Poem-a-Day Friday: Wislawa Szymborska

Poem-a-Day Friday: Wislawa Szymborska February 3, 2012



In graduate school I took a course on 20th century Polish poets (Poland has produced some of the world’s best poetry in the past 100 years). It was a fantastic class. In it, I studied Wisława Szymborska, a woman whose poems were moving and full of delicate images that always cut hard. I love what little I know of her work because of it the way it pulls me toward emotion. It builds and builds and builds until I can’t help but fall with her to the other side. I amazed that her poems, which were not even written in my language can still move me so deeply.

When I heard about her death yesterday morning, I went out to the garage in search of the book of her poems that I had read and marked in the early 2000s. It was nowhere to be found. (The movers lost a box of books in our move and I’m still discovering what I’m missing.) After grieving the loss of her book with some dark chocolate, I went online to find her poems and try to remember. This was yesterday’s favorite discovery:


Under One Small Star

by Wislawa Szymborska (translated from Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczakby)

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.
Please, don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologize for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths.

I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at five a.m.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.
Pardon me, deserts, that I don’t rush to you bearing a spoonful of water.
And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the same cage,
your gaze always fixed on the same point in space,
forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.
My apologies to the felled tree for the table’s four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don’t pay me much attention.
Dignity, please be magnanimous.
Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from your train.
Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.
I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.
Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labor heavily so that they may seem light.

Wislawa Szymborska, 1923 – 2012

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