Quote of the day +

Charles 3 Comments

Posted by Vale

Wislawa Szymborska – Nobel prize winning poet – died last week. In a piece in the Guardian she was reported as saying:

“For the last few years my favourite phrase has been ‘I don’t know’. I’ve reached the age of self-knowledge, so I don’t know anything. People who claim that they know something are responsible for most of the fuss in the world.”

She was a fine poet. Here’s one she wrote about death:

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.

By Wislawa Szymborska
From “The People on the Bridge”, 1986
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

You can buy the People on the Bridge here.

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Jenny Uzzell
12 years ago

I love this, especially the idea of immortality being ontological rather than temporal. We have rather adopted the idea that the meaningfulness of something is limited by its duration…an idea the Buddhists are quite good at moving beyond.
This has really got me thinking!

12 years ago

Good words, Jenny. “Ontological rather than temporal.” Sort of summing up I stumble towards, keeling over long before I reach it. The whole Buddhist, mindfulness state of being lies behind your words there, and the poet’s. What a marvellous, simple but profound poem.

Charles Cowling
12 years ago

Great poem. Well found, Vale!