Adam Zagajewski, is one of several great Polish and Russian poets who have written and lived courageously pushing back the darkness. The New Yorker printed this poem right after the 9/11 attack. He uses “praise” like so many poets over the centuries in a way that helps us hold onto hope when the fallen world would tumble us over the cliff of despair. It’s not praising evil or the “bare world,” but praising in spite of the broken world.
Try to praise the mutilated world
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
From the issue of September 24, 2001
Poem translated by Clare Cavanaugh, C.K. Williams and Renata Gorczynski published in Without End – New and Selected Poems, 2002.
Here is a commentary and reflection on this poem and biographical info by Richard Osler.