A Tale by Zbigniew Herbert

The poet imitates the voices of birds 
he cranes his long neck 
his protruding Adam’s apple
is like a clumsy finger on a wing of melody 

when singing he deeply believes 
that he advances the sunrise 
the warmth of his song depends on this 
as does the purity of his high notes 

the poet imitates the sleep of stones 
his head withdrawn into his shoulders 
he is like a piece of sculpture 
breathing rarely and painfully 

when asleep he believes that he alone 
will penetrate the mystery of existence 
and take without the help of theologians 
eternity into his avid mouth

what would the world be 
were it not filled with 
the incessant bustling of the poet 
among the birds and stones 

Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scot

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