Adam Zagajewski

  • photo by Danuta Węgiel

Born in 1945, a poet, essayist, and prose writer, and one of the most famous contemporary Polish writers in the world today. He made his debut in the late 1960s as a founding member of the New Wave poetry movement, standing up against the falsifications of reality and the appropriation of language by communist ideology and propaganda. He joined Julian Kornhauser in writing the flagship book of the New Wave – a volume of sketches titled Świat nie przedstawiony [The Unrepresented World] (1974). It contained a critique of literature that avoids contact with reality, does not serve the collective, and overuses allegories. “Speak the truth you serve” reads one line from a poem by Zagajewski that became a slogan for those times.

Like other New Wave poets, particularly Stanisław Barańczak and Ryszard Krynicki, Zagajewski joined the democratic opposition in the 1970s. At the same time, his writing began to depart from the New Wave program. In the Solidarity, Solitude volume of sketches (1986) published in Paris, where he went for personal reasons a year after the outbreak of Martial Law, he underwent a major shift of focus. More important than identifying with the collective was the solitary spiritual quest, contemplating the real world and the world of art, which often intersect, and travels, which are stages of indoctrination. Subsequent collections of poems, beginning with To Go to Lvov, brought marvelous epiphanies, records of almost mystical experiences resulting from careful and sensitive observation of nature, people, works of architecture, pictures, listening to music, readings by poet friends of different generations, and philosophers.

The title of the above-mentioned volume, taken from one of its poems, introduces another important trope in Zagajewski's poetry: the lost little homeland. Zagajewski's family comes from Lvov, a multiethnic city that was an important locus of Polish culture which was incorporated within the borders of the Soviet Union after World War II, and presently belongs to Ukraine. The poet was born in 1945, in Lvov, but a few months later his family moved to Gliwice, in Upper Silesia. Memories of Lvov kept alive in the family home have nothing to do with ressentiment claims in Zagajewski's work; rather, they serve to construct the myth of an ideal city, a private Jerusalem, and the poet-exile who is forever on the road.

Zagajewski is a poet of delight, bedazzlement, affirmation and fundamental existential questions. In more recent books, he has also become an author of moving elegies, in which he converses with deceased parents and bids farewell to fading friends. He is a defender of ardor, but also of seriousness, which does not exclude humor, and the high style, which ought not to be confused with pathos; in this respect he resembles Czesław Miłosz, whom he admires and whom he befriended. The American poet C.K. Williams has noted Zagajewski's “astonishing talent for metaphors,” while Caribbean Nobel-Prize winner Derek Walcott has praised the “secular holiness” and “purpose of the missal” in his poetry books. They are always more than the sum of their parts; their inner structure, the recurring themes, and the relationships between them are just as crucial. But the universality of Zagajewski's poetry was confirmed during an extreme situation – when The New Yorker reprinted his poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The magazine's editors believed that, although the poem was written before the tragedy, it unquestionably hit the mark.



  • Komunikat, Kraków: WL, 1972.
  • Sklepy mięsne, Kraków: WL, 1975.
  • List. Oda do wielości, Paryż: Instytut Literacki, 1983.
  • Jechać do Lwowa, Londyn: Aneks, 1985.
  • Płótno, Paryż: Zeszyty Literackie, 1990.
  • Ziemia ognista, Poznań: a5, 1994.
  • Trzej aniołowie, Three Angels, Kraków: WL, 1998.
  • Pragnienie, Kraków: a5, 1999.
  • Powrót, Kraków: a5, 2003.
  • Anteny, Kraków: a5, 2005.
  • Niewidzialna ręka, Kraków: Znak, 2009
  • Wiersze wybrane, Kraków: a5, 2010.
  • Asymetria, Kraków: a5, 2014
  • Lotnisko w Amsterdamie/Airport in Amsterdam (bilingual edition of selected poems), Kraków: a5, 2016

Novels and Prose:

  • Ciepło, zimno, Warszawa: PIW, 1975.
  • Słuch absolutny, Kraków: 1979; b.m.w.: 1983.
  • Cienka kreska, Kraków: Znak, 1983.


