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The Soul

by Adam Zagajewski

translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh

We know we’re not allowed to use your name.
We know you’re inexpressible,
anemic, frail, and suspect
for mysterious offenses as a child.
We know that you are not allowed to live now
in music or in trees at sunset.
We know—or at least we have been told—
that you do not exist at all, anywhere.
And yet we still keep hearing your weary voice
—in an echo, a complaint, in the letters we receive
from Antigone in the Greek desert.


Adam Zagajewski is one of Poland’s most famous contemporary poets. He lives in Paris, where he is co-editor of Zeszyty literackie (Literary Review), and in Houston, where since 1998 he has served as a visiting associate professor of English at the University of Houston. His book Without End: New and Selected Poems will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in January 2002. (2001)

Clare Cavanagh is an associate professor of Slavic languages at Northwestern University. She has translated, or co-translated with Stanislaw Baranczak, eight books of Polish poetry, most recently Adam Zagajewski’s Selected Poems and Wislawa Szymborska’s Selected Prose. Her own second book, Poetry and Power: Russia, Poland and the West, is forthcoming from Yale University Press, and she is currently writing a biography of Czeslaw Milosz. (2001)

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