A poet

Poland is a country of great literary achievement and poetry is no exception.

One of the country’s most celebrated poets is Wisława Szymborska (1923 – 2012), born in the west near Poznan. When World War II broke out, like many teenagers she continued her studies in secret, in unofficial classes organised by Polish teachers known as ‘tajne komplety’ (‘secret sets’). She later worked as a railway worker and, unlikely many of her peers, managed to avoid being sent to the Germany as a forced labourer. After the war ended she went on to study at the prestigious Jagiellonian University in Krakow but was forced to drop out before graduating due to her poor financial situation.

Szymborska began work as an illustrator at a magazine and soon began to write prose and poetry, although her first work was rejected by the censorship office. At this stage in her life she became more actively involved in the socialist project, writing some of her early poems about Lenin and the construction workers of Nowa Huta (a socialist-era new city close to Krakow). Later in her career, as the impacts of the political models became clearer, she tried to distance herself from socialism.

She went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1996) and later received Poland’s highest honour, the Order of the White Eagle (2011). In one of her poems she half joked that very few people really enjoy poetry (in ‘Some like poetry’), but I think the two examples of hers below should contradict this. They are abridged versions and translations, but at least some of the flavour and charm seem to remain.



Nothing twice(Nic dwa razy)

Nothing happens twice

And nothing ever will.

We were born without practice,

And will die just the same.

Even the greatest fool

In the ways of the world

Cannot see

The same winter or summer.

No day will ever repeat,

No nights identical,

Kiss replayed,

Nor two glances the same.

Yesterday when your name

Was spoken by someone

A rose! It was as a rose

Came through the open window.

Now, when we are together

I turned to the wall.

A rose. What is a rose?

More like a flower, or a rock?


Smiling in embrace,

We will try to find accord,

Even though we differ

As two drops of water.


Conversation with a stone (Rozmowa z kamieniem); 1962

I knock on the door of the stone.

– It’s me, let me in.

I want to go into

your interior, look



– Go away, says the


I’m tightly closed.

Even broken into

parts I will be tightly closed.

Even spread

on the sand I will not let anyone in.


I knock on the door of the


– It’s me, let me in.

I come to you with curiosity pure.


– I’m made of

stone, says the stone, and I must stay serious out of necessity.



I knock on the door of the


– It’s me, let me in.

I’m not looking for a shelter for eternity.

I’m not unhappy.

I’m not homeless.

To my world it’s worth returning.

I’ll enter and leave empty-handed.


– You won’t enter, says the



Knock on the door of stone.

– It’s me, let me in.

I can’t wait

two thousand centuries to get under your roof.


– I don’t have a door, says the




One thought on “A poet

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  1. I admit to never having heard of Wislawa Szymborska but love the two poems and intend to research more. They are certainly very accessible and hopefully challenge her notion that few people enjoy poetry.


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