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Spotlight on Wislawa Szymborska - Cultivating Poetry and Poetic Criticism [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Cultivating Poetry and Poetic Criticism

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Spotlight on Wislawa Szymborska [Jun. 12th, 2005|03:40 am]
Cultivating Poetry and Poetic Criticism


Wislawa Szymborska should be a rather well known Polish writer, as she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, at the age of seventy-three (she's one of the few women to win said prize). Polish poet and translator, she was born in Bnin, Poland in 1931 and never left her country. She was interested in the theatre as a youth, but after the war studied literature and sociology, and worked as a poetry editor and columnist.

'Her early works were born more or less within the straitjacket of the Socialist Realism. Later she has expressed her pessimism about the future of mankind. While skepticism has marked Szymborska's views of the human condition, it has not stopped her from believing in the power of words and the joy arising from imagination. Szymborska often uses ordinary speech and proverbs but gives them a fresh and arresting meaning.

As a poet Szymborska made her debut with the poem Szukam slowa which was published in the newspaper Dziennik Polski in 1945. Three years later she finished her fist collection of poems, but the book was not published. The Communist had gained power tightening their cultural policy and Szymborska's work was considered too complex and bourgeois. She returned to the work, made it more political and her first collection DLAGTEGO ZYJEMY, appeared in 1952. Szymborska has also published collections of literary columns, several of which first appeared in Zycie Literacia.

Like many Poles, Szymborska became disillusioned with communism. 'I looked back in terror where to step next...' Her later work have been more personal and relatively apolitical, although she has noted "Apolitical poems are political too" in 'Children of This Age'. The 1957 collection of poems, WOLANIE DO YETI (calling out to Yeti), marks her first break with socialist-realist literature.

Ten years later she published STO POCIECH, considered Szymborska's first work of her mature period. When Communism claimed it was the final answer to the question about ideal form of society, Szymborska admitted that she has no knowledge of Utopia, but only an ironic view of it as an "island where everything comes clear." Her role in the society she saw as vague: "I am ignorant of the role I perform. / All I know is it's mine, can't be exchanged."'
More about Wislawa Szymborska here.

A Large Number

Four billion people on this earth,
but my imagination is the way it's always been:
bad with large numbers.
It is still moved by particularity.
It flits about the darkness like a flashlight beam,
disclosing only random faces,
while the rest go blindly by,
unthought of, unpitied.
Not even a Dante could have stopped that.
So what do you do when you're not,
even with all the muses on your side?

Non omnis moriar—a premature worry.
Yet am I fully alive, and is that enough?
It never has been, and even less so now.
I select by rejecting, for there's no other way,
but what I reject, is more numerous,
more dense, more intrusive than ever.
At the cost of untold losses—a poem, a sigh.
I reply with a whisper to a thunderous calling.
How much I am silent about I can't say.
A mouse at the foot of mother mountain.
Life lasts as long as a few lines of claws in the sand.

My dreams—even they are not as populous as they should be.
There is more solitude in them than crowds or clamor.
Sometimes someone long dead will drop by for a bit.
A single hand turns a knob.
Annexes of echo overgrow the empty house.
I run from the threshold down into the quiet
valley seemingly no one's—an anachronism by now.

Where does all this space still in me come from—
that I don't know.


In sealed box cars travel
names across the land,
and how far they will travel so,
and will they ever get out,
don't ask, I won't say, I don't know.

The name Nathan strikes fist against wall,
the name Isaac, demented, sings,
the name Sarah calls out for water for
the name Aaron that's dying of thirst.

Don't jump while it's moving, name David.
You're a name that dooms to defeat,
given to no one, and homeless,
too heavy to bear in this land.

Let your son have a Slavic name,
for here they count hairs on the head,
for here they tell good from evil
by names and by eyelids' shape.

Don't jump while it's moving. Your son will be Lech.
Don't jump while it's moving. Not time yet.
Don't jump. The night echoes like laughter
mocking clatter of wheels upon tracks.

A cloud made of people moved over the land,
a big cloud gives a small rain, one tear,
a small rain—one tear, a dry season.
Tracks lead off into black forest.

Cor-rect, cor-rect clicks the wheel. Gladeless forest.
Cor-rect, cor-rect. Through the forest a convoy of clamors.
Cor-rect, cor-rect. Awakened in the night I hear
cor-rect, cor-rect, crash of silence on silence.


The admirable number pi:
three point one four one.
All the following digits are also just a start,
five nine two because it never ends.
It can't be grasped, six five three five, at a glance,
eight nine, by calculation,
seven nine, through imagination,
or even three two three eight in jest, or by comparison
four six to anything
two six four three in the world.
The longest snake on earth ends at thirty-odd feet.
Same goes for fairy tale snakes, though they make it a little longer.
The caravan of digits that is pi
does not stop at the edge of the page,
but runs off the table and into the air,
over the wall, a leaf, a bird's nest, the clouds, straight into the sky,
through all the bloatedness and bottomlessness.
Oh how short, all but mouse-like is the comet's tail!
How frail is a ray of starlight, bending in any old space!
Meanwhile two three fifteen three hundred nineteen
my phone number your shirt size
the year nineteen hundred and seventy-three sixth floor
number of inhabitants sixty-five cents
hip measurement two fingers a charade and a code,
in which we find how blithe the trostle sings!
and please remain calm,
and heaven and earth shall pass away,
but not pi, that won't happen,
it still has an okay five,
and quite a fine eight,
and all but final seven,
prodding and prodding a plodding eternity
to last.

More poetry by Wislawa Szymborska here.