A guy I admired in college used to say, “We have too much work to do not to ___” and he would fill in the blank with things like “go to the movies” or “read a book just for fun.” The news of Wislawa Szymborska’s recent passing reminded me of this friend’s joie de vivre and his determination to carpe every diem. Szymborska was a Nobel Prize-winning poet, and I fear that not enough people are aware of what she gifts she brought.
Poetry is like that, I think: it seems like the kind of thing that you only read in school or if you are especially artsy or geeky or a poet yourself. Which is a shame, because some poets work wonders with words and deserve more attention. Szymborska’s work (in translation) is very accessible—by turns humorous, philosophical, and wise.
In her POEMS NEW AND COLLECTED, 1957-1997, here are a few of my favorites:
“Some People Like Poetry”
“A Contribution to Statistics”
This collection also includes her Nobel Lecture from 1996, which captures right from the start her wit and humility: “They say that the first sentence in any speech is always the hardest. Well, that one’s behind me. But I have a feeling that the sentences to come—the third, the sixth, the tenth, and so on, up to the final line—will be just as hard, since I’m supposed to talk about poetry. I’ve said very little on the subject—next to nothing, in fact. And whenever I have said anything, I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that I’m not very good at it. This is why my lecture will be rather short. Imperfection is easier to tolerate in small doses.”
So, I hope you get the picture and understand why I now miss her.