Map: Collected and Last Poems by Wislawa Szymborska

Review:

Map: Collected and Last Poems - Wisława Szymborska, Clare Cavanagh, Stanisław Barańczak

Map spans Polish Nobel laureate Szymborska’s work from the 1940s up until 2011. Her poetry is immediately engaging, often funny, and down-to-earth. She writes about the smallest subjects (a cat alone in its owner’s home) and the largest (mortality, time). She’d be an excellent poet to read if one is new to or intimidated by poetry.

The translation by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak is impressive given that many of Szymborska’s poems play with words and language, though, not knowing Polish myself, I can only give my impressions. I only know that a personable, curious voice comes through.

Here’s a late poem (about this painting) whose beauty brought tears to my eyes:

Vermeer

So long as that woman from the Rijksmuseum

in painted quiet and concentration

keeps pouring milk day after day

from the pitcher to the bowl

the World hasn’t earned

the world’s end.

I can’t remember what prompted me to finally read Szymborska’s body of work beyond the occasional anthologized poem, but I’m glad I did. I asked for it last Christmas (I read poetry only in print and often ask for books of poems then; they can be expensive!), and I happened to flip to “Possibilities,” written as a list of preferences, which contains the following lines: “I prefer the absurdity of writing poems / to the absurdity of not writing poems.” Me too.

 

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Map: Collected and Last Poems by Wislawa Szymborska

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