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Category: Herbert

Zbigniew Herbert. A witness to his time

A special selection of essays dedicated to the life and writings of Zbigniew Herbert from New Eastern Europe.

September 1, 2018 - New Eastern Europe

A barbarian in the besieged city

Zbigniew Herbert felt suffocated in communist Poland where he lacked a creative atmosphere. Travelling inspired him and provided him an opportunity to write on a variety of topics beyond social realism. Yet, in the end, he simply could not live without Poland. He disliked communist Poland, but it was still Poland – his homeland.

Zbigniew Herbert is one of those writers that everyone has heard of but very few have read. People in Central and Eastern Europe had high hopes that he might win the Nobel Prize in Literature, but it never happened. Perhaps it was because two Poles (Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska) were already awarded the prize during that period. Be that as it may, now 20 years after the writer’s death, it is worth looking back and examining this outstanding figure from a different perspective: as a deep poet, a sophisticated essayist, a profound thinker, a dissident and an Eastern European barbarian who saw the garden of Western culture in his own way.

September 1, 2018 - Andriy Lyubka

Herbert, who looks at the cathedral tower

Lviv, the city of Zbigniew Herbert’s childhood, is a chapter that has never ended. It is something that once and for all acquired a metaphysical form for him. Herbert resolutely separated it from the chapter of his life almost immediately after leaving the city. Yet, the poem "My city", written in his notes in the 1950s, has a dedication: “For my city, in which I will not die…”

“Sir, don’t miss the strawberries or currants,” says a black-haired, middle-aged woman reasonably and calmly without yelling, which is unusual for this type of market. She sits on a low bench, opposite house number 55 on Lychakivska Street in Lviv. There is a whole bunch of baskets and pots with all sorts of berries in front of her: from the deep dark raspberry to the half-transparent, as if illuminated from the inside, red currant. Next to her is a late-blooming, assertive and impatient lilac. There are so many lilac branches that the woman cannot keep them all together. The lilac breaks loose and it seems that the saleswoman is paying less attention to the customers and rather speaking to the blossom inside that fragrant cloud, soothing and lulling it.

“Come on, lilaaac” she stretches the word. There is a lot of green and white one step farther: shaggy bundles of green onions sway between blocks of cheese, like the coast grass flowing between the dried up white stones at low tide. The water receded long, long ago.

“I thank you Lord, for creating such a beautiful and sundry world,” wrote the poet Zbigniew Herbert – who was born here, in Lviv.

September 1, 2018 - Ostap Slyvynsky

Herbert and the East

The burial of the USSR became a personal culmination point for Zbigniew Herbert after a long and painful process of dealing with the trauma of communism and losing his hometown. Thus, the nostalgia after Lviv became a hidden but recurring theme in Herbert’s works.

An interesting collage can be found in the Zbigniew Herbert archives at the National Library in Warsaw. Most likely Herbert made it in December 1991. He glued his own photograph onto a picture he cut out of a newspaper which depicted the signatories of the Białowieża Treaty which led to the dismantling of the Soviet Union. The photograph included such figures as Leonid Kravchuk, Stanislav Shushkevich and Boris Yeltsin. They were the leaders of the Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian Soviet republics, respectively. In the photograph they were depicted as if they were posing for the camera after signing the document, applauding each other.

September 1, 2018 - Walery Butewicz

A nomadic writer

What interested Herbert the most were diversity and human beings. To understand them he was constantly deepening his knowledge, travelled to many places, all to experience different cultures and meet new people.

Zbigniew Herbert wrote many collections of poems and essays. Yet, there is one book that he never wrote, even though he should have. Or maybe he wrote such a book, but not literally. Not as a titled volume, but as many single pages. As a matter of fact, he was fully aware that many of his anthropological and sociological texts remained in drafts and excerpts. In his 1965 essay titled “Mr Montaigne’s journey to Italy” which was published in Tygodnik Powszechny a year later he admitted: “When a moment comes that my body will have only enough strength to fix the pillow under the head, I will have no choice but write a large piece of work, that is a book and not a collection of drafts, which will be titled: Introduction to the theory of journey.”

September 1, 2018 - Kinga Gajda

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