Wisława Szymborska, the noted poet and essayist, passed away this week at the age of 88. Szymborska published over 400 poems in her lifetime, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. The Nobel committee noted that she had been called ”the Mozart of poetry,” remarking that the title was “not without justice in view of her wealth of inspiration and the veritable ease with which her words seem to fall into place.”
In 1981, PUP published Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems by Wislawa Szymborska with translators Magnus Krynski and Robert Maguire. Of her poetry, Krynski and Maguire said:
“Her verse is marked by high seriousness, delightful inventiveness, a prodigal imagination, and enormous technical skill. She writes of the diversity, plenitude, and richness of the world, taking delight in observing and naming its phenomena. She looks on with wonder, astonishment, and amusement, but almost never with despair.”
Read on for “Memory at Last,” a wonderful Szymborska poem about remembrance and loss.
MEMORY AT LAST
Memory at last has what it sought.
My mother has been found, my father glimpsed.
I dreamed up for them a table, two chairs. They sat down.
Once more they seemed close, and once more living for me.
With the lamps of their two faces, at twilight,
they suddenly gleamed as if for Rembrandt.
Only now can I relate
the many dreams in which they’ve wandered, the many throngs
in which I’ve pulled them out from under wheels,
the many death-throes where they have collapsed into my arms.
Cut off – they would grow back crooked.
Absurdity forced them into masquerade.
Small matter that this could not hurt them outside me
if it hurt them inside me.
The gawking rabble of my dreams heard me calling “mamma”
to something that hopped squealing on a branch.
And they laughed because I had a father with a ribbon in his hair.
I would wake up in shame.
Well, at long last.
On a certain ordinary night,
between a humdrum Friday and Saturday,
they suddenly appeared exactly as I wished them.
Seen in a dream, they yet seemed freed from dreams,
obedient only to themselves and nothing else.
All possibilities vanished from the background of the image,
accidents lacked a finished form.
Only they shone with beauty, for they were like themselves.
They appeared to me a long, long time, and happily.
I woke up. I opened my eyes.
I touched the world as if it were a carved frame.