Zbigniew Herbert

            Mr. Cogito–the Return


Mr. Cogito
has made up his mind to return
to the stony bosom
of his homeland

the decision is dramatic
he will regret it bitterly

but no longer can he endure
empty everyday expressions
–comment allez-vous
–wie geht's
–how are you

at first glance simple the questions
demand a complicated answer

Mr. Cogito tears off
the bandages of polite indifference

he has stopped believing in progress
he is concerned about his own wound

displays of abundance
fill him with boredom

he became attached only
to a Dorian column
the Church of San Clemente
the portrait of a certain lady
a book he didn't have time to read
and a few other trifles

therefore he returns
he sees already
the frontier
a plowed field
murderous shooting towers
dense thickets of wire

armor-plated doors
slowly close behind him

and already
he is
in the treasure-house
of all misfortunes


so why does he return
ask friends
from the better world

he could stay here
somehow make ends meet

entrust the wound
to chemical stain-remover

leave it behind in waiting-rooms
of immense airports

so why is he returning

–to the water of childhood
–to entangled roots
–to the clasp of memory
–to the hand the face
seared on the grill of time

at first glance simple the questions
demand a complicated answer

probably Mr. Cogito returns
to give a reply

to the whisperings of fear
to impossible happiness
to the blow given from behind
to the deadly question

     Polish; trans. John Carpenter
           & Bogdana Carpenter

Zbigniew Herbert, Polish, trans. John Carpenter
& Bogdana Carpenter, Report From the
Besieged City, Ecco Press, 1985.