A friend recently gave me a book of her favorite poet translated. My friend is Polish, as is the poet, the 1996 Nobel Laureate, Wistawa Szymborska. Check it out.
Conrad, one of my favorite authors, wrote wonderfully in English so his place as a great writer is all the more remarkable for being attained in a non-native tongue. But Poles seem to translate well into English.
In the ’80s I heard Czeslaw Milosz read and was smitten by his verse. He read to us his own English translations and was completely disarming. Milosz was one of Symborska’s early influences, though her work is utterly original. But before my friend’s gift, I had never read this wonderful, quirky, light/dark poetess. Her translations also hold up extremely well. Here is a small taste:
WHOEVER’S found out what location
compassion (heart’s imagination)
can be contacted at these days,
is herewith urged to name the place;
and sing about it in full voice,
and dance like crazy and rejoice
beneath the frail birch that appears
to be upon the verge of tears.
I TEACH silence
in all languages
through intensive examination of:
the starry sky,
the Sinanthropus’ jaws
a grasshopper’s hop
an infant’s fingernails,
I RESTORE lost love.
Act now! Special offer!
You lie on last year’s grass
bathed in sunlight to the chin
while winds of summers past
caress your hair and seem
to lead you in a dance.
For further details, write: “Dream.”
WANTED: someone to mourn
the elderly who die
alone in old folks’ homes.
Applicants, don’t send forms
or birth certificates.
All papers will be torn,
no receipts will be issued
at this or later dates.
FOR PROMISES made by my spouse,
who’s tricked so many with his sweet
colors and fragrances and sounds —
dogs barking, guitars in the street —
into believing that they still
might conquer loneliness and fright,
I cannot be responsible.
Mr. Day’s widow, Mrs. Night.
Wistawa Szymborska, 1957
I especially love that final ad. I think every spouse must disavow their partner from time to time. And of course Night is Day’s widow…