Transformation by Adam Zagajewski
Translated by Clare CavanaghI haven’t written a single poem
I’ve lived humbly, reading the paper,
pondering the riddle of power
and the reasons for obedience.
I’ve watched sunsets
I’ve heard the birds grow quiet
and night’s muteness.
I’ve seen sunflowers dangling
their heads at dusk, as if a careless hangman
had gone strolling through the gardens.
September’s sweet dust gathered
on the windowsill and lizards
hid in the bends of walls.
I’ve taken long walks,
craving one thing only:
What keeps you going? That’s a question I’ve asked myself countless times this past month. Or perhaps a variation of: How do I go on? How long will this last? It’s tough, waiting it out, that black wave. How you try to survive in the meantime, how you are barely a version of yourself.
I find myself drawn to this poem—a meditation on the human need for growth, the rekindling of the creative spirit, and the powerful connection between nature and art. Zagajewski’s language is unadorned and direct, as it lays bare the yearning, that deep urge. Have you ever wanted this much? Have you ever looked in the pit of your heart? And what did you see?
Zagajewski paints vivid images of the natural world—the anxious, crimson sunsets resonate deeply with me, as they embody a sense of urgency and anticipation. The sunflowers, with their heads drooping at dusk, convey a sense of despair and the passage of time. Even the night is punctuated by the silence of birds—and yet isn’t it all fertile ground? The poet walks a path and desires for change.
What is the powerful bond between nature and creativity? Between the aging self and artistic renewal? As a poet, I am intimately familiar with the struggle to reconnect with one’s art, and this poem serves as a reminder that growth, transformation, and reconnection often stem from a deep emotional connection to the world around us and the people we long for.
What have I ever really wanted, in this life where I am but a tiny speck in the universe. Have I ever wished for lightning as a form of creative awakening—yes. Have I ever longed for my art to have a place in this world—yes. Have I ever ached to be someone’s beloved, most of all? A thousand times yes.
This poem appeared in Mysticism for Beginners by Adam Zagajewski, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. Shared here with profound gratitude.
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