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By Adam Zagajewski

Translated by Clare Cavanagh

The day was mild, the light was generous.

The German on the café terrace

held a small book on his lap.

I caught sight of the title:

Mysticism for Beginners.

Suddenly I understood that the swallows

patrolling the streets of Montepulciano

with their shrill whistles,

and the hushed talk of timid travelers

from Eastern, so-called Central Europe,

and the white herons standing—yesterday? the day before?—

like nuns in fields of rice,

and the dusk, slow and systematic,

erasing the outlines of medieval houses,

and olive trees on little hills,

abandoned to the wind and heat,

and the head of the Unknown Princess

that I saw and admired in the Louvre,

and stained-glass windows like butterfly wings

sprinkled with pollen,

and the little nightingale practicing

its speech beside the highway,

and any journey, any kind of trip,

are only mysticism for beginners,

the elementary course, prelude

to a test that’s been



Adam Zagajewski, "Mysticism for Beginners" from Without End: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2002 by Adam Zagajewski. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, All rights reserved.

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Source: Without End: New and Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002)

  • Activities
  • Nature
  • Religion

Poet Bio

Adam Zagajewski
Adam Zagajewski was born in Lvov, Poland, in 1945; as an infant he was relocated with his family to western Poland. He lived in Berlin for a couple of years, moved to France in 1982, and has taught at universities in the United States, including the University of Houston and the University of Chicago. Zagajewski writes in Polish; many of his books of poetry and essays have been translated into English. See More By This Poet

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