Friday Poem



Mr Cogito never trusted
tricks of the imagination

the piano at the top of the Alps
played false concerts for him

he didn’t appreciate labyrinths
the Sphinx filled him with loathing

he lived in a house with no basement
without mirrors or dialectics

jungles of tangled images
were not his home

he would rarely soar
on the wings of a metaphor
and then he fell like Icarus
into the embrace of the Great Mother

he adored tautologies
idem per idem

that a bird is a bird
slavery means slavery
a knife is a knife
death remains death

he loved
the flat horizon
a straight line
the gravity of the earth


Mr Cogito will be numbered
among the species minores

he will accept indifferently the verdict
of future scholars of the letter

he used the imagination
for entirely different purposes

he wanted to make it
an instrument of compassion

he wanted to understand to the very end

– Pascal’s night
– the nature of a diamond
– the melancholy of the prophets
– Achilles’ wrath
– the madness of those who kill
– the dreams of Mary Stuart
– Neanderthal fear
– the despair of the last Aztecs
– Nietzsche’s long death throes
– the joy of the painter of Lascaux
– the rise and fall of an oak
– the rise and fall of Rome

and so to bring the dead back to life
to preserve the covenant

Mr Cogito’s imagination
has the motion of a pendulum

it crosses with precision
from suffering to suffering

there is no place in it
for the artificial fires of poetry

he would like to remain faithful
to uncertain clarity

by Zbigniew Herbert
All Poetry