Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wisława Szymborska, 1923-2012

I heard a guy say once that philosophers have the ability to become enduring companions, closer than close friends, for how much we allow them to speak into and give shape to our lives. This seems even more true of poets than philosophers, to chance a clean distinction (one that the poet I love dissolves, time and again). The most personal and deeply felt aspects of living in this world don't translate well into propositions, but in blessed moments, they may come to some kind of partial articulation—a fly-away instant of real meaning—through verse. Today I lost one of my companions, a Polish woman I never shook hands with, but whose words have been resonating in my mind and heart for years.

Wisława Szymborska is a poet I met between the brown covers of a book that someone had crammed into a low shelf at a used bookstore. Love hit me pretty hard, pretty fast. For the sake of brevity, I might call out a single theme in her work that's left a mark on me—namely, her reflections on time. Her poems frequently manage to bring out the radical uncertainty and contingency of human life, the speckdom of ours in a dark universe where eternity provides bookends for the whole of human civilization, while still holding on to a tiny thread of hope. That tiny thread was its own paradoxically ineffable argument, a tassel from the hem of Job's rent garments; the possibility of redemption in Szymborska's perspective still seems more solid and trustworthy than glib certainties in anyone else's.

What else could a clumsy writer say to honor a brilliant interpreter of human experience? She's been a beautiful and gracious companion to me since our first encounter years ago, and I look forward to many years of companionship still to come. God bless you, Mrs Szymborska. The world is better for your having been in it.

Portrait of the Artist as a Compassionate Human Being


  1. sighhhhhh

    I'll miss her.

    A friend linked to her poem Under One Small Star in tribute yesterday. I couldn't begin to say if it's my favorite of hers, but I read it and imprinted on it about four years ago, and reading it tonight hit me between the eyes and made me cry a bit.

    I'll link to it to avoid lineation/formatting awkwardness:

    Glad I get to share her with you, friend. And of course, I apologize for my record of minuets...