  • Świat nieprzedstawiony (wraz z J. Kornhauserem), Kraków: WL, 1974.
  • Drugi oddech, Kraków: Znak, 1978.
  • Solidarność i samotność, Zeszyty literackie, 1986.
  • Dwa miasta, Paryż-Kraków, 1991.
  • W cudzym pięknie, Poznań: a5, 1998.
  • Obrona żarliwości, Kraków: a5, 2002.
  • Poeta rozmawia z filozofem, Zeszyty literackie, 2007.
  • Lekka przesada, Kraków: a5, 2011



  • Te shkosh ne Lvov [wybor wierszy], trans. Mazllum Saneja, Prishtine: Sheshi, 2002
  • Qyteti ku dua të jetoj [selected poems], trans. Bardhyl Londo, Tirana: Aleph, 2012


  • Të shkosh në Lvov [Jechać do Lwowa i inne wiersze; Dzikie czereśnie: wybór wierszy], trans. Mazllum Saneja. Prishtinë: Sheshi, 2002.


  • Iz żiwota na predmetite, trans. Sylwia Borisowa, Sofia: wyd. Literaturen Forum, 1997.


  • Vítr ve větvích [wybrane wiersze], Praha: BB/art, 2004.
  • Neviditelné věci [Powrót, Anteny, Niewidzialna ręka, Asymetria], trans. Michael Alexa, Ostrava: Protimluv, 2016


  • Wat zingt, is wat zwijgt: gedichten [wybór wierszy], trans. Gerard Rasch. Tilburg: Nexus Inst., 1998.
  • Mystiek voor beginners: gedichten [wybór wierszy], trans. Gerard Rasch. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, cop. 2003.


  • Tremor: selected poems, trans. Renata Gorczynski. London: Collins Harvill, 1987; New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1985, 1987.
  • Solidarity, solitude: essays [Solidarność i samotność], trans. Lillian Vallee. New York: The Ecco Press, 1990.
  • Canvas [Wybór wierszy z: Oda do wielości; Jechać do Lwowa; Płótno], trans. Renata Gorczyńska, Benjamin Ivry, C.K. Williams. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, cop. 1991, 1992.
  • Two cities: on exile, history, and the imagination [Dwa miasta], trans. Lillian Vallee. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, [1995]; Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 2002.
  • Mysticism for beginners, trans. Clare Cavanagh. London: Faber and Faber, 1998.
  • Three angels=Trzej aniołowie, trans. Clare Cavanagh [et al.]. Kraków: Wydaw. Literackie, 1998 (Wroc.: WDW).
  • Another Beaty [W cudzym pięknie], trans. Clare Cavanagh. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000; Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 2000.
  • Without end: new and selected poems, trans. Clare Cavanagh, Renata Gorczynska, Benjamin Ivry, and C. K. Williams. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.
  • A defence of ardor [Obrona żarliwości], New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004.
  • Selected poems, London: Faber and Faber, 2004.
  • Eternal Enemies, trans. Clare Cavanagh, USA: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008


  • Valitud luuletused [wybór wierszy], trans. Henryk Lindepuu, Tartu: Hendrik Lindepuu, 2010


  • Solidarité, Solitude [Solidarność i samotność], trans. Laurence Dyèvre, Editions Fayard, 1986
  • Coup de crayon [Cienka kreska], trans. Laurence Dyèvre, Editions Fayard, 1987
  • Palissade, Marronniers. Liserons. Dieu [Wybrane wiersze z: List, Oda do wielości ; Jechać do Lwowa i inne wiersze], trans. Maya Wodecka we współpracy z Claude'm Durand, Claude Durand Fayard, Paris 1989
  • La Trahison [Dwa miasta], trans. Laurence Dyèvre, Editions Fayard, 1993
  • Mystique pour débutants, autres poèmes [Ziemia Ognista; Późne święta], trans. Maya Wodecka, Michel Chandeigne, Fayard, Paris 1999
  • Dans une autre beauté [W cudzym pięknie], trans. Laurence Dyèvre, Fayard 2000
  • La défense de l’ardeur [Obrona żarliwości], trans. Laurence Dyèvre, Fayard 2008


  • Das absolute Gehör: Roman, trans. Christa Vogel. – Zürich: Unionsverl., 1982.
  • Der dünne Strich: Roman [Cienka kreska], trans. Olaf Kühl. München: C. Hanser, 1985.
  • Gedichte, trans. Karl Dedecius. München; Wien: C. Hanser, 1989.
  • Mystik für Anfänger: Gedichte [Wybór wierszy], trans. Karl Dedecius. München; Wien: C. Hanser, 1997.
  • Ich schwebe über Krakau: Erinnerungsbilder [W cudzym pięknie], trans. Henryk Bereska. München: C. Hanser, 2000.
  • Stündlich Nachrichten: Gedichte aus zehn Jahren [Wybór wierszy], trans. Karl Dedecius. Berlin: Oberbaum, 1984, 2002.
  • Die Wiesen von Burgung: ausgewählte Gedichte [Wybór wierszy], trans. Karl Dedecius. München; Wien: C. Hanser, 2003.
  • Die kleine Ewigkeit der Kunst [Lekka przesada], trans. Bernhard Hartmann, Renate Schmidgall, Monachium: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2014


