Poem-a-Day Friday: Wislawa Szymborska



In graduate school I took a course on 20th century Polish poets (Poland has produced some of the world’s best poetry in the past 100 years). It was a fantastic class. In it, I studied Wisława Szymborska, a woman whose poems were moving and full of delicate images that always cut hard. I love what little I know of her work because of it the way it pulls me toward emotion. It builds and builds and builds until I can’t help but fall with her to the other side. I amazed that her poems, which were not even written in my language can still move me so deeply.

When I heard about her death yesterday morning, I went out to the garage in search of the book of her poems that I had read and marked in the early 2000s. It was nowhere to be found. (The movers lost a box of books in our move and I’m still discovering what I’m missing.) After grieving the loss of her book with some dark chocolate, I went online to find her poems and try to remember. This was yesterday’s favorite discovery:


Under One Small Star

by Wislawa Szymborska (translated from Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczakby)

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.
Please, don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologize for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths.
I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at five a.m.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.
Pardon me, deserts, that I don’t rush to you bearing a spoonful of water.
And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the same cage,
your gaze always fixed on the same point in space,
forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.
My apologies to the felled tree for the table’s four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don’t pay me much attention.
Dignity, please be magnanimous.
Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from your train.
Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.
I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.
Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labor heavily so that they may seem light.

Wislawa Szymborska, 1923 – 2012



Filed under Poetry

12 responses to “Poem-a-Day Friday: Wislawa Szymborska

  1. Danelle

    I loved this. I feel this too, as I apologizefor tue smallness, the joys, the burdens, the love, the consumerism of my life.
    I have a quick question. . Could you tell me just one title of “must read” poetry. I would like to read one poem a day. I have forgotten how much I love poetry. It has been a long time since college lit classes.
    Thanks so much.

  2. Today I felt tongue-tied. I wanted to blog about something I was really struggling with but I felt I couldn’t put it out in the world because in the context of so many people’s lives, it is so trivial. ‘Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.’ I’m so grateful that you shared this poem and helped me to understand my uneasiness.

  3. Thank you for this, Micha, and thanks for introducing me to Wislawa Szymborska. “since I myself stand in my own way”… amen.

  4. I heard a piece on Wislawa Szymborska this morning on NPR and thought to myself, “Micah should dedicate one of the Friday poems posts to her.” And there you did! Thank you for a piece of beauty in a hectic day.

  5. Caq

    Im packing so I can’t find my szymborska and I have no Internet but my favorite poem of hers is the one about dying. It starts something like: you take off I take off we take off. It’s amazing. It’s about dying but it ends on hope. I used her for the epigraph for my book. So sad. Xoocaq

  6. Haley

    Simply wonderful.

    By the way, I started writing a ‘scrap’ a day… I like the discipline of it even if I don’t always love what I produce. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Oh, this is lovely. Thank you.

    There is a website that will send a poem a day into your inbox (besides Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac,” which will also do that). It’s called Everyday Poems and for .99 cents, you can sign up here: http://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/blog/every-day-poems/ It’s run by L.L. Barkat and features all kinds of poetry, including her own and that of others in blogdom. There are also good articles by poets and professors from time to time on either that blogsite or the related ones at TSPoetry Press. She does some fun stuff with poems assembled from one liners in a thematic twitter feed she sponsors from time to time. She’s used Luci Shaw, Maureen Doallas, Jane Overstreet as jumping off points – and they have each joined the conversation. Different and fun.

  8. what a wonderful poem. like water to my soul thanks for sharing! it makes me think, though, of something i read (maybe in “Prayer”, by Richard Foster?) about how we must “cultivate a posture of receiving”… we can RECEIVE happiness, time, a record of minuets, and even the falcon!

  9. Pingback: Poem-a-Day Friday: Rainer Marie Rilke | mama:monk

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