Wisława Szymborska is dead
February 1, 2012 6:41 PM   Subscribe


In danger, the holothurian cuts itself in two.
It abandons one self to a hungry world
and with the other self it flees.

It violently divides into doom and salvation,
retribution and reward, what has been and what will be.

An abyss appears in the middle of its body
between what instantly become two foreign shores.

Life on one shore, death on the other.
Here hope and there despair.

If there are scales, the pans don’t move.
If there is justice, this is it.

To die just as required, without excess.
To grow back just what’s needed from what’s left.

We, too, can divide ourselves, it’s true.
But only into flesh and a broken whisper.
Into flesh and poetry.

The throat on one side, laughter on the other,
quiet, quickly dying out.

Here the heavy heart, there non omnis moriar—
just three little words, like a flight’s three feathers.

The abyss doesn’t divide us.
The abyss surrounds us.

In memoriam Halina Poświatowska
posted by R. Schlock at 6:42 PM on February 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


by Wislawa Szymborska
posted by mattbucher at 6:48 PM on February 1, 2012

This is the first time a metafilter obit post actually made my heart drop.
posted by little cow make small moo at 6:49 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

. Her poem Onion was the first poem I loved as a child.
posted by stray at 6:52 PM on February 1, 2012

posted by salishsea at 6:53 PM on February 1, 2012

posted by jann at 7:01 PM on February 1, 2012

posted by Flood at 7:02 PM on February 1, 2012

posted by deanklear at 7:03 PM on February 1, 2012

Some Like Poetry

Some -
thus not all. Not even the majority of all but the minority.
Not counting schools, where one has to,
and the poets themselves,
there might be two people per thousand.

Like -
but one also likes chicken soup with noodles,
one likes compliments and the color blue,
one likes an old scarf,
one likes having the upper hand,
one likes stroking a dog.

Poetry -
but what is poetry.
Many shaky answers
have been given to this question.
But I don't know and don't know and hold on to it
like to a sustaining railing.

I always thought that it was a little odd when people talked about crying at the news of the death of someone famous. But here I sit in tears.
posted by winna at 7:04 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

I was trying to pick one poem to leave in this thread, but I couldn't choose one, so here are a lot of poems. I'm glad she lived and lived so long and had such a full life, but I always liked knowing that Wisława Szymborska was alive and well in Kraków, so I'm sadder than I thought I'd be.
posted by Kattullus at 7:15 PM on February 1, 2012

posted by roll truck roll at 7:16 PM on February 1, 2012


"Woman, what's your name?" "I don't know."
"How old are you? Where are you from?" "I don't know."
"Why did you dig that burrow?" "I don't know."
"How long have you been hiding?" "I don't know."
"Why did you bite my finger?" "I don't know."
"Don't you know that we won't hurt you?" "I don't know."
"Whose side are you on?" "I don't know."
"This is war, you've got to choose." "I don't know."
"Does your village still exist?" "I don't know."
"Are those your children?" "Yes."

posted by holdkris99 at 7:17 PM on February 1, 2012 [15 favorites]

posted by snsranch at 7:26 PM on February 1, 2012

posted by dlugoczaj at 7:32 PM on February 1, 2012

A most heartfelt

posted by jokeefe at 7:32 PM on February 1, 2012

Dobranoc .
posted by heyho at 7:35 PM on February 1, 2012

Her work always gave me the impression of a woman who invariably used the right words in a way that poets aspire to but rarely achieve. There is a spirit of clarity in her work. Her poems illustrate things as they are but also as symbols for the things that are important in life: art, kindness, love, and shared humanity. They depict the world with wonder as if it was being seen for the first time, but that wonder is conveyed with the depth of reflection that comes from long thought.

I am going to not post any more poems after this, but I just wanted to leave this one in the thread as well. It never fails to raise goosebumps and make me cry in a sort of ecstatic release of tension. It hits me in my stomach, because it gets to the essence of what I feel about opera. I use this poem as a sort of touchstone for friendship - if I read someone this poem and they're not moved, they're not the right sort of person to like being my friend.


Poised beneath a twig-wigged tree,
she spills her sparkling vocal powder:
slippery sound slivers, silvery
like spider's spittle, only louder.

