Posts Tagged ‘Cyprian Kamil Norwid’

Zbigniew Herbert: “after a flood of lies…”

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

Thanks to Lufthansa, I had a blissfully uneventful trip homeward to California and warmer weather. But my mind was still on Kraków, and last week’s conference on Zbigniew Herbert. During a stopover at the Munich airport, I idly paged through Herbert’s The Collected Prose: 1948-1998and found this pertinent essay on the use of language. Here’s an excerpt from “Shield us from the dark word…”

herbert-proseFrom all of this a certain lesson can be drawn for readers: let them try to penetrate the value of a word not only by way of its meaning but also by its back stairs, its lining. Let them try to hear its sound, see its shade, its light and weight. And let them not be ashamed of naïve perceptions. If Słowacki‘s stanza dazzles them with bright radiance, or they hear in Norwid‘s funeral rhapsody the harsh rattle of armies, they will be closer to poetry than those who conceal their literary deafness under a wreath of learned platitudes.

But the word must return to its mother port – meaning. This not just an aesthetic problem but also a moral one. Naming objects and things human conduces to their understanding and judgment. Particularly after a chaos of ideas, after the last war, after a flood of lies, poetry must take on the labor of the moral reconstruction of the world by rebuilding the value of words. We have to part good from evil, light from darkness once again.

For that reason the last stanza of a beautiful poem by Jerzy Liebert is the prayer of all poets concerned not only with aesthetic problems but also with the ethical, social dimension of poetry:

Breathe in us, may your hand
pour olive oil onto our breast.
Shield us from the dark word,
From the dark word, save us!