The leading Polish poet still residing in his native land, Zbigniew Herbert as not been the subject of a book-length study in English until now. Stanislaw Baranczak, himself a poet, critic, and translator, emigrated from Poland only in 1981, and is therefore eminently qualified to supply a politico-cultural context for Herbert while describing and analyzing the texts and themes of his poems.
Herbert’s poetry is based on permanent confrontation—the confrontation of Western tradition with the experience of a “barbarian” from Eastern Europe, of the classical past with the modern era, of cultural myth with a practical, empirical point of view. Baranczak illustrates these oppositions by examining, first, the complex relations between “disinheritance” and “heritage” as they appear in Herbert’s work on various structural levels, from symbolic key words to lyrical characters; second, the forms and functions of Herbert’s “unmasking metaphor”; third, his uses of irony; fourth, his ethical system, which enables him to be both ironist and moralist. Baranczak pays special attention to irony as the most conspicuous feature of Herbert’s poetic method.
A Fugitive from Utopia makes Herbert’s poetic ideas fully accessible to the general reader, and will also be of interest to students of Polish literature, of East European culture and society, and of modern poetry. Those who have already encountered Herbert’s poetry in one of the several translations into English currently available will welcome this lucid explication of his work.