Zbigniew Herbert

(29 October 1924 – 28 July 1998 / Lvov)

The Return Of The Proconsul - Poem by Zbigniew Herbert

I’ve decided to return to the emperor’s court
once more I shall see if it’s possible to live there
I could stay here in this remote province
under the full sweet leaves of sycamores
under the rule of sickly nepotists

when I return I don’t intend to commend myself
I shall applaud in measured portions
smile in ounces frown discreetly
for that they will not give me a golden chain
this iron one will suffice

I’ve decided to return tomorrow or the next day
I cannot live among vineyards nothing here is mine
trees have no roots houses no foundations the rain is glassy flowers smell of wax
a dry cloud rattles against the empty sky
so I shall return tomorrow the next day in any case I shall return

I must come to terms with my face again
with my lower lip so it knows how to check scorn
with my eyes so they remain ideally empty
and with that miserable chin the hare of my face
which trembles when the chief of guards walks in

of one thing I am sure I will not drink wine with him
when he brings his goblet nearer I will lower my eyes
and pretend I’m picking bits of food from between my teeth
besides the emperor likes courage of convictions
to a certain extent to a certain reasonable extent
he is after all a man like everyone
and already tired by all those tricks with poison
he cannot drink his fill incessant chess
this left cup is for Drusus from the right one pretend to sip
then drink only water never lose sight of Tacitus

take a walk in the garden and return when the corpse has been removed
I’ve decided to return to the emperor’s court
I really hope that things will work out somehow


Comments about The Return Of The Proconsul by Zbigniew Herbert

  • (8/4/2015 6:08:00 AM)


    There's a typo in the last stanza: it should say corpse instead of copse in the line that starts with take a walk. (Report) Reply

    David Truog (8/31/2015 3:12:00 AM)

    I see you've fixed it, now. Thanks.

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, December 29, 2011

Poem Edited: Saturday, August 15, 2015


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