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Three Poems (below on this page)

Nobel Presentation Speech to Szymborska, 1996
Links to many Szymborska poems

Wisława Szymborska (born July 2, 1923) is a Polish poet, essayist and translator. Honored by the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996 and by numerous other awards, she is generally considered the most important living Polish poet. In Poland, her books reach sales rivaling prominent prose authors — although she once remarked in a poem entitled "Some like poetry" [Niektorzy lubią poezje] that no more than two out of a thousand people care for the art.

Szymborska frequently employs literary devices, such as irony, paradox, contradiction, and understatement, to illuminate underlying philosophical themes and obsessions. Szymborska is a miniaturist, whose compact poems often conjure large existential puzzles. Although most of Szymborska's poems are barely a page in length, they often touch on issues of ethical import, reflecting on the condition of Man both as individual and member of human society. Szymborska's style is marked by intellectual introspection, wit, and a succinct and stylish choice of words.

Szymborska's reputation rests on a relatively small body of work: she has not published more than 250 poems. As a person, she is often described as modest to the point of shyness. Long cherished by her Polish literary contemporaries (including Czesław Miłosz), Szymborska became much better known in international circles after her 1996 Nobel Prize. Szymborska's work has been translated into many European languages, as well as into Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese.

Szymborska was born in Bnin (now part of Kórnik) near Poznań, Poland. In 1931 her family moved to Kraków. Szymborska has been linked with this city, where she studied, worked, and still resides, ever since and even today.

When World War II broke out in 1939, she continued her education in underground lessons. From 1943, she worked as a railroad employee and managed to avoid being deported to Germany as a forced labourer. It was during this time that her career as an artist began with illustrations for an English-language textbook. She also began writing stories and occasionally poems.

From 1945 Szymborska studied first Polish language and literature, before switching to sociology, at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, where she soon became involved in the local writing scene, and met and was influenced by Czesław Miłosz. In March 1945, she published her first poem Szukam słowa ("I seek the word") in the daily paper Dziennik Polski; her poems continued to be published in various newspapers and periodicals for a number of years. In 1948 she quit her studies without a degree, due to her poor financial circumstances; the same year, she got married to the poet Adam Włodek, whom she divorced in 1954. At that time, she was working as a secretary for an educational biweekly magazine as well as illustrating books.

Her first anthology was to be published in 1949, but did not pass censorship as it "did not meet socialist requirements." However, like many other intellectuals in post-war Poland, Szymborska remained loyal to the official ideology early in her career, signing political petitions and praising Stalin, Lenin and the realities of socialism $mdash; such as in her debut anthology Dlatego żyjemy ("That is what we are living for"), containing poems entitled Lenin or Młodzieży budującej Nową Hutę ("For the Youth that builds Nowa Huta"), about the construction of a socialist model settlement near Kraków. She also became a member of the ruling Polish United Workers' Party.

However, like most Polish intellectuals initially close to the official party line, she grew gradually estranged from the ideology and renounced her earlier political work. Although she did not leave the party until 1966, she began to establish contacts with dissidents. As early as 1957, she befriended Jerzy Giedroyc, the editor of the influential Paris-based emigré journal Kultura, to which she also contributed.

In 1953, she joined the staff of the literary review magazine Życie Literackie ("Literary Life"), where she continued to work until 1981 and from 1968 ran her own book review column entitled Lektury Nadobowiązkowe ("Non-compulsory Reading"); many of these essays were later published in book form. From 1981 to 1983, she was an editor of the Kraków-based monthly Pismo. During the 1980s, she intensified her oppositional activities, contributing to the samizdat periodical Arka under the pseudonym "Stanczykówna", as well as to Kultura in Paris.

Szymborska translated French literature into Polish, in particular Baroque poetry and Agrippa d'Aubigné.

In Germany, Szymborska is often associated with her translator Karl Dedecius, who did much to popularize her works there.


Three Poems:

A Photograph from September 11th

They jumped from the burning stories, down
-- one, two, a few more
higher, lower.
A photograph captured them while they were alive and now preserves them
above ground, toward the ground.
Each still whole
with their own face
and blood well hidden.
There is still time,
for their hair to be tossed,
and for keys and small change
to fall from their pockets. They are still in the realm of the air, within the places which have just opened.
There are only two things I can do for them
-- to describe this flight
and not to add a final word.

[from Monologue of a Dog (2005)]


The End and the Beginning
(translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak)

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.

[from View with a Grain of Sand (1995)]


Any Case

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Closer. Farther away.
It happened, but not to you.

You survived because you were the first.
You survived because you were the last.
Because alone. Because the others.
Because on the left.  Because on the right.
Because it was raining.  Because it was sunny.
Because a shadow fell.

Luckily there was a forest.
Luckily there were no trees.
Luckily a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
a frame, a turn, an inch, a second.
Luckily a straw was floating on the water.

Thanks to, thus, in spite of, and yet.
What would have happened if a hand, a leg,
One step, a hair away—

So you are here?  Straight from that moment still suspended?
The net’s mesh was right, but you—through the mesh?
I can’t stop wondering at it, can’t be silent enough.
how your heart is beating in me.

[from View with a Grain of Sand (1995)]



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    [Our biography was extracted and edited from wikipedia.org]      
Last Updated: Thu, July 13, 2006
©2006 John Struloeff -- All Rights Reserved.