Translation

The NY Times Book review this Sunday quoted from “Pebble,” a poem by the Polish poet, Zbigniew Herbert. Here is the poem in full:

herbertPebble

The pebble
is a perfect creature

equal to itself
mindful of its limits

filled exactly
with a pebbly meaning

with a scent that does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

its ardour and coldness
are just and full of dignity

I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth

–Pebbles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

Zbigniew Herbert

For those of you interested in the details of translation, Peter Dale Scott, who translated this poem with Czesław Miłosz, has an intriguing passage on the process of translating this poem that you can read here. The details of word choice and order are open to endless vision and revision, and translators easily become obsessed.

If you read this little exposition, I think I’d pick Scott’s preferred translation with one change to the last line: “with an eye that’s calm and very clear.” This keeps the vernacular feel along with Herbert’s intended emphasis. Obsessed? A little.

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