Thursday, March 3, 2011

Birthday

by Wislawa Szymborska

So much world all at once – how it rustles and bustles!
Moraines and morays and morasses and mussels,
the flame, the flamingo, the flounder, the feather –
how to line them all up, how to put them together?
All the thickets and crickets and creepers and creeks!
The beeches and leeches alone could take weeks.
Chinchillas, gorillas, and sarsaparillas –
thanks do much, but all this excess of kindness could kill us.
Where’s the jar for this burgeoning burdock, brooks’ babble,
rooks’ squabble, snakes’ squiggle, abundance, and trouble?
How to plug up the gold mines and pin down the fox,
How to cope with the lynx, bobolinks, streptococs!
Take dioxide: a lightweight, but mighty in deeds:
what about octopodes, what about centipedes?
I could look into prices, but don’t have the nerve:
These are products I just can’t afford, don’t deserve.
Isn’t sunset a little too much for two eyes
that, who knows, may not open to see the sun rise?
I am just passing through, it’s a five-minute stop.
I won’t catch what is distant: what’s too close, I’ll mix up.
While trying to plumb what the void's inner sense is,
I'm bound to pass by all these poppies and pansies.
What a loss when you think how much effort was spent
perfecting this petal, this pistil, this scent
for the one-time appearance, which is all they're allowed,
so aloofly precise and so fragilely proud.

(translated from Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak      
 and Clare Cavanagh)        

You will like this article from the New York Times (March 16, 2002), a review of a poetry event at Cooper Union celebrating Polish poets.  Not only does it give a helpful pronunciation of Ms. Szymborska's name (vee-SWAHV-ahh shimm-BOR-skah), it also includes this terrific assessment by the reviewer, Sarah Boxer:


The thrill of the night was Ms. Szymborska's poem 'Birthday,' which Ms. Czyzewska [a Polish actress] recited in Polish with great trilling rrr's. It's safe to say that more than half the room had no idea what she was saying, but they were won over by the sloshing, comical meter, which sounded something like a loud washing machine speaking in Dr. Seuss's relentless rhythms.




Find this poem and many others by Wislawa Szymborska at SUNY Buffalo's InfoPoland (Information about Poland on the Web).  See the posting for Under A Certain Little Star below for more links to Szymborska's work as well as biographical information and reviews.

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