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WISLAWA SZYMBORSKA

Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012), poet, translator, editor, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996, "for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality."


Immediately following the war, Szymborska studied sociology and Polish literature at Jagiellonian University in Cracow, then worked as an editor for many years at literary periodicals. Two books of her poems came out in the early 50s in which she had attempted to satisfy the requirements of socialist realism and which she now disclaims. Her real debut, in her own authentic voice, was a book of poems in 1957, Calling Out to Yeti, the fruit of a basic re-evaluation of her artistic and philosophical views, a book that shaped her creative work from then on, and a key influence in the renewal of Polish poetry following the political thaw of 1956. Works that enhanced her stature and popularity in the 60s include Salt and A Hundred Consolations. As a nationally celebrated poet she signed the letter of protest against changes to the Constitution proposed in 1975, and in 1978 she openly helped organize an oppositionist program of unauthorized academic studies.


Her poetry addresses in a very personal tone a sense of anxiety, uncertainty, and wonder, a condition of modernity that she shares with her readers. Even if the questions she poses are complex and difficult to deal with, her writing is deceptively simple and lucid, using as a vehicle the short form of the epigram, or personal note -- or conversation, often with objects, or with non-organic matter from other worlds. Her use of paradoxical thinking, self-irony, humor, candor, and meticulous observation of immediate reality, invites the reader to transcend that reality, along with the poet, thus taking part in an exchange and in the experience of other "possible worlds". Her choice of words is so precise, so playful even when serious, and her mastery of the whole panoply of sophisticated word-play so assured, and yet so free of mannerism, that the Nobel Committee described her as "the Mozart of poetry". Despite the challenges presented by her verbal precision, her poems have appeared in some forty languages.
October 2019
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