Friday, March 11, 2016

Two Poems by Wislawa Szymborska

       (trans. Stanislaw Baranczak & Clare Cavanagh)

See how efficient it still is,
how it keeps itself in shape—
our century’s hatred.
How easily it vaults the tallest obstacles.
How rapidly it pounces, tracks us down.

It’s not like other feelings,
at once both older and younger.
It gives birth itself to the reasons
that give it life.
When it sleeps, it’s never eternal rest.
And sleeplessness won’t sap its strength; it feeds it.

One religion or another—
whatever gets it ready, in position.
One fatherland or another—
whatever helps it get a running start.
Justice also works well at the outset
until hate gets its own momentum going.
Hatred.  Hatred.
Its face twisted in a grimace
of erotic ecstasy.

Oh, these other feelings,
listless weaklings.
Since when does brotherhood
draw crowds?
Has compassion
ever finished first?
Does doubt ever really rouse the rabble?
Only hatred has just what it takes.

Gifted, diligent, hard-working.
Need we mention all the songs it has composed?
All the pages it has added to our history books?
All the human carpets it has spread
over countless city squares and football fields?

Let’s face it:
it knows how to make beauty.
The splendid fire-glow in midnight skies.
Magnificent bursting bombs in rosy dawns.
You can’t deny the inspiring pathos of ruins
and a certain bawdy humor to be found
in the sturdy column jutting from their midst.
Hatred is a master of contrast—
between explosions and dead quiet,
red blood and white snow.
Above all, it never tires
of its leitmotif—the impeccable executioner
towering over its soiled victim.

It’s always ready for new challenges.
If it has to wait awhile, it will.
They say it's blind.  Blind?
It has a sniper’s keen sight
and gazes unflinchingly at the future
as only it can. 

View with a Grain of Sand 
      (trans. by Stanislaw Baranczak & Clare Cavanagh) 

We call it a grain of sand,
but it calls itself neither grain or sand.
It does just fine without a name,
whether general, particular,
permanent, passing,
incorrect, or apt.

Our glance, our touch mean nothing to it.
It doesn’t feel itself seen and touched.
And that it fell on the windowsill
is only our experience, not its.
For it, it is no different from falling on anything else
with no assurance that it has finished falling
or that it is falling still.

The window has a wonderful view of a lake,
but the view doesn’t view itself.
It exists in this world
colorless, shapeless,
soundless, odorless, and painless.

The lake’s floor exists floorlessly, 
and its shore exists shorelessly. 
Its water feels itself neither wet nor dry
and its waves to themselves are neither singular nor plural.
They splash deaf to their own noise
on pebbles neither large nor small.

And all this beneath a sky by nature skyless 
in which the sun sets without setting at all
and hides without hiding behind an unminding cloud.
The wind ruffles it, its only reason being
that it blows.

A second passes.
A second second.
A third.
But they’re three seconds only for us.

Time has passed like a courier with urgent news.
But that’s just our simile.
The character is invented, his haste is make-believe,
his news inhuman.  

Wislawa Szymborska is the author of more than 15 books of poetry. Her collections available in English include Monologue of a Dog, Harcourt, 2005; Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska, Norton, 2001; Poems, New and Collected, 1957-1997, Harcourt, 1998; View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems, Harcourt, 1995; People on a Bridge, Forest, 1990; and Sounds, Feelings Thoughts: Seventy Poems, Princeton UP, 1981.

She was the winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Wislawa Szymborska (July 2, 1923 – February 1, 2012)

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