May 2, 2012KR OnlineSpecial Collections

Reality Requires; Three Words Most Strange

First published in The Kenyon Review, New Series, Vol. 23, No. 2, (Spring, 2001).

Translated from Polish by Vuyelwa Carlin

Reality Requires

Reality requires
that we speak of these things:
life rolls on,
near Cannae, and Borodino,
in Kosovo, Guernica.

A petrol station stands
on a little Jericho square:
in the shadow of Bila Hora
are freshly painted benches.
Letters circulate
between Pearl Harbour and Hastings;
under a lion’s stone eye at Cheronea
a furniture van draws up:
and an atmospheric front approaches
the orchards of blown blossom near Verdun.

There is so much of Everything—
a veiledness, of Nothing.
Music floats out
from yachts moored at Actium,
and couples dance on the sunny decks.

Happenings keep happening—
layers upon layers:
on that rubble of stones,
there’s an ice-cream stall,
besieged by children.
Where Hiroshima stood
Hiroshima is again,
busy, producing
all manner of everyday things.

This bleak world has its charm—
mornings break,
worth getting up for.

On the fields of Maciejowice,
the grass is green,
misted—as grass should be—
with transparent dew.

Perhaps there are only ever battlefields:
some still remembered,
some already forgotten—
forests of birch, or cedar,
snow, sand, iridescent marshes;
and black ravines of disaster,
where today—in sudden need—
one squats down behind a bush.

What moral emerges?—none, probably.
The truth is this: blood, rapidly drying,
and always the odd river, cloud-picture.

On tragic mountain passes,
the wind whisks a hat off,
and—there’s no helping it—
the sight makes us laugh.

Three Words Most Strange

As I utter the word Future,
the first syllable has already slipped into the past.

As I utter the word Silence,
I shatter it.

As I utter the word Nothing,
I create some-thing; being bursts out of non-being.

Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012) was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. Her poetry is full of wisdom, wit, and a haunting, surreal quality. One of her major themes is differentness, or otherness: the lack of mutual comprehension between different conditions, species, kinds of matter.