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Reflections of a working writer and reader



A poem by Wislawa Szymborska


I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.

By Wislawa Szymborska
From “Nothing Twice”, 1997
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

© Wislawa Szymborska, S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Suggested by a post on Reading the Signs

9 Responses to “A poem by Wislawa Szymborska”

  1. bloglily says:

    thank you. I also preferred conquered to conquering countries and Grimms’ Fairy tales and light eyes and desk drawers and will need to think about the time of insects vs. the time of stars but think I agree with that too. xo

    jb says: I bet you prefer exceptions, too.

  2. Paul says:

    It must be very satisfying, to know that you have written something so accessible, and which leaves the reader wanting to revisit and think about your words, as soon as they have finished reading them.

    jb says: Exactly, and that is why she was given the Nobel Prize. She seems to give us surfaces, but we return and find that the surfaces mask depths. And in doing that she describes the post-modern condition, this world of ours in which we have been failed by traditional values, and in which we strive to discover new values with which to assess our condition. At the presentation ceremony in Sweden another of her poems, Discovery, was quoted:

    I believe in the refusal to take part.
    I believe in the ruined career.
    I believe in the wasted years of work.
    I believe in the secret taken to the grave.
    These words soar for me beyond all rules
    without seeking support from actual examples.
    My faith is strong, blind, and without foundation.

  3. Rose says:

    I enjoy Wislawa Szymborska’ poetry. She was given the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996 was she not?

    jb says: She was, Rose.

  4. mathi says:

    This is a beautiful poem of the Polish noble laureate i read sometime back in the noble prize web site. It seems her works are very difficult to translate and i keep wondering how lyrically profound she would be in her original language.

    jb says: Hi Mathi. Thanks for the comment. There is always this niggling doubt with translation, isn’t there? But we can only have what we get. And in this instance, at least, I’m profoundly grateful for it.

  5. Ania says:

    I am Polish myself. I love Szymborska’s poetry. I have been reading it back in primary school long before she got the Nobel prize.
    Her poems in Polish are extraordinary. Polish is a quite poetic language and does not translate well into English.
    I only recently started to read Szymborska’s poems in English as my husband is American and I wanted to share them with him. Some translations aren’t very good, I admit. If you are interested try J.M.Trzeciak. His translations are good and very close to the originals.

    jb says: Thanks for the tip, Ania. It’s so important to have good translations and often difficult to discover which are the best.

  6. Mary Alice says:

    I find this a deceptively simple poem. I have used it as a model for students, parents and teachers as an entry way into poetry. Some very profound pieces have grown from the experience.

    jb says: Quite beautiful as well, don’t you think, Mary Alice?

  7. azureone says:

    Hi John,

    I studied Szymborska in college and had put her out of my mind until recently when I found one of my old books.

    Just today I added two of her poems to my site, Possibilities, and the Joy of Writing.

    Here is a link so you can enjoy the Joy of Writing as I am sure you will.


  8. Lu says:

    Hi John,
    I was rumbling around and found your site! I would appreciate any feedback you could give me with regards to “The Joy of Writing” by Szymborska. Specifically, is there a term for the way she pairs the deer/hunter imagery with the writing/author imagery? I do not claim to be a student of rhetorical style, but it seems that conceit does not quite fit here. Appreciate your comments!

    jb says: I’m not going to comment, Lou. But perhaps someone else will pick up your challenge? I’ll also post the poem you refer to, maybe tomorrow.

  9. Polish says:

    I found your blog seraching in Google “Szymborska”. Szymborska is the Top 10 poetry in Poland.

    Thanks for poeme.