Mr Cogito's Message

by Zbigniew Herbert


Go where those others have gone to the tenebrous end
for the golden fleece of nothingness your final reward
 
go upright among those on their knees
among those with their backs turned those toppled into dust
 
you survived not in order to live
you have little time you must bear witness
 
be courageous when reason deceives be courageous
in the final reckoning that alone is what counts
 
and let your powerless Anger be like the sea
each time your hear the voice of those degraded and beaten
 
let you sister Scorn never leave you
for informers executioners cowards – they shall win
they will go to your funeral and relieved throw in some earth
the woodborer will write your smoothed-over life story
 
and do not forgive truly it is not in your power
to forgive on behalf of those who were betrayed at dawn
 
beware however of wanton pride
and watch your clown-like face in the mirror
keep repeating: I was called – weren't there better ones than I
 
beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring
the bird whose name you don’t know the winter oak
light on a wall the sky’s splendor
they don't need your warm breath
they are there to say: no one will console you
 
keep watch – when light on mountain peaks gives a sign – arise and go
as long as blood turns your dark star in the breast
 
repeat humanity’s old legends fables and incantations
because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain
repeat lofty words repeat them stubbornly
like those who crossing the desert perished in the sand
 
and they will reward you with what they have at hand
with lashes of laughter with murder on a garbage heap
 
go because thus only will you be received into the company of cold skulls
into the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of a limitless kingdom and a city of ashes
 
Be faithful Go

1974

Translated from the Polish
by Piotr Malysz