Zbigniew Herbert

(29 October 1924 – 28 July 1998 / Lvov)

The Ardennes Forest


Cup your hands to scoop up sleep
as you would draw a grain of water
and the forest will come: a green cloud
a birch trunk like a chord of light
and a thousand eyelids fluttering
with forgotten leafy speech
then you will recall the white morning
when you waited for the opening of the gates

you know this land is opened by a bird
that sleeps in a tree and the tree in the earth
but here is a spring of new questions
underfoot the currents of bad roots
look at the pattern on the bark where
a chord of music tightens
the lute player who presses the frets
so the silent resounds

push away leaves: a wild strawberry
dew on a leaf the comb of grass
further a wing of a yellow damselfly
and an ant burying its sister
a wild pear sweetly ripens
above the treacheries of belladonnas
without waiting for greater rewards
sit under the tree

cup your hands to draw up memory
of the dead names dried grain
again the forest: a charred cloud
forehead branded by black light
and a thousand lids pressed
tightly on motionless eyeballs
a tree and the air broken
betrayed faith of empty shelters

that other forest is for us is for you
the dead also ask for fairy tales
for a handful of herbs water of memories
therefore by needles by rustling
and faint threads of fragrances--
no matter that a branch stops you
a shadow leads you through winding passages--
you will find and open
our Ardennes Forest

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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Read poems about / on: tree, fairy, sister, water, memory, faith, music, spring, green, light, sleep, wind

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  • Peter Burnett (8/5/2009 2:49:00 PM)

    Something seems to have gone wrong with the translation of the title (and one line in the poem) . Surely the subject is Shakespeare's Forest of Arden. So, even if the rendering is not technically incorrect, the point has been missed. And this isn't just a literary point, perhaps for this poet the Forest of Arden is a metaphor for his own poetry, an imaginary haven beyond the reach of unjust rulers and a cruel world. (Report) Reply

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