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Mr. Cogito. Ars Longa

Zbigniew Herbert, translated from the Polish by John Carpenter and Bogdana Carpenter

1

Bombastic manifestoes
civil warfare
pitched battles
campaigns
filled Mr. Cogito
with boredom

in every generation
appear those who wish
to snatch poetry
from the claws
of everydayness
with stubbornness worthy of a better cause

already in their youth
they enter the orders
of Most Holy Subtlety
and Ascension

they strain the mind and body
to express what is
beyond—
what is
above———

they don’t even suspect
how many promises
enchantments
surprises
are concealed in the language
spoken by all of us
tinker tailor and Horace
2

years ago
Mr. Cogito took part
in the Poetry Festival of Two Hemispheres
the place of the event—the former Yugoslavia
near Lake Ohrid
on the River Struga

more than 30 thousand
lovers of poetry
were comfortably settled
on both banks

a lyric poet from Paris
Le Bon Mot
went almost mad with happiness
(at home his own wife
and terrorized progeny
listened to him)

ascetics
flagellants
anchorites
of pure poetry
wallowed in the abundance
of starved souls

at the fall
of darkness
shooting flared up
fireworks
burst into the sky
it seemed
like a new Balkan war

the following day
they fished from the river
four peasants
an old woman
an infant
a countless number of empty bottles
the door of a barn
the leg of a piano
an artificial leg with no owner
about twenty yards
of chain
3

the quartet of the family Wunderlich
beat out the rhythm

father Hansi—accounting on the cello
mother Truda—bookkeeping on violin and brasses
son Rudi—versatile
the natural daughter of grandpa Wunderlich
ergo Hansi’s sister
Rudi’s daughter
arousing sweet terror—
the frightening
Maria Chaos

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