Described by Robert Hass as "unquestionably one of the great living European poets" and by Charles Simic as "one of the finest poets living today," Szymborska mesmerizes her readers with poetry that captivates their minds and captures their hearts. This is the book that her many fans have been anxiously awaiting-the definitive, complete collection of poetry by the Nobel Prize-winning poet, including 164 poems in all, as well as the full text of her Nobel acceptance speech of December 7, 1996, in Stockholm. Beautifully translated by Stanislaw Bara«nczak and Clare Cavanagh, who won a 1996 PEN Translation Prize for their work, this volume is a must-have for all readers of poetry.
All poets, according to Wislawa Szymborska, are in a perpetual dialogue with the phrase I don't know
. "Each poem," she writes in her 1996 Nobel Lecture, "marks an effort to answer this statement, but as soon as the final period hits the page, the poet begins to hesitate, starts to realize that this particular answer was pure makeshift, absolutely inadequate." As a self-portrait, at least, this is fairly accurate. From the beginning, Szymborska has indeed wrestled with the demon of epistemology. Yet even in her earliest poems, such as "Atlantis," she delivered her speculations with a human--which is to say, a gently ironic--face:
They were or they weren't.
On an island or not.
An ocean or not an ocean
Swallowed them up or it didn't.
Fifteen years later, when her 1972 collection, Could Have, appeared, Szymborska seemed to have made some major inroads into her notorious ignorance. Now she confessed to at least a shred of comprehension, stressing, however, that such knowledge has come at a terrible price: "We read the letters of the dead like helpless gods, / but gods, nonetheless, since we know the dates that follow. / We know which debts will never be repaid. / Which widows will remarry with the corpse still warm." And even in her most recent work, the poet continues to gravitate toward the admirable emptiness of, say, the clouds: "Unburdened by memory of any kind, / they float easily over the facts." Ultimately, though, the joke is on Szymborska, whose poems have grown more witty, more humane, and more tender--in other words, more knowing--with each passing year. View with a Grain of Sand remains an excellent point of entry to Szymborska's oeuvre, but Poems New and Collected is the place to go for a wide-angle view of this superlative and sardonic writer.