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Book Title: View With a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems|
The author of the book: Wisława Szymborska
Date of issue: May 26th 1995
ISBN 13: 9780156002165
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 941 KB
Edition: Harcourt Brace
Read full description of the books View With a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems:WISLAWA SZYMBORSKA: MOZART OF POETRY
Bestowing Nobel Prize for literature on relatively unknown poets has some merits. I must confess that I was totally unaware of the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska poet till she won the Nobel Prize in 1996. Szymborska received the Nobel Prize in Literature “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality,” according to Nobel prize citation. Having read almost all her collections of poetry and the lovely prose piece Nonrequired Reading, I can say without exaggeration that she deserves to be called ‘Mozart of poetry’ considering her wealth of inspiration and the veritable ease with which words fall in place in her poetry.
Wislawa is a miracle in the world of poetry- a serious poet who commanded amazing popularity in her native land as the most representative Polish poet of last century. She is also one of the most accessible of all poets I have read and therefore one of my all-time favorites. Her poems carry that rare fusion of gravity, charming inventiveness, prodigal imagination and stupendous technical dexterity. She is someone who finds extraordinary in the ordinary and possesses that rare ability to transform insignificant and inconsequential things into sublime. She writes of the diversity, plenitude, and richness of the world, taking delight in observing and naming its phenomena. Culture, history, foibles of humanity and the beauty and bounty of natural world are some of the commonly encountered themes in her poetry. She looks on everything with wonder, astonishment, and amusement, but almost never with despair. Her poems sparkle with generous dose of irony and self-effacing humor. May be noting her shy nature and subdued voice in poetry that Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish-born poet who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980, said of her- As a person and in her poetry, she is very attenuated. It is just a whisper.
View with a grain of sand is her best collection of poems, astutely translated by the famous Polish translator pair Clare Cavanagh and the poet Stanislaw Baranczak (who unfortunately passed away in December 2014) . Their combined skills in language and imagination have a synergetic effect resulting in felicitous translation of Wislawa’s poetry.
Let me begin illustrating the beauty and greatness of her poetry by citing my favorite poem in this collection. The poem is essentially about an offended cat when the owner dies and how this absence of the master affects the cat staying in the apartment.
CAT IN AN EMPTY APARTMENT
Die—you can't do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here,
but nothing is the same.
Nothing has been moved,
but there's more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit.
Footsteps on the staircase,
but they're new ones.
The hand that puts fish on the saucer
has changed, too.
Something doesn't start
at its usual time.
Something doesn't happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here,
then suddenly disappeared
and stubbornly stays disappeared.
Every closet has been examined.
Every shelf has been explored.
Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.
A commandment was even broken,
papers scattered everywhere.
What remains to be done.
Just sleep and wait.
Just wait till he turns up,
just let him show his face.
Will he ever get a lesson
on what not to do to a cat.
Sidle toward him
as if unwilling
and ever so slow
on visibly offended paws,
and no leaps or squeals at least to start.
How beautifully the increase in ‘space’ and ‘emptiness’ is perceived sensitively by the cat when the master "stubbornly stays disappeared"! The lamentation reserved for humans has been permitted to a cat. But the cat cannot articulate its feelings, nor can it hold a dialogue with the dead, or even less, ask questions about them and that explains the absence of "I" in the musings of the cat. The cat is not even aware of the death and its rituals. It is only aware of the sudden emptiness. This is a heartbreaking poem, to say the least.
Moving away from such a somber poem, let us consider the brilliant poem Birthday which is virtually a rhapsody of all poetic pyrotechnics. Birthday laments humans' limited capacity to take in the abundance and beauty of nature, given the brevity of human existence when measured against the vastness of cosmic time. there cannot be a more beautiful poem about the bewilderments of the world than this one.
So much world all at once – how it rustles and bustles!
Moraines and morays and morasses and mussels,
the flame, the flamingo, the flounder, the feather –
how to line them all up, how to put them together?
All the thickets and crickets and creepers and creeks!
The beeches and leeches alone could take weeks.
Chinchillas, gorillas, and sarsaparillas –
Thanks do much, but all this excess of kindness could kill us.
Where’s the jar for this burgeoning burdock, brooks’ babble,
rooks’ squabble, snakes’ squiggle, abundance, and trouble?
How to plug up the gold mines and pin down the fox,
How to cope with the lynx, bobolinks, streptococs!
Take dioxide: a lightweight, but mighty in deeds:
what about octopodes, what about centipedes?
I could look into prices, but don’t have the nerve:
These are products I just can’t afford, don’t deserve.
