Book Reviews

Book Review: Here by Wislawa Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska

These poems by Wislawa Szymborska, in English and Polish, drive home a real sense and value of life. This book reads like a first hand experience of how rotten life really can be, at times. While at other times, if even the slightest, a reason to laugh and to continue to live.

“you’ll never know.
Maybe Nature has to shortchange us,
and to keep up, meet demand,
she fishes up what’s been sunk
in the mirror of oblivion. -Szymborska, Wislawa. Here (Kindle Locations 101-103). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition. “

“And we—unlike circus acrobats,
conjurers, wizards, and hypnotists—
can fly unfledged,
we light dark tunnels with our eyes,
we wax eloquent in unknown tongues,
talking not with just anyone, but with the dead. -Szymborska, Wislawa. Here (Kindle Locations 391-394). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.”

As mundane, melancholy, or as sad the words might be, the end result is uplifting with laughter. The author takes the hardships and makes them completely small and bearable. A sense of humor divulged with sarcasm and yet real wisdom. A real life lived and written in poem.

From the title poem

I can’t speak for elsewhere,
but here on Earth we’ve got a fair supply of everything.
Here we manufacture chairs and sorrows,
scissors, tenderness, transistors, violins, teacups, dams, and quips . . .

Like nowhere else, or almost nowhere,
you’re given your own torso here,
equipped with the accessories required
for adding your own children to the rest.
Not to mention arms, legs, and astonished head.

How it made me feel.

Where ever we are, is our here and we have to play the cards we are dealt. I got the impression from the author, no sense in wasting time complaining, just get on with it.  Knowing the author’s biography, the simply put lines swirl with an unknown. I re-read the poems over trying to imagine a younger version of Wislawa and how her life might have been in Poland. The struggles she faced and the experiences that led to the literary works she published. I felt the author was carefully depicting strife and how that darkness clouded her own. And it was brilliant to feel the sarcasm in her words that proved she was never defeated by any of it.

About the Author

Wislawa Szymborska, (born July 2, 1923 in Kórnik, Poland) is a Polish poet, essayist and translator. She was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. In Poland, her books reach sales rivaling prominent prose authors—although she once remarked in a poem entitled “Some like poetry” that no more than two out of a thousand people care for the art.

Szymborska frequently employs literary devices such as irony, paradox, contradiction, and understatement, to illuminate philosophical themes and obsessions. Szymborska’s compact poems often conjure large existential puzzles, touching on issues of ethical import, and reflecting on the condition of people both as individuals and as members of human society. Szymborska’s style is succinct and marked by introspection and wit.

Szymborska’s reputation rests on a relatively small body of work: she has not published more than 250 poems to date. She is often described as modest to the point of shyness. She has long been cherished by Polish literary contemporaries (including Czeslaw Milosz) and her poetry has been set to music by Zbigniew Preisner. Szymborska became better known internationally after she was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize. Szymborska’s work has been translated into many European languages, as well as into Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese.

(previously read and reviewed January 2011)

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