A stunning, intimate collection by the late great Polish poet Adam Zagajewski.
. . . I think I sought wisdom
(without resignation) in poems
and also a certain calm madness.
I found, much later, a moment’s joy
and melancholy’s dark contentment.
In True Life, the Polish writer Adam Zagajewski, one of the world’s most admired and beloved poets, turns his gaze to the past with piercing clarity and a tone of wry, lyrical melancholy. He captures the rhythms of a city street on the page and the steady beat of the passage of time against it (“Roads cannot be destroyed // Even if peonies cover them / smelling like eternity”) and writes of the endless struggle between stasis and change, between movement and stillness (“We knew / it would be the same / as always // It would all go back to normal”).
Mary Oliver called Zagajewski “the most pertinent, impressive, meaningful poet of our time,” and Philip Boehm wrote in The New York Times Book Review that his poems “pull us from whatever routine threatens to dull our senses, from whatever might lull us into mere existence.” True Life, first published in Polish in 2019 and translated with genius by Clare Cavanagh, reveals the astonishing, immortal depths of Zagajewski’s insight and artistry
" Zagajewski attains a scale that is epic in a poetic voice that is intimate, nearly mild . . . The poems are at an extreme of truth-telling. They deploy understatement like a talisman as they enter the grandly menacing yet oblivious borderland of our worst human doings." —Robert Pinsky, The New York Times Book Review
"Zagajewski’s books are true, of their era and eternal . . . Few poets have captured the mysterious motion through space, time, and mood that Zagajewski evokes in passing through built environments and poring over historical testaments . . . In his own broad senses of time and space, Zagajewski himself was a poet who did live everywhere, and who, thanks to such books as True Life, will continue to do so." —Kathleen Rooney, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Zagajewski represented something more than just a talented writer—he wrote with a voice that was, and is, inimitable and enigmatic. There is nobody who sounds like Zagajewski . . . True life contains distance and melancholy as well as enthusiasm, and Zagajewski’s achievement is to show us both. He is much missed, but this volume offers readers one final gift, well worth treasuring." —Magdalena Kay, World Literature Today
"[Zagajewski's] plain, slanted observations alter the world so that you cannot help but use them to describe the history of your own life, to trace the contours of your own memories, to give order to your own present . . . Clare Cavanagh has been spinning Zagajewski’s poetry and books of essays into commonplace miracles of translation for going on thirty years, and she has done so for the last time with True Life." —Ania Szremski, 4Columns
"This tender posthumous work by Zagajewski (Two Cities) is exceptionally translated by Cavanagh, who has captured the poet’s subdued, ruminative, and wry tones . . . While devastating truths anchor the reader to a foreclosed present ('We can be stopped/ just like that/ stop'), there is evidence of hope in beauty: 'Lips parted/ Everything is still possible.' This is a remarkable collection by one of the century’s finest poets." —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"A leading light in Poland’s New Wave of poetry, as well as a celebrated poet of any country or time, his “poems about the past, cities, and movement” will be a welcome addition to every library, especially through the care of award-winning translator Clare Cavanagh." —Mandana Chaffa, Chicago Review of Books