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A Note -- Wislawa Szymborska

Guest poem sent in by Neville Clemens
(Poem #1797) A Note
 Life is the only way
 to get covered in leaves,
 catch your breath on the sand,
 rise on wings;

 to be a dog,
 or stroke its warm fur;

 to tell pain
 from everything it's not;

 to squeeze inside events,
 dawdle in views,
 to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

 An extraordinary chance
 to remember for a moment
 a conversation held
 with the lamp switched off;

 and if only once
 to stumble upon a stone,
 end up soaked in one downpour or another,

 mislay your keys in the grass;
 and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;
 and to keep on not knowing
 something important.
-- Wislawa Szymborska
 (Translated from the Polish, by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.)

It's hard to follow a poetic commentary on Life with a commentary on it.
Every line in this poem draws a sigh out of the reader. And to think of it,
if they stand *alone*, many of the lines might seem quite...well...unpoetic:

  "mislay your keys in the grass"

Hmm. Not quite up there with spectacular descriptions of searing sunsets and
passionate romances. Or is it? The magic of the poem, I daresay, is in the
opening line. It is only when *dovetailed* with this opening line that the
rest of the poem's lines acquire their magical qualities :

  "Life is the only way..."

It wakes the reader up! We're all ears now; what is this Life thing?  Oh
let's see what it's all about. This is going to be deeply philosophical and
wrenching. Intense.

But then Szymborska follows it up with all these simple and yet wonderful,
wonderful lines that defy any sort of intellectual analysis. It defies them.
Denies them the opportunity to probe the poem for this or that with their
rude speculative tools. Follows it up with lines that are almost Koan-esque
in nature, accessible only to the intuition and leaves the reader with the
sense that he/she now shares this secret knowledge of Life with the poet - a
knowing, and at the same time a Not Knowing that gives us joy, the joy

  "to keep on not knowing
  something important."

- Neville

Kimbol Soques had posted a comment on Poem #224 with a link to Szymborska's
Nobel acceptance speech. I think it's worth posting a link to that speech
again, so here it is:
http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1996/szymborska-lecture.html

86 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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Wislawa Szymborska style very confusing but she is an incredible foreign poet, I love all her works.

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Trinath Gaduparthi said...

In her suggestions to budding poets, she says "Think of life as an adventure that has happened to you". I think I found that sense of adventure in this poem. And her thoughts on the world, "Whatever it is, it is astonishing..." echo in her meditative poems. There is a zest of life that flows through this poem like in all the others. She always has small answers to big questions. And an optimism that, that will guide us through everything.

See the article here : http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/178592

Trinath Gaduparthi said...

In her suggestions to budding poets, she says "Think of life as an adventure that has happened to you". I think I found that sense of adventure in this poem. And her thoughts on the world, "Whatever it is, it is astonishing..." echo in her meditative poems. There is a zest of life that flows through this poem like in all the others. She always has small answers to big questions. And an optimism that, that will guide us through everything.

See the article here : http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/178592

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