The Fable About A Nail

written by Zbigniew Herbert

The Fable About A Nail

— Zbigniew Herbert

For lack of a nail the kingdom has fallen
—according to the wisdom of nursery schools—but in our kingdom
there have been no nails for a long time there aren’t and won’t be
either the small ones for hanging a picture
on a wall or large ones for closing a coffin

but despite this or maybe because of it
the kingdom persists and is even admired by others
how can one live without a nail paper or string
bricks oxygen freedom and whatever else
obviously one can since the kingdom lasts and lasts

people live in homes in our country not in caves
factories smoke on the steppe a train runs through the tundra
and a ship bleats on the cold ocean
there is an army and police an official seal hymn and flag
in appearance everything like anywhere in the world

but only in appearance for our kingdom
is not a creation of nature or a human creation
seemingly permanent built on the bones of mammoths
in reality it is weak as if brought to a stop
between act and thought being and nonbeing

what is real—a leaf and a stone—falls
but spectres live long obstinately despite
the rising and setting of the sun revolutions of heavenly bodies
on the shamed earth fall the tears of objects

About the poet


Zbigniew Herbert

a Polish poet, essayist, drama writer, author of plays, and moralist. A member of the Polish resistance movement, Home Army (AK), during World War II, he is one of the best known and the most translated post-war Polish writers. While he was first published in the 1950's (a volume titled String of light was issued in 1956), soon after he voluntarily ceased submitting most of his works to official Polish government publications. He resumed publication in the 1980's, initially in the underground press. He was a distant relative of the 17th century poet George Herbert. Herbert was educated as an economist and a lawyer. Herbert was one of the main poets of the Polish opposition to communism. Starting in 1986, he lived...

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