In Memory of Wislawa Szymborska

Some books I love so much I want to buy them again. So, at Goodwill one day I picked up a copy of Wislawa Szymborska’s View with a Grain of Sand; and because of what I found inside, its home is now on my shelf right next to my other copy of View with a Grain of Sand. In the corner of its first page, in the slanted cursive of an older lady, is the name “Catherine Hobart,” and underneath, “make copies and read for 60th,” and underneath that, “(didn’t).” On page 175, I found the poem she didn’t recite on her birthday, inscribed “for 60th”: “No Title Required,” about the poet sitting under a tree and watching a butterfly and reflecting how each moment has a “fertile past” and is as woven into the “tapestry of circumstance” as even the most renowned moments. The last lines read:

I’m no longer sure
that what’s important
is more important than what’s not.

“I’m no longer sure” has been underlined in pencil.

On the title page is pasted a newspaper article about the Nobel Prize for Literature of 1996, which Szymborska won. A few words are underlined in red ink: “joy,” “playfulness,” “despair,” “hope,” and “do not always translate well.” Between “the Nobel committee” and “has honored Ms. Szymborska” a red arrow has been drawn that points up at a carefully written “wisely.”

Scattered throughout the book are folded clippings from The New Yorker and The Atlantic of translations of the poet that don’t appear in View with a Grain of Sand. Beneath the ending of “Seance,” a poem about happenstance and what a small world it is and how joy is “radiant and deceptive,” Catherine Hobart has taped a Dennis the Menace cartoon, where Dennis looks up at his mother and inquires, “How long have you been with us now, Mom?”

Markings suggest that “after Norm Diamond’s death” Catherine read “for Barbara” “Conversation with a Stone,” in which the poet knocks on a stone’s door and pleads to be let in to experience the stone’s calm interior, and the stone responds, “I don’t have a door.”

After certain poems, Catherine has written the inane, apt things we all tend to think after having been moved by poetry, like “so life is, so life goes on” or “Lord, let us keep the PEACE.” Above the poem “Tortures” is written, “Yes! after fractured hip 07/00.”

When I first looked at the book, I wondered – idiotically – why Catherine had given up something that had embroidered her life and that she had embroidered with her life. Now, Wislawa Szymborska is dead too – of lung cancer.

It’s not in the typeface of the poet but in the handwriting of Catherine Hobart that I find words for what I feel in the presence of this book, which in my mind embodies everything about the present estate of poetry at its best. After “Reality Demands,” a poem about how life goes on after catastrophes, how there are gas stations in Jericho and factories in Hiroshima, a poem that ends with a hat being blown off an unwitting head and the poet’s laughter, Catherine Hobart has written in pencil, “What a turn!” And right below that, in permanent ink:

One whom I hadn’t met
Until yesterday
Is gone today,
Swept away
Like mountain clouds.
– Japanese

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One Response to In Memory of Wislawa Szymborska

  1. Dear Madam or Sir,

    Suhrkamp Verlag would like to use the photograph of Wislawa Szymborska on the book:

    Wislawa Szymborska
    Glueckliche Liebe und andere Gedichte (Poems)
    Suhrkamp Hardcover edition
    Summer 2012
    Printrun not yet decided

    We kindly ask for your permission of reproduction and would need a highres file of the image.
    Thank you so much in advance for your help.

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