Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry)
Zbigniew Herbert grew up in the Polish city of Lvov; in 1939, when he was fifteen years old, this part of Poland was invaded by the Soviet Union. Herbert began to write poetry during World War II, and the war permanently shaped his outlook. The face of postwar Poland was permanently changed, socially, physically, and politically: Herbert’s native city became part of the Soviet Union.
In 1944, Herbert studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow—he was always interested in painting, sculpture, and architecture—and a year later he entered the Academy of Commerce, also in Krakow. In 1947, he received a master’s degree in economics and moved to Toruń, where he studied law at the Nicolas Copernicus University. He received the degree of master of laws in 1950. Herbert stayed on in Toruń to study philosophy and was influenced by the philosopher Henryk Eizenberg. In 1950 he lived briefly in Gdańsk and worked there for the Merchant’s Review before moving to Warsaw, where for the next six years he held a variety of jobs: in the management office of the peat industry, in the department for retired pensioners of the Teachers’ Cooperative, in a bank, in a store, and in the legal department of the Composers’ Association.
Herbert’s poems began to appear in periodicals in 1950, but no collection was published in book form; during the increasing social and cultural repression of the Stalinist years, several of the magazines...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Zbigniew Herbert, one of the most important Polish poets of the twentieth century, was the son of Bolesiaw and Maria Kaniak Herbert. He grew up in occupied Poland during World War II. A proper education during this period was almost impossible, but Herbert managed to attend a clandestine high school as well as to receive rudimentary military training from the Polish Resistance. Later he fought against the Nazis as a guerrilla. After the war he pursued a wide range of humanistic studies, which became a prominent element of his poetry. He received a degree in law and also read philosophy, literature, and the history of art. He did not publish a book of poetry, however, until he was thirty years old; he preferred silence or publication in obscure journals to writing the orthodox literature demanded by the Russian government. To support himself, he worked as a clerk, a manual laborer, and a journalist. In 1956, during a political thaw, Herbert published his first book of poems.
Struna wiata (chord of light) is not a typical first book of poetry by a young and unknown writer. Herbert’s themes, style, and approach are already fully formed in this book, and the poems are marked by irony, detachment, clarity, and wit about the social and political situation in which he lived. Herbert mocks repressive systems rather than attacking them. He uses...
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Zbigniew Herbert was born on October 29, 1924 in Lwow (or Lvov), a city that was located in Eastern Poland and that later became a part of the Ukraine. Herbert was the son of a banker and professor, and the grandson of an Englishman, thus accounting for Herbert’s very English surname. He was not even fifteen years old in 1939 when the Red Army invaded his city, as part of an agreement with Hitler. By 1941, when Nazis invaded the city, Herbert’s city had become a concentration camp. Eventually Herbert joined the underground Polish Home Army and became actively involved in an anti-Soviet resistance movement after the Soviets recaptured Lwow in 1944, which was then annexed to the Soviet Union. After most of the Polish Home Army died during the Warsaw massacre of 1944, Herbert moved to Krakow, where he began his studies in law and philosophy at the University of Krakow. Herbert completed a master of arts in economics in 1947 and then began studying at the Copernicus University in Torun where he completed a law degree in 1948. Herbert next enrolled at the University of Warsaw where he earned another master of arts degree in 1950, this one in philosophy.
Herbert was seventeen when he began writing poetry, but it was 1956 before his first book of poetry, A String of Light, was published in Poland. This publication was a result of the liberalization of communist rule that permitted the publication of the first books of Polish poetry since the...
(The entire section is 496 words.)