Oh yes, she Cares (with a high C)
for Fellow Humans (you and me);
for us she'll twitter nothing bitter;
she'll knit her fitter, sweeter glitter;
her vocal chords mince words for us
and crumble croutons, with crisp crunch
(lunch for her little lambs to munch)
into a cream-filled demitasse.

But hark! It's dark! Oh doom too soon!
She's threatened by the black bassoon!
It's hoarse and coarse, it's grim and gruff,
it calls her dainty voice's bluff -
Basso Profondo, end this terror,
do-re-mi mene tekel et cetera!

You want to silence her, abduct her
to our chilly life behind the scenes?
To our Siberian steppes of stopped-up sinuses,
frogs in all throats, eternal hems and haws,
where we, poor souls, gape soundlessly
like fish? And this is what you wish?

Oh nay! Oh nay! Though doom be nigh,
she'll keep her chin and pitch up high!
Her fate is hanging by a hair
of voice so thin it sounds like air,
but that's enough for her to take
a breath and soar, without a break,

chandelierward; and while she's there,
her vox humana crystal-clears
the whole world up. And we're all ears.
posted by winna at 7:40 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Die? One does not do that to a cat.
Because what's a cat to do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls.
Caress against the furniture.
It seems that nothing has changed here,
but yet things are different.
Nothing appears to have been relocated,
yet everything has been shuffled about.
The lamp no longer burns in the evenings.

Footsteps can be heard on the stairway,
but they're not the ones.
The hand which puts the fish on the platter
is not the same one which used to do it.

Something here does not begin
at its usual time.
Something does not happen quite
as it should
Here someone was and was,
then suddenly disappeared
and now is stubbornly absent
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:50 PM on February 1, 2012 [11 favorites]

Keep posting poems, please. I was going to '.', but a woman who used language the way she could deserves words, not punctuation.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:59 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


They say I looked back out of curiosity.
But I could have had other reasons.
I looked back mourning my silver bowl.
Carelessly, while tying my sandal strap.
So I wouldn't have to keep staring at the righteous nape
of my husband Lot's neck.
From the sudden conviction that if I dropped dead
he wouldn't so much as hesitate.
From the disobedience of the meek.
Checking for pursuers.
Struck by the silence, hoping God had changed his mind.
Our two daughters were already vanishing over the hilltop.
I felt age within me. Distance.
The futility of wandering. Torpor.
I looked back setting my bundle down.
I looked back not knowing where to set my foot.
Serpents appeared on my path,
spiders, field mice, baby vultures.
They were neither good nor evil now--every living thing
was simply creeping or hopping along in the mass panic.
I looked back in desolation.
In shame because we had stolen away.
Wanting to cry out, to go home.
Or only when a sudden gust of wind
unbound my hair and lifted up my robe.
It seemed to me that they were watching from the walls of Sodom
and bursting into thunderous laughter again and again.
I looked back in anger.
To savor their terrible fate.
I looked back for all the reasons given above.
I looked back involuntarily.
It was only a rock that turned underfoot, growling at me.
It was a sudden crack that stopped me in my tracks.
A hamster on its hind paws tottered on the edge.
It was then we both glanced back.
No, no. I ran on,
I crept, I flew upward
until darkness fell from the heavens
and with it scorching gravel and dead birds.
I couldn't breathe and spun around and around.
Anyone who saw me must have thought I was dancing.
It's not inconceivable that my eyes were open.
It's possible I fell facing the city.
posted by bewilderbeast at 8:03 PM on February 1, 2012 [9 favorites]

posted by bz at 8:12 PM on February 1, 2012

Could Have

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.

You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck — there was a forest.
You were in luck — there were no trees.
You were in luck — a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant …

So you’re here? Still dizzy from
another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn’t be more shocked or
how your heart pounds inside me.
posted by grounded at 8:14 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

She was my favorite living poet.

posted by painquale at 8:21 PM on February 1, 2012

I'm ashamed to say I didn't know of her work (I don't know poetry well at all; I should).

This afternoon Saul Williams shared this, of hers, on his facebook page:
“I prefer the absurdity of writing poems to the absurdity of not writing poems.”

