why read Szymborska?

on

 

Adam Gopnik:

Every other year, it seems, the Nobel Prize in literature goes to an obscure European writer, full of hard consonants and solemn purposes, whom we all agree to honor for a day and forget all about right after.

 

This list of the Great Obscure is long, but the bright exception to it is the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, who won the Nobel in 1996. Szymborska is not merely a great writer, like many others; she is a necessary writer, as necessary as toast. Every month, it seems, I give to someone a copy of one of her books …

 

A WORD ON STATISTICS

by Wislawa Szymborska
(translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak)

Out of every hundred people,
those who always know better:
fifty-two.

Unsure of every step:
almost all the rest.

Ready to help,
if it doesn’t take long:
forty-nine.

Always good,
because they cannot be otherwise:
four — well, maybe five.

Able to admire without envy:
eighteen.

Led to error
by youth (which passes):
sixty, plus or minus.

Those not to be messed with:
four-and-forty.

Living in constant fear
of someone or something:
seventy-seven.

Capable of happiness:
twenty-some-odd at most.

Harmless alone,
turning savage in crowds:
more than half, for sure.

Cruel
when forced by circumstances:
it’s better not to know,
not even approximately.

Wise in hindsight:
not many more
than wise in foresight.

Getting nothing out of life except things:
thirty
(though I would like to be wrong).

Balled up in pain
and without a flashlight in the dark:
eighty-three, sooner or later.

Those who are just:
quite a few, thirty-five.

But if it takes effort to understand:
three.

Worthy of empathy:
ninety-nine.

Mortal:
one hundred out of one hundred –
a figure that has never varied yet.

 

5 Comments Add yours

  1. pulpfictionme says:

    Which book would be best to start in if I was going to read her work?

    1. Sigrun says:

      Hi,
      I’m reading Poems New and Collected – like it a lot!
      http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10205.Poems_New_and_Collected

      1. pulpfictionme says:

        Consider it done. I will read it then let you know what I think :)) can’t wait!!

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