Thursday, January 19, 2006

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #21 -- Two from Szymborska

Interestingly enough (and very much unplanned), this is the fourth different Polish poet to be featured in my regular POTW series... and the second Polish poet to have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (1996): Wislawa Szymborska. I readily admit that I am not all that familiar with her work and actually own none of her works; however, the few poems of hers (relative to her entire output of them, I am sure) that I have read have struck me with their grace, honesty and deep humanity. You only need read one or two of them to know immediately that you are in the hands of someone with a very unique and interesting take on the world, and some of her lines cut and chill to the bone. I have no doubt you'll recognize some such lines here.

There are several of her poems I really wanted to share here, but in the interests of space, I settled upon two very different ones... what fascinates me about the first one is not so much the inventiveness of it, but in the various questions and phrases she selects to represent this well-known myth. We can all find ourselves in there somewhere. As for the second, I just love the atmosphere of it, which is hard to describe, but it hits me as both frightening and yet, faintly optimistic in some way. It may not have occurred at precisely 4 A.M., but I know that I (for one) have experienced at least one "hour of and-what-if-nothing-remains-after-us"... and lived to tell about it. Wit and wisdom abounds in what I've seen of Szymborska's poetry.


The Tower of Babel

"What time is it?" "Oh yes, I'm so happy;
all I need is a little bell round my neck
to jingle over you while you're asleep."
"Didn't you hear the storm? The north wind shook
the walls; the tower gate, like a lion's maw,
yawned on its creaking hinges." "How could you
forget? I had on that plain grey dress
that fastens on the shoulder." "At that moment,
myriad explosions shook the sky." "How could I
come in? You weren't alone, after all." "I glimpsed
colors older than sight itself." "Too bad
you can't promise me." "You're right, it must have been
a dream." "Why all these lies; why do you call me
by her name; do you still love her?" "Of course,
I want you to stay with me." "I can't
complain. I should have guessed myself."
"Do you still think about him?" "But I'm not crying."
"That's all there is?" "No one but you."
"At least you're honest." "Don't worry,
I'm leaving town." "Don't worry,
I'm going." "You have such beautiful hands."
"That's ancient historv; the blade went through,
but missed the bone." "Never mind, darling,
never mind." "I don't know
what time it is, and I don't care.”


Four in the Morning

The hour from night to day.
The hour from side to side.
The hour for those past thirty.

The hour swept clean to the crowing of cocks.
The hour when earth betrays us.
The hour when wind blows from extinguished stars.
The hour of and-what-if-nothing-remains-after-us.

The hollow hour.
Blank, empty.
The very pit of all other hours.

No one feels good at four in the morning.
If ants feel good at four in the morning--
three cheers for the ants. And let five o'clock come
if we're to go on living.


Mutt Ploughman said...

Duke: truly fascinating poem selections. I thought they were both VERY interesting. I feel like you could spend twenty years trying to figure that first one out. Its uniqueness struck me the most. That is one unexpected 'take' on the theme, that is for sure. Fascinating! I sort of take odds with the second poem, since I frequently feel good at 4 in the morning. But most people wouldn't! That is one of my favorite times of the day, the hollow silence of that hour is my favorite thing about it. I like the 5 o'clock hour, too, for the record. Most normal people don't get up at 4 am though. That said, I recognize all the qualities of that early hour which she describes. It is a mysterious time of the day/night, depending on how you look at it. But therein lies its appeal, for me. These were great poem selections!

Duke Altum said...

Well it sure is gratifying to me when someone reads one of these and gets something out of them... and I appreciate your saying so Mutt. I definitely find these, and several others of her poems that I've read, to be fascinating and compelling. Guess she ain't no Nobel laureate for nothing. Yeah, her take on the whole Tower of Babel myth sure is interesting, isn't it??? That's what makes a TRUE poet -- they can take something we are all totally familiar with and put a brand news spin on it, show it in a new and different light that no one but them ever would have considered. Then when you read it, your mind expands. When this happens in a poem (and you could argue that all great poems perform this feat in some way), to me anyway it is an exhilarating experience. Those are the kinds of poems I try to share, anyway. Thanks for continuing to payt attention to this little series, Mutt!

P.S. Congratulations on the Steelers' incredible win/ride!!! They sure look like the Unstoppable Team of Destiny for the 2005 Season...