They Carry a Promise

Selected Poems

This bracing collection marks the first appearance in English of the Polish poet Janusz Szuber, hailed as the greatest discovery in Polish poetry of the late twentieth century when, in his late forties, he began publishing the work he’d been producing for almost thirty years. Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska has called him a “superb poet,” and Zbigniew Herbert said that “his poetry speaks to the hard part of the soul.”

Szuber is an intensely elegant writer whose poems are short and accessible; his work is poised between the rigors of making poetry and life itself in all its messy glory, between the devastations of history and the quiet act of observing our place in it all. “Grammar is my / Adopted country,” Szuber explains in one poem, yearning at the same time toward the physical, the breathing world: “I’d prefer something less ambiguous: / The bony parachutes of leaves, / The flame of goosefoot, from a frosty page / A star bent over me.” Throughout, there is an intense quiet and modesty to Szuber’s verse, whether he is observing the heron in flight, the froth of blossoming apple trees, or the human images in an old photo album. “Who will carve her fragile profile / in ivory … Who in truthful verse will briefly tell / of eternity, impermanent as a broken fan?”

In lovely, astute translations by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough, the poems in They Carry a Promise are an exhilarating introduction to the work of a contemporary Polish master.