the cold meridian;
if I had to tell you, city
asleep beneath a heap of lifeless leaves,
if I needed to describe the ocean’s skin, on which
ships etch the lines of shining poems,
and yachts like peacocks flaunt their lofty sails
and the Mediterranean, rapt in salty concentration,
and cities with sharp turrets gleaming
in the keen morning sun,
and the savage strength of jets piercing the clouds,
the bureaucrats’ undying scorn for us, people,
Umbria’s narrow streets like cisterns
that stop up ancient time tasting of sweet wine,
and a certain hill, where the stillest tree is growing,
gray Paris, threaded by the river of salvation,
Krakow, on Sunday, when even the chestnut leaves
seem pressed by an unseen iron,
vineyards raided by the greedy fall
and by highways full of fear;
if I had to describe the sobriety of the night
when it happened,
and the clatter of the train running into nothingness
and the blade flaring on a makeshift skating rink;
I’m writing from the road, I had to see,
and not just know, to see clearly
the sights and fires of a single world,
but you unmoving city turned to stone,
my brethren in the shallow sand;
the earth still turns above you
and the Roman legions march
and a polar fox attends the wind
in a white wasteland where sounds perish.




Poet, novelist, and essayist Adam Zagajewski was born in Lwow, Poland in 1945. He is one of Poland's most famous contemporary poets. Since 1988, he has served as Visting Associate Professor of English at the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston.

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