"He searched for a means, when writing, to preserve, unspoken, the presence of horror between his words and lines."

Czesław Miłosz, from Road-side Dog


We fall asleep on words
we wake in words

sometimes they are gentle
simple nouns
a forest a ship

they tear themselves from us
the forest goes quickly
behind the line of the horizon

the ship sails away
without a trace or a reason

dangerous are the words
which have fallen from a whole
fragments of sentences maxims
the beginning of a refrain
of a forgotten hymn

"saved will be those who…"
“remember to…”
or “like”
a small prickly pin
that connected
the most beautiful
lost metaphor of the world

one must dream patiently
hoping the content will become complete
that the missing words
will enter their crippled sentences
and the certainty we wait for
will cast anchor


Zbigniew Herbert, A Box Called the Imagination (trans. John & Bogdana Carpenter)

"I don’t write poetry when I wish, I write when I can’t, when my larynx is flooded and my throat is shut."

Anna Kamieńska, from In That Great River: A Notebook (trans. Clare Cavanagh)

"The poet is a great mute. He wheezes his infirmity, mumbles, stutters, fumbles; his great error is human."

Anna Kamieńska, from In That Great River: A Notebook (trans. Clare Cavanagh)

Witold Gombrowicz’s “family tree” of philosophy, from his Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes

Witold Gombrowicz’s “family tree” of philosophy, from his Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes

(Source: gombrowicz.net)

"Truth does not make itself real in an abstract contest of ideas, but in a collision of persons."

Witold Gombrowicz, from Diary (trans. Lillian Vallee)

"We say a ‘forest,’ but what does that mean, how many tiny details, trifles, particles make up a small leaf on a single tree, we say ‘forest’ but this word is made of the unknown, the unfamiliar, the unencompassed. The earth. Clods of dirt. Pebbles. On a clear day you rest among ordinary, everyday things that have been familiar to you since childhood, grass, bushes, a dog (or a cat), a chair, but that changes when you realize that every object is an enormous army, an inexhaustible swarm."

Witold Gombrowicz, from Cosmos (trans. Danuta Borchardt)

"The medicine of words—medicina verbi."

Anna Kamienska, from A Nest of Quiet: A Notebook

(Source: poetryfoundation.org)


Cup your hands as if to hold a dream
just as a kernel draws water into itself
and a wood will appear: a green cloud
and a birch trunk like a chord of light
and a thousand eyelids start to flutter
speaking a forgotten tongue of leaves
then you’ll remember a white morning
when you waited for the gates to open

you know this land will be unlocked
by a bird that sleeps in a tree in earth
but here is a source of fresh questions
the currents of evil roots run underfoot
so look at the bark’s patter on which
the chords of music are stretched tight
a lutenist adjusts the pegs of the strings
to draw a sound out of what is silent

gather leaves: a wild strawberry path
dew drops on a leaf the comb of grass
and then the golden damselfly’s wing
and there the ant is burying its sister
higher up above belladona’s treacheries
the wild pear is sweetly growing ripe
therefore expecting no greater reward
sit yourself down underneath this tree

cup you hands as if to hold a memory
like a dried kernel of perished names
and another wood: a cloud of smoke
a forehead marked with black light
and a thousand eyelids stretched thin
over the unmoving rounds of the eyes
a tree broken like bread with the wind
the betrayed faith of deserted shelters

and that wood is for us and for you
the dead have need of fairy tales too
a clutch of herbs water of memories
so over the pine needles and the rustles
over the sheer spun silk of fragrances
no matter that you catch on a branch
and a shadow leads up steep passages
for you will find and unlock the gate
to our Forest of Arden.


Forest of Arden, Zbigniew Herbert (trans. Alissa Valles)


They mutilate they torment each other
with silences with words
as if they had another
life to live

they do so
as if they had forgotten
that their bodies
are inclined to death
that the insides of men
easily break down

ruthless with each other
they are weaker
than plants and animals
they can be killed by a word
by a smile by a look


A Voice, Tadeusz Różewicz (trans. Czesław Miłosz)

"We cling to words like drowning men to straws. But still we drown, we drown."

Anna Kamienska, from In That Great River: A Notebook

"Poetry fulfills itself when it is the summoning
of others
to the status of inventors."

Julian Przyboś, More about the Manifesto (1971), trans. Alyssa Valles

"Yes, it’s only that fear, those searchings, tracings, tellings whose purpose is to hide the unreachable horizon. It’s night again, and everything departs, disappears, shrouded in black sky. I am alone and must remember events, because the terror of the unending is upon me. The soul dissolves in space like a drop in the sea, and I am too much of a coward to have faith in it, too old to accept its loss; I believe it is only through the visible that we can know relief, only in the body of the world that my body can find shelter."

Andrzej Stasiuk, That Fear (trans. Michael Kandel)