I love poetry, and cities, and poetry about cities, and I’ve been enjoying Adam Zagajewski’s “Jechać do Lwowa” for a while now in an English translation by Renata Gorczynski, which starts:

To go to Lvov. Which station
for Lvov, if not in a dream, at dawn, when dew
gleams on a suitcase, when express
trains and bullet trains are being born. To leave
in haste for Lvov, night or day, in September
or in March. But only if Lvov exists,
if it is to be found within the frontiers and not just
in my new passport, if lances of trees
—of poplar and ash—still breathe aloud
like Indians, and if streams mumble
their dark Esperanto, and grass snakes like soft signs
in the Russian language disappear
into thickets. …

The Polish original is here, along with an en face translation into Russian (“Поехать во Львов”), and here’s a different Russian translation by Aleksandr Medyanik (“Ехать во Львов”)—if you know Russian, comparing the two is a very interesting exercise. (The first has “С какого вокзала ехать” [from which station to leave] for “Z którego dworca jechać,” the second “С какого перрона ехать [from which platform to leave]”—I have no idea which is more accurate.) I almost certainly originally found the poem, in one version or another, at Poemas del río Wang, for which the anciently multicultural city of Lwów/Lemberg/Lemberik/Leopolis/L’vov/L’viv has always been a touchstone.


  1. David Marjanović says

    Has to be “station”. “Platform” is, unsurprisingly, peron.

  2. Yes, that’s the translation posted at rio Wang last September

  3. I love those snakes.
    And as a writer (and I also love city-based poems), I’d suggest that people take a second look at Frank O’Hara. He just knocks me out.

  4. Oh, that’s a wonderful poem. Thanks Hat. It would make a strange and beautiful bossa nova!

  5. If you like poetry about cities, i recommend Jorge Luis Borges one.

  6. Thank you, Language, for quoting it, and thank you, Dmitry, for pointing to my post with the full Gorczynski translation. Yes, Lwów/L’viv/etc is like this, a city of many layers and memories, many beauties and secrets. After several years of going there and living there again and again, I am just working on a small guide of the city, presenting at least some of those beauties, memories and secrets. If you are interested in it, sign up at my e-mail at río Wang, and I will send you a free e-book version once I will have finished it.
    For hispanohablantes, I call your attention to the beautiful Spanish translation of the poem by the renowned Polish-Spanish translator Elżbieta Bortkiewicz, published in the Spanish version of río Wang:

  7. I’ve never been a city-dweller myself, but the idea of a city, of belonging to a city, has a lot of power for me. I have occasionally dreamed up cities in my sleep. One thing I love about the first Dire Straits album is how full it is of someone’s experience(s) of London.

Speak Your Mind