on March 5, 1999
Zbigniew Herbert (died 1998) is counted among the finest poets of 20th century Poland, on a par with Szymborska and Milosz, world-famous Nobel Prize winners. This book of essays is a record of his journeys in France, Italy and the Netherlands: from the rock-paintings of Lascaux, through the medieval architecture of the great cathedrals, to the quiet consummate perfection of the Flemmish Masters. The rich meditation on art and life is your reward for joining the eccentric and humane poet with his 19th century Baedekker guide.
on August 23, 2007
I am embarrassed to admit it, but I had never even heard of Zbigniew Herbert until I read the New York Review of Books' article on him some months ago. Milosz and Szymborska were my main Polish "experience." Herbert's poetry opened new worlds and new understanding of my own cultural past (my mother's family came from Poland). This "little book," from its charming and self-deprecating title---a boomerang, a cross-cultural, linguistic pun--to its conclusion, a genuinely new look (new to me, at least) at old "places" and cultural presumptions. He made me re-think oh so many things. He lost me a couple times (he seems to know everything and read everything), but his sharp perceptions and love of all things human soon charmed me all over again.
This book gave me a glimpse into the person who became the poet Herbert. We all know how hard it is to find someone to go to museums with, to travel with, to talk over "what we did today." Z. Herbert is the ideal travel companion. And you get a glimpse into the mind and heart of a great poet. A charming side kick to his searing, compassionate and monumental poetry. He's not only a poet equal to any of the 20th century, he's a charming person you wish you had gotten to know when he was alive. A great read. (can think of no better small book to bring to the places he (the barbarian) finds in corners of the "garden."
on February 19, 2009
Herbert possesses an intelligence and wisdom that allows him to write about worldly as well as literary matters in a wonderfully penetrating way. His insights into landscape, history, people, places make this, as well as his other books of essays, a delight to read. I give this a 4 only because I like the other collections a little better.