Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2002 (ISBN 0374220964)
For anyone not familiar with Adam Zagajewski's work, Without End serves as not only a worthy introduction but also a broad, breathtaking overview. The new and selected poems in this 278-page collection combine a collage of early and recent writings with nearly 90 percent of the pieces from Zagajewski's other three books: Tremor, Canvas, and Mysticism For Beginners. The writing in every section flows without seeming superfluous, argues without menace or contempt, captures history with camera-like adeptness without seeming flat, tedious, preachy.
A perfect example of Zagajewski's writing can be found in "Try To Praise the Mutilated World," noted for being the only poem published in The New Yorker's "black issue" after the September 11 attacks:
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
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 going nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
So much of his writing moves the reader with this power and subtlety, pounding a fist against each page, but not with the roar of thunder; more muted, subdued, like hidden thunder underground, like an earthquake.
Even so, the Polish author turns aside his more bleak thoughts at times, capturing simple beauty in phrases and stanzas that are, well, simply beautiful, as with these lines from the poem "Cello":
Those who don't like it say it's
just a mutant violin
that's been kicked out of the chorus.
The cello has many secrets,
but it never sobs. . . ,
Or, he takes another road and offers a meditative take as in the poem "Elegy For the Living":
The joy of the moment turns suddenly
into a black hood with openings
only for eyes, mouth, tongue, grief. More grief.
The living see off their days
like negatives, exposed once
but never developed.
On whole, Zagajewski writes with an eclectic voice filled with the power of Milosz, the passion and energy of Neruda, and the narrative depth of Brodsky -- all Nobel Laureates in literature. Without End is the kind of book that could push Zagajewski into that select list as well. After the release of this book, in fact, if Zagajewski is not on the Nobel voters' short lists for the prize, it seems a crime against culture, reason, and more importantly, verse. This poet deserves to rank among the greats writing today, perhaps even to march in front like the soldier he is, fighting his battles only in his words. Recommendation: a must-read for anyone interested in some of the best poetry being written today. Buy it, share it, welcome it.