Isn’t sunset a little too much for two eyes
that, who knows, may not open to see the sun rise?
I am just passing through, it’s a five-minute stop.
I won’t catch what is distant: what’s too close, I’ll mix up.
While trying to plumb what the void's inner sense is,
I'm bound to pass by all these poppies and pansies.
What a loss when you think how much effort was spent
perfecting this petal, this pistil, this scent
for the one-time appearance, which is all they're allowed,
so aloofly precise and so fragilely proud.
More than half of the poem is sculpted as a fun poem with its very interesting comic meter and rhythm and you wonder what it is all about till the very end. And you are visibly moved when you finish it. Birthday is so full of exuberance, so full of the gifts of God's bounty, so full of happy gaiety, so full of marvel, that it is natural for the poem to be a hearty outburst in its lyrical note and the alliterative use of language. One picture after another comes gushing forth in a stream of unrestrained thoughts. The birthday is not of one individual but the series of collective births that take place on the earth - "so much world all at once!”. The reader feels likes blurting out in exclamation-What a tremendously hectic schedule for this 5 minutes called life!
Let us look at another one that shows her wit, keen observation and inventiveness. The whole poem is fully made up of a series of phrases snatched from the conversations that take place among the attendees of a funeral. The initial conversation will of course be about the death of the person and the speculations on the causative factors.
"so suddenly, who could have seen it coming"
"stress and smoking, I kept telling him"
"not bad, thanks, and you"
"these flowers need to be unwrapped"
"his brother's heart gave out, too, it runs in the family"
"I'd never know you in the beard"
"he was asking for it, always mixed up in something"
But life shortly takes over and the lines have more and more to do with the survivors' quite undramatic, not to say banal, everyday lives and worries which may range from cricket or football to politics, stock market , you name it.
"you were smart, you brought the only umbrella" […]
“Of course, he was right , but that’s no excuse”
"two egg yolks and a tablespoon of sugar"
"none of his business, what was in it for him"
"only in blue and just small sizes" […]
"give my best to the widow, I've got to run" […]
"give me a call"
"which bus goes downtown"
"I'm going this way"
Szymborska is an ironist. But in her work, irony becomes playful, almost whimsical. She thinks of the poet as an acrobat who moves, as she puts it, with "laborious ease, with patient agility, with calculated inspiration." Szymborska's poems generally focus on everyday subjects or situations, and her tone stays firmly in the middle ground. She doesn't rant; she calmly assesses. She's a poet of dry-eyed, athletic precision: an acrobat, as she says, not a powerlifter. Let me illustrate it with another lovely poem in this collection that is fun to read.
UNDER ONE SMALL STAR
My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.
Please, don’t be angry, happiness that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologize for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths.
I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at five a.m.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.
Pardon me, deserts, that I don’t rush to you bearing a spoonful of water.
And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the same cage,
your gaze always fixed on the same point in space,
forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.
My apologies to the felled tree for the table’s four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don’t pay me much attention.
Dignity, please be magnanimous.
Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from your train.
Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.
I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.
Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labor heavily so that they may seem light.
As the poem progresses the speaker keeps shifting from one category to another. She begs forgiveness from inanimate objects and even concepts, then from places and from group of people-everything is anthropomorphized. She herself feels unequal to the world’s sufferings and fears that by narrowing her focus on the world to make it manageable, she has trivialized it. But all viewpoints are incomplete, all efforts inadequate. We see the lyrical driving the logical in this poem. The loveliness of the words is staunchly supported by their meaning. Beauty alone is laudable but beauty combined with truth make it dazzling. Aspects such as natural utilitarian desire, guilt and despair and uncommon insight tinged with humor mesh so well in this verse.
The poem’s conclusion itself is another poetic endorsement.
“Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labor heavily so that they may seem light.”
The light she makes is a sort of moral illumination, shining back from details onto the inner lives of her readers. I think the author is showing (among other things) that she feels no guilt in finding joy in a world of pain.
Finally, the title "Under One Small Star," confesses that the poet comes from a place of relative insignificance and hers specific life, small but curiously infinite existence, has an importance of its own. She is aware of what she is. She is a part of it. She is a witness. She feels her impact and simultaneously, her lack of impact. We know how she feels. don't we?
I wish to conclude my illustration of poems with one endearing poem written in a different style but imbued with deep humanism and understanding , avoiding the traps of self-pity or grandiloquence .
IN PRAISE OF MY SISTER
My sister doesn’t write poems.
and it’s unlikely that she’ll suddenly start writing poems.
