Revealed in The Atlantic in 2007
The poet Wisława Szymborska was a 16-year-old in Krakow, Poland, when Germany invaded her nation in 1939. All the things modified after that: The Nazis banned secondary colleges and universities, so she needed to end highschool illegally in secret lessons. Finally, after the warfare, she went to school—and in the end received the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. She saved writing concerning the lengthy path of violence by way of the centuries, and the tales we inform about that violence in hindsight. “Historical past counts its skeletons in spherical numbers,” she wrote within the poem “Starvation Camp at Jaslo.” “A thousand and one stays a thousand, / as if the one had by no means existed: an imaginary embryo, an empty cradle.”
In “A Greek Statue,” Szymborska considers a marble determine with solely its torso remaining. “Individuals and different disasters” have chipped away at it, however maybe essentially the most harmful and sinister pressure within the poem is time itself; little by little, it has damaged into mud one thing that was as soon as imposing. Time’s erasure appears extra sly than merciful; her observe that “it stopped halfway / and left one thing for later” solely underscores that it’ll by no means absolutely cease, and the statue doesn’t stand an opportunity in opposition to it. Nothing does.
And but, Szymborska couldn’t be fully fatalistic. To a point, by writing about historical past, she undercut her personal level concerning the methods folks overlook and switch away from it. All through her life, she discovered the human element—the “thousand and one”—within the greatest, most incomprehensible topics. And she or he saved wrestling with how to withstand letting the occasions and other people of the previous disappear completely. In a single poem, she evokes the Biblical story of Lot’s spouse, who’s commanded by angels to flee the town of Sodom with out wanting again. However she disobeys, glancing behind her—and is became a pillar of salt. Why, Szymborska wonders, didn’t she merely hold transferring ahead? “I appeared again in desolation,” she imagines Lot’s spouse saying, “ashamed of operating away in stealth.” Or possibly she was “struck by the silence, hoping God had modified his thoughts.”
You’ll be able to zoom in on the web page right here.