They Carry a Promise

Janusz Szuber, Author, Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough, Translator , trans. from the Polish by Eva Hryniewicz-Yarbrough. Knopf $25 (89p) ISBN 978-0-307-26753-5

Careful, profound and much celebrated in Poland, Szuber seems the logical heir, in some ways, of Czeslaw Milosz. Throughout these gravely melodious short poems, Szuber remains reverent before all manner of fleeting worldly beauties, yet prone to introspection and self-accusation, and unable to get away for long from the disastrous 20th century. One sonnet begins humbly, with “a trip to the attic sprinkled with yellow dusty loams,” but ends in fear: “Somewhere out there was history with a capital letter,/ Clouds, fathomless thunderbolts.” Szuber can sound religious, but he treasures each moment on Earth: “Don't say you can't accept/ This here,” he warns. “There will never be/ Anything else.” And though he names places and individuals, frequently Szuber still yearns for a lyric universality, as in quatrains about an old photo album: “Who in truthful verse will briefly tell/ Of eternity, impermanent as a broken fan?” Born in 1947, Szuber represents not the new voice of postcommunist Poland, but the last flowering of the world-class lyric gifts—allegorical, pious, careful, self-estranged—that grew up in the shadow of the Iron Curtain, which deserve our attention. (June)

Reviewed on: 06/15/2009
Release date: 05/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
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