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Wisława Szymborska, 1923-2012

By Harriet Staff

The Associated Press and The Polish Cultural Institute have both just reported that poet Wislawa Szymborska died today. More:

Her personal secretary says that Poland’s 1996 Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska has died. She was 88.

Michal Rusinek said Wednesday that Szymborska died “quietly, in her sleep.” She resided in the southern city of Krakow.

The Nobel award committee’s citation called her the “Mozart of poetry,” a woman who mixed the elegance of language with “the fury of Beethoven.”

Szymborska has been called both deeply political and playful, a poet who used humor in unforeseen ways.

The winner of the Goethe Prize in 1991 and, yes, the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996 (her Nobel speech can be read here), Szymborska once said, “I prefer the absurdity of writing poems to the absurdity of not writing poems.” Also a translator and essayist, her poetic output was small and careful, with no more than 250 published poems. Poems New and Collected, in English, was published in 2000. Other collections of her poems that have been translated into English include People on a Bridge (1990), View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems (1995), and Monologue of a Dog (2005).

“Hence the indispensable / silver lining,” you can read and listen to her poem “Consolation” here. As well, read “Clouds,” below.


I’d have to be really quick
to describe clouds—
a split second’s enough
… for them to start being something else.

Their trademark:
they don’t repeat a single
shape, shade, pose, arrangement.

Unburdened by memory of any kind,
they float easily over the facts.

What on earth could they bear witness to?
They scatter whenever something happens.

Compared to clouds,
life rests on solid ground,
practically permanent, almost eternal.

Next to clouds
even a stone seems like a brother,
someone you can trust,
while they’re just distant, flighty cousins.

Let people exist if they want,
and then die, one after another:
clouds simply don’t care
what they’re up to
down there.

And so their haughty fleet
cruises smoothly over your whole life
and mine, still incomplete.

They aren’t obliged to vanish when we’re gone.
They don’t have to be seen while sailing on.

— Wisława Szymborska

(Translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh)

Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Harriet Staff.