Thursday, February 02, 2012

Wislawa Szymborska, RIP

All over my news stream today, that Wislawa Szymborska has died.

Image from:
In memoriam, then, because what else is there to say:

Evaluation of an Unwritten Poem 

by Wislawa Szymborska

In the poem's opening words
the authoress asserts that while the Earth is small,
the sky is excessively large and
in it there are, I quote, "too many stars for our own good."

In her depiction of the sky, one detects a certain helplessness,
the authoress is lost in a terrifying expanse,
she is startled by the planets' lifelessness,
and within her mind (which can only be called imprecise)
a question soon arises:
whether we are, in the end, alone
under the sun, all suns that ever shone.

 In spite of all the laws of probability! And today's universally accepted assumptions! In the face of the irrefutable evidence that may fall into human hands any day now! That's poetry for you.  Meanwhile, our Lady Bard returns to Earth,
a planet, so she claims, which "makes its rounds without eyewitnesses,"
the only "science fiction that our cosmos can afford."
The despair of a Pascal (1623-1662, note mine)
is, the authoress implies, unrivalled
on any, say, Andromeda or Cassiopeia.
Our solitary existence exacerbates our sense of obligation,
and raises the inevitable question, How are we to live et cetera,
since "we can't avoid the void."
"'My God,' man calls out to Himself,
'have mercy on me, I beseech thee, show me the way

 The authoress is distressed by the thought of life squandered so freely,
as if our supplies were boundless.
She is likewise worried by wars, which are, in her perverse opinion,
always lost on both sides,
and by the "authoritorture" (sic!) of some people by others. 
Her moralistic intentions glimmer throughout the poem.  
They might shine brighter beneath a less naive pen.  Not under this one, alas.  Her fundamentally unpersuasive thesis

(that we may well be, in the end, alone
under the sun, all suns that ever shone)
combined with her lackadaisical style (a mixture
of lofty rhetoric and ordinary speech)
forces the question: Whom might this piece convince?
The answer can only be: No one.  Q. E. D.



Fëanor said...

I looked over the poem rapidly and was struck by the 'QED' at the end. Appears that Szymborska was quite keen on a bit of math. Here's a poem Pi. And she also said (I'm loosely paraphrasing): I have no trouble imagining an anthology of the finest pieces of poetry in the world where there is also the theorem of Pythagoras. Why not? It possesses the shock that is inherent to great poetry, its most essential terms carefully reduced to a form with a grace that not all poets have been granted.

dipali said...

I just came across a poem of hers as a birthday gift a few months ago, which I completely and absolutely loved:

Wislawa Szymborska

So much world all at once – how it rustles and bustles!
Moraines and morays and morasses and mussels,
The flame, the flamingo, the flounder, the feather –
How to line them all up, how to put them together?

All the tickets and crickets and creepers and creeks!
The beeches and leeches alone could take weeks.
Chinchillas, gorillas, and sarsaparillas –
Thanks so much, but all this excess of kindness could kill us.

Where’s the jar for this burgeoning burdock, brooks’ babble,
Rooks’ squabble, snakes’ quiggle, abundance, and trouble?
How to plug up the gold mines and pin down the fox,
How to cope with the linx, bobolinks, streptococs!

Tale dioxide: a lightweight, but mighty in deeds:
What about octopodes, what about centipedes?
I could look into prices, but don’t have the nerve:
These are products I just can’t afford, don’t deserve.

Isn’t sunset a little too much for two eyes
That, who knows, may not open to see the sun rise?
I am just passing through, it’s a five-minute stop.
I won’t catch what is distant: what’s too close, I’ll mix up.

While trying to plumb what the void's inner sense is,
I'm bound to pass by all these poppies and pansies.
What a loss when you think how much effort was spent
perfecting this petal, this pistil, this scent
for the one-time appearance, which is all they're allowed,
so aloofly precise and so fragilely proud.

(Translated from Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)

Space Bar said...

Feanor: Oh nice! Where did she say that, do you know?

Dipali: Birthday gift poems are are favourite sub-genre. She was lovely, no?

dipali said...

Indeed she was!

Fëanor said...

In 1992, she published a book of reviews called Lektury nadobowiązkowe ("Non-essential Reading") - again, this is a rather vague translation - and that's where she mentioned the Pythagorean bit.