Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mr Cogito’s Monster by Zbigniew Herbert


Mr Cogito’s Monster

1

The lucky Saint George
could judge the dragon’s
strength and movements
from his knightly saddle

strategy’s first principle
size up the enemy well

Mr Cogito’s position
is less advantageous

he’s seated in the low
saddle of the valley
wrapped in thick fog

in the fog you can’t make out
the burning eyes
the greedy claws
the maw

in the fog
you see only
the flickering of nothingness

Mr Cogito’s monster
lacks all dimensions

it’s hard to describe
it eludes definitions

it’s like a vast depression
hanging over the country

it can’t be pierced
by a pen
an argument
a spear

if not for its stifling weight
and the death it sends
you might conclude
that it was a phantom
a disease of the imagination

but it’s there
it’s there all right

it fills crannies of houses
temples bazaars like gas

it poisons the wells
destroys a mind’s constructs
covers the bread with mold

proof the monster exists
is offered by its victims

indirect proof
but sufficient

2

the sensible say
you can coexist
with the monster

just try to avoid
violent gestures
violent speech
when threatened
take on the form
of a stone or leaf

obey wise Nature
who urges mimicry

breathe shallowly
play we’re not here

Mr Cogito however
dislikes living as-if

he’d like to fight
the monster
on solid ground

so he goes out at dawn
to the sleeping suburbs
intrepidly fitted out
with a long sharp object

he calls to the monster
through empty streets

he insults the monster
provokes the monster

like the daredevil scout
of a non-existent army

he calls—come out you dirty coward
through the fog
you see only
the huge mug of nothingness

Mr Cogito wants to
join the unequal fray

this should happen
as soon as possible

before he is felled
by powerlessness
common death without glory
suffocation by shapelessness


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