Art & Design Magazine

The Most Beautiful is the Object Which Does Not Exist

By Told By Design @toldbydesign

Zbigniew Herbert - The Study of the Object - Photo: Langda 1963


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

[...] 6

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 makes a poetic Study of the Object that does not exist–that is not there.
According to Stanislaw Baranczak, “Herbert defines light as the absence of an object” in a poem where “an inanimate object–a chair–represents non-human nature, which art tries in vain to elevate to the rank of myth.”

Thanks to Ramon Espelt for telling me about the poem, as read in:
Herbert, Zbigniew. “Study of the Object” (“Studium przedmiotu”), in The Collected Poems, 1956-1998. New York: Ecco, 2007. Translated by Alissa Valles.

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