Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wislawa Szymborska, spirited Polish poet - Her poems make me say 'Yes, exactly.'

Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for literature, died on Monday at 88 (hat tip: Bookslut)

I posted some of her irrepressible poems here in 2007, in addition to this excerpt from her Nobel address:

The world - whatever we might think when we're terrified by its vastness and our own impotence or when we're embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, or people, animals and perhaps even plants (for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain?); whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we've just begun to discover, planets already dead, still dead, we just don't know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we've got reserved tickets, but tickets whose life span is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world - it is astonishing.
She is one of those poets whose poems make me say - yes, exactly.

Life While - You - Wait
Life While - You - Wait.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alternations.
Head without premeditation.

I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it's mine, I can't exchange it.

I have to guess on the spot
just what this play's all about.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisations.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can't conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for hammy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and impulses you can't take back,
stars you'll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run -
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.

If I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven't seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn't even clear my throat offstage).

You'd be wrong to think that it's just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I'm standing on the set and I see how strong it is.

The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there's no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I've done.

'The farthest galaxies have been turned on' - a line that refocuses the lens. All this time, we have been lured by her simple, whimsical metaphor of the stage for life. Then suddenly, we are back in the scale of the universe, like a plunge into cold water.

1 comment:

Allison said...

Wow, I really like that poem. Thank you for sharing. I'll have to check out her other work.