Zagajewski attains a scale that is epic in a poetic voice that is intimate, nearly mild. The seeming opposites — historical vision and personal tone — pervade True Life, posthumously published in an effective English translation by Clare Cavanagh ... Understated but stringent ... The surface calm avoids the customary postures of condemnation; this poetry has a blade of penetration that is less forgiving and more demanding than ordinary, rhetorical righteousness ... The poems are at an extreme of truth-telling. They deploy understatement like a talisman as they enter the grandly menacing yet oblivious borderland of our worst human doings.
Deftly translated ... The collection’s 54 poems reveal Zagajewski still at his life’s work of conveying that double experience, still praising the mutilated world, and still showing how the mood of a moment might apply to a moment to come as much as a past moment ... His subtle seesawings...throughout the book are tonal as well, somber and comic, elegiac and celebratory, beautifully traversing not only time and history but also the various registers of cognition and affect ... Zagajewski never indulges himself in moral certitude or gets mired in despair, but rather suspends himself somewhere in that chasm of apprehension ... The subdued, steady attention he pays to people and things in the past and the present creates a ruminative atmosphere infused with low-key humor, and he imbues his words with an aura of hope, or at least ongoingness ... Few poets have captured the mysterious motion through space, time, and mood that Zagajewski evokes in passing through built environments and poring over historical testaments.
Clare Cavanagh has been spinning Zagajewski’s poetry and books of essays into commonplace miracles of translation for going on thirty years ... It’s a collection filled with elegies and remembrances and dedications to loved ones ... Zagajewski’s words came to me unbidden so many times over the last year, which was a year of difficult losses, a year of writing eulogies, for different types of mothers in my life, most recently my mother-in-law. It’s like he was scripting what I saw, and making it more beautiful.