The Cello Has Many Secrets Texts

Movement 1


Madam Death, I am writing to request

that you kindly take into consideration

an extension of my liability to

the institution headed by you

for so many centuries. You, Madam,

are a master, a violent sport,

a delicate ax, the pope, velvet lips,

scissors. I don’t flatter you. I beg

I don’t demand. In my defense I have

only silence, dew on the grass, a nightingale

among the branches. You forgive it,

its long tenure in the leaves of one aspen

after another, drops of eternity, grams

of amazement, and the sleepy complaints of the poor poets

whose passports you didn’t renew.

Movement 3


It is small and no more visible than a cricket

in August. It likes to dress up, to masquerade,

as all dwarfs do. It lodges between

granite blocks, between serviceable

truths. It even fits under

a bandage, under adhesive. Neither customs officers

nor their beautiful dogs will find it. Between

hymns, between alliances, it hides itself.

It camps in the Rocky Mountains of the skull.

An eternal refugee. It is I and I,

with the fearful hope that I have found at last

a friend, am it. But the self

is so lonely, so distrustful, it does not

accept anyone, even me.

It clings to historical events

no less tightly than water to a glass.

It could fill a Neolithic jar.

It is insatiable, it wants to flow

in aqueducts, it thirsts for newer and newer vessels.

It wants to taste space without walls,

diffuse itself, diffuse itself. Then it fades away

like desire, and in the silence of an August

night you hear only crickets patiently

conversing with the stars.

Movement 5


Those who don’t like it say it’s

just a mutant violin

that’s been kicked out of the chorus.

Not so.

The cello has many secrets,

but it never sobs,

just sings in its low voice.

Not everything turns into song

though. Sometimes you catch

a murmur or a whisper:

I’m lonely,

I can’t sleep.

Poems by Adam Zagajewski

To… and The Self translated by Renata Gorczynski

Cello translated by Clare Cavanagh

Reprinted by permission from WITHOUT END: New and Selected Poems by Adam Zagajewski.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.