Wisława Szymborska – Poetry –

Polish poet

English Polish Swedish


island where everything becomes clear. solid ground under your feet.

the only roads are those that offer access.

shrubs bend under the weight of trials.

the tree of valid assumption grows here with untangled branches since time immemorial.

the tree of understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple, springs up by the spring called now i understand.

the denser the forest, the vaster the view: the valley of obviously.

if doubts arise, the wind instantly dispels them.

the echoes stir without being summoned and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

on the right a cave where the meaning is found.

on the left the lake of deep conviction. the truth breaks from the bottom and rises to the surface.

Unwavering confidence towers over the valley. its top offers an excellent view of the essence of things.

for all its charms, the island is uninhabited, and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches turn without exception to the sea.

as if all you could do here is leave and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

to an unfathomable life.

by wisława szymborska from “a great number”, 1976 translated by s. baranczak & c. cavanagh copyright © wisława szymborska, s. baranczak & c. cavanagh

about death, without exaggeration

You can’t take a joke, find a star, make a bridge. she knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming, shipbuilding, or cake baking.

in our planning for tomorrow, you have the last word, which is always irrelevant.

He can’t even do the things that are part of his trade: dig a grave, make a coffin, clean up after himself.

concerned with killing, he does the job clumsily, without system or skill. as if each of us were his first death.

oh, he has his triumphs, but look at his countless defeats, failed strikes, and repeated attempts!

sometimes it’s not strong enough to squash a fly out of the air. many are the caterpillars that have overcome it.

all those bulbs, pods, tentacles, fins, tracheas, breeding plumage, and winter fur show you’ve been left behind in your half-job.

ill will will not help and even our help with wars and coups is not enough so far.

hearts beat inside eggs. baby skeletons grow up. the seeds, hard at work, sprout their first pair of tiny leaves, and sometimes even tall trees fall over.

Whoever claims that he is omnipotent is living proof that he is not.

There is no life that cannot be immortal even if only for a moment.

death always comes at that very moment too late.

He tugs in vain at the invisible doorknob. how far you’ve come can’t be undone.

by wisława szymborska from “the people on the bridge”, 1986 translated by s. baranczak & c. cavanagh copyright © wisława szymborska, s. baranczak & c. cavanagh

the three strangest words

when I pronounce the word future, the first syllable already belongs to the past.

when I pronounce the word silence, I destroy it.

when I pronounce the word nothing, I do something that no non-being can hold.

by wisława szymborska translated by s. baranczak & c. cavanagh copyright © wisława szymborska, s. baranczak & c. cavanagh


I prefer movies. I prefer cats I prefer oaks along the warta. I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky. I prefer to like people than to love humanity. I prefer to have a needle and thread handy, just in case. I prefer the color green I prefer not to hold that reason is to blame for everything. I prefer exceptions. I prefer to go early. I prefer to talk to the doctors about something else. I prefer fine line vintage illustrations. I prefer the absurdity of writing poems to the absurdity of not writing poems. I prefer, when it comes to love, non-specific anniversaries that can be celebrated every day. I prefer moralists I promise nothing. I prefer the sly kindness to the overconfident type. I prefer land in civvies. I prefer the conquered countries to the conquerors. I prefer to have some reservations. I prefer the hell of chaos than the hell of order. I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to newspaper front pages. I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves. I prefer dogs with uncropped tails. I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark. I prefer desk drawers. I prefer many things that I have not mentioned here to many things that I have also left unsaid. I prefer loose zeros to those that line up behind a number. I prefer the time of the insects to the time of the stars. I prefer to touch wood. I prefer not to ask how much longer and when. I prefer to keep in mind even the possibility that existence has its own reason for being.

by wisława szymborska from “nothing twice”, 1997 translated by s. baranczak & c. cavanagh copyright © wisława szymborska, s. baranczak & c. cavanagh

the joy of writing

why does this written doe leap through these written forests? for a drink of written water from a spring whose surface will photocopy its soft snout? why does he raise his head; does she hear something? she perched on four slender legs borrowed from truth, she pricks her ears under my fingertips. silence: this word also whispers across the page and splits the branches that have sprouted from the word “forest”.

lurking, ready to pounce on the blank page, are good-for-nothing cards, groups of clauses so subservient they’ll never let go.

each drop of ink contains a good supply of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their scopes, ready to swarm the sloping pen at any moment, encircle the doe and slowly aim their weapons.

they forget that what is here is not life. other laws, black on white, get. the blink of an eye will take what I say, and it will be divided, if I want, into tiny eternities, full of bullets stopped in mid-flight. nothing will happen unless I say so. without my blessing, not a leaf will fall, not a blade of grass will bend under the final point of that little helmet.

Is there then a world where I absolutely rule over fate? a time that I bind with chains of signs? an existence becomes endless at my will?

the pleasure of writing. the power to preserve revenge of a deadly hand.

by wisława szymborska from “no end of fun”, 1967 translated by s. baranczak & c. cavanagh copyright © wisława szymborska, s. baranczak & c. cavanagh
selected poems by the nobel library of the swedish academy, and michal bron.

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