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On receiving the Nobel Prize....

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Can't resist more on Szymborska...just ignore it if you don't grok it or have time for it...or, better still, read it on the dreadmill!

God (and goddess) knows that I KNOW that this is a wellness site. "They" also know that poetry is part-and-parcel of my wellness, as is sharing it with my that's what this is, a heart sharing:


Every other year, it seems, the Nobel Prize in literature goes to an obscure European writer, full of hard consonants and solemn purposes, whom we all agree to honor for a day and forget all about right after.

This list of the Great Obscure is long, but the bright exception to it is the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, who won the Nobel in 1996. Szymborska is not merely a great writer, like many others; she is a necessary writer, as necessary as toast. Every month, it seems, I give to someone a copy of one of her books and get for her work, in response, not mere admiration or respect but eyes alight with delight, recognition, laughter and that special kind of happiness that comes from seeing a small truth articulated as a sharp ironic point, an emotion given a shape neither all too familiar nor all too abstract.

No one could possibly have chosen a worse time to arrive on the planet, or a harder place to arrive. Born in 1923, and spending most of her life in the Polish city of Krakow, she survived the Second World War as a railroad worker, and then spent the long years of the Russian occupation as one of the more discreet kinds of dissident.

Yet her exposure to the pain of history did not turn her into a poet of history in the usual sense. She lived through some horrible times, but rarely wrote about them directly. Her experience, instead, deepened her commitment to the belief that the poetic impulse, however small its objects, is always saner than the polemical imperative, however passionate its certitudes.

Her poems take small subjects and make much of them. In her poetry, a child about to pull a tablecloth from a table becomes the type of every scientist beginning an experiment; a visit to the doctors, with its stripping down and piling on of clothes, a metaphor for all we go through in the company of the odd mechanisms of our naked bodies; she ponders the onion's many layers, and the inner life of Hitler's dog.

In the poem that I used for the epigraph for my own latest book, she writes all about the range of human difficulties, over time, that make the decision to have a child impossible at any moment. We just can't do it, it's the wrong time; and yet, we do. (Read "A Tale Begun.")

And I have always been moved and inspired by the text of her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which she takes on the "astonishment" of normal life:

"Astonishing" is an epithet concealing a logical trap. We're astonished, after all, by things that deviate from some well-known and universally acknowledged norm, from an obviousness we've grown accustomed to. Granted, in daily speech, where we don't stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like "the ordinary world," "ordinary life," "the ordinary course of events." ... But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone's existence in this world."

That's Szymborska's faith. I have a hard time knowing how I would get through a single ordinary day without her poetry.

More exceptional reading from The New Yorker, Feb 2:

Member Comments About This Blog Post:
RIDMYCOCOON 2/7/2012 7:42PM

    Powerful views from a grain of sand. Thank you for this :)

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BECOMINGONE 2/6/2012 9:59PM

    You never cease to amaze me with your range of interests and passions. You are a "renaissance" woman in this "modern" world.

As always, love

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GIRANIMAL 2/6/2012 3:17PM

    I heard a piece about her on NPR and I believe it was this very one. Thanks for sharing a piece of you, through her, with us. I am unfamiliar with her work, but I found myself very intrigued by the story. She sounded fascinating. I can see why you'd have an affinity for her. emoticon

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PEACEFULONE 2/6/2012 3:09PM

    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
What more can I say?

Comment edited on: 2/6/2012 3:10:18 PM

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KALIGIRL 2/6/2012 1:35PM

    Here's to a marvelous part of your wellness AND ours!

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IMKFOX 2/6/2012 11:08AM

    Thanks for sharing - hadn't heard of her and I'm glad to know more about her now. I will be on a hunt for more of her writing!

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TAICHIDANCER 2/6/2012 10:34AM

    Love this blog.

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JOANNANOW 2/6/2012 10:31AM

    Thanks for the introduction to a new poet.

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SUNNY332 2/6/2012 9:28AM

    Thanks so much. Her poetry is amazing.

Hope all is well with you. I have been very busy with my Father. He is 90 and his health is declining. Such a difficult time for him.

Hugs, Sunny

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2BMYOWN 2/6/2012 8:11AM

    Thanx for posting this, Maha, it's wonderful.

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GOANNA2 2/5/2012 11:06PM

    Thank you for enlightening me about her poetry. emoticon

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TEENY_BIKINI 2/5/2012 10:31PM


Really cool blog. Thanks. Have a great week, gorgeous.

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JUST_BREATHE08 2/5/2012 9:40PM

    Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful blogs with all of us!! emoticon

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CARRAND 2/5/2012 6:36PM

    I love poetry, too. Are you familiar with this one?

Wislawa Szymborska
The End and the Beginning

After every war
someone has to tidy up.
Things won't pick
themselves up, after all.

Someone has to shove
the rubble to the roadsides
so the carts loaded with corpses
can get by.

Someone has to trudge
through sludge and ashes,
through the sofa springs,
the shards of glass,
the bloody rags.

Someone has to lug the post
to prop the wall,
someone has to glaze the window,
set the door in its frame.

No sound bites, no photo opportunities,
and it takes years.
All the cameras have gone
to other wars.

The bridges need to be rebuilt,
the railroad stations, too.
Shirtsleeves will be rolled
to shreds.

Someone, broom in hand,
still remembers how it was.
Someone else listens, nodding
his unshattered head.

But others are bound to be bustling nearby
who'll find all that
a little boring.

From time to time someone still must
dig up a rusted argument
from underneath a bush
and haul it off to the dump.

Those who knew
what this was all about
must make way for those
who know little.
And less than that.
And at last nothing less than nothing.

Someone has to lie there
in the grass that covers up
the causes and effects
with a cornstalk in his teeth,
gawking at clouds.

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WATERMELLEN 2/5/2012 5:56PM

    I hope that you NEVER stop writing your poetry blogs . . . and reminding us that poetry is central to human experience and meaning.

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_RAMONA 2/5/2012 5:03PM

    Ah, Maha... I'm so sorry you've lost such a wonder-FULL friend. Thank you for introducing me to her, and to a bigger world through her.

I never really grieve celebrities, but I always grieve the writers who were my friends and who enriched my life in ways others never could... they plow, without my even knowing it, pathways to my soul.

I'll now be n a quest to know Wislawa better... as I come closer to myself, I find that my life, all life actually, is a finely woven series of small truths sharply etched.

{{{{{{{{{{ HUGS }}}}}}}}}}

...and I'm intrigued... blog away!

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2WHEELEDSHARON 2/5/2012 2:39PM

    Absolutely lovely. Thanks be for her! And YOU:)

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JESPAH 2/5/2012 1:38PM


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DAISY443 2/5/2012 12:41PM

    Thanks again!

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FIERCEONE4PEACE 2/5/2012 12:39PM

    emoticon emoticon

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