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Wislawa Szymborska, ‘Mozart of poetry’, dies aged 88

Wislawa Szymborska, ‘Mozart of poetry’, dies aged 88

From The Guardian:

Polish poet and Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska, whose beguilingly simple, playful poems spoke to the heart of everyday life, died yesterday aged 88.

Described by the Nobel committee as the “Mozart of poetry” but with “something of the fury of Beethoven” – and by an Italian newspaper as the “Greta Garbo of World Poetry” – Szymborska died in her sleep from lung cancer, said her personal secretary Michal Rusinek.

Speaking on Wednesday, Poland’s president Bronislaw Komorowski called her the country’s “guardian spirit”. Her poems “were brilliant advice, through which the world became more understandable”, he said; they showed the importance of finding value “??in the daily bustle”.

Szymborska remained popular after her 1996 Nobel, but she stayed away from the limelight:

“For the last few years my favourite phrase has been ‘I don’t know’. I’ve reached the age of self-knowledge, so I don’t know anything. People who claim that they know something are responsible for most of the fuss in the world.”


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Here’s one of her remarkable poems:

Lot’s Wife

They say I looked back out of curiosity.

But I could have had other reasons.

I looked back mourning my silver bowl.

Carelessly, while tying my sandal strap.

So I wouldn’t have to keep staring at the righteous nape

of my husband Lot’s neck.

From the sudden conviction that if I dropped dead

he wouldn’t so much as hesitate.

From the disobedience of the meek.

Checking for pursuers.

Struck by the silence, hoping God had changed his mind.

Our two daughters were already vanishing over the hilltop.

I felt age within me. Distance.

The futility of wandering. Torpor.

I looked back setting my bundle down.

I looked back not knowing where to set my foot.

Serpents appeared on my path,

spiders, field mice, baby vultures.

They were neither good nor evil now–every living thing

was simply creeping or hopping along in the mass panic.

I looked back in desolation.

In shame because we had stolen away.

Wanting to cry out, to go home.

Or only when a sudden gust of wind

unbound my hair and lifted up my robe.

It seemed to me that they were watching from the walls of Sodom

and bursting into thunderous laughter again and again.

I looked back in anger.

To savor their terrible fate.

I looked back for all the reasons given above.

I looked back involuntarily.

It was only a rock that turned underfoot, growling at me.

It was a sudden crack that stopped me in my tracks.

A hamster on its hind paws tottered on the edge.

It was then we both glanced back.

No, no. I ran on,

I crept, I flew upward

until darkness fell from the heavens

and with it scorching gravel and dead birds.

I couldn’t breathe and spun around and around.

Anyone who saw me must have thought I was dancing.

It’s not inconceivable that my eyes were open.

It’s possible I fell facing the city.

Wislawa Szymborska

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