Wisława Szymborska: a poet with a unique voice who expresses things that only poetry can say

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


a snowflake.


I restore love.

Act now! Special offer!

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

listless weaklings.

Since when does brotherhood

draw crowds?

Has compassion

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.


Every beginning

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

our novels

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.


Their trademark:

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

down there.


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.



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