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This review is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

OF POETRY AND PROSE Wislawa Szymborska, Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems, tr. Magnus Krynski and Robert Maguire (Princeton) £10.80, £4.90-pb
Anthony Cronin, New & Selected Poems (Carcanet/Raven Arts) £3.95


Four billion people on this earth of ours
but my imagination is unchanged.
It does not do well with great numbers.
It is still moved by what is individual.


These lines from the title poem of Wislawa Szymborska's 1976 collection, A Great Number, are not among her most memorable, nor subtle; but they represent one of the main arcs along which her poetry moves. Such lines are characteristic of both the mockery and serious lucidity about self and others that run through this selection: she only pretends to belittle what is in fact a profound concern with man as political animal-but in the broadest sense, incorporating his whole comportment towards other human beings, nature and God. She rejects a narrower preoccupation with what is fashionable, yesterday's news. Hence, even a poem with a title such as 'Vietnam' achieves a degree of timelessness precisely because it does not carry a sectarian message. The terrorist ('The Terrorist, He Watches') becomes the archetype of the dehumanizing belief in ends over means. Derogation of moral responsibility diminishes man to less than the things he derides. It is not the dinosaur who owns 'the funny little head', 'four legs that stuck in the slime/under the mountainous body', but the cliché-spouting party member.

The form that such moral and spiritual smugness takes is indifference to the balance between man and the natural world. She succeeds in making both intimate and mythopoeic situations vital: the ...


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