“Granted, in daily speech, where we don’t stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like ‘the ordinary world,’ ‘ordinary life,’ ‘the ordinary course of events’ … But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone’s existence in this world.
It looks like poets will always have their work cut out for them.”
This is how Wisława Szymborska ended her Nobel lecture ten years ago.
This incredibly perceptive Polish poet died in 2012, but not before she was recorded reading some of her latest poems. I found the recording in Warsaw last month – with a bilingual edition, Tutaj / here.
You can look inside the book on the website of znak, the publisher, and watch a clip of her reading at their 50th anniversary concert with Tomasz Stańko at the Krakow Opera here. Ever modest, Szymborska opens by saying “I don’t know about you, but I’ve just come to hear Mr. Stańko play his trumpet.”
The reaction is warm –but don’t be fooled by those sweet little old lady looks.
Szymborska is piercingly observant and her words couldn’t be more relevant today. For Example / Przykład:
Or Pomysł / An Idea, which (like her lecture) describes how the thoughts come, and how difficult they are to pin down.
The poems are translated by Clare Cavanagh, as was the lecture, with the late great Stanisław Barańczak. If you don’t speak Polish yourself, you couldn’t ask for a better way in to the language, and perhaps its best poet.