Tough as a Dandelion

Tough as a Dandelion

A Szymborska poem is always charming, wonderfully charming, charming as a small child singing, charming as a great pop-song lyric. But her poems are also, to use an old word, “deep,” mysteriously so, about the very nature of existence.

Author: Wisława Szymborska
Land of Origin: Poland
Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

In her poetry, a child about to pull a tablecloth from a table becomes every scientist beginning an experiment; a visit to the doctor, with its stripping down and piling on of clothes, a metaphor for the company and odd mechanisms of our naked bodies; she ponders the grammar of divorce (“are they still linked with the conjunction ‘and’ or does a period divide them?”) and the inner life of Hitler’s dog. In my favorite of all her poems, “A Tale Began” she writes about the range of human difficulties that, over time, make the decision to have a child impossible. “The world is never ready for the birth of a child,” she writes, and goes on:

Our ships are not yet back from Winland
We still have to get over the S. Gothard pass
We’ve got to outwit the watchmen on the desert of Thor
Fight our way through the sewers to Warsaw’s center…

But the child, arrives anyway, and she wishes that:

May delivery be easy,
may our child grow and be well.
Let him be happy from time to time
and leap over abysses.
Let his heart have strength to endure
and his mind be awake and reach far. But not so far
that it sees into the future.
Spare him
that one gift,
O heavenly powers

In a way, Szymborska supplied her own best epitaph, and obituary, in the text of her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which she took on the “astonishment” of normal life.

Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska (2 July 1923 – 1 February 2012) was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature.