I’d never heard of despite her having won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but a friend Bistra sent me a book of her poems, almost all of them it seems–and what a marvellous gift. I’ve read my way right through the book and greatly enjoyed the poems. They are easy to read and yet resonate through the mind. I could hardly believe that the poems were translations: perhaps her poems are particularly easy to translate, although the translators explain that some poems were just too hard to translate.
Szymborska achieves what every poet strives for–a unique voice and being able to say important things about the world that cannot be said in any other way. Here is a link to quotes I took from the book:
Whoever’s found out what location
compassion (heart’s imagination)
can be contacted at these days,
is herewith urged to name the place;
and sing about it in full voice,
and dance like crazy and rejoice
beneath the frail birch that appears
to be upon the verge of tears.
I teach silence
in all languages
through intensive examination of
the starry sky,
the Sinanthropus’ jaws,
a grasshopper’s hop,
an infant’s fingernails
I restore love.
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You lie in last year’s grass
bathed in sunlight to the chin
while winds of summers past
caress your hair and seem
to lead you to a dance.
For further details, write “Dream.”
One day, perhaps, some idle tongue
Mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
Into the room, all hue and scent.
So will I, love’s silly pawn,
With my heart, my joy, my crown,
My heart broken, my joy gone,
My crown tumbling on the ground.
Is there a world
Where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?
The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand
Nothing’s sacred for those who think.
calling things brazenly by name
risqué analyses, salacious syntheses,
frenzied, rakish chases after the bare facts,
the filthy fingering of touchy subjects,
discussions in heat–it’s music to their ears.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems
I prefer the Grimm’s fairy stories to the newspapers’ front pages
We’re extremely fortunate
Not to know precisely
The kind of world we live in.
but what is poetry anyway?
More than one rickety answer
has tumbled since that question was first raised.
But I just keep on not knowing, and I cling to that
like a redemptive handrail.
Oh these other feelings
Since when does brotherhood
ever finished first?
Does doubt ever really rouse the rabble?
Only hatred has what it takes.
There is so much Everything
that Nothing is hidden quite nicely.
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open half way through.
If there are angels
I doubt they read
concerning thwarted hopes.
The Three Oddest Words
When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.
When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.
When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no non-being can hold.
I’d have to be really quick
to describe clouds –
a split second’s enough
for them to start being something else.
they don’t repeat a single
shape, shade, pose, arrangement.
Unburdened by memory of any kind,
they float easily over the facts.
What on earth could they bear witness to?
They scatter whenever something happens.
Compared to clouds,
life rests on solid ground,
practically permanent, almost eternal.
Next to clouds
even a stone seems like a brother,
someone you can trust,
while they’re just distant, flighty cousins.
Let people exist if they want,
and then die, one after another:
clouds simply don’t care
what they’re up to
And so their haughty fleet
cruises smoothly over your whole life
and mine, still incomplete.
They aren’t obliged to vanish when we’re gone.
They don’t have to be seen while sailing on.
I am who I am.
a coincidence no less unthinkable
than any other.