Friday, December 9, 2011

Wizlawa Szymborska: A Treasure for Our Times

Every now and again one happens onto a wonderful artistic find, like the first time I heard Ellington’s Across the Track Blues, originally recorded in 1940, or Rembrandt’s self portrait at the National Portrait Museum in the Hague, which I had the good fortune to see a second time last Fall.
In the world of literature, one of those finds that has made a lasting impression for me was Wislawa Szymborska’s poem. Life While You Wait,

Life While-You-Wait.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.
I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.
I have to guess on the spot
just what this play’s all about.

Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996 for a remarkable body of work.   

Not long ago, a Dutch friend, Martine van Poeteren sent me a copy of a DVD documentary portrait of Wizlawa Szymborska, Einde en Begin (End and Beginning) by John Albert Jansen which was shown on television in Europe, but apparently not in the US.  It was produced by Oogland Filmproducties, ISM, and can be found at   The video of Szymborska provides a touching portrayal of Szymborska’s wit and personal warmth as well as her intellectual depth, and deep appreciation for history, including that of her homeland, Poland.
 The DVD includes the Polish rocker Kora performing a knock-out rendition of Szymborska’s poem, as well as some lighter moments.  After receiving the Prize in Oslo, Szymborska is seated alongside the King of Norway at a formal state dinner in a great hall.  As a chain smoker, Symborska is anxious for a smoke, and suddenly lights a cigarette.  The entire hall is stunned at her smoking in this formal state setting.  To relieve the tension and indicate his camaraderie, the 
King lights up, a very funny scene.

Wislawa Szymborska is now 88 years old and a treasure to be cherished, now in an additional way. 

Wizlaw Szymborska poetry available on Amazon
1981- Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts Princeton University Press
1995- View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems, Mariner Books
1997- Nothing Twice, Wydawnictwo Literackie
2000- Poems New and Collected, Mariner Books

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