  • Mîst.îqa(h) le-mathîlîm [Mistyka dla poczatkujacych], trans. Dawid Waynpeld (David Weinfeld). Tel-’Abîb: Qešeb le-Šîra(h) u-le-Masa(h), 1999.


  • Bármi is történt [wybrane wiersze], Budapest: Orpheusz, 2004.


  • Dalla vita degli oggetti [Wybór wierszy], trans. Krystyna Jaworska, Milano: Adelphi Edizioni, 2012
  • L'ordinario e il sublime. Due saggi sulla cultura contemporanea [Obrona żarliwości. Uwagi o wysokim stylu], trans. Alessandro Amenta, Bellinzona: Casagrande, 2012


  • Sveša skaistuma [Trzej aniołowie, Pragnienie, Ateny], trans. Ingmara Balode Riga: Satori, 2009


  • Du miestai [Dwa miasta], trans. Kazys Uscila, Wilno: Vaga, 2013


  • Utsikt over Kraków [Wybór wierszy], trans. Knut Johansen. Oslo: Gyldendal, 1987.


  • Putovati u Lavov [Jechać do Lwowa], trans. Petar Vujičić. Beograd: Narodna Kniga, 1988.
  • Mali Larus [Dwa miasta], trans. Biserka Rajčić. Beograd: Stubovi Kulture, 2000.
  • Platno: izabrane pesme [Płótno; Ziemia Ognista; Pragnienie], trans. Biserka Rajčić. Beograd: Stubovi Kulture, 2003.


  • Nevidljiva ruka [Niewidzialna ręka], transl. Biserka Rajčić, Belgrad: Arhipelag, 2012
  • Odbrana vatrenosti [Obrona żarliwości], transl. Biserka Rajcic, Belgrad: Arhipelag, 2013


  • Divé čerešne [Dzikie czereśnie], trans. Karol Chmiel. Bratislava: F. R. and G., 1994.


  • Mistika za začetnike: [izbrane pesmi], trans. Niko Jež. Ljubljana: Cankarjeva Založba: Društvo Sloven. Pisateljev, 1997.


  • En la belleza ajena [W cudzym pięknie], trans. Ángel Enrique Díaz-Pintado Hilario. Valencia: Pre-Textos, 2003
  • Tierra del fuego [Ziemia Ognista], trans. Xavier Farré, Barcelona: Acantilado, 2004
  • Terra del foc [Ziemia Ognista], trans. Xavier Farré, Barcelona: Quaderns Crema, 2004
  • En defensa del fervor [W obronie żarliwości], trans. J. Slawomirski i A. Rubió, Barcelona: Acantilado, 2005
  • Deseo [Pragnienie], trans. Xavier Farré, Barcelona: Acantilado, 2005
  • Dos ciudades [Dwa Miasta], trans. J. Slawomirski i A. Rubió, Barcelona: Acantilado, 2006
  • Antenas [Anteny], trans. Xavier Farré, Barcelona: Acantilado, 2007
  • Solidaridad y soledad, trans. A. Rubió i J. Slawomirski, Barcelona: Acantilado 2010.
  • Mano invisible, trans. Xavier Farré, Barcelona: Acantilado 2012.


  • Elektrisk elegi: och andra dikter [Wybór wierszy], trans. Anders Bodegård. Stockholm: Norstedts, 1993.
  • Ode till mångfalden: och andra dikter [List, Oda do wielości], trans. Anders Bodegård, Lars Kleberg. Höganäs: Bra Lyrik, 1987.
  • Två städer [Dwa miasta], trans. Anders Bodegård. Stockholm: Norstedts, 1991.
  • Törst [Wybór wierszy], trans. Anders Bodegård. Stockholm: Norstedts, 2003.
  • Antenner i regn [zbiór: "Powrót", "Anteny" i "Niewidzialna ręka"], trans. Anders Bodegård, Stockholm: Norstedts, 2011


  • W cudzym pięknie, trans. Wiktor Dmitruk, Kijów: Kalwaria, 2008