Last year I thought about composing a piece using poems by the Polish poet Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012). Nothing yet has come of that idea, but today, in an attempt to clean up my computer’s desktop, I came across the file in which I had gathered all the poems I was considering.
I had labeled the file “so much world,” the first three words of the poem “Birthday.” The pleasure I received from opening the file and reading the poems again this morning was intense, so in honor of my recently-passed birthday and the strong March sunshine currently pouring in through the east window nudging the temperature in East Montpelier today to a breath-taking 33 degrees, I give you:
So much world all at once – how it rustles and bustles!
Moraines and morays and morasses and mussels,
The flame, the flamingo, the flounder, the feather –
How to line them all up, how to put them together?
All the tickets and crickets and creepers and creeks!
The beeches and leeches alone could take weeks.
Chinchillas, gorillas, and sarsaparillas –
Thanks so much, but this excess of kindness could kill us.
Where’s the jar for this burgeoning burdock, brooks’ babble,
Rooks’ squabble, snakes’ quiggle, abundance, and trouble?
How to plug up the gold mines and pin down the fox,
How to cope with the linx, bobolinks, streptococs!
Take dioxide: a lightweight, but mighty in deeds:
What about octopodes, what about centipedes?
I could look into prices, but don’t have the nerve:
These are products I just can’t afford, don’t deserve.
Isn’t sunset a little too much for two eyes
That, who knows, may not open to see the sun rise?
I am just passing through, it’s a five-minute stop.
I won’t catch what is distant: what’s too close, I’ll mix up.
While trying to plumb what the void’s inner sense is,
I’m bound to pass by all these poppies and pansies.
What a loss when you think how much effort was spent
perfecting this petal, this pistil, this scent
for the one-time appearance, which is all they’re allowed,
so aloofly precise and so fragilely proud.
(Great credit for our enjoyment of Symborska’s poem goes to the brilliant translation, from the Polish, by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.)