A Poem for a Thursday #4

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Wislawa Szymborska was a Polish poet and essayist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996 among many other honors. An article in The New York Times described her as living "a life of quiet amazement, reflected in poems that are both plain-spoken and luminous." This poem, a lovely description of the joy of writing, is a wonderful example of the imagination and deft touch evident in  so much of her work.

Why does this written doe bound these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertip.
Silence - this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word 'woods.'

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they'll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what's here isn't life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof's full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

The Joy of Writing
Wislawa Szymborska


  1. Wonderful poem (and such a lovely photo you've found to go with it). Thanks. I've never read Szymborska, but now I am intrigued. Who is the translator? I found the word "xerox" jarring and wondered about the original. It seems it must be intentionally out of place.

    1. I checked a few translations of the poem and the one I used I found on the Nobel Prize website. It says the translators are S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh.