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Monday, October 10, 2005

cover of View with a Grain of Sand

This collection of Szymborska's work contains 100 poems, selected from seven different volumes of poetry, which were published between 1957 and 1993. The poetry is thoughtful and intriguing; often, they offer a fascinatingly different take on life and reality. There is also a great deal of playing with language (most notably in "The Onion"). It seems like it must have been a very difficult to job to translate Szymborska's work into english; the translators did a fabulous job in keeping a sense of play and rhythm and even a distinctive voice in these english versions of the poems.

Some of Szymborska's poems are quite playful. Sometimes the playfulness is in the language, as in "The Onion":

In an onion there's only onion
from its top to its toe,
onionymous monomania,
unanimous omninudity.
Sometimes the playfulness is in the ideas, in a reversal of opinions, or suggesting a new and different interpretation of something familiar. For instance, in "True Love", almost the whole poem is spent discussing the ridiculousness and illogicality of so-called true love, but the ending flips the whole poem around, suggesting that this is the belief of people who never find love, and that this belief makes life easier for them. The poem "Pi", where the lines are interlaced with numbers from pi, among other things, Szymborska compares the never-ending, irrational digits of pi to various other things of long and short duration and length. In the delightful poem, "Theater Impressions", Szymborska plays on an extended metaphor of the "sixth act" of a tragedy, when all the dead come back to life, and enemy and villain grab hands and bow together for the cheering crowd.

It's hard to trace any kind of progression in a poet's work, and especially from any kind of selected poems, but it did seem like there was a greater preponderance of heavier, darker poems in the selections from the later volumes-- although even these are still consonant with the witty, clever, playful style of the other poems.

What I valued the most in Szymborska's poetry is the attention she gives to the world-- to notice the grain of sand of the title in the midst of a larger view, and consider the fact that the grain of sand has no awareness of itself. Her poetry comes across as the work of a very thoughtful person, who considers things carefully, and is not afraid of interpreting what she sees differently than the rest of us.

Title:View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems
Author:Wisława Szymborska
(translated from Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh)
Date published:1995
Number of pages:214


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