Friday Poem

The Polish Biographical Dictionary in a Library in Houston
Adam Zagajewski

Prince Roman Sanguszko treks across Siberia
(Joseph Conrad will write a story on him).
Near the end of his long life he founds a library;
he dies universally admired.

Maria Kalergis (see: Muchanow, Maria)
—alleged ties with the Tsar's secret police;
“half her heart is Polish,” the other half—
unknown. Friends with Liszt and Wagner,

Chopin's pupil. Patron of the Warsaw theater,
renegade and patriot by turns.
Poor Norwid fell in love with her (see: Norwid).
And loved her with all his heart.

Julian Klaczko: “Short, rather heavy-set
… high-strung, excitable. No lack
of self esteem” (Stanislaw Tarnowski).
Perhaps the natural son of the ill-famed Pelikan.

A sparkling stylist, the glory of la Reyne des Deux Mondes.
Worked with the Czartoryskis, then employed
by the Austrian ministry (there was no Polish).
He expires in Krakow, paralyzed, already dead.

So many more: Antoni Czapaki (* 1792),
studied painting in England and France, a mason
in the lodge of Chaste Samaritans: virtue personified.
Joachim Namyal, educator—we've reached the twentieth century.

Still more shadows, A to S:
this dictionary cannot be completed.

This is your country, your laconism.
Your indifference and your emotion.

So much life for just one homeland.
So much death for just one dictionary.

Translation from the Polish by Clare Cavanaugh.