Without End: New and Selected Poems


I love to swim in the sea, which keeps

talking to itself

in the monotone of a vagabond

who no longer recalls

exactly how long he’s been on the road.

Swimming is like prayer:

palms join and part,

join and...

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I love to swim in the sea, which keeps

talking to itself

in the monotone of a vagabond

who no longer recalls

exactly how long he’s been on the road.

Swimming is like prayer:

palms join and part,

join and part,

almost without end.

—from "On Swimming"

Without End draws from each of Adam Zagajewski's English-language collections, both in and out of print—Tremor, Canvas, and Mysticism for Beginners—and features new work that is among his most refreshing and rewarding. These poems, lucidly translated, share the vocation that allows us, in Zagajewski's words, "to experience astonishment and to stop still in that astonishment for a long moment or two."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Zagajewski's poems] transport us into a realm that is majestic, boundless and unknown." —Edward Hirsch, The Washington Post Book World

"Poems [that] celebrate those rare moments when we catch a glimpse of a world from which all labels have been unpeeled." —Charles Simic, The New York Review of Books

Joseph Brodsky
Seldom has the muse . . . spoken to anyone with such clarity and urgency as in Zagajewski’s case.
Publishers Weekly
As he left his native Poland and turned from the committed poetry of his "Generation 69" youth, Zagajewski began to infuse his work with a deep distrust of the darker potentials of language as a tool of recruitment, ready-made allegiance and/or retaliation. What remains, powerfully, is restitution and revelation; Zagajewski has picked up the mantle of mystical, Catholic Romanticism offered by Herbert and Milosz. Showcased here are the loose, abstract, dreamy lyrics that have become his trademark, the bulk of which are drawn from three previous U.S. releases: Tremor: Selected Poems (1985), Canvas (1991) and Mysticism for Beginners (1997). For Zagajewski, all cities are Lvov, the city his family fled, whose streets are now available to him only through remembrance and imagination. A symbol of superfluity ("There was always too much of Lvov"), of Romantic desire and the lost paradise which spurns, Lvov provides an ideal space into which the real world bleeds, and from whose confines one can reach the liberating vistas perceived by the unfettered mind. Such imaginative excesses, with their whimsical non-linearity and continual sway away from direct representational language, work best in the 48 new poems here when the poet's sense of humor prevents, particularly in translation, Romantic imagery from veering into sentiment when the speaker is able to ask facetiously, "But who could it have been,/ since the castle had been empty for so long,/ given up to bats and irony?/ Still everything seemed to indicate/ that someone was dying in the palace./ One couldn't overlook/ the signs of life." Readers won't be able to either. (Feb.) Forecast: The Paris-based Zagajewski, who teaches at the University of Houston every spring, is now eminent, well-reviewed, well-assigned and still makes excellent reading. This will be the Zagajewski most readers buy for the next few years, and the substantial amount of new work should ensure major prize contention. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Essayist, novelist, and poet Zagajewski (Mysticism for Beginners) was one of the most prolific voices of the Polish New Wave movement of the late 1960s. Consider these haunting lines from an early poem appearing here, which exemplify the quality of his work at the time: "I couldn't paint, my voice cracked/ I didn't pass the high school finals,/ I couldn't be an artist. They assigned me/ to the infantry." Zagajewksi has been living in exile in Paris since 1982, however, and the poems from the following decade are filled with absence and longing, the familiar re-created amidst the foreign. The new poems, which make up the first 60 pages of this book, seem to have lost their crispness and sense of urgency, and the imagery has become contrived: "it seems/ you're starting to make peace/ why not me?" It is unfortunate that this book lacks an introduction, which might have been useful in chronicling the surprising shifts in Zagajewski's work. Recommended only for larger collections, but keep in mind that this Polish exile teaches part of the year at the University of Houston. Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374528614
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 3/18/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Zagajewski was born in Lvov, Poland, in 1945. He lives in Kraków and spends part of the year in Houston, where he teaches at the University of Houston.

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Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from Without End by Adam Zagajewski. Copyright © 2002 by Adam Zagajewski. To be published in March, 2003 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.


Oh my mute city, honey-gold, buried in ravines, where wolves loped softly down the cold meridian; if I had to tell you, city, asleep beneath a heap of lifeless leaves, if I needed to describe the ocean's skin, on which ships etch the lines of shining poems, and yachts like peacocks flaunt their lofty sails and the Mediterranean, rapt in salty concentration, and cities with sharp turrets gleaming in the keen morning sun, and the savage strength of jets piercing the clouds, the bureaucrats' undying scorn for us, people, Umbria's narrow streets like cisterns that stop up ancient time tasting of sweet wine, and a certain hill, where the stillest tree is growing, gray Paris, threaded by the river of salvation, Krakow, on Sunday, when even chestnut leaves seem pressed by an unseen iron, vineyards raided by the greedy fall and by highways full of fear; if I had to describe the sobriety of the night when it happened, and the clatter of the train running into nothingness and the blade flaring on a makeshift skating rink; I'm writing from the road, I had to see, and not just know, to see clearly the sights and fires of a single world, but you unmoving city turned to stone, my brethren in the shallow sand; the earth still turns above you and the Roman legions march and a polar fox attends the wind in a white wasteland where sounds perish.


We know we're not allowed to use your name. We know you're inexpressible, anemic, frail, and suspect for mysterious offenses as a child. We know that you are not allowed to live now in music or in trees at sunset. We know—or at least we've been told— that you do not exist at all, anywhere. And yet we still keep hearing your weary voice —in an echo, a complaint, in the letters we receive from Antigone in the Greek desert.


At first only cherries and the comic flight of bats, the apple moon, a drowsy owl, the tang of 0icy water on school outings. The city's towers rise like words of love. Afterwards, long after, Provence's golden dust, fig trees in the vineyards, the lesson of white Greece, obscure museums, Piero's Madonna great with child —in the interim, two occupations, two inhuman armies, death's clumsy vehicles patrol your streets.

Long days spent translating Georg Trakl, "The Captive Blackbird's Song," that blissful first Paris after years of Soviet scarcity and squalor; your sly smile, your schoolboy jokes, the gravitas and cheer you brought to Meaux's little cathedral (Bossuet watched us rather dourly), Berlin evenings: Herr Doktor, Herr Privatdozent, the rice you scattered at friends' weddings like confetti— but the quiet bitterness of bad months, too.

I liked to imagine your strolls in Umbria, Liguria: your dapper chase, your quest for places where the glaciers of the past melt, baring forms. I liked to imagine you roving through poetry's mountains, seeking the spot where silence suddenly erupts in speech. But I always met you in the cramped apartments of those gray Molochs called great cities.

You sometimes reminded me of life's tragedies. Life seldom let you out of sight. I think of your generation, crushed by fate, your illness in Madrid, in Amsterdam (Hotel Ambassade), even in holy Jerusalem, the hospital Saint-Louis, where you lay one summer with heat melting houses' walls and nations' borders, and your final weeks in Warsaw. I marvel at your poems' kingly pride.


The early hours of morning; you still aren't writing (rather, you aren't even trying), you just read lazily. Everything is idle, quiet, full, as if it were a gift from the muse of sluggishness,

just as earlier, in childhood, on vacation, when a colored map was slowly scrutinized before a trip, a map promising so much, deep ponds in the forest like glittering butterfly eyes, mountain meadows drowning in sharp grass;

or the moment before sleep, when no dreams have appeared, but they whisper their approach from all parts of the world, their march, their pilgrimage, their vigil at the sickbed (grown sick of wakefulness), and the quickening among medieval figures

compressed in endless stasis over the cathedral; the early hours of morning, silence —you still aren't writing,

you still understand so much. Joy is close.

