Tutaj - Wisława Szymborska
Every new book of poetry by Wisława Szymborska is eagerly awaited and every new poem of hers celebrated - and Tutaj ["Here"] is no exception.
Its linguistic precision reflects an extraordinary concentration of thought and imagination, and the poems offer a striking abundance of detail of the visible (and invisible) world that keeps amazing the poet. Indeed, amazement seems to be the key to Szymborska's poetry, and it comes from her gift of attentive observation and of seeing things as if for the first time, without the burden of axioms, certainties or accumulated knowledge. Szymborska says about the world: "Niewiedza tutaj jest zapracowana" / "Ignorance is hard-earned here," and the same can be said about her poetry, her poems invariably bringing a wealth of surprises and discoveries.
Although many of her poems are little philosophical treatises, they do not offer abstract intellectual speculations. On the contrary, isolation from raw and concrete reality is the last thing of which they can be suspected. They are intense, and talk about the painful experiences of contemporary humans, such as terrorist attacks, divorces or identification of air crash victims. Also about the nature and mystery of dreams, of memory and of the process of writing poems. About Szymborska's greatest loves, Vermeer and Ella Fitzgerald. About travelling (another key word) in space and beyond, but even more so in time. And about the wonderful stage-coach journey with Juliusz Słowacki.
It is truly amazing how many worlds can be contained in just nineteen poems: Ella w niebie, Identyfikacja, Kilkunastoletnia, Metafizyka, Mikrokosmos, Myśli nawiedzające mnie na ruchliwych ulicach, Nieczytanie, Otwornice, Pomysł, Portret z pamięci, Przed podróżą, Przykład, Rozwód, Sny, Trudne życie z pamięcią, Tutaj, W dyliżansie, Zamachowcy, Vermeer.
An excerpt from the poem Sny:
An excerpt from a review published in the weekly "Polityka":
"The nineteen poems from Wisława Szymborska's latest collection entitled 'Tutaj', meticulously as always trimmed of unnecessary words, do not offer the unequivocal brilliance of her poems from 'Chwila' or shock the reader, but impress you with precision of thinking and views which contradict the obvious and enchant with their discreet beauty. 'Żyjemy dłużej, / Ale mniej dokładnie / I krótszymi zdaniami' / 'We live longer / But less accurately / And with shorter sentences' - these words from the poem 'Nieczytanie' get to the core of our thoughtless everyday living. We live in a hurry, quickly and painlessly immersing ourselves in stupidity - such is the conclusion of the Nobel Prize winner's poetry. And one cannot but agree with it.
She tames the abstract with the concrete. Uses daily objects like she would use the air. Populates the earth with scissors, violins, chairs, tenderness, cups, jokes, mixing the high with the low. Unlike in the pessimistic 'Chwila' of seven years ago, she is happy with being here, and probably not only because she does not believe in being elsewhere.
- Wisława Szymborska
SIW "Znak", Kraków, January 2009
130 x 206, 44 pages, hardcover
"Gazeta Wyborcza" presents works nominated for the "Nike 2010" Literary Award:
Szymborska, in other words you are not alone
Wisława Szymborska's nineteen poems from her volume Tutaj / Here do not come as a surprise - an accusation already made by some reviewers - as they are made from her usual stock of ingredients. Reading her works can be compared to a visit to a well-known place which has lost none of its charm, ambivalence or mystery.
Contrary to the modesty and playfulness of her poetry, Szymborska's programme is a maximalist one. She tries to tell the story of our extant "here", on earth. In the title poem, she turns the stereotypical proportions of despair and rapture upside down, perversely using the arguments for being here. She writes about catastrophic elements which nonetheless "tire quickly", about wars "with breaks between them," and about a free trip on the "planetary merry-go-round" courtesy of the Earth.
In the poems Myśli nawiedzające mnie na ruchliwych ulicach / Thoughts that Haunt Me on Busy Streets and Kilkunastoletnia/ Teenage, she seeks the mystery of identity asking if the number of forms in nature has its limits while we, knowing nothing, don Confucius' and Semiramis' countenance. She asks what connection does she as a teenage girl have to do with herself as the elderly poet. In Trudne życie z pamięcią / The Difficult Life with Memory the poet writes about the greed of memories capturing the present, which ultimately resign themselves to existing as an indispensable part of life. In both Mikrokosmos / Microcosm and Otwornice / Forams, she returns to one of her favourite subjects, the mystery of the micro world, and to our language's incongruity to describe it.
In Rozwód / The Divorce, on the other hand, she describes the traumatic event from unexpected viewpoints: the cat's, the dog's, the furniture's, the neighbours' and even from the point of view of the books from a library waiting to be divided. Zamachowcy / Terrorists is a poem in which Szymborska describes trivial, everyday tasks performed by the terrorists which have nothing to do with their murderous deeds. Yet in fact it is a search, albeit indirect, for the sources of evil. The volume ends with portraits of several artists across the ages: Juliusz Słowacki, who is met by a messenger from the future in rather ordinary circumstances of travelling by stagecoach, Ella Fitzgerald and Vermeer.
The piercing poem Identyfikacja / Identification has gained surprising relevance lately. You listen to a woman who has lost her husband in a plane crash. She drives away the loss, convincing herself that it was someone else who passed away:
(...) Zaraz nastawię czajnik na herbatę.
Umyję głowę, a potem, co potem,
spróbuję zbudzić się z tego wszystkiego.
Dobrze że przyszłaś, bo tam było zimno,
a on tylko w tym takim gumowym śpiworze,
on, to znaczy ten tamten nieszczęśliwy człowiek.
Zaraz nastawię czwartek, umyję herbatę,
bo te nasze imiona przecież pospolite...
(…) In a minute I'll put the kettle on for tea.
I'll wash my hair, and then, what then,
I'll try to awake from all this.
It's good that you came, because it was cold there,
and he was just in a rubber sleeping bag,
he, I mean that unhappy man.
In a minute I'll put on Thursday, I'll wash the tea,
For our names after all are common...
This momentous poem bears one of the key features of Szymborska's poetry: discretion and ambiguity of tone, which correspond to the ambiguity and mystery of the world. The trauma which comes from the experience of the absurd cruelty of fate and coincidence is told without rapture, it is merely suggested by a slip of the tongue in the penultimate verse. Yet at the same time it is overcome by hope in the presence of a silent witness, the monologue's addressee, clearly someone close - a relative? a friend? - as if to remind us that even in times of despair we are never really alone.
Author: Juliusz Kurkiewicz - wyborcza.pl, August 3, 2010
Translated by: Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer, August, 2010