They say he became deaf --- but it isn't true
the demons of his hearing worked tirelessly
and the dead lake never slept in the shells of his ears

otitis media then acuta
brought into the hearing mechanism
squeaky tones hisses

a hollow sound whistle of a thrush wooden bell of the forest
he took from it as well as he could --- a high descant of violins
undergrown by the deep blackness of basses

the list of his illnesses passions failures
is as rich as the catalogue of completed works
tympano-labyrinthine sclerosis probably syphilis

finally what had to come came --- immense stupor
mute hands thrashing dark boxes and strings
the puffed-out cheeks of angels acclaiming silence

typhus in childhood later angina pectoris arteriosclerosis
in the Cavatine quartet opus 130
you can hear shallow panting the compressed heart suffocation

messy quarrelsome with a pockmarked face
he drank beyond measure and cheaply --- beer coachman's schnapps
weakened by tuberculosis the liver refused to play

there is nothing to regret --- the creditors died
the mistresses cooks and countesses also died
princes protectors --- the candelabra sobbed

as if he were still living he borrows money scrambles
between heaven and earth to make contacts
but the moon is the moon even without the sonata


--- Zbigniew Herbert
Translated by John & Bogdana Carpenter


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