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The Majesty of Sleep

by Adam Zagajewski


translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh

Sleep like the veranda of a country house
spreads before you a forest and shadows
and the interior of memories.
Sleep is the mind free of constraint,
the proud capital of poetry and plays,
sleep is a thought not yet embodied,
fed meagerly by jealous waking.
Sleep is Assyria, severe and valiant.
Sleep is Tuscany seen at dawn,
when slim trees sip ink
from the black earth—and a city,
which breathes through long cigarettes of sorrow.
Sleep visits hospitals and prisons,
comforts the afflicted
like a pure-hearted nun;
sleep wanes, exhausted;
it dies lightly, like Norwid,
without grief or heirs.


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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