Adam Zagajewski was born in Lvov, Poland, in 1945; as an infant he was relocated with his family to western Poland. He lived in Berlin for a couple of years, moved to France in 1982, and has taught at universities in the United States, including the University of Houston and the University of Chicago. Zagajewski writes in Polish; many of his books of poetry and essays have been translated into English.
Zagajewski was considered one of the “Generation of ’68” or “New Wave” writers in Poland; his early work was protest poetry, though he has moved away from that emphasis in his later work. The reviewer Joachim T. Baer noted in World Literature Today that Zagajewski’s themes “are the night, dreams, history and time, infinity and eternity, silence and death.” The titles of his collections of poetry suggest some of these concerns: Tremor (1985), Mysticism for Beginners (1997), and World Without End: New and Selected Poems (2002).
Writing of Zagajewski’s 1991 collection of poems, Canvas, poet and reviewer Robert Pinsky commented that the poems are “about the presence of the past in ordinary life: history not as chronicle of the dead, or an anima to be illuminated by some doctrine, but as an immense, sometimes subtle force inhering in what people see and feel every day—and in the ways we see and feel.”
Zagajewski’s prose collections include Two Cities: On Exile, History and the Imagination (1995) and the 2000 memoir Another Beauty. Zagajewski has won the Prix de la Liberté as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Berliner Kunstleprogramm.
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
Translated, from the Polish, by Clare Cavanagh
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