In our planning for tomorrow, it has the final word

The wonderful, Nobel-Prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska died this evening in her home in Krakow. Death may have the final word, as she says in her poem below, but her work will certainly maintain its place among the living for years to come.

picture of Wislawa Szymborska

“On Death, without Exaggeration”

It can’t take a joke,
find a star, make a bridge.
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
building ships, or baking cakes.

In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.

It can’t even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.

Preoccupied with killing,
it does the job awkwardly,
without system or skill.
As though each of us were its first kill.

Oh, it has its triumphs,
but look at its countless defeats,
missed blows,
and repeat attempts!

Sometimes it isn’t strong enough
to swat a fly from the air.
Many are the caterpillars
that have outcrawled it.

All those bulbs, pods,
tentacles, fins, tracheae,
nuptial plumage, and winter fur
show that it has fallen behind
with its halfhearted work.

Ill will won’t help
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d’etat
is so far not enough.

Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies’ skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

Whoever claims that it’s omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it’s not.

There’s no life
that couldn’t be immortal
if only for a moment.

always arrives by that very moment too late.

In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you’ve come
can’t be undone.


Forgive me, distant wounds, for bringing flowers home.

From the beautifully sharp Polish poet Wislawa Szymborsksa (1923-), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.

Picture of Wislawa Szymborska

“Beneath One Little Star”
(translated by by Adam Czerniawski)

My apologies to the accidental for calling it necessary.
However apologies to necessity if I happen to by wrong.
Hope happiness won’t be angry if I claim it as my own.
May the dead forget they barely smolder in my remembrance.
Apologies to time for the abundance of the world missed every second.
Apologies to my old love for treating the new as the first.
Forgive me, distant wounds, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, that I prick my finger.
Apologies to those calling from the abyss for a record of a minuet.
Apologies to people catching trains for sleeping at dawn.
Pardon me, baited hope, for my sporadic laugh.
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing with a spoonful of water;
And you too, hawk, unchanged in years, in that self-same cage.
Staring motionless, always at the self-same spot.
Forgive me, even if you are stuffed.
Apologies for the hewn tree for four table legs.
Apologies to the big questions for small replies.
Truth, don’t pay me too much attention.
Seriousness – be magnanimous.
Mystery of Being – suffer me to pluck threads from your train.
Soul – don’t blame me for having you but rarely.
Apologies to everyone for failing to be every him or her.
I know that while I live nothing can excuse me,
Since I am my own impediment.
Speech – don’t blame me for borrowing big words and
then struggling to make them light.