In the early 1970s, the American poet Larry Levis served as chauffeur and guide for Zbigniew Herbert when the Polish poet was teaching at a university in Los Angeles.
Only once, Herbert told Levis, had he ever driven a car, and that was during the war, after a clandestine meeting of the underground. Herbert found his driver shot in the head by the Nazis. To escape the same fate, he pushed the body aside and drove away.
“He said all this without any visible emotion. It was stated as fact only,” Levis wrote. “That was his way or one of his ways. It was all a matter of carving out a style so impermissive of the merely and suspiciously personal, a style so lean and scrupulous and classical, that the poem cast out the poet, and what was said cast out the sayer.”
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