Guest poem submitted by Sachin Desai:
(Poem #1848) In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself
The buzzard never says it is to blame. The panther wouldn't know what scruples mean. When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame. If snakes had hands, they'd claim their hands were clean. A jackal doesn't understand remorse. Lions and lice don't waver in their course. Why should they, when they know they're right? Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton, in every other way they're light. On this third planet of the sun among the signs of bestiality a clear conscience is Number One.
Translated by Stanislaw Baraczak and Clare Cavanagh. This poem is straightforward and needs no interpretation. Wislawa Szymborska writes simple poems that have a touch of the profound. This poem falls neatly in that category. Sachin Desai. [thomas adds] Sachin is exactly correct: Szymborska's poem seems simple enough on the surface, but is touched by the profound. Specifically, I wonder to what extent the poet is being ironic. It's almost a cliche to state that humans are the only animals possesed of a conscience, and hence that they are in some sense "superior" to mere beasts. And indeed, that's what today's poem says, taken at face value. But is that all there is to it? After all, one could argue that lions and lice may "know they're right" simply because they *are* right: it is in their nature to kill wildebeest or suck blood. Hence they should *not* feel remorse or shame. Whereas humans can and often do do things which later prick their conscience; feeling scruples afterward may be "civilized", but it doesn't alter the deed itself. So perhaps humans are the more guilty ones after all? I'm reminded of this little gem by D. H. Lawrence, contrasting two types of bloodsucker: "The Mosquito Knows" The mosquito knows full well, small as he is he's a beast of prey. But after all he only takes his bellyful, he doesn't put my blood in the bank. -- D. H. Lawrence thomas.