Poetry by Wislawa Szymborska

One of my first posts on this blog was a very short review of a book of poetry titled Monologue of  a Dog by the Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska.  I had been introduced to her work by a friend and promised myself that I would read more of her work.

I now own a couple of her books, View with a Grain of Sand and Miracle Fair.  I find Szymboska’s work very accessible.  It is grounded in everyday things and occasionally takes leaps into the unknown.

Here are a couple of her poems.  A sad note:  Wislawa Szymborska passed away on February 1st, 2012.  She was 88.

A Note
Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it’s not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble upon a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;
and to keep on not knowing
something important.

by Wislawa Szymborska

from Monologue of a Dog
translated by S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh


I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.

By Wislawa Szymborska
From “Nothing Twice”, 1997
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh


Filed under Poetry, Poetry/Read More/Blog More

30 responses to “Poetry by Wislawa Szymborska

  1. The name made my antennae perk up because she sounds very Polish. I’m off to see about her background…

  2. Yes, I love her work. Thank you for reminding me that it’s been a while.

  3. Thanks for sharing these poems. I liked the first better than the second, but I tend not to like poems with repeating beginning phrases….a personal bias I admit.

  4. Thanks for sharing! Both poems were very readable. And, thanks for joining in!

  5. This is not the first time I’ve seen the name of Wislawa Szymborska. In fact, I think it is at least the second time, if not third or fourth, I’ve seen it in the last few months. This might be a sign I need to check out more of her work.

  6. Love Wislawa Szymborska, dipping into my battered copy of Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts. Another good East European writer is Marin Sorescu, here’s an example.


    Shakespeare created the world in seven days.

    On the first say he made the heavens, the mountains,
    and the abyss of the soul.
    On the second day he made rivers, seas, oceans
    And all the other feelings—
    Giving them to Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony,
    Cleopatra and Ophelia,
    Othello and the rest, to master them, and their descendants
    For evermore.
    On the third day he brought the people together
    And taught them about taste
    The taste of happiness, of love, of despair
    The taste of jealousy, of glory, and still more tastes
    Until they went through them all.

    Then some latecomers arrived.
    The creator patted them sadly on the head
    Explaining the remaining roles were for
    Literary critics
    To challenge his good works.

    The fourth and fifth days he kept clear for laughs
    Clearing way for clowns
    Turning somersaults,
    And leaving the kings, emperors,
    And other poor wretches to their fun.
    The sixth day he reserved for administrative tasks:
    He let loose a tempest
    And taught King Lear
    To wear a crown of straw.

    Some spare parts remained from the world’s creation
    And so he made Richard III.
    On the seventh day he looked about for something to do.
    Theatre directors had plastered the land with posters
    And Shakespeare decided after all his hard work
    He deserved to see a show. but first,

    tired down to the bone
    He went off to die a little.

  7. Thank you for sharing these poems! They are wonderful … and I suspect I might not have come across them otherwise!

  8. I love this– thank you! (Particularly “I prefer talking to doctors about something else”) Just checked and my library has a copy of “View with a Grain of Sand,” as well as “People on a Bridge” and “Poems, New and Collected, 1957-1997.” Can’t wait to read more. Thanks for introducing me to this poet.

  9. Cunning kindness, huh? Hmmmmmmm….
    I really liked these. Thank you.

    Happy Poetry Day/Month/Year.

  10. I really enjoyed these – and just added one of her collections to my wish list. Thanks for sharing. :)

  11. Grzesiek, Warsaw

    what a sad coincidence, she passed away today in Krakow, Poland, at the age of 89..

  12. Jillian ♣

    Thanks for sharing these poems! I too preferred the first, though I assume each would sound different in their original language. :)

  13. Oh no! I didn’t know Szymbroska died! That is so sad! I discovered her poetry almost two years ago. Thaks for posting this, Gavin!

  14. Pingback: January Roundup — Read More/Blog More Poetry Event | Regular Rumination

  15. Lu

    Thank you so much for sharing Wislawa Szymborska with us, Gavin!

    My favorite line from these two poems:

    I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
    to the absurdity of not writing poems.

    Yes! Exactly! That’s perfect. Thank you for participating with us this month, Gavin!

  16. lovely poem so sad ,all the best stu

  17. Hear extract of Anna Polony reading from Wystarczy at krakowpolska.pl.

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