90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Poet Wislawa Szymborska
Polish poet and Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska puffs out a cloud of cigarrette smoke, sitting among other, unidentified, guests at the Nobel banquet at the Town Hall of Stockholm, Sweden, Tuesday December 10 1996. Earlier that day Wislawa Szymborska received the Nobel Prize in literature for her "beautiful, deep and subtle poetry".(AP)

Polish poet and Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska puffs out a cloud of cigarrette smoke, sitting among other, unidentified, guests at the Nobel banquet at the Town Hall of Stockholm, Sweden, Tuesday December 10 1996. Earlier that day Wislawa Szymborska received the Nobel Prize in literature for her "beautiful, deep and subtle poetry".(AP)

Nobel-winning Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska died this week in her home city of Krakow at the age of 88.

Little known outside her home country, she was an intensely private person, unaccustomed to the spotlight, even called “reclusive.”

“Contemporary poets are skeptical and suspicious even, or perhaps especially, about themselves,” she said during a lecture she gave in 1996 in Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize. “They publicly confess to being poets only reluctantly, as if they were a little ashamed of it. But in our clamorous times it’s much easier to acknowledge your faults, at least if they’re attractively packaged, than to recognize your own merits, since these are hidden deeper and you never quite believe in them yourself.”

Her poetry was strongly influenced by the tumultuous events of her lifetime, from World War Two to Stalinism.
Her poem, “The End and the Beginning” begins:

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone must drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone must glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

Yet for all the gravity of her subjects, she remained “an ironist,” in the words of author David Orr, writing about life’s ordinary things from sea cucumbers, house cats, and onions.

She ended her speech in Stockholm with a meditation on humanity’s cosmic significance.

“The world – whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we’ve just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? We just don’t know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we’ve got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world – it is astonishing.”

 

 

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Potter

    Thank you for this little tribute to Szymborska including the links. This caused me to take my book of her poetry (View with a grain of sand) right off the shelf and read. She is so accessible!  

    It’s so hard to look at pictures of her with those cigarettes!

  • http://www.deepfeast.com/ Crescent

    Reading her never leaves me empty-handed. My favorite poet.

    Perhaps these for last words, from her:

    “The joy of writing.

    The power of preserving.

    Revenge of a mortal hand.”

    Anyone who has the pleasure of reading her is grateful for the revenge of her life and work.

  • Maria Kingdon

    Thank you for your tribute, and acknowledgement of Symborska’s passing.
    Been reading the Collected Poems: so unflinching, so simply expressed and so intellectually challenging.

  • Nikolataylor

    Thank you for writing about this incredible person. In the past couple of years, I’ve been discovering her poetry, and I hope many others do as well. 

ONPOINT
TODAY
Apr 16, 2014
A woman walks past a CVS store window in Foxborough, Mass., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. The nation’s major drugstore chains are opening more in-store clinics in response to the massive U.S. health care overhaul, which is expected to add about 25 million newly insured people who will need medical care and prescriptions, as well as offering more services as a way to boost revenue in the face of competition from stores like Safeway and Wal-Mart. (AP)

Retailers from Walgreens to Wal-Mart to CVS are looking to turn into health care outlets. It’s convenient. Is it good medicine? Plus: using tech to disrupt the healthcare market.

Apr 16, 2014
Harvard Business School is one of the top-ranked MBA programs in the country. Our guest today suggests those kinds of degrees aren't necessary for business success. (HBS / Facebook)

Humorist and longtime Fortune columnist Stanley Bing says, “forget the MBA.” He’s got the low-down on what you really need to master in business. Plus: the sky-high state of executive salaries.

RECENT
SHOWS
Apr 15, 2014
In this file photo, author and journalist Matt Taibbi speaks to a crowd of Occupy Wall Street protestors after a march on the offices of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, in New York. There was a heavy police presence around the 42nd Street area as the demonstration began Wednesday morning outside. (AP)

Muckraking journalist Matt Taibbi sees a huge and growing divide in the US justice system, where big money buys innocence and poverty means guilt. He joins us.

 
Apr 15, 2014
A crowd gathers at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston for a Sports Illustrated photo shoot before the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, Saturday, April 12, 2014. (AP)

One year after the Boston Marathon bombing, we look at national and local security on the terrorism front now, and what we’ve learned.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
How Boston Is Getting Ready For the 2014 Boston Marathon
Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014

Boston Globe metro reporter Maria Cramer explains how the 2014 Boston Marathon will be different than races in the past.

More »
Comment
 
WBUR’s David Boeri: ‘There’s Still Much We Don’t Know’
Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014

WBUR’s senior reporter David Boeri details the ongoing investigation into the alleged Boston Marathon Bombing perpetrators.

More »
Comment
 
Remembering The Boston Marathon Bombing, One Year Later
Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014

One year after the Boston Marathon Bombing, we look back at our own coverage of the attacks and the community’s response from April 2013.

More »
Comment