“Shell” by Adam Zagajewski (and an ocean question for readers)

At night the monks sang softly
and a gusting wind lifted
spruce branches like wings.
I’ve never visited the ancient cities,
I’ve never been to Thebes
or Delphi, and I don’t know
what the oracles once told travellers.
Snow filled the streets and canyons,
and crows in dark robes silently
trailed the fox’s footprints.
I believed in elusive signs,
in shadowed ruins, water snakes,
mountain springs, prophetic birds.
Linden trees bloomed like brides
but their fruit was small and bitter.
Wisdom can’t be found
in music or fine paintings,
in great deeds, courage,
even love,
but only in all these things,
in earth and air, in pain and silence.
A poem may hold the thunder’s echo,
like a shell touched by Orpheus
as he fled. Time takes life away
and gives us memory, gold with flame,
black with embers.

“Shell” by Adam Zagajewski from Mysticism for Beginners: Poems, translated by Clare Cavanagh (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

* I’m adding a quick unrelated footnote as a favor for a dear reader. He is on the lookout for the perfect Mermaid or Ocean poem to go along with a summer gift for his daughters.

Do you have a favorite poem about the ocean (I suggested Faith Shearin’s “Places I Have Heard the Ocean“) or about Mermaids (I was stumped on that one)? Feel free to reply here or to message me via my contact page if easier. Thanks! Christy

9 thoughts on ““Shell” by Adam Zagajewski (and an ocean question for readers)

    1. And it’s even more delicious when you speak the words aloud… they flow from the tongue, especially that repeated “row” in crow and robe.
      The more I read of Zagajewski, the more I appreciate his work.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Maureen

    Hi Christina, Did your friend choose a poem yet for his daughters? If not, I was wondering how old they are — young children, teens, or adults?


  2. Periodically the mundane world calls me away from this blog for a spell. With each returning I experience the same excitement as the first time divine providence brought me here. Thank you! Suggest “The Mermaids” by Nell Farrell.


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