Wisława Szymborska. The poet of "I don't know"

She is considered one of the most intense and transparent voices of contemporary world poetry. With twelve collections of poems, she stands out for her technical mastery, sharpness, wit, irony and lyrical closeness, illuminating with her poetry the reality, particularly the everyday.

Carmelo Guillén-March 8, 2023-Reading time: 5 minutes

In establishing the keys to Wisława Szymborska's poetry, one must inevitably turn to her discourse of reception of the Nobel Prize in Literaturein which, in a simple, straightforward, direct way, she expresses what drives her to write, inspiration being the result of what she defines as a "creative process". I don't know. In this way he writes: "There is, has been and will continue to be a certain group of people who are touched by inspiration. They are all those who consciously choose their work and perform it with love and imagination. One finds such doctors, and pedagogues, and gardeners, and others in a hundred other professions. Their work can be an endless adventure as long as they are able to perceive new challenges. In spite of difficulties and failures, their curiosity does not cool down. From every resolved doubt flies a swarm of new questions. Inspiration, whatever it is, is born from a constant 'I don't know'.". 

Fruit of inspiration

From this I don't know Wisława Szymborska's poetic work generates a whole creative process of deepening and searching for the essential from the everyday, conceiving lyric writing as a continuous discovery that goes from the concrete to the general, from the particular to the universal, from the insignificant to that which exceeds knowledge; creative process that, in turn, is a way of appreciating reality in which the diminutive contains the great, the futile the transcendent, the contingent the eternal; creative process, moreover, loaded with questions before the amazement of what happens daily and that leads the author to a myriad of uncertainties that make her see that existence is elusive, elusive, too subtle.  

I cannot forget specific texts of his as excellent as the ".In Praise of My Sister", "The clouds", "It can be untitled.", "End and beginning." o "Farewell to a landscape".titles that are in the memory of any self-respecting reader and that deserve the privilege of going down in the history of contemporary lyric poetry for their ability to unveil the things or facts they refer to, all of them genuine testimonies of his powerful and unmistakable voice. 

Reflective presentation

Generally focused on the reflective exposition of scenes of ordinary life in its comic and dramatic aspects, any of Szymborska's poems awakens in the reader a certain curiosity that incites him to remain absorbed in the reading of her verses as if it were a continuous and unusual revelation. As a sample, I choose at random one of the aforementioned compositions, "End and Beginning", in which the poet shows, with discreet detachment, wise irony and intelligent ingenuity, what can happen on a battlefield after the end of a war. 

The fact is that it gives the impression that what he is exposing does not seem to be the painful or tragic result of a war event, as would be proper, but the day after a festive celebration in which it is convenient to clean up a supposedly altered space. In this way he states: "After every war / someone has to clean up / They're not going to sort things out on their own, / I say / Someone has to throw the rubble / into the gutter / so that the carts full of corpses / can pass by."This is the point of view, apparently cold and impassive, which commonly stands out in his poetic creation. 

Another example of the same kind is the poem "The clouds"in which he realizes that his function, when speaking of these masses of watery vapor, must be adjusted to the moment in which they are present in the sky, otherwise he could not photograph them poetically in their instantaneous state, since they are transitory, fleeting, ephemeral. Thus he states: "With the description of the clouds / I should be in a hurry, / in a millisecond / they stop being those and start being others / It is characteristic of them / never to repeat themselves / in shapes, nuances, postures and order.". He concludes: "Let people exist if they will, / And then die one after another, / It matters little to the clouds [...] / Over all Your life / And mine too, still incomplete, / They parade pompously as they paraded / They have no obligation to die with us, / They need not be seen to pass away.". 

The list of references could be very long, but I believe that with those already mentioned the reader can get an idea that Szymborska's poetry, without formal brilliance, conversational at times, prosaic in appearance, but full of discoveries and illuminations, is of enormous emotional power, always prone to unveil, as I said, a reality that she constantly wants to access. 

From her is the phrase: "The things you don't know are what make life fascinating."a new twist on the idea of the I don't know that I pointed out at the beginning and that is at the base of his admirable lyrical work. It is also a twist that allows him to settle his verse on the back of ignorance, perplexity, astonishment, as if in not knowing, paradoxically, the very wisdom itself was seated. In the poem "It is a great luck" he expresses it succinctly with his particular style: "It is a great luck".It is a great good fortune / not to know at all / in what world one lives in.".

Past and future

And it is in the becoming of existence where his poems are finally implanted, a becoming in which everything has its inevitable past - as he expresses it in the composition "Puede ser sin título": "The most fleeting instant also has its past, / its Friday before Saturday, / its May before June." -, with no possibility of turning back. But not only its inevitable past, but also its enigmatic and surprising future. And the fact is that in every beginning there is a continuity to another pre-existing reality. It repeats it in many ways. As an example, I bring here "Farewell to a landscape": "I do not reproach spring / for coming again. / I do not complain that it fulfills / as every year / its obligations. / [...] I demand no change / from the waves to the shore, / light or lazy, / but never obedient. / I ask nothing / of the waters by the forest [...] / One thing I do not accept / to return to that place. / I renounce the privilege / of presence. / I have survived you long enough / and only long enough / to remember from afar". Considerations that the Polish poet makes with the lucid awareness that, as she expresses in the form of an aphorism in "View with grain of sand": "Time rushed by like a messenger with urgent news.".

Time and life

Time and life, the two supports on which Wisława Szymborska's lyrical work moves and which have their basis in the not only reflective but also contemplative character with which this woman looks at existence, hers and that of those around her, dwelling on multiple deeply human circumstances, apparently inconsequential, but always conceived as pure prodigy: "Common miracle / is that many common miracles happen / Common miracle: / in the silence of the night, barking / of invisible dogs / Miracle, one of many: / a light and small cloud / is able to hide a big and heavy moon / [...] Miracle just by looking around: the omnipresent world". Miracles, in short, that are the fruit of that extraordinary capacity to discover the richness of nuances that life brings, as soon as one starts from the beginning. I don't knowas if he were undertaking "an endless adventure"full of challenges.

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