Zbigniew Herbert’s Prayer Poem

For P.C., on a perfect Sunday …

Prayer of Mr. Cogito—Traveler


I thank You for creating the world beautiful and very diverse

also for permitting me in Your inexhaustible goodness to be in places that were not the places of my everyday torment


—that at night in Tarquinia I lay down in a square near a well and the swinging bronze from a tower announced Your wrath or forgiveness

while a small donkey on the island of Corfu sang to me from his incredible bellows lungs the melancholy of the landscape

and in the ugly city of Manchester I discovered people who were sensible and good

nature repeated its wise tautologies: the forest was a forest the sea was the sea rock was rock

stars moved in circles and it was as it should be—Jovis omnia plena

—forgive me that I thought only of myself when the lives of others turned circled around me cruelly irreversible like the great astrological clock of Saint Peter’s in Beauvais

that I was lazy absent-minded too careful in labyrinths and grottos

forgive me also that I didn’t fight like Lord Byron for the happiness of captive peoples that I watched only risings of the moon and museums

—thank You that the works created for Your glory let me share a particle of their secret and I imagined in my great presumptuousness that Duccio Van Eyck Bellini painted also for me

and also the Acropolis which to the end I never understood patiently laying bare before me its mutilated body

—I ask You to reward the ancient white-haired man who brought me fruit from his garden without being asked on the burnt island where the son of Laertes was born

as well as Miss Helen of the misty island of Mull in the Hebrides who received me in a Greek manner and asked me to leave a lit lamp by the window at night facing holy Iona so the land’s lights could greet each other

also all those who showed me the road and said kato kyrie kato

and take under Your protection Mama from Spoleto Spiridion of Paxos the good student from Berlin who saved me in a difficult moment then unexpectedly met me in Arizona and drove me to the Grand Canyon which is like a hundred thousand cathedrals with their heads turned downward

—permit me O Lord not to think about my watery-eyed gray foolish persecutors when the sun sinks into the Ionian Sea truly indescribable

permit that I understand other people other tongues other sufferings

and above all else let me be humble which means he who desires the spring

thank You Lord for creating the world beautiful and diverse

and if it is Your seduction I am seduced forever and with no forgiveness

~ Zbigniew Herbert