06 February 2012


I just heard that the great poet Wislawa Szymborska died last Wednesday, 1 February 2012. She was born in Poland on 2 July 1923 (a sentence which should convey some of the difficulties of her life). She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. Here are two of her poems, from Poems New and Collected 1957-1997.

The translations are by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

Still Life with a Balloon

Returning memories?
No, at the time of death
I'd like to see lost objects
return instead.

Avalanches of gloves,
coats, suitcases, umbrellas –
come, and I'll say at last:
What good's all this?

Safety pins, two odd combs,
a paper rose, a knife,
some string – come, and I'll say
at last: I haven't missed you.

Please turn up, key, come out,
wherever you've been hiding,
in time for me to say:
You've gotten rusty, friend!

Downpours of affidavits,
permits and questionnaires,
rain down and I will say:
I see the sun behind you.

My watch, dropped in a river,
bob up and let me seize you –
then, face to face, I'll say:
Your so-called time is up.

And lastly, toy balloon
once kidnapped by the wind –
come home, and I will say:
There are no children here.

Fly out the open window
and into the wide world;
let someone else shout "Look!"
and I will cry.

View with a Grain of Sand

We call it a grain of sand,
but it calls itself neither grain nor sand.
It does just fine without a name,
whether general, particular,
permanent, passing,
incorrect, or apt.

Our glance, our touch mean nothing to it.
It doesn't feel itself seen and touched.
And that it fell on the windowsill
is only our experience, not its.
For it, it is no different from falling on anything else
with no assurance that it has finished falling
or that it is falling still.

The window has a wonderful view of a lake,
but the view doesn't view itself.
It exists in this world
colorless, shapeless,
soundless, odorless, and painless.

The lake's floor exists floorlessly,
and its shore exists shorelessly.
Its water feels itself neither wet nor dry
and its waves to themselves are neither singular nor plural.
They splash deaf to their own noise
on pebbles neither large nor small.

And all this beneath a sky by nature skyless
in which the sun sets without setting at all
and hides without hiding behind an unminding cloud.
The wind ruffles it, its only reason being
that it blows.

A second passes.
A second second.
A third.
But they're three seconds only for us.

Time has passed like a courier with urgent news.
But that's just our simile.
The character is invented, his haste is make-believe,
his news inhuman.

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