Monday, April 28, 2008

648. Unwritten Poem Reviewed - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Adam Czerniawski

In the opening words of her composition
the author asserts that the Earth is small,
while the sky in unconscionably vast
and, I quote, "contains more than necessary" stars.

In her description of the heavens one detects a certain helplessness,
the author loses herself in the terrible void,
she is struck by the lifelessness of many planets
and presently her mind (which lacks rigour)
poses the question
whether, after all, we are alone
under the sun, under all the suns of the universe.

Flouting the calculus of probability!
And all the generally accepted convictions!
Despite incontrovertible proof which any day now
may fall into our hands! Ah, well, poetry.

Meanwhile, our oracle returns to Earth,
a planet which perhaps "rolls on without witness",
the sole "science-fiction cosmos can afford".
The despair of Pascal (1623-1662 [Ed.])
appears to the author to have no match
on Andromeda or Cassiopeia.
Uniqueness exaggerates and obligates,
and thus arises the problem of how to live, and so on,
since "emptiness will not resolve that for us".
"My God, man cries to His Own Self,
have mercy on me, bring me light ..."

The author is haunted by the thought of life so effortlessly frittered away,
as though there were endless supplies of it;
by wars which - according to her perverse opinion -
are always lost on both sides;
by man's "policification" (sic!) of man.
A moral intent flickers in the work
and would probably have glowed under a less naïve pen.

A pity, though. This fundamentally risky thesis
(are we, after all, perhaps alone
beneath the sun, beneath all the suns of the universe)
and its development in her happy-go-lucky style
(a mixture of loftiness and common speech)
causes us to ask whether anyone would believe it.
No one surely. Quite so.

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