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Elegy For The Departure Hardcover – August 6, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1 edition (August 6, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0880016191
  • ISBN-13: 978-0880016193
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #792,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

John Keats, in his "Ode on a Grecian Urn," first described scenes of sylvan revelry before proclaiming, "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,'--that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." In "Fragment of a Greek Vase" Zbigniew Herbert takes a different lesson from the ancient world. Describing the image of a dead Greek soldier, he writes:
he has closed his eyes
renouncing the world
leaves droop in the silent air
a branch trembles touched by a shadow of flying birds
and only the cricket hidden
in Memnon's still living hair
proclaims a convincing
praise of life
Herbert's world-view was indelibly shaped by two events: the Nazi invasion of Poland when he was 15 and the subsequent Communist takeover after the war. His poems are filled with elegiac images of a gentler past juxtaposed with the grim realities that replaced them. In "Three Poems by Heart" he writes first of "the children in our street / scourge of cats / the pigeons-- / softly gray" and then later comments, "the children on our street / had a difficult death / pigeons fell lightly / like shot down air." And in "The Ardennes Forest" even descriptions of wild strawberry leaves and ripening wild pears cannot erase the deeper associations with that place of wartime slaughter: "a charred cloud / forehead branded by black light / and a thousand lids pressed / tightly on motionless eyeballs."

Indeed, the dead are seldom absent from these poems. Herbert describes the objects in a still life as "violently separated from life." In the prose poem "Bears" even A.A. Milne's famous character becomes a potential victim : "Children who love Winnie-the-Pooh would give them anything, but a hunter walks in the forest and aims with his rifle between that pair of small eyes." Herbert, who died in 1998, used a wide variety of poetic forms to explore the power of memory, the betrayal of the past, and the bonds between the living and the dead. Beautifully translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter, Elegy for the Departure is a fitting requiem for its author. --Alix Wilber

From Publishers Weekly

Many consider Herbert's work the equal of his fellow Polish poets Wislawa Szymborska and Czeslaw Milosz, nobel laureates both; his death this past summer sadly precludes his joining them. Although his more familiar poems couch their approach to the public and political in the terms of the personal, this luminously translated collection expressly represents Herbert at his most lyrical. A beautiful prose poem, "The Button" (below in full) captures a dilemma of the lyric mode?the need to balance the particularity of subjective experience with a meaning accessible to others: "The best fairy tales of all are about us, how once we were small. I like the one about how I swallowed an ivory button. My mother was crying." This volume brings together work uncollected in English from throughout his career, culling from his early works of 1956-1969 and from a 1990 volume. The poems quickly move from obscure, self-consciously modernist fragmentary meditations marked by flashes of brilliance to assured, confident wholes, though there are standouts among the early efforts. "Chosen By The Stars," for instance, superbly reworks the Icarus myth to explore the poetic psyche, while the meditation "What Our Dead Do" ("out of gratitude/ we imagine immortality for them/ snug as the burrow of a mouse") shows, with masterfully understated irony, how the dead structure the imagination of the living. His recurring alter ego "Mr. Cogito" (who "always defended himself/ against the smoke of time") returns in the later poems, "so when the hour comes/ he can consent without a murmur// to the trial of truth and falsehood/ to the trial of fire and water." In sum, this collection will only serve to broaden and deepen our appreciation of this remarkable late-century poet.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Randall Ivey on June 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Had Herbert hewed to the leftwing/socialist line, he would have won the Nobel Prize years ago. He didn't, however, and, like Borges, he was denied the prize in favor of much lesser writers. Thankfully he was honored by the Ingersoll Foundation a few years before his death with The T.S. Eliot Award for Creative Writing, an award conferred for merit, not idealogy. Herbert's poems have an elegant austerity born out of his own privations and the loss he experienced and witnessed for most of his life, first at the hands of the Nazis, then the Communists. But he is not without hope and humor. The book is divided into three sections: the first comprised of early poems, the second by a sequence of wry, lovely, surprising prose poems, the last of latterday work. Among the outstanding pieces here are "A Small Bird" and the title poem, a magnificent farewell to art and to life that could well serve as Herbert's epitaph. Here's hoping his name and work win the widespread attention they deserve.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dorothy Parker's aunt on April 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Herbert's spare poems have the elemental force of haiku. Those written in the context of Soviet Poland are also encoded--the multivalent language gives one the same thrill of Emily Dickinson-type riddles, with the additional excitement of secret messages passed to your hand through the Iron Curtain. Makes for marvellous reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
A collection of Herbert's work that had previously been unpublished in English. Translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter, very well known as translators of Herbert's work. This slender book consists of some early poems, a set of very brief poetic prose pieces, and some late poems. All are interesting. The final poems are undoubtedly the best, including several powerful poems that rank with Herbert's best, including the title poem. Important work from a great poet.
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2 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
While I havent read this book, I have read much of his earlier work, and certainly his poems are the genuine article. The Rain, Apollo and Mauryas are two quite wonderful pieces that combine emotion and intellect in a seldom-encountered way. Read him.
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