I have just finished reading a poetry collection that was the best I have read in half a century. Over the past month or two, I have read several poems by Adam Zagajewski (1945-2021). His Mysticism for Beginners is full of startling images, deep insights, and even clarity, which is rare in contemporary poetry. Here is the first poem in the book:
A Quick Poem
I was listening to Gregorian chants in a speeding car on a highway in France. The trees rushed past. Monks’ voices sang praises to an unseen God (at dawn, in a chapel trembling with cold). Domine, exaudi orationem meam, male voices pleaded calmly as if salvation were just growing in the garden. Where was I going? Where was the sun hiding? My life lay tattered on both sides of the road, brittle as a paper map. With the sweet monks I made my way toward the clouds, deep blue, heavy, dense, toward the future, the abyss, gulping hard tears of hail. Far from dawn. Far from home. In place of walls—sheet metal. Instead of a vigil—a flight. Travel instead of remembrance. A quick poem instead of a hymn. A small, tired star raced up ahead and the highway’s asphalt shone, showing where the earth was, where the horizon’s razor lay in wait, and the black spider of evening and night, widow of so many dreams.