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About this poet

Wislawa Szymborska was born on July 2, 1923, in Bnin, a small town in Western Poland. Her family moved to Krakow in 1931 where she lived most of her life.

Szymborska studied Polish literature and sociology at Jagellonian University from 1945 until 1948. While attending the university, she became involved in Krakow’s literary scene and first met and was influenced by Czeslaw Milosz. She began work at the literary review magazine Życie Literackie (Literary Life) in 1953, a job she held for nearly thirty years.

During her lifetime, Szymborska authored more than fifteen books of poetry. Her collections available in English include Monologue of a Dog (Harcourt, 2005); Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska (Norton, 2001); Poems, New and Collected, 1957-1997 (Harcourt, 1998); View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems(Harcourt, 1995); People on a Bridge (Forest, 1990); and Sounds, Feelings Thoughts: Seventy Poems (Princeton UP, 1981). She is also the author of Nonrequired Reading (Harcourt, 2002), a collection of prose pieces.

While the Polish history from World War II through Stalinism clearly informs her poetry, Szymborska was also a deeply personal poet who explored the large truths that exist in ordinary, everyday things. "Of course, life crosses politics," Szymborska once said "but my poems are strictly not political. They are more about people and life."

In the introduction to Miracle Fair, Czeslaw Milosz wrote: "Hers is a very grim poetry…a comparison with the despairing vision of Samuel Beckett and Philip Larkin suggests itself. Yet, in contrast to them Szymborska offers a world where one can breathe."

Writing in the New York Review of Books, Stanislaw Barańczak said: "Wit, wisdom and warmth are equally important ingredients in the mixture of qualities that makes her so unusual and every poem of hers so unforgettable."

In 1996, Szymborska won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her other awards include the Polish Pen Club prize, an Honorary Doctorate from Adam Mickiewicz University, the Herder Prize and The Goethe Prize.

Wislawa Szymborska died on February 1, 2012, at the age of eighty-eight.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems (1981)
People on a Bridge: Poems (1990)
View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems (1995)
Nothing Twice: Selected Poems (1997)
Poems, New and Collected, 1957-1997 (1998)
Nic darowane = Nothing's a Gift (1999)
Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska (2001)
Nonrequired Reading: Prose Pieces (2002)
Chwila = Moment (2003)
Monologue of a Dog: New Poems (2005)

Nothing Twice

Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice. 

Even if there is no one dumber,
if you're the planet's biggest dunce,
you can't repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once. 

No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with precisely the same kisses. 

One day, perhaps some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent. 

The next day, though you're here with me,
I can't help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock? 

Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It's in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow. 

With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we're different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are. 

From Poems New and Collected: 1957-1997 by Wislawa Szymborska. Copyright © 1998 by Wislawa Szymborska. Used by permission of Harcourt Brace & Company. All rights reserved.

From Poems New and Collected: 1957-1997 by Wislawa Szymborska. Copyright © 1998 by Wislawa Szymborska. Used by permission of Harcourt Brace & Company. All rights reserved.

Wislawa Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska was a Polish poet whose work was widely translated into English. In 1996, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

by this poet

poem

They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways—
perhaps

poem

They must have been different once,
fire and water, miles apart,
robbing and giving in desire,
that assault on one another’s otherness.
Embracing, they appropriated and expropriated each other
for so long
that only air was left within their arms,