January 1986-December 1991: Fifth Sojourn in the West

His last and longest, nearly six year sojourn abroad, began on January 31, 1986. At first the Herberts resided at the Instytut Literacki [Literary Institute] in Maisons-Laffitte, though they quickly moved to an apartment provided by Paris’s Mayor’s Office, near Hébrard’s Mall. During those years the poet was troubled by numerous health and financial problems. Nevertheless he did undertake several short trips abroad (to Germany from November 1986 to January 1987, then to The Netherlands in June 1988, to Italy in 1989 and 1990, to Israel in May 1991 and to Spain in September 1991) as well as escapades all over France.

During his Paris stay, the Instytut Literacki [Literary Institute] published his seventh tome of poems – Elegię na odejście [Elegy for the Departure] in 1990.

Herbert also prepared materials and made notes for his essays about Dutch painters (Vermeer, Rembrandt, Saenredam, Seghers, Duyster). Altichier and the history of the “Ideal Conformist” Jacque Louis David fascinated him for a long time, though the fruit of his interest ended up as only a few short sketches.

He spent all of 1991 preparing an answer to Czesław Miłosz’s Rok Myśliwego [The Year of the Hunter] – a book to be titled Rok Jagnięcia [The Year of the Lamb], that never left the planning stage, with only the briefest of preparatory notes.

Tired and in poor health he decided to return, and in December 1991 departed for Poland, with brief stays in Amsterdam and Berlin.

I found my Diaspora friends in good health. Adaś Zagajewski ministers to our numerous needs, spiritual and physical. He is truly invaluable. Our plans are hazy (PRL lineage); for the present we are looking for somewhere to live. I hope to learn to appreciate the logic of “operation rest in the West” with time, for now we keep our spirits high.

(Excerpt from a letter to Stanisław Barańczak, Mesnil-le-Roi, February 16 1986)

Kasia is in Warsaw, whilst I am still hard at work and much fatigued. I collected the Jerusalem Prize a month ago. Beautiful country, though excruciatingly difficult (V° of difficulty) for the independent tourist; I will die as one.

(Excerpt from a letter to Magdalena and Zbigniew Czajkowski, Paris, June 2 1991)

The main aim has been achieved: I conquered MASADA on foot 3 days before my departure, walking on foot, up the Snake Path, without breakfast (the hotel forgot to wake me – ach, Jerusalem hotels, I will not remember you well), without water, in the wrong shoes, though I made it in under 3 quarters of an hour.

(Excerpt from a letter to David Weinfeld, Paris, June 9 1991)