Corin Wenger's Reviews > Eternal Enemies: Poems

Eternal Enemies by Adam Zagajewski
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Mar 30, 2010

it was amazing

Zagajewski speaks from multiple histories that seem to search for a humane world.... or evoke a fragmented and traumatized world in the pieces of today. The book evokes comparisons with Paul Celan, with references to historical trauma of Auschwitz and the struggle to speak after dehumanization. His poetry is invariably small, modest, and personal in nature, not moralistic but ethically concerned, compassionate. Although I have not read much Milosz or Herbert, I believe he was contemporary with both.

I was particularly struck by lines in the poem "Tadeusz Kantor":

Much later, though[...:]
I witnessed systematic dying,
decline, I saw how time
works on us, time stitched into clothes or rags,
into the face's slipping features, I saw
the work of tears and laughter, the gnashing of teeth,
I saw boredom and yearning at work, and how
prayer might live in us, if we would let it,
what blowhard military marches really are,
what killing is, and smiling,
and what wars are, seen and unseen, just or not,
what it means to be a Jew, a German, or
a Pole, or maybe just human [...:]

The poem seems to break through the indifference of world politics and news to the real unacknowledged grief and the suffering of human violence, and implies that the origins of violence are somewhere within an unwillingness or inability to come to terms with the suffering of others, the alienation from childhood, the objectification of humanity. Witnessing means having one's innocence taken away, as one becomes implicated in the machinery of the state's inhumanity.

The weariness and grief in this poem come out especially in its repetition of fragments. Fragments which are parts of a whole which has been shattered when modernity began, out of dehumanization, denial, and depersonalization--"What killing is, and smiling".

"How prayer might live in us, if we would let it" is a slender ray of hope in this prison.


In most of the poems here, the traces of such violence appear in descriptions of things that have traumatic histories, like cracks across a pastoral scene of amnesia.
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