zagajewski and yezzi


Two new collections of poems, by Adam Zagajewski and David Yezzi, offer different demonstrations of that rare virtue. Mr. Zagajewski, who was born in Poland in 1945, is one of the few foreign-language poets to be regularly translated into English. He is often mentioned in the same breath as Czeslaw Milosz, in part simply because he is the most famous Polish poet of the generation after Milosz’s. Mr. Zagajewski is writing Milosz’s biography, and it would be surprising if he didn’t eventually follow his subject to Stockholm. But there is also a deeper similarity, since the two poets, products of the same Polish experience, share a basic theme: the dilemma of the spirit trapped in history, of freedom constrained by necessity.

These are two ways of naming the opponents invoked in the title of “Eternal Enemies” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 116 pages, $24), Mr. Zagajewski’s fifth collection of poems to appear in English (translated by Clare Cavanagh). For Milosz, who survived the Nazi occupation of Warsaw and defected from Poland’s Communist regime, spirit and history were mortal foes, locked in a permanent death grip. For Mr. Zagajewski, who belongs to the generation of Solidarity and of the Velvet Revolutions, their enmity is less acute, more a chronic condition to be lived with. In his poems, the ordinary world is always quivering at the brink of, but never quite yielding to, ecstasy.

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