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Table of Contents

NEW POEMS (translated by Clare Cavanagh)
To See 3
The Soul 5
Farewell for Zbigniew Herbert 6
The Early Hours 8
Senza Flash 9
Circus 10
Europe Goes to Sleep 11
A Flame 12
Apartment for Scholars 13
Stary Sacz 14
Bakery 15
Summer's Fullness 16
Castle 17
Dead Sparrow 18
My Aunts 19
The Churches of France 20
Where the Breath Is 22
Speak Softly 23
Line Four 25
Georges Seurat: Factory 26
The Polish Biographical Dictionary in a Library in Houston 27
Just Children 29
A Morning in Vicenza 30
Europe in Winter 31
Death of a Pianist 32
December 33
Vaporetto 34
Opus Posthumous 36
Twenty-five Years 38
How Clowns Go 39
How High the Moon 40
Tarbes 42
Little Waltz 43
Sunrise over Cassis 44
1969 45
The World's Prose 46
A King 47
Smoke 49
Lindens 50
Separation 51
Treatise on Emptiness 52
Sénanque 53
Barbarians 54
For You 55
Ancient History 56
For Gabriela Münter 57
Square d'Orléans 58
Try to Praise the Mutilated World 60
EARLY POEMS (1970-1975) (translated by Clare Cavanagh)
The Name Edmund 63
The Epicure from My Staircase 64
Tongue 65
Truth 66
New World 67
How Does the Man Look Who's Right 72
Twenty-Year-Old Soldiers 73
Philosophers 74
Immortality 75
FROM TREMOR (1985) (translated by Renata Gorczynski)
To Go to Lvov 79
A Wanderer 82
Ode to Softness 83
Late Beethoven 84
Schopenhauer's Crying 86
Fever 87
Kierkegaard on Hegel 88
We Know Everything 89
In the Trees 90
A River 92
He Acts 93
Life Sentence 94
Ode to Plurality 95
Good Friday in the Tunnels of the Métro 98
Van Gogh's Face 99
In May 100
Fire 101
Fire, Fire 102
The Self 103
Lightning 104
A View of Delft 105
To 106
It Comes to a Standstill 107
In the Past 108
The Dark God, the Light God 109
Don't Allow the Lucid Moment to Dissolve 110
That Force 111
Song of an Emigré 112
Franz Schubert: A Press Conference 113
Escalator (translated by Clare Cavanagh) 116
There Will Be a Future 118
Without End 119
In the Encyclopedias, No Room for Osip Mandelstam 120
The Generation 121
Three Voices 123
Esprit d'escalier 124
In the Beauty Created by Others 127
Over America 128
Iron 129
Palm Sunday 131
Reading Books 132
Poems on Poland 133
City Unknown 134
The Trial 135
My Masters 136
Sad, Tired 137
Your Telephone Call 138
This 139
A View of Krakow (translated by Clare Cavanagh) 140
Moment 143
FROM CANVAS (1991) (translated by Renata Gorczynski,
Benjamin Ivry, and C. K Williams)
Lullaby 147
Anecdote of Rain 149
Lava 150
R. Says 152
Incorporeal Ruler 153
A Talk with Friedrich Nietzsche 154
Sails 156
At Daybreak 157
The Creation of the World 158
Morandi 160
Covenant 161
Presence 163
Russia Comes into Poland 164
Late Feast 167
Anton Bruckner 168
Night 170
Elegy for the Living 171
Burgundy's Grasslands 172
Electric Elegy 173
September Afternoon in the Abandoned Barracks 175
Matches 176
The Gothic 177
Password 180
The Blackened River 181
Moths 182
Vacation 183
Watching Shoah in a Hotel Room in America 184
A Fence. Chestnut Trees 186
At Midnight 187
To Myself, in an Album 188
Autumn 189
The Bells 191
The Close of Summer 192
Apes 193
In Strange Cities 194
Seventeen 195
Without Form 196
Moses 198
The Light of Lamps 199
Wind at Night 200
Wild Cherries 201
Islands and Towers 202
A History of Solitude 203
From the Lives of Things 204
Cruel 205
Simone Weil Watches the Rhône Valley 207
Fruit 208
Canvas 209
FROM MYSTICISM FOR BEGINNERS (1997) (translated by Clare Cavanagh)
A Quick Poem 213
Transformation 214
September 215
Mysticism for Beginners 217
The Three Kings 218
The Greenhouse 220
Dutch Painters 222
Postcards 224
Shell 225
The Thirties 226
Referendum 227
Refugees 228
Letter from a Reader 230
I Wasn't in This Poem 232
For M 233
That's Sicily 235
You Are My Silent Brethren 236
Out Walking 237
Vermeer's Little Girl 238
Tierra del Fuego 239
Albi 241
Self-Portrait 243
December Wind 245
Traveler 246
The House 247
Moment 248
Blackbird 249
Elegy 250
Cello 252
Degas: The Milliner's Shop 253
Planetarium 254
She Wrote in Darkness 255
Airport in Amsterdam 256
Night 258
Long Afternoons 259
To My Older Brother 260
The City Where I Want to Live 261
Persephone 262
The Room I Work In 263
Three Angels 265
From Memory 268
Summer 270
Chinese Poem 271
Holy Saturday in Paris 272
On Swimming 273
Sisters of Mercy 274
Houston, 6 p.m 276
I Walked Through the Medieval Town 278
Index of Titles 279
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2004

    Without End is what poems should be!

    This collection is a must have. The author himself has been long overlooked. With his courage to remain lyrical and mysitical, he goes where others should. To the heart of the heart of life. Kudos to those who buy this book. Can't wait for the next one by Mr. Zagajewski.

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