Wislawa Szymborska (1923 – 2012)
It’s like this: for a very long time, we are not here; then we are here but not for very long; then we are not here for the longest time. Some people know the general whereabouts of “not here.” Myself…I haven’t the foggiest.
What I do know is that the poet, Wislawa Szymborska, is not here anymore.
People who really knew her—the people who liked or didn’t like her cooking, who worried that she smoked too much, who had to sit and listen to her talk through the years of not writing after she won the Nobel Prize—will be allowed to cry and howl and shuffle around their flats in bedraggled flannel robes as long they need to. That is their right because they knew and loved her.
People like me and you who knew her only through her words (and not even her words really, but a translator’s best approximation of them) are not obligated to do much of anything. So, for the most part, we don't. To us, she was a collection of ciphers, and when our eyes peeled them off the page to be translated once more into whatever chemo-electric magic makes ink marks on paper into meaning and sensation, we knew all of what she wanted us to know. We are luckier than those who knew her in the flesh, and not just because they feel her absence so much more acutely, but because we never had to reconcile all of the other manifestations of her with the one she chose to put into words, hoping that something of herself would remain even when all she knew here is gone.
New York Times Obituary, February 1, 2012
Books by Wislawa Szymborska
Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: 70 Poems (1981)
View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems (1995)
Poems, New and Collected: 1957 – 1997 (1998)
Nonrequired Reading: Prose Pieces (2002)
Monologue of a Dog: New Poems (2006)
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