Stendhal in Souvenirs d’égotisme: “Le génie poétique est mort, mais le génie du soupçon est venu au monde” (The genius of poetry has left us, the spirit of suspicion takes its place—in my loose translation). Is it true? Yes, as to the spirit of suspicion, and it’s also true that poetry and suspicion must always do battle, a vicious war in which prisoners are slain without mercy, flouting Geneva conventions. The spirit of poetry hasn’t died, though; it may be weaker, it may disappear for days or weeks on end, but it hasn’t abandoned us completely. . . At least that’s how I see it. It may just be wishful thinking, perhaps the poets of various lands and languages are only shadows, and their festivals, fellowships, and glories are all mirages. But no. I can’t think this way. The health of the spiritual world, its future life, depends on me, on us. We make decisions daily, we decide daily whether to raise the white flag of capitulation or a poem’s bright tapestry.
Zagajewski is a poet whose work I’ve loved since I first read Tremor in the mid-1980s. He is the purest of impure poets, steeped in history but interested primarily in the clarity to be found in the eye of that storm.