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Zbigniew Herbert
at the
complete review:

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Name: Zbigniew HERBERT
Nationality: Poland
Born: 29 October, 1924
Died: 28 July, 1998
Awards: Nicholaus Lenau Prize (1965)
Jerusalem Literature Prize (1991)

  • Graduated from:
    • University of Krakow, M.A., economics (1947)
    • Nicholas Copernicus University of Torun, M.A., law (1948)
    • University of Warsaw, M.A., philosophy (1950)
  • Was a member of the Polish Resistance during WW II

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Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

  • Selected Poems, trans. Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott, 1968
  • Selected Poems, trans. John and Bogdana Carpenter, 1977
  • The Barbarian in the Garden - essays (1962) (trans. Michael March and Jaroslaw Anders, 1985)
  • Report from the Besieged City - poems (trans. J. and B. Carpenter, 1985)
  • Still Life with a Bridle - essays (trans. J. and B. Carpenter, 1993)
  • Mr Cogito - poems (1974) (trans. J. and B. Carpenter, 1993)
  • The King of the Ants - mythological essays (trans. J. and B. Carpenter, 1999)
  • Elegy for the Departure - poems (1956-90) (trans. J. and B. Carpenter, 1999)

Please note that this bibliography refers only to works by Herbert translated into English and is not necessarily complete.

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What others have to
say about
Zbigniew Herbert:

  • "Herbert's steadily detached, ironic and historically minded style represents, I suppose, a form of classicism. But it is a one-sided classicism (.....) In a way, Herbert's poetry is typical of the whole Polish attitude to their position within the communist bloc; independent, brilliant, ironic, wary, a bit conetmptuous, pained." - A. Alvarez, Under Pressure (1965)

  • "(H)is poems, even in English, seem to me finer than anything currently being written by any English or American poet." - A. Alvarez, The Mature Laurel (1991) (previously in The New York Review of Books, 18/7/1985)

  • "There is little doubt that at this writing Zbigniew Herbert is the most admired and respected poet now living in Poland. (...) Polish readers have always revered poets who succeed in defining the nation's spiritual dilemma; what is exceptional in Herbert is that his popularity at home is matched by a wide acclaim abroad." - Stanislaw Baranczak, A Fugitive from Utopia (1987)

  • "If the key to contemporary Polish poetry is the selective experience of the last decades, Herbert is perhaps the most skillful in expressing it and can be called a poet of historical irony. He achieves a sort of precarious equilibrium by endowing the patterns of civilization with meanings, in spite of all its horrors." - Czeslaw Milosz, Postwar Polish Poetry (3rd ed., 1983)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • His succinct, emphatic moral voice and vision.
  • He does not kowtow to ideology.
  • His poetry is generally not too convoluted or stylistically complex.
  • His work is available in a relatively uniform voice in translation, via the Carpenters.

  • Something does get lost in translation.
  • Firmly based in Western humanist tradition, Herbert may no longer be accessible to all.
  • The English offerings of his works are too limited and fragmented, representative of only part of his output.

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the complete review's Opinion

     Polish poet and essayist Zbigniew Herbert easily stands beside Nobel Prize laureates Milosz and Szymborska, part of a remarkable literary tradition. Very much an Eastern European writer, his work is also of interest beyond that particular region (and those particular times).
      Herbert's anti-hero Mr.Cogito, subject of many of his poems, is one of the more inspired characters in modern literature, an ideal vehicle for Herbert's talents.
     Herbert's fascination with other subjects -- painting, for example, or other things Dutch -- served his poetry well, and also made for interesting subjects in his essays and short prose pieces.
     A very important author, who deserves to be more widely translated.

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Zbigniew Herbert: Poetry by Zbigniew Herbert available online: Zbigniew Herbert's Books at the complete review: Other books of interest under review:

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