Poem: “On Death, without Exaggeration”

On Death, without Exaggeration

It can’t take a joke,
find a star, make a bridge.
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
building ships, or baking cakes.

In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.

It can’t even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.

Preoccupied with killing,
it does the job awkwardly,
without system or skill.
As though each of us were its first kill.

Oh, it has its triumphs,
but look at its countless defeats,
missed blows,
and repeat attempts!

Sometimes it isn’t strong enough
to swat a fly from the air.
Many are the caterpillars
that have outcrawled it.

All those bulbs, pods,
tentacles, fins, tracheae,
nuptial plumage, and winter fur
show that it has fallen behind
with its halfhearted work.

Ill will won’t help
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d’etat
is so far not enough.

Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies’ skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

Whoever claims that it’s omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it’s not.

There’s no life
that couldn’t be immortal
if only for a moment.

always arrives by that very moment too late.

In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you’ve come
can’t be undone.

Wislawa Szymborska

The famous poet Wislawa Szymborska was born in Western Poland on July 2, 1923. When World War II broke out in 1939, she took underground classes and later worked as a railroad employee to avoid being deported for forced labor in Germany. Though Wislawa began her studies in Literature, she had to quit due to a lack of funds. Many of her poems feature war and terrorism and she often wrote from unusual points of view, including the point of view of a cat in the newly empty apartment of its dead owner. Her first book was to be published in 1949, but did not pass censorship as it "did not meet socialist requirements". Working as poetry editor and columnist in Poland, she was described as the "Mozart of Poetry". