Adam Zagajewski - SUBJECT: BRODSKY

Please note: born in May,
in a damp city (hence the motif: water),
soon to be surrounded by an army
whose officers kept Hölderlin
in their backpacks, but, alas, they had
no time for reading. Too much to do.

Tone—sardonic, despair—authentic.
Always en route, from Mexico to Venice,
lover and crusader, who campaigned
ceaselessly for his unlikely party
(name: Poetry versus the Infinite,
or PVI, if you prefer abbreviations).

In every city and in every port
he had his agents; he sometimes sang his poems
before an avid crowd that didn’t catch
a word. Afterwards, exhausted, he’d smoke a Gauloise
on a cement embankment, gulls circling overhead,
as if above the Baltic, back home.

Vast intelligence. Favorite topic: time
versus thought, which chases phantoms,
revives Mary Stuart, Daedalus, Tiberius.
Poetry should be like horse racing;
wild horses, with jockeys made of marble,
an unseen finish line lies hidden in the clouds.

Please remember: irony and pain;
the pain had lived long inside his heart
and kept on growing—as though
each elegy he wrote adored him
obsessively and wanted
him alone to be its hero—

but ladies and gentlemen—your patience,
please, we’re nearly through—I don’t know
quite how to put it; something like tenderness,
the almost timid smile,
the momentary doubt, the hesitation,
the tiny pause in flawless arguments.

Translated by Clare Cavanagh