Poetry of Wisława Szymborska

I write and write and write here, too many words spilling across the screen in a struggle to grasp, understand and above all remember. To make mine, so that I can recall things when needed. So they do not escape me. Boring words often, missing so much and grasping at details.

I have to struggle for memory.

Time feels so fleeting and there is so much to read, to write, to know, to puzzle through. I will never get it all thought.

I read poetry and find deeper things than I had ever contemplated expressed in a few lines (not all poetry, not even most, but Wisława Szymborska yes, oh yes). The sifting of meaning already done, language perfected so nothing gushes out across page after page.

The poetry of Wisława Szymborska is deep, humble, filled with grief and wonder. Terrifying.

Who are we?

I give you three poems. One for where we are (literally) going:

Vocabulary

“La Pologne? La Pologne? Isn’t it terribly cold there?” she asked,
and then sighed with relief. So many countries have been turning up lately that the safest thing to talk about is climate.

“Madame,” I want to reply, “my people’s poets do all their
writing in mittens. I don’t mean to imply that they never remove
them; they do, indeed, if the moon is warm enough. In stanzas
composed of raucous whooping, for only such can drown out the windstorms’ constant roar, they glorify the simple lives of our walrus herders. Our Classicists engrave their odes with inky icicles on trampled snowdrifts. The rest, our Decadents, bewail their fate with snowflakes instead of tears. He who wishes to drown himself must have an ax at hand to cut the ice. Oh, madame, dearest madame.”

That’s what I meant to say. But I’ve forgotten the word for
walrus in French. And I’m not sure of icicle and ax.

“La Pologne? La Pologne? Isn’t it terribly cold there?”

“Pas du tout,” I answer icily.

One for what I’ve been thinking about so much lately and where we have been:

Archeology (excerpt)

Well, my poor man,
seems we’ve made some progress in my field.
Millennia have passed
since you first called me archaeology.

I no longer require
your stone gods,
your ruins with legible inscriptions.

Show me your whatever
and I’ll tell you who you were.
Something’s bottom,
something’s top.
A scrap of engine.
A picture tube’s neck.
An inch of cable. Fingers turned to dust.
Or even less than that, or even less.

Using a method
that you couldn’t have known then,
I can stir up memory
in countless elements.
Traces of blood are forever.
Lies shine.
Secret codes resound.
Doubts and intentions come to light.

If I want to
(and you can’t be too sure
that I will).
I’ll peer down the throat of your silence,
I’ll read your views
from the sockets of your eyes,
I’ll remind you in infinite detail
of what you expected from life besides death

One for the startling abilities of language in the present.

The Acrobat

From trapeze to
to trapeze, in the hush that
that follows the drum roll’s sudden pause, through,
through the startled air, more swiftly than
than his body’s weight, which once again
again is late for its own fall.

Solo. Or even less than solo,
less, because he’s crippled, missing
missing wings, missing them so much
that he can’t miss the chance
to soar on shamefully unfeathered
naked vigilance alone.

Arduous ease,
watchful agility,
and calculated inspiration. Do you see
how he waits to pounce in flight; do you know
how he plots from head to toe
against his very being; do you know, do you see
how cunningly he weaves himself through his own former shape
and works to seize this swaying world
by stretching out the arms he has conceived–

beautiful beyond belief at this passing
at this very passing moment that’s just passed.

Wisława SzymborskaThere is a lovely essay by Joelle Biele here on Szymborska’s relationship with the communist party and Poland’s long tradition of poetry.

Thank you also to the translators, who are part of these poems now for all of us who are lacking, who cannot read them in Polish: Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh.

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