Polish Nobel Literature Prize winner dies

When Wislawa Szymborska, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996 she was unknown outside her country. The prize often honors the obscure – and they remain that way because their work does not transcend the bounds of language and culture.

Szymborska was not one of these writers. Her poetry distilled human experience into precisely created images and ideas expressed with a simplicity that must have been incredibly difficult to create.

Her age at the time of death – 88 – gives a hint of what shaped her work: World War 2 and the dismemberment of the world in which she grew up.

"History did not greet us with a victorious fanfare:
It poured dirty sand into our eyes.
Before us there were roads, distant and blind,
Poisoned wells, bitter bread."

The obituaries note the Cracow-based poet wrote only 250 poems. It was hard work to boil down human experience to a few essential words. They also allude to the fact that the global recognition that accompanied the Nobel Prize, when she was already in her 70's, paralyzed her ability to work for a number of years.

There is more about her work at the Culture Poland website.

My own favorite among her poems is called "Could Have." It is about the randomness which determines survival in extreme events. But I hear in it also a gentle criticism for a culture in which every one wants their victimhood recognized. Even though, if a person is alive and comfortable enough to have time to feel their victim status has been slighted, they clearly aren't victims at all.

"It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you."

trans. Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh from "View With a Grain of Sand"

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