All I thought at the time is that it was pretty, not realizing it was a memorial.

Looks like I have some reading to do.

posted by Lemurrhea at 8:29 PM on February 1, 2012


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.
posted by cdalight at 8:40 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Granted, in daily speech, where we don't stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like "the ordinary world," "ordinary life," "the ordinary course of events" ... But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone's existence in this world."

from Szymborkska's 1996 Nobel Prize Lecture.

posted by troubles at 8:48 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

On Death, without Exaggeration

It can't take a joke,
find a star, make a bridge.
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
building ships, or baking cakes.

In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.

It can't even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.

Preoccupied with killing,
it does the job awkwardly,
without system or skill.
As though each of us were its first kill.

Oh, it has its triumphs,
but look at its countless defeats,
missed blows,
and repeat attempts!

Sometimes it isn't strong enough
to swat a fly from the air.
Many are the caterpillars
that have outcrawled it.

All those bulbs, pods,
tentacles, fins, tracheae,
nuptial plumage, and winter fur
show that it has fallen behind
with its halfhearted work.

Ill will won't help
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d'etat
is so far not enough.

Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies' skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

Whoever claims that it's omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it's not.

There's no life
that couldn't be immortal
if only for a moment.

always arrives by that very moment too late.

In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you've come
can't be undone.
posted by maryr at 8:50 PM on February 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

This is the first time a metafilter obit post actually made my heart drop.

This is the first time a metafilter obit post has been favorited by me.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:02 PM on February 1, 2012

She will be deeply missed.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:23 PM on February 1, 2012

mała kropka
posted by yellowcandy at 9:26 PM on February 1, 2012

(This poem, as posted in English on 3quarksdaily, was my introduction to Szymborska. She became one of my favorite poets, and I am so sad to hear of her passing. Her words made my life immeasurably richer.)

A Thank-You Note

There is much I owe
to those I do not love.
The relief in accepting
they are closer to another.
Joy that I am not
the wolf to their sheep.

My peace be with them
for with them I am free,
and this, love can neither give,
nor know how to take.

I don't wait for them
from window to door.
Almost as patient
as a sun dial,
I understand
what love does not understand.
I forgive
what love would never have forgiven.

Between rendezvous and letter
no eternity passes,
only a few days or weeks.

My trips with them always turn out well.
Concerts are heard.
Cathedrals are toured.
Landscapes are distinct.

And when seven rivers and mountains
come between us,
they are rivers and mountains
well known from any map.

It is thanks to them
that I live in three dimensions,
in a non-lyrical and non-rhetorical space,
with a shifting, thus real, horizon.

They don't even know
how much they carry in their empty hands.

"I don't owe them anything",
love would have said
on this open topic.

posted by Westringia F. at 9:32 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by pracowity at 9:38 PM on February 1, 2012

I keep re-reading "A Cat In An Empty Apartment" and bawling into my own cat's fur.
posted by maryr at 10:22 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Maybe all this
is happening in some lab?
Under one lamp by day
and billions by night?

Maybe we’re experimental generations?
Poured from one vial to the next,
shaken in test tubes,
not scrutinized by eyes alone,
each of us separately
plucked up by tweezers in the end?

Or maybe it’s more like this:
No interference?
The changes occur on their own
according to plan?
The graph’s needle slowly etches
its predictable zigzags?

Maybe thus far we aren’t of much interest?
The control monitors aren’t plugged in?
Only for wars, preferably large ones,
for the odd ascent above our clump of earth,
for major migrations from point A to B?

Maybe just the opposite:
They’ve got a taste for trivia up there?
Look! on the big screen a little girl
is sewing a button on her sleeve.
The radar shrieks,
the staff comes at a run.
What a darling little being
with its tiny heart beating inside it!

How sweet, its solemn
threading of the needle!
Someone cries enraptured:
Get the Boss,
tell him he’s got to see this for himself!
posted by mr_roboto at 10:39 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

One of my favourite poems ever.

True Love

True love. Is it normal
is it serious, is it practical?
What does the world get from two people
who exist in a world of their own?

Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
drawn randomly from millions but convinced
it had to happen this way - in reward for what?
For nothing.
The light descends from nowhere.
Why on these two and not on others?
Doesn't this outrage justice? Yes it does.
Doesn't it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

Look at the happy couple.
Couldn't they at least try to hide it,
fake a little depression for their friends' sake?
Listen to them laughing - its an insult.
The language they use - deceptively clear.
And their little celebrations, rituals,
the elaborate mutual routines -
it's obviously a plot behind the human race's back!

It's hard even to guess how far things might go
if people start to follow their example.
What could religion and poetry count on?
What would be remembered? What renounced?
Who'd want to stay within bounds?

True love. Is it really necessary?
Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
like a scandal in Life's highest circles.
Perfectly good children are born without its help.
It couldn't populate the planet in a million years,
it comes along so rarely.

Let the people who never find true love
keep saying that there's no such thing.

Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.
posted by rahulrg at 1:56 AM on February 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Monologue of a Dog Ensnared in History

There are dogs and dogs. I was among the chosen.
I had good papers and wolf's blood in my veins.
I lived upon the heights inhaling the odors of views:
meadows in sunlight, spruces after rain,
and clumps of earth beneath the snow.
I had a decent home and people on call,
I was fed, washed, groomed,
and taken for lovely strolls.
Respectfully, though, and comme il faut.
They all knew full well whose dog I was.

Any lousy mutt can have a master.
Take care, though --- beware comparisons.
My master was a breed apart.
He had a splendid herd that trailed his every step
and fixed its eyes on him in fearful awe.

For me they always had smiles,
with envy poorly hidden.
Since only I had the right
to greet him with nimble leaps,
only I could say good-bye by worrying his trousers with my teeth.
Only I was permitted
to receive scratching and stroking
with my head laid in his lap.
Only I could feign sleep
while he bent over me to whisper something.

He raged at others often, loudly.
He snarled, barked,
raced from wall to wall.
I suspect he liked only me
and nobody else, ever.

I also had responsibilities: waiting, trusting.
Since he would turn up briefly, and then vanish.
What kept him down there in the lowlands, I don't know.
I guessed, though, it must be pressing business,
at least as pressing
as my battle with the cats
and everything that moves for no good reason.

There's fate and fate. Mine changed abruptly.
One spring came
and he wasn't there.
All hell broke loose at home.
Suitcases, chests, trunks crammed into cars.
The wheels squealed tearing downhill
and fell silent round the bend.

On the terrace scraps and tatters flamed,
yellow shirts, armbands with black emblems
and lots and lots of battered cartons
with little banners tumbling out.

I tossed and turned in this whirlwind,
more amazed than peeved.
I felt unfriendly glances on my fur.
As if I were a dog without a master,
some pushy stray
chased downstairs with a broom.

Someone tore my silver-trimmed collar off,
someone kicked my bowl, empty for days.
Then someone else, driving away,
leaned out from the car
and shot me twice.

He couldn't even shoot straight,
since I died for a long time, in pain,
to the buzz of impertinent flies.
I, the dog of my master.
posted by FunGus at 2:17 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Samuel Farrow at 2:51 AM on February 2, 2012

posted by ruelle at 3:40 AM on February 2, 2012

I have been reading MeFi for many many years.
Reading about Szymborska's death here, I lost my breath.
I felt compelled to finally signup so I could post this...


I can't speak for elsewhere
but here on Earth we've got a fair supply of everything.
Here we manufacture chairs and sorrows,
scissors, tenderness, transistors, violins,
teacups, dams, and quips.

There may be more of everything elsewhere,
but for reasons left unspecified they lack paintings,
picture tubes, pierogies, handkerchiefs for tears.

Here we have countless places with vicinities.
You may take a liking to some,
give them pet names,
protect them from harm.

There may be comparable places elsewhere
but no one thinks they're beautiful.

Like nowhere else, or almost nowhere,
you're given your own torso here,
equipped with the accessories required
for adding your own children to the rest.
Not to mention arms, legs, and astounded head.

Ignorance works overtime here,
something is always being counted, compared, measured,
from which roots and conclusions are then drawn.

I know, I know what you're thinking.
Nothing here can last,
since from and to time immemorial the elements hold sway.

But see, even the elements grow weary
and sometimes take extended breaks
before starting up again.

