Damastes (Also Known as Procrustes) Speaks

Damastes (Also Known as Procrustes) Speaks - Zbigniew Herbert, Photographic Portrait of the Artist
Zbigniew Herbert, Photographic Portrait of the Artist

The Damastes (Also Known as Procrustes) Speaks, a poem by Zbigniew Herbert (October 29, 1924 – July 28, 1998), is included in the 6th volume of his poems entitled Report from the Besieged City and Other Poems (Raport z oblężonego Miasta i inne wiersze) – poems written between 1953 and 1982, while the volume was published by Instytut Literacki in 1983.

The important Polish poet was born in the city of Lviv (Lwów), formerly Polish, former Soviet and now Ukrainian, a city that probably forms the geographical analogy of Zbigniew Herbert’s great poetry: multicultural and multi-ethnic, since it was inhabited by Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians and Armenians, and multi-religious, since it was worshiped by active Jewish, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Ukrainian Greek Catholic communities, invites you to cogitate on the human of society and history, but also on the human existence and its metaphysics.

And Zbigniew Herbert responds to this call, without big talks and ideological bubbles, without nationalist contaminants and political engagements, embracing man, as a well-traveled poet, up to the ends of ironic poetic logos – as well as the city in which he was born.

Z. Herbert - Damastes (Also Known as Procrustes) Speaks

My movable empire between Athens and Megara
I ruled alone over forests ravines precipices
without the advice of old men foolish insignia with a simple club
dressed only in the shadow of a wolf
and terror caused by the sound of the word Damastes

I lacked subjects that is I had them briefly
they didn’t live as long as dawn however it is slander
to say I was a bandit as the falsifiers of history claim

in reality I was a scholar and social reformer
my real passion was anthropometry

I invented a bed with the measurements of a perfect man
I compared the travelers I caught with this bed
it was hard to avoid–I admit–stretching limbs cutting legs
the patients died but the more there were who perished
the more I was certain my research was right
the goal was noble progress demands victims

I longed to abolish the difference between the high and the low
I wanted to give a single form to disgustingly varied humanity
I never stopped in my efforts to make people equal

my life was taken by Theseus the murderer of the innocent Minotaur
the one who went through the labyrinth with a woman’s ball of yarn
an impostor full of tricks without principles or a vision of the future

I have the well-grounded hope others will continue my labor
and bring the task so boldly begun to its end

Translation: John Carpenter and Bogdana Carpenter

Poem by Zbigniew Herbert from the Collection Report from the Besieged City and Other Poems (Raport z Oblężonego Miasta i Inne Wiersze), 1985

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