Zbigniew Herbert

Selected Poems

Selected Poems


be courageous when reason fails you be courageous
in the final reckoning it is the only thing that counts

Zbigniew Herbert was one of the best-known and most-translated poets of post-war Poland, opposed alike to Communism, Fascism, nationalism and the Church, yet moved, throughout his work, by ‘a powerful sense of right and wrong without a corresponding belief in a system’ (New York Times).

His is a poetry of compression, lucidity and profound humanity. The universe he conjures is deeply informed not only by his own time, but by history – by that of the Medieval Mediterranean and Central Europe, as much as of the Classical world – and by a taste for historical and philosophical paradox. In the early and middle works, the figure of the trickster never seems far from view. Throughout, Herbert asks questions about the nature and needs of sentient beings. His desire, always, is to ‘touch the essence’: to get to the heart of life.

Selected with an introduction and afterword by J. M. Coetzee, this outstanding gathering from the full range of Herbert’s poetic output invites readers to experience the beauty and profundity of a remarkable body of work.