Clare Cavanagh is a professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature at Northwestern University. She received the National Book Critics’ Circle Award in criticism for her most recent book, Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West.
 (August 2014)

Ruth

In memory of Ruth Buczyńska She survived the war in Tarnopol. In darkness and semi-darkness. In fear. She was afraid of rats and heavy boots, loud conversations, screams. She died just now, in darkness, in a hospital ward’s white quiet. She was a Jew. Sometimes she didn’t …

Dream

My fallen, my turned to dust, my earth,
assumes the shape he has in the photograph:
with a leaf’s shadow on his face, with a seashell in his hand,
he sets out toward my dream.

He wanders through darknesses extinguished since never,
through emptinesses opened to themselves forever,
through seven times seven times seven silences.

Hard Life with Memory

I’m a poor audience for my memory. She wants me to attend her voice nonstop, but I fidget, fuss, listen and don’t, step out, come back, then leave again. She wants all my time and attention. She’s got no problem when I …

Two Poems by Adam Zagajewski

SELF-PORTRAIT IN A LITTLE MUSEUM A swarthy Christ watched me from small trecento paintings; I didn’t understand his gaze, but I wanted to open up before it. A rapt, darked-haired Christ, unswervingly attentive, bounded by Byzantium’s gold frame, watched me while my …

Vermeer

So long as that woman from the Rijksmuseum in painted quiet and concentration keeps pouring milk day after day from the pitcher to the bowl the World hasn’t earned the world’s end.

Vermeer

So long as that woman from the Rijksmuseum in painted quiet and concentration keeps pouring milk day after day from the pitcher to the bowl the World hasn’t earned the world’s end.

Microcosmos

When we first started looking through microscopes a cold fear blew and it’s still blowing. Life hitherto had been frantic enough in all its shapes and dimensions. Which is why it created small-scale creatures, assorted tiny worms and flies, but at least the naked …

Was it

Was it worth waiting in consulates for some clerk’s fleeting good humor and waiting at the station for a late train, seeing Etna in its Japanese cloak and Paris at dawn, as Haussmann’s conventional caryatids came looming from the dark, entering cheap restaurants …

Subject: Brodsky

Please note: born in May, in a damp city (hence the motif: water), soon to be surrounded by an army whose officers kept Hölderlin in their knapsacks, but alas, they had no time for reading. Too much to do.   Tone—sardonic, despair—authentic.

Reading Milosz

I read your poetry once more, poems written by a rich man, understanding all, and by a pauper, homeless, an emigrant, alone. You always want to say more than we can, to transcend poetry, take flight, but also to descend, to penetrate …

On Czeslaw Milosz (1911–2004)

REASON AND ROSES The following essay was written as a review of the Polish edition of Czeslaw Milosz’s collection This, published in 2000. The poems in This appear in English translation in New and Collected Poems: 1931–2001, published in 2001. Adam Zagajewski’s essay will appear in his A Defense of …

Our World

I never met him, I only knew his books and the odd photos, as if picked up in a secondhand shop, and human fates found in a secondhand shop, and a voice quietly narrating, a gaze that took in so much, a gaze turned …

Cat in an Empty Apartment

Die—you can’t do that to a cat. Since what can a cat do in an empty apartment? Climb the walls? Rub up against the furniture? Nothing seems different here but nothing is the same. Nothing’s been moved but there’s more space.