Selected poems of Wisława Szymborska

I thought I would share with you three of the poems that I found inspiring and thought provoking from Wisława Szymborska. Some of Szymborska major themes include the ironies of love, history lessons unlearned, and the human parochial human perspectives. Some of her poetry also questions the very nature of reality and emphasizes our relationship with our surroundings as much as with other unknown individuals.

The Turn of the Century

It was supposed to be better than the rest, our twentieth century.
But it won’t have time to prove it.
Its years are numbered,
its step unsteady,
its breath short.

Already too much has happened
that was not supposed to happen,
and what was to come
has yet to come.

Spring was to be on its way,
and happiness, among other things.

Fear was to leave the mountains and valleys.
The truth was supposed to finish before the lie.

Certain misfortunes
were never to happen again
such as war and hunger and so forth.

The defenselessness of the defenseless
was going to be respected.
Same for trust and the like.

Whoever wanted to enjoy the world
faces an impossible task.

Stupidity is not funny
Wisdom is not cheerful.

is no longer the same young girl
et cetera. Alas.

God was at last to believe in man:
good and strong.
But good and strong
are still two different people.

How to live −someone asked me in a letter
someone I had wanted
to ask the same thing.

Again and as always,
and as seen above
there are no questions more urgent
than the naïve ones.

View with a Grain of Sand

We call it a grain of sand.
But it calls itself neither grain nor sand.
It does fine without a name
general, specific,
transient, permanent,
mistaken, or apt.

Our glance, our touch do nothing for it.
It does not feel seen or touched.
Its falling onto the windowsill
is only our adventure.
It might as well be falling on anything,
not knowing whether it’s already landed,
or is still in free fall.

Out the window there’s a beautiful view of a lake,
but this sight does not see itself.
Colorless and shapeless,
soundless, odorless,
and painless is this world to it.

To the bottom of the lake, it’s bottomless,
and shoreless to its shore.
To its waters, neither dry nor wet.
Neither singular nor plural are the waves that whoosh,
deaf to their own whooshing
around stones neither small nor large.

And all this is happening under a sky, skyless by nature,
in which the sun goes down, without going down at all,
hiding without hiding behind and unwitting cloud,
which the wind thrashes for no other reason
than that it’s blowing.

One second passes.
A second second.
A third.
But these are only our three seconds.

Time ran by like a courier with an urgent message.
But that’s just our simile.
A made-up character, implanted haste,
and message inhuman.


In the sealed cars of freight trains
across the country travel names,
but where are they going to go,
and will they ever get out,
don’t ask, can’t say, don’t know.

Nathan’s name bangs his fists on the wall.
Isaac’s name sings in a maddened thrall.
Sarah’s name cries that the water go first
to Aaron’s name which is dying of thirst.

Do not jump off the train, David’s name.
You’re the name that has been condemned,
given to no one without a home,
too heavy to bear in this land.

To the son goes a Slavic name as it should,
for here they count the hairs on your head,
for here they divide the bad from the good
based on a name or the shape of an eyelid.

Do not jump off the train. Lech is the name he will have.
Do not jump off the train. There’s still time to hold back.
Do not jump. The night spreads like a laugh
mocking the clatter of wheel upon track.

A cloud made of people passed over the land.
From a large cloud a small rain, a sole tear was shed,
a small rain, a sole tear, a season of lack.
Into a forest of black veer the tracks.

That’s so that’s so, go the wheels.
These woods have no clearing.
That’s so that’s so.
A cargo of cries disappearing.
That’s so that’s so.
Awakened in deep night on hearing
that’s so and that’s so,
the clatter of silence on silence.

When I read the poem “Still” I was moved by the emphasis on “Nathan’s name”, “Isaac’s name”, et cetera. By emphasizing X’s name my attention was drawn to the individuals and not the name. After all a name is just a name right? In trying to address this question, I was reminded of the book The Anthropology of Names and Naming by Gabriele vom Bruck & Barbara Bodenhorn where they discuss J.S. Mill’s “A System of Logic”. J.S. Mill proposes that objects ticketed with proper names resembles, until something more is known about them, men and women in masks. Thus, a name can be viewed as an “unmeaning mark”. However, as illustrated in “Still” one can’t deny the potential of a name to entangle individual lives in the life histories of others.

About radiaj

I am a Research Scientist & Bioinformatician who specializes in Immunology and Cancer Biology. I routinely use R and other programing languages to explore genomic data of cancer cells to identify molecular changes and risk factors that contributes to cancer development.
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