at times even a clear-cut meaning may slip through

She (Szymborska) is preoccupied … throughout her work, with the relationship between poetry and the daily life that surrounds it, feeds it, and at times altogether ignores it.

– Clare Cavanagh

Yesterday I got this challenging question regarding Szymborska: “How does the writing–or reading, affect you?”

I’m still pondering about it. Sometimes art hits you somewhere behind logics and it takes time to find adequate words to describe what has happened. 

While I’m looking for words you might enjoy having a look at this:

Journal, Day One : Clare Cavanagh : Harriet the Blog : The Poetry Foundation.

I will also strongly  recommend a visit to The Dad Poet‘s fine post on Szymborska.


I’d have to be really quick
to describe clouds –
a split second’s enough
for them to start being something else.

Their trademark:
they don’t repeat a single
shape, shade, pose, arrangement.

Unburdened by memory of any kind,
they float easily over the facts.

What on earth could they bear witness to?
They scatter whenever something happens.

Compared to clouds,
life rests on solid ground,
practically permanent, almost eternal.

Next to clouds
even a stone seems like a brother,
someone you can trust,
while they’re just distant, flighty cousins.

Let people exist if they want,
and then die, one after another:
clouds simply don’t care
what they’re up to
down there.

And so their haughty fleet
cruises smoothly over your whole life
and mine, still incomplete.

They aren’t obliged to vanish when we’re gone.
They don’t have to be seen while sailing on.

– Wislawa Szymborska

translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Harold Rhenisch says:

    Well… clouds aren’t really like that. She’s talking about other things … like mechanized armies or occupying comrades. At any rate, she’s talking polish culture, not human culture in general, as beautiful and grounded as what she says is. A thought: to talk like that about clouds and to use them as symbols, that is not fair to the clouds. She understands that, intellectually, in her ending, but she doesn’t know it in her body, or she wouldn’t say that. I love these quotes you’re putting up, but this one, I feel, she slipped up on. Due to my friendship with clouds, I thought I’d point it out. Now, maybe she had to talk in symbols, because of human social constraints, but, well, still not fair to clouds … it remains “how clouds have to be seen in a certain country in a particular year with a particular history” as translated by certain people, in a certain set of constrains, with a certain history in a certain context, etc. And now I’ll just go out to see if I can find that 100 crowns, maybe fish it out with a long stick.

    1. Sigrun says:

      1) Well… clouds aren’t really like that – ?
      2) She’s talking polish culture, not human culture in general – ?

      Thank you Harold!
      My immediate response to your assertions, which I (as a stubborn dictator of the sub rosa territory) have taken the liberty to re-cast as questions, is yes & no.

      1) Clouds are really like that: fleeting, transitory, intangible …, but – as is generally the case in poetry – she also talking about something else.
      2) No, she’s not talking polish culture, she is also talking norwegian culture, and I wouldn’t be much surprised if this also could be said to be general human culture.

      But then again, I might be wrong –

      apropos hunting: wait for daylight!

      1. Harold Rhenisch says:

        Ha ha ha, general human culture, eh? No, just majority culture. That says nothing about clouds, though. Or human culture in general. Fleeting? Now, that’s a general human idea. Still, not a universal one, either. Clouds move, and in this follow lines or stories of energy. The story is stable and extends to infinite space and time. The human viewpoint flies past. Very dizzying effects ensue. Humans are tricksy. Especially this one. With a bow in the white-peach light of the Reykjavik evening. And thanks for playing along.

  2. Love the post. Love the ensuing conversation. I love clouds. I love to take their picture. Immediately, I agree that clouds can be fickle. Like people, who are not deeply rooted, they toss and turn and reappear as something new. They are mystical, in that they cannot be totally understood.

  3. bewhatwedo says:

    I love Szymborska. Looking forwarding reading more of your blog!

    1. Sigrun says:

      Hi & welcome!
      Have you written anything on Szymborska? She is quite new to me, but I really like the things I have read so far.

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