Hermits Rock

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Another Zagajewski

SHELL

At night the monks sang softly
and a gusting wind lifted
spruce branches like wings.
I’ve never visited the ancient cities,
I’ve never been to Thebes
or Delphi, and I don’t know
what the oracles once told travelers.
Snow filled the streets and canyons,
and crows in dark robes silently
trailed the fox’s footprints.
I believed in elusive signs,
in shadowed ruins, water snakes,
mountain springs, prophetic birds.
Linden trees bloomed like brides
but their fruit was small and bitter.
Wisdom can’t be found
in music or fine paintings,
in great deeds, courage,
even love,
but only in all these things,
in earth and air, in pain and silence.
A poem may hold the thunder’s echo,
like a shell touched by Orpheus
as he fled. Time takes life away
and gives us memory, gold with flame,
black with embers.

(Translated by Clare Cavanagh)