the pebble is a perfect creature equal to itself

Here is the original English translation (1968) of Zbigniew Herbert’s poem “Kamyk” by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott:

the pebble
is a perfect creature
equal to itself
mindful of its limits
filled exactly
with a pebbly meaning
with a scent that does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire
its ardour and coldness
are just and full of dignity
I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth
—Pebbles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

Notes: Peter Dale Scott later recommended that the poem’s first line should have been translated “a pebble…” instead of “the pebble” and also that the closing line should read: “with an eye calm and very clear.” This poem can also be found online in a slightly differing translation in which “stone” replaces “pebble” and the origin of which I cannot find.

For another beautiful poem about stones, see this poem by Charles Simic.

 

a creation every moment

For Preservation is a Creation; and more, it is a continued Creation, and a creation every moment.

From The Country Parson by George Herbert (1652 ed., chap. XXXIV) quoted in Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (111). Here are two other references to this theme by Robinson shortly afterward:

There’s a mystery in the thought of the re-creation of an old man as an old man, with all the defects and injuries of what is called long life faithfully preserved in him, and all their claims and all their tendencies honored, too, as in the steady progress of arthritis in my left knee. I have thought sometimes that the Lord must hold the whole of our lives in memory, so to speak. Of course He does. And “memory” is the wrong word, no doubt. But the finger I broke sliding into second base when I was twenty two years old is crookeder than ever, and I can interpret that fact as an intimate attention, taking Herbert’s view. [115]

…I always imagine divine mercy giving us back to ourselves and letting us laugh at what we became, laugh at the preposterous disguises of crouch and squint and limp and lour we all do put on. [117-118]

she sinks to the bottom of surprise

Wit Stwosz: The Dormition of the Virgin

Golden mantles ripple like tents before a storm
a surge of hot purple lays chests and feet bare
the cedar apostles raise their enormous heads
a beard dark as an ax hovers over the heights

The woodcarvers’ fingers bloom. A miracle eludes
their grasp so they grasp at air–stormy as strings
Stars grow turbid in the sky they make music too
but it doesn’t reach earth it stays high as the moon

And Mary falls asleep. She sinks to the bottom
of surprise. Tender eyes hold her in a fragile net
she falls upward as a stream runs through fingers
and they bend with effort over the building cloud

by Zbigniew Herbert, 1990
(an impression of Wit Stwosz’ carved altarpiece in the Basilica Mariacka, Kraków)