This got me thinking about all the missed opportunities to get to know other people.
Here’s a poem about just that, translated from Polish by Clare Cavanagh, the master craftswoman who also translated Szymborska. Adam Zagajewski’s collection, from which this is taken, might be called Eternal Enemies (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), but it includes poems to his own friends and fellow writers – including ones he has only met through books.
For example, with someone who no longer is,
who exists only in yellowed letters.
Or long walks beside a stream,
whose depths hold hidden
porcelain cups—and the talks about philosophy
with a timid student or the postman.
A passerby with proud eyes
whom you’ll never know.
Friendship with this world, ever more perfect
(if not for the salty smell of blood).
The old man sipping coffee
in St.-Lazare, who reminds you of someone.
Faces flashing by
in local trains—
the happy faces of travelers headed perhaps
for a splendid ball, or a beheading.
And friendship with yourself
—since after all you don’t know who you are.
The painting of the Gare St Lazare from the poem is one of many studies by Monet, now in the Musée d’Orsay, sourced from the fabulous Web Gallery of Art.