26 April 2012

National Poetry Month: 26

Aging Opera Singer

“Today he sings this way: tralala tra la.
But I sang it like this: tralala tra la.
Do you hear the difference?
And instead of standing here, he stands here
and looks this way, not this way,
although she comes flying in from over there,
not over there, and not like today rampa pampa pam,
but quite simply rampa pampa pam,
the unforgettable Tschubek-Bombonieri,
who remembers her now –“

– Wislawa Szymborska

Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, born in 1923, died earlier this year. This is from Poems New and Collected 1957 – 1997, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. Anyone who has spent any time in or around an opera house will laugh (or cry) in immediate recognition of this dramatic monologue. I find it particularly amusing (or depressing) that the change is expressed by ironic sameness: it’s not, as you might expect, “instead of standing here, he stands there,” or “he looks this way, not that way.” It’s not so much that things are changing as that they are going on without the speaker. Like several of the other poems this month, this one deals with the uneasy intersection between art and life, and with what might be the great theme of all poetry, the passing of time.

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