Wislawa Szymborska died yesterday. Even though she’s only my second favorite Polish poet, I still love her poetry. Reading the obituary was a good reminder that I should read more poetry, more often. Here’s one of my favorite poems that she wrote (I also really like “Going Home”, “Psalm”, “Lot’s Wife”, and “Returning Birds”).
THE KINDNESS OF THE BLIND
A poet is reading to the blind.
He did not suspect it was so hard.
His voice is breaking.
His hands are shaking.
He feels that here each sentence
is put to the test of the dark.
It will have to fend for itself,
without the lights or colors.
A perilous adventure
for the stars in his poems,
for the dawn, the rainbow, the clouds, neon lights, the moon,
for the fish until now so silver under water,
and the hawk so silently high in the sky.
He is reading — for it is too late to stop —
of a boy in a jacket yellow in the green meadow,
of red rooftops easy to spot in the valley,
the restless numbers on the players’ shirts,
and a nude stranger in the door cracked open.
He would like to pass over — though it’s not an option —
all those saints on the cathedral’s ceiling,
that farewell wave from the train window,
the microscope lens, ray of light in the gem,
video screens, and mirrors, and the album with the faces.
Yet great is the kindness of the blind,
great their compassion and generosity.
They listen, smile, and clap.
One of them even approaches
with a book held topsy-turvy
to ask for an invisible autograph.
Translated from the Polish by J. Kostkowska
UPDATE: Since this memory popped into my mind over the weekend, I thought I would share – my first encounter with Szymborska was in a class on Critical Theory, in which (somehow…probably we were talking about translation) I heard not only the English translation of one of her poems, but also the poem read aloud in the original Polish. It was mezmerizing. If you ever have the opportunity to listen to Polish poetry, take it.
Also, here’s a really wonderful short essay on Szymborska that captures a lot of what I wanted to say.