It’s been a while since I blogged about poetry. But here I go again. Because I recently read that one of my favorite poets died.
Wislawa Szymborska was born in 1923 in Poland. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. I remember reading the announcement in the New York Times back then. They wrote about her surprise at winning. Apparently, she was a very private, quiet poet. The newspaper printed several lines from her poems, a sample of her work.
Something about the poems grabbed me. I think because the language was so simple, so frank. And yet it had a lyrical quality, a spare beauty. The lines I read had wit about them as well, a subtle wit. A sly kind of wit. A bit of a nudge and a wink. It seemed to me the poet was speaking through the words, saying, “Don’t worry. I’m not taking this very seriously, and neither should you. It’s just a poem, after all. The world is so much more important than this.” And yet, the words demanded attention all the same. They took hold, they sprouted. Her voice got in my head.
I cut the sample poems out of the newspaper that day and put them on my bulletin board, where they stayed, curling a little, browning at the edges, for several years. I also went out back then to St. Mark’s Bookstore in the east village in NYC and bought her book of selected poems. I have it still. I’m looking at it now.
Here are the last few stanzas from her poem, “On Death, Without Exaggeration:”
Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies’ skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.
Whoever claims that it’s omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it’s not.
There’s no life
that couldn’t be immortal
if only for a moment.
always arrives by that very moment too late.
In vain it tugs at the knob of the invisible door.
As far as you’ve come
can’t be undone.
from View with a Grain of Sand, selected poems
Wislawa Szymborska, 1923-2012