Wislawa Szymborska: The Life and Works of a Nobel Prize-Winning Poet

Wisława Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska, the Polish poet, essayist and translator, remains a significant figure in the world of literature. Her innovative and thought-provoking work has made her an influential voice in contemporary poetry. Born on July 2, 1923, in Prowent, Poland (now part of Kórnik, Poland), Szymborska’s early life was marked by the upheavals of World War II, experiences which would later emerge in her poetic expressions.

Szymborska’s poetry is marked by its precision, irony and wit, with a potent insight into the human condition. Her body of work spans a vast array of themes, from the mundane to the profound, from the joy of existence to the existential dread. She has a unique ability to infuse everyday life with profound philosophical questions, making her poetry both accessible and deeply thought-provoking.

In 1996, Wislawa Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, a testament to her significant contribution to the world of letters. The Swedish Academy described her as the “Mozart of Poetry,” a poet who with ironic precision allows historical and biological contexts to come to light in fragments of human reality. Despite her international acclaim, Szymborska remained a private individual who avoided public attention and focused on her writing.

The works of Wislawa Szymborska include over 15 published collections of poetry and several volumes of essays and translations. Some of her notable works include Calling Out to Yeti (1957), Salt (1962), and Could Have (1972). Each work is a testament to her exceptional talent and unique perspective on life and humanity.

Szymborska’s contribution to literature extends beyond her own writing. As a translator, she introduced French literature to Polish readers. She also contributed to popular Polish magazines, showcasing her keen intellect and wit.

Wislawa Szymborska passed away in 2012, but her legacy continues to resonate in the literary world. Her poetry remains as relevant and influential today as it was during her lifetime. The depth and breadth of Szymborska’s work make her a truly exceptional figure in literature, a poet whose words continue to inspire and challenge readers worldwide.

The End and the Beginning

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Curated by Jennifer

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