In 24 All-Star Readers on the Words That Rock Their Worlds, Marina Abramovic credits Zbigniew Herbert's exceptionally beautiful poem with the ability to move her "in a state of parallel reality that is more profound than [her] own."

Study of the Object


 The most beautiful is the object
which does not exist

 it does not serve to carry water
or to preserve the ashes of a hero

 it was not cradled by Antigone
nor was a rat drowned in it

 it has no hole
and is entirely open

from every side
which means
hardly anticipated

 the hairs
of all its lines
in one stream of light

can take away the object
which does not exist


 mark the place
where stood the object
which does not exist
with a black square
it will be
a simple dirge
for the beautiful absence

 manly regret
in a quadrangle


all space
swells like an ocean

 a hurricane beats
on the black sail

 the wing of a blizzard circles
over the black square

 and the island sinks
beneath the salty increase


 now you have
empty space
more beautiful than the object
more beautiful than the place it leaves
it is the pre-world
a white paradise
of all possibilities
you may enter there
cry out
perpendicular lightning
strikes the naked horizon

 we can stop at that
anyway you have already created a world


 obey the counsels
of the inner eye

 do not yield
to murmurs mutterings smackings

 it is the uncreated world
crowding before the gates of your canvas

 angels are offering
the rosy wadding of clouds

 trees are inserting everywhere
slovenly green hair

 kings are praising purple
and commanding their trumpeters
to gild

 even the whale asks for a portrait

 obey the counsels of the inner eye
admit no one


from the shadow of the object
which does not exist
from polar space
from the stern reveries of the inner eye
a chair

 beautiful and useless
like a cathedral in the wilderness

 place on the chair
a crumpled tablecloth
add to the idea of order
the idea of adventure

 let it be a confession of faith
before the vertical struggling with the horizontal

 let it be
quieter than angels
prouder than kings
more substantial than a whale
let it have the face of the last things

 we ask reveal o chair
the depths of the inner eye
the iris of necessity
the pupil of death
—Zbigniew Herbert

From The Collected Poems, 1956-1998 (Ecco), translated by Alissa Valles.

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