Monday, October 10, 2011

'No Title Required' by Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh


It's come to this: I'm sitting under a tree,

beside a river

on a sunny morning.

It's an insignificant event

and won't go down in history.

It's not battles and pacts,

whose motives are scrutinized,

or noteworthy tyrannicides.

And yet I'm sitting by this river, that's a fact.

And since I'm here,

I must have come from somewhere,

and before that

I must have turned up in many other places,

exactly like the conquerors of nations

before setting sail.

Even a passing moment has its fertile past,

its Friday before Saturday,

its May before June.

Its horizons are no less real

than those a marshal's fieldglasses might scan.

This tree is a poplar that's been rooted here for years.

The river is the Raba; it didn't spring up yesterday.

The path leading through the bushes

wasn't beaten last week.

The wind had to blow the clouds here

before it could blow them away.

And though nothing much is going on nearby,

the world's no poorer in details for that,

it's just as grounded, just as definite

as when migrating races held it captive.

Conspiracies aren't the only things shrouded in silence.

Retinues of reasons don't trail coronations alone.

Anniversaries of revolutions may roll around,

but so do oval pebbles encircling the bay.

The tapestry of circumstance is intricate and dense.

Ants stitching in the grass.

The grass sewn into the ground.

The pattern of a wave being needled by a twig.

So it happens that I am and look.

Above me a white butterfly is fluttering through the air

on wings that are its alone

and a shadow skims through my hands

that is none other, no one else's, but its own.

When I see such things I'm no longer sure

that what's important

is more important than what's not.


WisÅ‚awa Szymborska (born July 2, 1923) is a Polish poet and essayist. In Poland, her books reach sales rivaling prominent prose authors — although she remarked in a poem entitled "Some like poetry" that no more than two out of a thousand people care for the art.

Szymborska was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature "for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality".

Szymborska uses irony, paradox, contradiction, and understatement to illuminate philosophical themes and obsessions. Her style is succinct and marked by introspection and wit. The compact poems often conjure existential puzzles, touching on issues of ethical import, and reflecting on the condition of people as individuals and as members of human society.

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