Wislawa Szymborska was a poet and essayist born in Poland in the 1920s. As you can imagine, her life was not always easy. At the time of WWII, a number of Polish people were forced into labor by the Nazis, which she was able to avoid by working as a railroad clerk. During the time of the occupation, she had to study in secret and also started doing art and writing. Once the war ended, she published a number of writings. She was also part of Poland’s socialist party, but only for maybe twenty years before denouncing her earlier political writings. Even so, she was active in both writing, book reviews, other literary involvements, and political activism. She eventually won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
This is a collection of poems written over a 40-year span, from 1957 to 1997. Some were new at the time of the publication; others, of course, had been around a while longer. Other books came after, even one that was posthumously published in 2012, not long after her death. Her poems typically follow free verse, but also have (in English) a number of rhymes or alliterations.
She didn’t shy away from politics, philosophy, theology, the harsh and the beauty of everyday life, but also shows a love of nature, and of music, and of life. It is clear she loved writing and loved words, the sound of them, the feel of them, and how it could make people think and feel. While there isn’t a specific place in mind, in terms of geography, it’s more a map of humanity and our dark, lovely, terrifying, gorgeous, funny nature. Her poetry sheds light on all of them and shines it quite well. They expose us, for better or for worse.
Some poems are utterly gorgeous; others devastatingly simple but oh-so-deep. She can bring the reader right to the place or the feeling or the sound she is writing about in every poem, without fail. If you’re a fan of poetry, Szymborska is a must read.