On Poets, Prophets and a Tribute to Wislawa Szymborska

 The Poetic Speech of Prophets : by Walter Brueggemann
"The overriding reality of the prophets is that they are characteristically poets. Poets have no advice to give people. They only want people to see differently to re-vision life.
Everything depends on the poem and the poet for our worlds come from our words. Our life is fed and shaped by our metaphors.
The enemies of the poem are the managers of the status quo.
The poets want us to re-experience the present world under a different set of metaphors and they want us to entertain an alternative world not yet visible.

Image from here

Poets speak porously. They use the kind of language that is not exhausted at first hearing. They leave many things open, ambiguous, still to be discerned after more reflection.
Very often people who hear poets want an explanation, which means to slot the words into categories already predetermined and controlled. Such an act however is the death of the poem...
Good porous language does not permit itself to be so easily dismissed. It intends to violate and shatter the categories in which the listener operates.
These poets not only discerned the new actions of God that others did not discern but they wrought the new actions of God by the power of their imagination, their tongues, their words. New poetic imagination evoke new realities in the community.
We lose vitality in our ministry when our language of God is domesticated and our relation with God is made narrow and predictable... Predictable language is a measure of a deadened relationship in which address is reduced to slogan and cliché.
It is always a practice of prophetic poetry to break the conventions in which we habituate God."

Wisława Szymborska (b. July 2, 1923 in Bnin, P...
Image via Wikipedia
On February 2nd the great Polish poet and  Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, Wislawa Szymborska died from lung cancer at the age of 88 in Krakow.

Sadly it escaped my posting then, so it's a good time to pay tribute to her with some of her poems.


In the New York Times Book Review, Stanislaw Baranczak wrote, “The typical lyrical situation on which a Szymborska poem is founded is the confrontation between the directly stated or implied opinion on an issue and the question that raises doubt about its validity. The opinion not only reflects some widely shared belief or is representative of some widespread mind-set, but also, as a rule, has a certain doctrinaire ring to it: the philosophy behind it is usually speculative, anti-empirical, prone to hasty generalizations, collectivist, dogmatic and intolerant.” 

Coming  of  age in Poland under Stalin, Wislawa Szymborska embraced and supported the regime and its ideals.  Her first collection (Dlateyen Zyjany) was delayed from its planned publication in 1949 in order for her to "edit" the pieces to meet the Socialist requirements of the censors.  

Szymborska wrote in praise of Stalin, Lenin and the idealized socialist life. She joined the United Workers Party, and was active in the effort to defame Catholic Priests before the Socialist Courts that allowed the priests to be condemned to death. "Dlatezen Zjjary" was finally acceptable to the censors and published in 1952.

Like many Polish intellectuals initially close to the official party line, Szymborska gradually grew estranged from socialist ideology and renounced her earlier political work. Although she did not officially leave the party until 1966, she began to establish contacts with dissidents. 

I have always been intrigued by this part of her life and would love to have known more about how she felt about those early years

The first poem is also a great one for Valentine's Day...

True Love

 True love. Is it normal
 is it serious, is it practical?
 What does the world get from two people
 who exist in a world of their own?

 Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
 drawn randomly from millions but convinced
 it had to happen this way - in reward for what?
 For nothing.

 The light descends from nowhere.
 Why on these two and not on others?
 Doesn't this outrage justice? Yes it does.
 Doesn't it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
 and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

 Look at the happy couple.
 Couldn't they at least try to hide it,
 fake a little depression for their friends' sake?
 Listen to them laughing - its an insult.

 The language they use - deceptively clear.
 And their little celebrations, rituals,
 the elaborate mutual routines -
 it's obviously a plot behind the human race's back!

 It's hard even to guess how far things might go
 if people start to follow their example.
 What could religion and poetry count on?
 What would be remembered? What renounced?
 Who'd want to stay within bounds?

 True love. Is it really necessary?
 Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
 like a scandal in Life's highest circles.
 Perfectly good children are born without its help.
 It couldn't populate the planet in a million years,
 it comes along so rarely.

 Let the people who never find true love
 keep saying that there's no such thing.

 Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.
More of her poems from Nobel Prize website ;this is one titled Utopia 
and a great one here called  On Death; Without Exaggeration

Image from here

A Note 

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;  
to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;
to tell pain from everything it’s not;
to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.
An extraordinary chance to remember for a moment
a conversation held with the lamp switched off;
and if only once to stumble on a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another, 
mislay your keys in the grass; 
and to follow a spark in the wind with your eyes;
and to keep on not knowing
something important.
Notatka, translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak from the collection Chwila (Moment, 2003)

My own image 

The End and The Beginning
After every war
someone has to clean up. 
Things won't straighten themselves up, 
after all. 
Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons can pass. 
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa-springs, splintered glass, and bloody rags.
Someone must drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone must glaze a window, 
rehang a door.
Photogenic it's not, 
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.
Again we'll need bridges
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls how it was.
Someone listens 
and nods with unsevered head. 
Yet others milling about
already find it dull. 
From behind the bush sometimes
someone still unearths
rust-eaten arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile. 
Those who knew what was going on here
must give way to those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.
In the grass which has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out,
blade of grass in his mouth, 
gazing at the clouds.

Above poem taken from Waging Peace from here.

                                 Duchamp self portrait

I'm not sure whether I agree with her views on the soul here but it certainly makes me think !!
A Few Words on the Soul
translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh
We have a soul at times.
No one’s got it non-stop,
for keeps.
Day after day,
year after year
may pass without it.
it will settle for awhile
only in childhood’s fears and raptures.
Sometimes only in astonishment
that we are old.

It rarely lends a hand
in uphill tasks,
like moving furniture,
or lifting luggage,
or going miles in shoes that pinch.
It usually steps out
whenever meat needs chopping
or forms have to be filled.
For every thousand conversations
it participates in one,
if even that,
since it prefers silence.
Just when our body goes from ache to pain,
it slips off-duty.
It’s picky:
it doesn’t like seeing us in crowds,
our hustling for a dubious advantage
and creaky machinations make it sick.
Joy and sorrow
aren’t two different feelings for it.
It attends us
only when the two are joined.
We can count on it
when we’re sure of nothing
and curious about everything.
Among the material objects
it favors clocks with pendulums
and mirrors, which keep on working
even when no one is looking.
It won’t say where it comes from
or when it’s taking off again,
though it’s clearly expecting such questions.
We need it
but apparently
it needs us
for some reason too.
I like the following poem as it examines the ability of humans to be self conscious and accountable and is a playful one particularly when considering whether the primacy of conscience although attractive as an option, can ever be that pure.  

Her writing often lays open questions ( though not answers), about human motives. 

This poem deals with the examination of conscience which includes questions on which act is right and which is wrong and the ability of humans to be self reflective.

It also cleverly alludes to the concept of original sin and the role of evil as personified in the snake.

 In Praise Of Feeling Bad About Yourself
The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.
A jackal doesn’t understand remorse.
Lions and lice don’t waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they’re right?
Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
in every other way they’re light.
On this third planet of the sun
among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One.

I was particularly taken with this extract (from billyanddad.com) :  " I read a poem she didn’t recite on her 60th birthday, inscribed “for 60th”: “No Title Required,” she writes about the poet sitting under a tree and watching a butterfly and reflecting how each moment has a “fertile past” and is as woven into the “tapestry of circumstance” as even the most renowned moments. 
The last lines read:
I’m no longer sure that what’s important is more important than what’s not.
“I’m no longer sure” has been underlined in pencil." Related Articles and Sources

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