Mr Cogito And The Imagination

by Zbigniew Herbert

1
Mr Cogito never trusted
tricks of the imagination
the piano at the top of the Alps
played false concerts for him
he didn’t appreciate labyrinths
the Sphinx filled him with loathing
he lived in a house with no basement
without mirrors or dialectics
jungles of tangled images
were not his home
he would rarely soar
on the wings of a metaphor
and then he fell like Icarus
into the embrace of the Great Mother
he adored tautologies
explanations
idem per idem
that a bird is a bird
slavery means slavery
a knife is a knife
death remains death
he loved
the flat horizon
a straight line
the gravity of the earth
2
Mr Cogito will be numbered
among the species minores
he will accept indifferently the verdict
of future scholars of the letter
he used the imagination
for entirely different purposes
he wanted to make it
an instrument of compassion
he wanted to understand to the very end
– Pascal’s night
– the nature of a diamond
– the melancholy of the prophets
– Achilles’ wrath
– the madness of those who kill
– the dreams of Mary Stuart
– Neanderthal fear
– the despair of the last Aztecs
– Nietzsche’s long death throes
– the joy of the painter of Lascaux
– the rise and fall of an oak
– the rise and fall of Rome
and so to bring the dead back to life
to preserve the covenant
Mr Cogito’s imagination
has the motion of a pendulum
it crosses with precision
from suffering to suffering
there is no place in it
for the artificial fires of poetry
he would like to remain faithful
to uncertain clarity

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