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About this poet

Poet, novelist, essayist Adam Zagajewski was born in Lwów in 1945. He spent his childhood in Silesia and then in Cracow, where he graduated from Jagiellonian University.

Zagajewski first became well known as one of the leading poets of the Generation of '68' or the Polish New Wave (Nowa fala); he is one of Poland's most famous contemporary poets. Among his collections are Anteny(Cracow: a5, 2005); Powrót (2003); Pragnienie (Cracow: a5, 1999); Ziemia ognista (1994); Jechac do Lwowa (1985); Sklepy miesne (1975); and Komunikat (1972). His books of poetry in English include Eternal Enemies: Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008. Translated by Clare Cavanaugh); Without End: New and Selected Poems (2002, translated by Clare Cavanaugh); Mysticism for Beginners (1997, translated by Clare Cavanaugh); Tremor (1985, translated by Renata Gorczyñski); and Canvas (1991, translated by Renata Gorczyñski, B. Ivry, and C. K. Williams).

He is also the author of a memoir, Another Beauty (2000, translated by Clare Cavanagh) and the prose collections, Two Cities (1995, translated by Lillian Vallee) and Solitude and Solidarity (1990, translated by Lillian Vallee). His poems and essays have been translated into many languages. Among his honors and awards are a fellowship from the Berliner Kunstlerprogramm, the Kurt Tucholsky Prize, a Prix de la Liberté, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Since 1988, he has served as Visiting Associate Professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. In 2010, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is currently co-editor of Zeszyty literackie (Literary Review), which is published in Paris. Adam Zagajewski lives in Paris and Houston.

My Aunts

Adam Zagajewski, 1945
Always caught up in what they called 
the practical side of life 
(theory was for Plato), 
up to their elbows in furniture, in bedding, 
in cupboards and kitchen gardens,
they never neglected the lavender sachets 
that turned a linen closet to a meadow.

The practical side of life, 
like the Moon's unlighted face, 
didn't lack for mysteries; 
when Christmastime drew near, 
life became pure praxis 
and resided temporarily in hallways, 
took refuge in suitcases and satchels.

And when somebody died--it happened 
even in our family, alas--
my aunts, preoccupied
with death's practical side, 
forgot at last about the lavender,
whose frantic scent bloomed selflessly 
beneath a heavy snow of sheets.
Don't just do something, sit there.
And so I have, so I have,
                    the seasons curling around me like smoke,
Gone to the end of the earth and back without sound. 

Excerpted from Without End: New and Selected Poems by Adam Zagajewski. Translated by Clare Cavanaugh, Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry, and C. K. Williams. This poem is translated by Clare Cavanagh. Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Copyright © 2002 by Adam Zagajewski. All rights reserved.

Adam Zagajewski

Adam Zagajewski

Poet, novelist, essayist Adam Zagajewski was born in Lwów in 1945 and is a prominent member of Poland's contemporary poetry scene

by this poet

poem
I watched the arctic landscape from above
and thought of nothing, lovely nothing.
I observed white canopies of clouds, vast
expanses where no wolf tracks could be found.

I thought about you and about the emptiness
that can promise one thing only: plenitude—
and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland
bursts from
poem
Between the computer, a pencil, and a typewriter
half my day passes. One day it will be half a century.
I live in strange cities and sometimes talk
with strangers about matters strange to me.
I listen to music a lot: Bach, Mahler, Chopin, Shostakovich.
I see three elements in music: weakness, power, and pain.