Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Cogito, ergo sum, wrote René Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” Mr. Cogito, a twentieth century human being, the citizen of a small European nation, and at least occasionally the alter ego of poet Zbigniew Herbert, does a lot of thinking in this collection of Herbert’s poetry from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Mr. Cogito, not surprisingly, confronts the philosophical problem as to precisely what constitutes the self; what makes up human identity in a world full of others, past and present; where Mr. Cogito ends and where others—animal, vegetable, or mineral—begin; and how one individual lives among others.
Herbert’s earlier work, including Struna ´wiata (1956), Hermes, pies i gwiazda (1957), Studium przedmiotu (1961), and Napis (1969), deal in historical and political ironies, chief among them the question of art (or form) confronted with unspeakable experience. Herbert, like many of his contemporaries throughout Central and Eastern Europe, had a thorough education. During the Nazi occupation, he began writing underground, just as he studied and fought underground; when the war ended and the Stalinization of Polish life began, that did not essentially change.
Avant-garde in its avoidance of rhyme and punctuation, its use of idiom and casual diction, and classical in its spareness and clarity, Herbert’s poetry rarely makes direct mention of contemporary events, yet it...
(The entire section is 1775 words.)
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