Wednesday, August 01, 2007

468. Evaluation Of An Unwritten Poem - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

In the poem's opening words
the authoress asserts that while the Earth is small,
the sky is excessively large and
in it there are, I quote, "too many stars for our own good."

In her depiction of the sky, one detects a certain helplessness,
the authoress is lost in a terrifying expanse,
she is startled by the planets' lifelessness,
and within her mind (which can only be called imprecise)
a question soon arises:
whether we are, in the end, alone
under the sun, all suns that ever shone.

In spite of all the laws of probability!
And today's universally accepted assumptions!
In the face of the irrefutable evidence that may fall
into human hands any day now! That's poetry for you.

Meanwhile, our Lady Bard returns to Earth,
a planet, so she claims, which "makes its rounds without eyewitnesses,"
the only "science fiction that our cosmos can afford."
The despair of a Pascal (1623-1662, note mine)
is, the authoress implies, unrivalled
on any, say, Andromeda or Cassiopeia.
Our solitary existence exacerbates our sense of obligation,
and raises the inevitable question, How are we to live et cetera?,
since "we can't avoid the void."
"'My God,' man calls out to Himself,
'have mercy on me, I beseech thee, show me the way...'"

The authoress is distressed by the thought of life squandered so freely,
as if our supplies were boundless.
She is likewise worried by wars, which are, in her perverse opinion,
always lost on both sides,

and by the "authoritorture" (sic!) of some people by others.
Her moralistic intentions glimmer throughout the poem.
They might shine brighter beneath a less naive pen.

Not under this one, alas. Her fundamentally unpersuasive thesis
(that we may well be, in the end, alone
under the sun, all suns that ever shone)
combined with her lackadaisical style (a mixture
of loffy rhetoric and ordinary speech)
forces the question: Whom might this piece convince?
The answer can only be: No one. Q. E. D.

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