Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wislawa Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska, the Polish poet who won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, died on Wednesday in Krakow. She was 88 years old.

Szymborska was born in Krakow in 1923, among the worst moments and places to arrive in the world over the last several decades. Despite her many experiences of armies and dogmas and death, which inevitably became important subjects in her poetry, she somehow created a body of work that maintained a lightness of spirit and even took joy in the particulars of life during the most difficult times. As her work makes clear, she was no stranger to terrible events, but she also found great beauty in writing charming meditations on furniture, insects, scissors, violins, teacups and onions.

A lovely summary of her life and work by New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik here.

Seen From Above

A dead beetle lies on the path through the field.
Three pairs of legs folded neatly on its belly.
Instead of death's confusion, tidiness and order.
The horror of this sight is moderate,
its scope is strictly local, from the wheat grass to the mint.
The grief is quarantined.
The sky is blue.

To preserve our peace of mind, animals die
more shallowly: they aren't deceased, they're dead.
They leave behind, we'd like to think, less feeling and less
departing, we suppose, from a stage less tragic.
Their meek souls never haunt us in the dark,
they know their place,
they show respect.

And so the dead beetle on the path
lies unmourned and shining in the sun.
One glance at it will do for meditation—
clearly nothing much has happened to it.
Important matters are reserved for us,
for our life and death, a death
that always claims the right of way.

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