She takes after her mother, who didn’t write poems,
and also her father, who likewise didn’t write poems.
I feel safe beneath my sister’s roof:
my sister’s husband would rather die than write poems.
And, even though this is starting to sound as repetitive as
the truth is, none of my relatives write poems.
My sister’s desk drawers don’t hold old poems,
and her handbag doesn’t hold new ones,
When my sister asks me over for lunch,
I know she doesn’t want to read me her poems.
Her soups are delicious without ulterior motives.
Her coffee doesn’t spill on manuscripts.
There are many families in which nobody writes poems,
but once it starts up it’s hard to quarantine.
Sometimes poetry cascades down through the generations,
creating fatal whirlpools where family love may founder.
My sister has tackled oral prose with some success.
but her entire written opus consists of postcards from
whose text is only the same promise every year:
when she gets back, she’ll have
much to tell.
Perhaps the last words on her poetry could be her own typical personalized and ironic comment on life:
Life, however long, will always be short.
Too short for anything to be added.
(from Our Ancestor’s short lives)
Wislawa Szymborska is a poet who steals the hearts of all those who love poetry. Her radiant optimism , conversational and playful approach to poetry, effortless transformation of weighty into weightless, celebration of joy of existence, unpretentious meditations on life and death , alacrity to meld beings and non-beings into the cosmic fabric and above all the universal appeal of her poems are what makes her one of the most endearing poets of all ages.
Read information about the authorWisława Szymborska (Polish pronunciation: [vʲisˈwava ʂɨmˈbɔrska], born July 2, 1923 in Kórnik, Poland) is a Polish poet, essayist and translator. She was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. In Poland, her books reach sales rivaling prominent prose authors—although she once remarked in a poem entitled "Some like poetry" [Niektórzy lubią poezję] that no more than two out of a thousand people care for the art.
Szymborska frequently employs literary devices such as irony, paradox, contradiction, and understatement, to illuminate philosophical themes and obsessions. Szymborska's compact poems often conjure large existential puzzles, touching on issues of ethical import, and reflecting on the condition of people both as individuals and as members of human society. Szymborska's style is succinct and marked by introspection and wit.
Szymborska's reputation rests on a relatively small body of work: she has not published more than 250 poems to date. She is often described as modest to the point of shyness. She has long been cherished by Polish literary contemporaries (including Czesław Miłosz) and her poetry has been set to music by Zbigniew Preisner. Szymborska became better known internationally after she was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize. Szymborska's work has been translated into many European languages, as well as into Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese.
In 1931, Szymborska's family moved to Kraków. She has been linked with this city, where she studied, worked, and still resides, ever since.
When World War II broke out in 1939, she continued her education in underground lessons. From 1943, she worked as a railroad employee and managed to avoid being deported to Germany as a forced labourer. It was during this time that her career as an artist began with illustrations for an English-language textbook. She also began writing stories and occasional poems.
Beginning in 1945, Szymborska took up studies of Polish language and literature before switching to sociology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. There she soon became involved in the local writing scene, and met and was influenced by Czesław Miłosz. In March 1945, she published her first poem Szukam słowa ("I seek the word") in the daily paper Dziennik Polski; her poems continued to be published in various newspapers and periodicals for a number of years. In 1948 she quit her studies without a degree, due to her poor financial circumstances; the same year, she married poet Adam Włodek, whom she divorced in 1954. At that time, she was working as a secretary for an educational biweekly magazine as well as an illustrator.
During Stalinism in Poland in 1953 she participated in the defamation of Catholic priests from Kraków who were groundlessly condemned by the ruling Communists to death. Her first book was to be published in 1949, but did not pass censorship as it "did not meet socialist requirements." Like many other intellectuals in post-war Poland, however, Szymborska remained loyal to the PRL official ideology early in her career, signing political petitions and praising Stalin, Lenin and the realities of socialism. This attitude is seen in her debut collection Dlatego żyjemy ("That is what we are living for"), containing the poems Lenin and Młodzieży budującej Nową Hutę ("For the Youth that Builds Nowa Huta"), about the construction of a Stalinist industrial town near Kraków. She also became a member of the ruling Polish United Workers' Party.
Like many Polish intellectuals initially close to the official party line, Szymborska gradually grew estranged from socialist ideology and renounced her earlier political work. Although she did not officially leave the party until 1966, she began to establish contacts with dissidents. As early as 1957, she befriended Jerzy Giedroyc, the editor of the influential Paris-based emigré journal Kultura, to which she also contributed. In 1964 s
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