And I know what you're thinking next.
Wars, wars, wars.
But there are pauses in between them too.
Attention! -- people are evil.
At east -- people are good.
At attention wastelands are created.
At ease houses are constructed in the sweat of brows,
and quickly inhabited.

Life on Earth is quite a bargain.
Dreams, for one, don't charge admission.
Illusions are costly only when lost.
The body has its own installment plan.

And as an extra, added feature,
you spin on the planets' carousel for free,
and with it you hitch a ride on the intergalactic blizzard,
with times so dizzying
that nothing here on Earth can even tremble.

Just take a closer look:
the table stands exactly where it stood,
the piece of paper still lies where it was spread,
through the open window comes a breath of air,
the walls reveal no terrifying cracks
through which nowhere might extinguish you.

(translated by Clare Cavanagh & Stanisław Barańczak)
posted by kokaku at 3:53 AM on February 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

posted by mixing at 3:59 AM on February 2, 2012

Truly in the pantheon.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:32 AM on February 2, 2012

A Note

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it's not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble upon a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;
and to keep on not knowing
something important.

posted by faineant at 5:14 AM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I once received 2nd prize in a poetry slam for reciting "Trzy słowa najdziwniejsze." Here's my . and the poem itself:

Kiedy wymawiam słowo Przyszłość,

pierwsza sylaba odchodzi już do przeszłości.

Kiedy wymawiam słowo Cisza,

niszczę ją.

Kiedy wymawiam słowo Nic,

stwarzam coś, co nie mieści się w żadnym niebycie.
posted by orrnyereg at 5:29 AM on February 2, 2012

Thank you all for this place.
posted by hat_eater at 7:23 AM on February 2, 2012

Thank you all for the poetry.
posted by incandissonance at 8:00 AM on February 2, 2012

Wonderful woman.
posted by bodywithoutorgans at 8:13 AM on February 2, 2012

Well no one's posted I'm Working on the World yet, so here it is, too.
posted by little cow make small moo at 8:23 AM on February 2, 2012

Life While-You-Wait

Life While-You-Wait.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.

I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it's mine. I can't exchange it.

I have to guess on the spot
just what this play's all about.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can't conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and impulses you can't take back,
stars you'll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run ?
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.

If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven't seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn't even clear my throat offstage).

You'd be wrong to think that it's just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I'm standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there's no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I've done.
posted by Twicketface at 8:36 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not familiar with Szymborska, but have teary eyes from reading her poetry posted in this thread. Thank you
posted by arcticwoman at 8:37 AM on February 2, 2012

The End and the Beginning

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone must drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone must glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

Again we’ll need bridges
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls how it was.
Someone listens
and nods with unsevered head.
Yet others milling about
already find it dull.

From behind the bush
sometimes someone still unearths
rust-eaten arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must give way to
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass which has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out,
blade of grass in his mouth,
gazing at the clouds.

(translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak)
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:14 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


My favorite poet. And my favorite poem:

Conversation with a Stone

I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in.
I want to enter your insides,
have a look round,
breathe my fill of you."

"Go away," says the stone.
"I'm shut tight.
Even if you break me to pieces,
we'll all still be closed.
You can grind us to sand,
we still won't let you in."

I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in.
I've come out of pure curiosity.
Only life can quench it.
I mean to stroll through your palace,
then go calling on a leaf, a drop of water.
I don't have much time.
My mortality should touch you."

"I'm made of stone," says the stone,
"and must therefore keep a straight face.
Go away.
I don't have the muscles to laugh."

I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in.
I hear you have great empty halls inside you,
unseen, their beauty in vain,
soundless, not echoing anyone's steps.
Admit you don't know them well yourself."

"Great and empty, true enough," says the stone,
"but there isn't any room.
Beautiful, perhaps, but not to the taste
of your poor senses.
You may get to know me, but you'll never know me through.
My whole surface is turned toward you,
all my insides turned away."

I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in.
I don't seek refuge for eternity.
I'm not unhappy.
I'm not homeless.
My world is worth returning to.
I'll enter and exit empty-handed.
And my proof I was there
will be only words,
which no one will believe."

