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This article is taken from PN Review 97, Volume 20 Number 5, May - June 1994.

Miraculously Normal: Wislawa Szymborska Felicity Rosslyn

As the Polish literary world also adjusts to free market conditions and old reputations are revalued, one thing is becoming clear: the importance of Wislawa Szymborska. She has always been respected, but now she is hugely so, and in the new atmosphere it seems obvious that she stands alongside Herbert as the second great poet of that generation. If critics in the west have been slow to follow this assumption, they have the excuse that she has not always been well translated. The witty tension of her lines hangs rather loose in Czerniawski's recent collection People on a Bridge, her precision is better caught by Krynski and Maguire in their major collection Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts of 1981. (The other place to find her well translated is in Baranczak and Cavanagh's 1991 anthology Spoiling Cannibals' Fun.) But there is also a problem with the poems themselves. Can anything this light and graceful, one might genuinely ask, be important?

One sign that Szymborska deserves her Polish reputation is that her grace emerges under evident pressure. From the first line of a poem we sense that we are in professional hands and the trajectory of the poem has been calculated in advance. The force of her clarity is in direct proportion to all the poems on this subject she has not written, or has put in the bin, and the discipline she is guided by is an ardent desire to communicate: she says, with a simplicity hard to credit in ...


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