Polish writers are so good…

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,


a snowflake.

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…


Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s