Woman Unborn

By Anna Swir 1909–1984 Anna Swir
I am not born as yet,
five minutes before my birth.   
I can still go back
into my unbirth.
Now it’s ten minutes before,   
now, it’s one hour before birth.   
I go back,
I run
into my minus life.

I walk through my unbirth as in a tunnel   
with bizarre perspectives.
Ten years before,
a hundred and fifty years before,
I walk, my steps thump,
a fantastic journey through epochs   
in which there was no me.

How long is my minus life,
nonexistence so much resembles immortality.

Here is Romanticism, where I could have been a spinster,   
Here is the Renaissance, where I would have been
an ugly and unloved wife of an evil husband,
The Middle Ages, where I would have carried water in a tavern.

I walk still further,   
what an echo,   
my steps thump
through my minus life,   
through the reverse of life.   
I reach Adam and Eve,
nothing is seen anymore, it’s dark.
Now my nonexistence dies already
with the trite death of mathematical fiction.
As trite as the death of my existence would have been   
had I been really born.

Anna Swir, “Woman Unborn” from Talking to My Body, translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan. Copyright © 1996 by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Source: Talking to My Body (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1996)

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Poet Anna Swir 1909–1984

POET’S REGION Poland

Subjects Gender & Sexuality, Nature, Time & Brevity, Birth & Birthdays, Living, Social Commentaries, The Body

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Biography

Anna Swir (Świrszczyńska) was born in Warsaw, Poland, to an artistic though impoverished family. She worked from an early age, supporting herself while she attended university to study medieval Polish literature. In the 1930s she worked for a teachers’ association, served as an editor, and began publishing poetry. Swir joined the Resistance during World War II and worked as a military nurse during the Warsaw Uprising; at one . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Gender & Sexuality, Nature, Time & Brevity, Birth & Birthdays, Living, Social Commentaries, The Body

POET’S REGION Poland

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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