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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