A new collection by the great Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, entitled Eternal Enemies, has just appeared from Farrar, Straus and Giroux—and it will knock your socks off. At least it did mine! Here’s a sample, translated (as are all the poems in this book) by Clare Cavanagh:
ERINNA OF TELOS
She was nineteen when she died.
We don’t know if she was lovely and flirtatious,
or if perhaps she looked like those
intelligent, dry girls in glasses
from whom mirrors are kept hidden.
She left behind just a few hexameters.
We suspect that she strove
with the secret, uncertain ambition of introverts.
Her parents loved her to distraction.
We speculate that she wanted to express
some vast truth about life, ruthless
on the surface, sweet within,
about August nights, when the sea
breathes and shines and sings like a starling,
and about love, ineffable and precious.
We don’t know if she cried when she met darkness.
She left only a few hexameters
and an epigram about a cricket.
You can find most of Erinna’s work in Diane J. Rayor’s wonderful anthology Sappho’s Lyre: Archaic Lyric and Women Poets of Ancient Greece. Here’s a distressingly broken but wonderfully suggestive example:
But when into the bed . . . you forgot everything
that as a baby . . . you heard from your mother,
dear Baukis; Aphrodite . . . forgetfulness.