"You shall not enter," says the stone.
"You lack the sense of taking part.
No other sense can make up for your missing sense of taking part.
Even sight heightened to become all-seeing
will do you no good without a sense of taking part.
You shall not enter, you have only a sense of what that sense should be,
only its seed, imagination."

I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in.
I haven't got two thousand centuries,
so let me come under your roof."

"If you don't believe me," says the stone,
"just ask the leaf, it will tell you the same.
Ask a drop of water, it will say what the leaf has said.
And, finally, ask a hair from your own head.
I am bursting with laughter, yes, laughter, vast laughter,
although I don't know how to laugh."

I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in."

"I don't have a door," says the stone.
posted by cacophony at 11:35 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am so sad about this. She was a great poet.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:08 PM on February 2, 2012

Thank you for posting her poems; all I knew of her were her name and Nobel Prize.

I couldn't find this information readily: did she only write in Polish? Are there any MeFites who can comment on the quality and accuracy of the translations in conveying her voice? Particularly a work like "Coloratura" seems to be working to convey a very specific sort of wordplay


posted by the sobsister at 1:01 PM on February 2, 2012

posted by Cash4Lead at 2:00 PM on February 2, 2012

I couldn't really function well at work that morning I learned she passed away. I had a book of her poems in my bag that time and I brought it out and placed it on top of my work.

I'm posting below one of my favorites from her. It validates some of the choices I made in my life and is also a source of comfort and pride.

Rest in Peace Wislawa. Rest well in peace.


By Wislawa Szymborska

I believe in the great discovery.
I believe in the man who will make the discovery.
I believe in the fear of the man who will make the discovery.

I believe in his face going white,
His queasiness, his upper lip drenched in cold sweat.

I believe in the burning of his notes,
burning them into ashes,
burning them to the last scrap.

I believe in the scattering of numbers,
scattering them without regret.

I believe in the man's haste,
in the precision of his movements,
in his free will.

I believe in the shattering of tablets,
the pouring out of liquids,
the extinguishing of rays.

I am convinced this will end well,
that it will not be too late,
that it will take place without witnesses.

I'm sure no one will find out what happened,
not the wife, not the wall,
not even the bird that might squeal in its song.

I believe in the refusal to take part.
I believe in the ruined career.
I believe in the wasted years of work.
I believe in the secret taken to the grave.

These words soar for me beyond all rules
without seeking support from actual examples.
My faith is strong, blind, and without foundation.
posted by thumbwhole at 2:34 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Peach at 4:37 PM on February 2, 2012

posted by goodglovin77 at 9:56 PM on February 2, 2012

Are there any MeFites who can comment on the quality and accuracy of the translations in conveying her voice?

I'm neither a poet, nor a poetry lover, but I loved her poetry. And judging from the sample in this thread, I think the translations are congenial.
posted by hat_eater at 3:19 AM on February 3, 2012

This is really, really sad news. She was a great modern poet, and her work has meant a lot to me over the last year. This is probably my favorite of her poems:

A Little Girl Tugs at the Tablecloth
(translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak)

She’s been in this world for over a year,
and in this world not everything’s been examined
and taken in hand.

The subject of today’s investigation
is things that don’t move themselves.

They need to be helped along,
shoved, shifted,
taken from their pace and relocated.

They don’t all want to go, e,g., the bookshelf,
the cupboard, the unyielding walls, the table.

But the tablecloth on the stubborn table
- when well-seized by its hems –
manifests a willingness to travel.

And the glasses, plates,
creamer, spoons, bowl,
are fairly shaking with desire.

It’s fascinating,
what form of motion will they take,
once they’re trembling on the brink:
will they roam across the ceiling?
fly around the lamp?
hop onto the windowsill and from there to a tree?

Mr. Newton still has no say in this.
Let him look down from the heavens and wave his hands.

This experiment must be completed.
And it will.

I'm not sure about posting two poems, so here's a link to the first poem of hers that I read, which is all the more haunting just now: An Interview with Atropos

Rest in peace.
posted by Bufo_periglenes at 4:31 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by rebennett at 8:36 AM on February 3, 2012

« Older Sergei Bondarchuk's "War and Peace"   |   Saxophonics Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments