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The Collected Poems, 1956-1998

4.46  ·  Rating Details ·  679 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
This outstanding new translation brings a uniformity of voice to Zbigniew Herbert's entire poetic output, from his first book of poems, String of Light, in 1956, to his final volume, previously unpublished in English, Epilogue Of the Storm. Collected Poems: 1956-1998, as Joseph Brodsky said of Herbert's SSelected Poems, is "bound for a much longer haul than any of us can a ...more
Hardcover, 600 pages
Published February 6th 2007 by Ecco Press (first published 1998)
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The Complete Poems by Emily DickinsonLeaves of Grass by Walt WhitmanShakespeare's Sonnets by William ShakespeareThe Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. EliotAriel by Sylvia Plath
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200th out of 1,742 books — 1,890 voters
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15th out of 100 books — 49 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Feb 15, 2012 s.penkevich rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Drinkers of words
Recommended to s.penkevich by: The writings of Czeslaw Miłosz
Shelves: poetry, polish
’At night the poet builds
a paradise for his dead

Born from the suffering and slaughter of his countrymen under the totalitarian rule of both the Nazi’s and the Communists alike, Zbigniew Herbert, the Polish born warrior of words, inks out powerful testimonies to the human race. To read Herbert is to join him, hand in hand, on his ’long walks down avenues of burned houses and broken glass’ as he pays homage to the fallen and tries to squeeze bright drops of hope from the darkness. Herbert writes
Peycho Kanev
Mar 18, 2012 Peycho Kanev rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
The poet Robert Hass calls him “one of the most influential European poets of the last half-century, … an ironist and a minimalist who writes as if it were the task of the poet, in a world full of loud lies, to say what is irreducibly true in a level voice.” Stephen Stepanchev describes Herbert as “a witness to his time,” and Stephen Miller calls him a political poet whose “subdued and casual” poems “shun both hysteria and apocalyptic intensity.”
Zbigniew Herbert is an avant-garde poet whose exp
Jul 08, 2016 Ken rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I already said much of what I would say about Herbert's poetry in my review of Mr. Cogito (included in this, the collected works), I'll leave it at that. Suffice it to say that I enjoy Herbert's gentle humor, introspective bent, love of art and mythology, and habit of slowing me down as a reader by not using much in the way of periods, commas, or capital letters. I take on the burden of careful reader, instead, and I can't do that very well unless I slow down and reread--something every poet ...more
Dec 19, 2014 Vicki rated it it was amazing

For anyone who's ever tried to express the inexpressible:

I Would Like to Describe
Zbigniew Herbert, 1924 - 1998

I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water

to put
Dylan Popowicz
Jul 24, 2011 Dylan Popowicz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful collection of poetry that bleeds open like a window to the life that sits behind the words. I am in no fair position to judge the translation of the work, but the work in-itself, separate from comparison with the original, rings true as a subtle but profound human expression.

Although the whole book is worth its labour in reading, it is the mid-section that conceals the peak of poetical prowess; starting with Mr. Cogito. Here the real insistence on deploring the world and it dehumani
Clare Bear
Feb 28, 2008 Clare Bear rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry-verse
I cheated, and have read alot of his verse online and in anthologies.

Here's one I love:

Silk of a Soul

did I speak with her
either about love
or about death

only blind taste
and mute touch
used to run between us
when we absorbed in ourselves
we lay close

I must
peek inside her
to see what she wears
at her centre

wehn she slept
with her lips open
I peeked

and what
and what
would you think
I caught sight of

I was expecting
I was expecting
a bird
I was expecting
a house
by a lake great and silent

but there
on a g
Jun 15, 2007 Michael rated it it was amazing
the best poetry ever written
Jul 17, 2013 Caroline rated it it was amazing
Complex poems; most need several readings. But they are written by a poet who is exploring a complex and very dark world around him, not one writing self-absorbed confessional or abstract language poetry. My favorites are the Mr. Cogito poems, for their somewhat whimsical gloss on serious reflections. The early poems are interesting for completeness, but Herbert seems to really find his voice in the third book, Study of the Object. Its short prose poems, which I usually don't like, are wonderful ...more
Apr 04, 2015 Anthoney is currently reading it

I never have the courage to speak of you
vast sky of my neighborhood
nor you roofs holding off cascades of air
lovely downy roofs the hair of our homes
Nor you chimneys laboratories of sorrow
spurned by the moon stretching out necks
Nor of you windows opened and closed
which burst when we are dying overseas

I cannot even describe the house
which knows all my escapes and my returns
though so small it stays under my shut eyelid
nothing can render the smell the green curtain
the creak of
Michael Julian Arnett
May 02, 2015 Michael Julian Arnett rated it it was amazing
Zbigniew Herbert’s poetry, even in translation, is remarkably fluid, simple, and subtle. Herbert’s poems are typically unpunctuated, giving them a sense of flow and fluidity. There is a gentle surrealist element in his poems that illuminate or extend quotidian experience, as in “Wooden Bird”. Herbert lived during both the Nazi and Soviet occupation of Poland and themes of violence and oppression crop up throughout his work, as in the striking “Five Men” about an execution, and “The Rain” about t ...more
Petya Kokudeva
Apr 19, 2013 Petya Kokudeva rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Веднъж един чудесен български писател ми каза, че като попорасна, вече няма да имам такъв стресиращ проблем със субективността в литературата (какъвто аз имам: нали всичко е субективно, значи всичко може да е и добро, когато очевидно не е:). Та каза, че ще се науча с времето да разпознавам интуитивно (и не само) качественото. Винаги, като чета Херберт, имам чувството, че ей сега, в рамките на секундата, пораствам и съм внезапно уверена, че да!,ей го качеството - в цял ръст. И никакъв субективизъ ...more
Nadxieli Mannello
I really dig this guy, and not only because he looks like a Polish Frank Sinatra on the cover of this book. Here's an excerpt (though they're not all this short, humorous, or prose-y):

Dwarfs grow in the forest. They have a peculiar smell and white beards. They appear alone. If a cluster of them could be gathered, dried, and hung over the door--we might have some peace.
Cassandra Kay Silva
Magnificent! Such a beautiful collection, Cogito I feel that I know you! Some of these were extremely memorable, the professor turning into a bug, the spinning over Nefertiti's head, lots of buttons, eyelids and nails. What more could you want from poetry than this? I loved it!
Luna Miguel
Dec 16, 2012 Luna Miguel rated it it was amazing
Me han gustado, sobre todo, sus poemas en prosa. Es brillante, al tiempo que áspero. Pero es esa aspereza la que lo hace distinto. Muy bien.
christopher leibow
Dec 09, 2008 christopher leibow rated it really liked it
I am loving the depth and breadth of this collection, Herbert is independent, brilliant, ironic, wary, a bit conetmptuous, and pained. Lovely
Nov 16, 2009 John rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Valles' translations don't quite stand up to Carpenters' or Milosz's but many or most of the poems aren't available by the Carpenters or Milosz.
Amorak Huey
Sep 13, 2012 Amorak Huey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
So good.

The prose poems especially.

Wisdom and wit.
Oct 24, 2012 Sienna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, poetry
Hello and welcome to the longest review I have ever written, with apologies: read it in bits, as I wrote it, as I read and re-read this collection over a period of four months.


July 31, 2012

Almost exactly fourteen years ago, I sat in the sun-drenched backyard of the woman who had introduced me to Zbigniew Herbert and read his obituary in the New York Times. It was a strange sensation: with the help of the best English teacher ever, I spent the summer after graduating high school revising a terr
Rachel C.
Okay, that's probably a lifetime's worth of Polish poetry for me. I feel wholly inadequate to evaluate the merits of Herbert's poetry; mostly I just let it wash over me. Sometimes the word choice seemed a bit overly academic but I couldn't tell if that was due to the translation.

The Stars' Chosen Ones

"That's a poet
not an angel

he has no wings
just a plumed
right hand"

[first five lines]

Meditations on Father

"His face menacing in a cloud over the waters of childhood
(so seldom he held my warm head in h
Mar 09, 2008 Amy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: History of Love lovers
The only thing I can say is that reading this book filled me with such gorgeous, conflicted thoughts that I could not put it down. His readiness to revise and interpret the immense tragedy and joy of living reflects itself in his poetry's stillness. Not stillness in the boring sense, but the stillness that contemplation demands. Each word is fraught with something I cannot define, so perhaps it is simply enough to say that I read it, I loved it, and recommend it to anyone who wants to feel and t ...more
Justin Evans
Feb 01, 2013 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry-and-drama
So far I've read only Mr Cogito, from 1974, but I feel comfortable saying that it's one of the better books of late twentieth century poetry I've read. Harder--not more difficult, harder--than a Milosz, more intellectual and open to the world (the actual world, I mean, i.e., other people, ideas, history etc) than the current crop of American chamomile tea sipping navel-gazers, but eminently readable? Yes, that's more or less my ideal for poetry. Recommended for anyone who's ever tried to read, o ...more
Mar 17, 2015 Rita added it
Zbigniew Herbert writes with an incredible mix of utter irony and absolute vulnerability. His poems go right to the heart. You don't have to know the history, the war, the post-war contexts for his poems, you just have to love poetry to be able to enter into his world on the page.

I've learned so much from him--about sadness and redemption, brutality and every day beauty. I read his poems slowly. Every month or so, take one of several of his books I have off the shelf, open to a favorite and sit
May 23, 2008 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the most complete collection in English of one of the great Polish poets. Most initial reviews expressed some problems with the translations, and there is the definite sense that it's not as well translated as previous small collections of his work. However, the translations are still quite good, and this collection includes a great many poems not previously available to an English-speaking audience.
Oct 26, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful collection of poems which I am really glad I read. The poets use of language in engaging the world, his life, and the world of the mind (captured very well in the Mr. Cogito poems) are strong and stay with you. I will go back and back to these poems, especially his ones dealing with grief, and the modern world. The poet writes out of the reality of grappling with death and evil and war and violence. And yet he can gently be held by the beauty and tenderness of the world.
Daniel Mestiz
Jun 30, 2016 Daniel Mestiz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The sleep of fish is beyond imagination. Even in the darkest corner of
a pond, among the reeds, their rest is a waking: they hold the same position
for an eternity: and it is absolutely impossible to say of them: their heads
hit the pillow.
Their tears too are like a cry in the wilderness—numberless.
Fish can't express their despair with a gesture. This justifies the blunt
knife that skips along their spine ripping the sequins of scales.
Oct 20, 2008 Jeffrey rated it it was amazing
I bought this book after much resistance; I loved the Carpenter translations, and didn't want them messed with by someone new. But I'm going to try this; one can never have too much of Herbert's poems. He is one of perhaps five of the most important poets of the latter 20th century--this may understate his importance. I love him.

The pic on the cover is the best author photo I've seen.
JJ Aitken
Aug 27, 2014 JJ Aitken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I could read hundreds of poems written by this genius and still be dumbfounded as to how someone can seem to touch on subjects such as science, nature, love, dictatorship and innocence within, a description of strolling down a street and bending to retrieve a fallen book… To inhabit a space like this is to truly be living a life that is filled to the brim.
Jun 04, 2009 Roy rated it it was amazing
Remarkable poet, even in translation--which seems special. Great culture and awareness (a classical taste and sensibility) measured and conditioned by the horrors of living under Nazi and Soviet occupation as a youth and young man. The delicate brutality and brutal delicacy of his poetic 'touch' is astounding and true to the horror-rode heart of the 20th century.
Nov 03, 2015 Carolyne rated it it was amazing
Excellent poetry.

Here's a favorite:


In front of the mirror in my parents' bedroom there lay a pink shell. I stole up to it on tiptoe and in a swift motion, raised it to my ear. I wanted to catch it when it wasn't pining with its monotonous sound. Though I was little, I knew that even if you love someone very much, it sometimes happens that you forget all about it.
Jun 27, 2014 Bryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Herbert's poetry can be challenging to read sometimes, but is worth the effort. There are gems in this collection. His works range from profound to humorous. He writes in a free verse style entirely devoid of punctuation in most cases. He also writes some prose poems, which are also excellent.
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  • Without End: New and Selected Poems
  • New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001
  • The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems
  • The Selected Poems
  • Miracle Fair: Selected Poems
  • Darkness Spoken: The Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann
  • Collected Poems, 1920-1954
  • A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems
  • Poems of Paul Celan
  • The Complete Poetry
  • Collected Poems
  • Wheel with a Single Spoke: and other poems
  • Collected Works
  • Selected Poems and Fragments
  • The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees (Revised Edition)
  • Selected Poems
  • The Tunnel: Selected Poems
  • The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai
Zbigniew Herbert was a Polish poet, essayist, drama writer, author of plays, and moralist. He is one of the best known and the most translated post-war Polish writers.
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“A craftsman must probe to the very bottom of cruelty.” 6 likes
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