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.


God sends good gifts and blessings in sleep

Sleeplessness and the incapacity for leisure are really related to one another in a special sense, and a man at leisure is not unlike a man asleep. …Or as the Book of Job says, “God giveth songs in the night” (Job xxxv, 10). Moreover, it has always been a pious belief that God sends good gifts and blessings in sleep. …It is in these silent and receptive moments that the soul of man is sometimes visisted by an awareness of what holds the world together … only for a moment perhaps, and the lightning vision of his intuition has to be recaptured and rediscovered in hard work. (41-42)

From Leisure: the Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper (1952).

And I am reminded of this poem by Czeslaw Milosz:


I looked out the window at dawn and saw a young apple tree
translucent in brightness.

And when I looked out at dawn once again, an apple tree laden with
fruit stood there.

Many years had probably gone by but I remember nothing of what
happened in my sleep.

stand in the glow of ripeness


Czesław Miłosz

Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart.
Without knowing it, from various ills –
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.

Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.

Thanks to Hallie for singling out this poem. I owe thanks to a common friend for my small enjoyment of poetry. It is good to read more by Miłosz.

therefore call one man

Today several friends spent the morning together reading poetry connected to Pentecost (June 12 on the church calendar). I had several other passages vying in my mind for today, but this poem by Czeslaw Milosz drove them all out for now.


Come, Holy Spirit,
bending or not bending the grasses,
appearing or not above our heads in a tongue of flame,
at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow
covers crippled firs in the Sierra Nevada.
I am only a man: I need visible signs.
I tire easily, building the stairway of abstraction.
Many a time I asked, you know it well, that the statue in church
lift its hand, only once, just once, for me.
But I understand that signs must be human,
therefore call one man, anywhere on earth,
not me–after all I have some decency–
and allow me, when I look at him, to marvel at you.

Berkeley, 1961

And here’s a little background on the poet:

Miłosz wrote all his poetry, fiction and essays in Polish and translated the Old Testament Psalms into Polish.

…In 1980 Miłosz received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Since his works had been banned in Poland by the communist government, this was the first time that many Poles became aware of him.

…Through the Cold War, Miłosz’s name was often invoked in the United States, particularly by conservative commentators such as William F. Buckley, Jr., usually in the context of Miłosz’s 1953 book The Captive Mind. During that period, his name was largely passed over in silence in government-censored media and publications in Poland.

The Captive Mind has been described as one of the finest studies of the behavior of intellectuals under a repressive regime. Miłosz observed that those who became dissidents were not necessarily those with the strongest minds, but rather those with the weakest stomachs; the mind can rationalize anything, he said, but the stomach can take only so much. (