In memory of Wisława Szymborska, 1923-2012

A Contribution to Statistics by Wislawa Szymborska, translated by S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh

Out of a hundred people

those who always know better
— fifty-two

doubting every step
— nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand
if it doesn’t take too long
— as high as forty-nine,

always good
because they can’t be otherwise
— four, well maybe five,

able to admire without envy
— eighteen,

suffering illusions
induced by fleeting youth
— sixty, give or take a few,

not to be taken lightly
— forty and four,

living in constant fear
of someone or something
— seventy-seven,

capable of happiness
— twenty-something tops,

harmless singly, savage in crowds
— half at least,

cruel
when forced by circumstances
— better not to know
even ballpark figures,

wise after the fact
— just a couple more
than wise before it,

taking only things from life
— thirty
(I wish I were wrong),

hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
— eighty-three
sooner or later,

righteous
— thirty-five, which is a lot,

righteous
and understanding
— three,

worthy of compassion
— ninety-nine,

mortal
— a hundred out of a hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

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5 thoughts on “In memory of Wisława Szymborska, 1923-2012

  1. Dear Devoted Reader
    Strangeness happens when you publish a book, strangeness both terrible and profound. The narcissism of technology has alerted me to your blog, but my name or work is not important – I cherished Szymborska’s work but in the whirl of life her death had passed me by. Thank you for informing me of her passing in a manner that is both gracious and honouring – the loss of a vision such as hers should never go unnoticed – I’ve shared this remarkable poem with people I love. Literature is love, consolation, and strength – an unfashionable notion. I know nothing of you, as is the way of the internet: I know that you’re young, that you live in Sydney, that you give your precious time to read other people’s thoughts and to contemplate. You give me immense hope, and I thank you for that.

    • Thanks for your lovely comment Deborah. It’s remarkable how connected you can feel with a total stranger because of their art, isn’t it? Szymborska was certainly such a person for me, so I feel a real sense of loss at her passing. This is a deceptively simple, wonderful poem which helps show why.

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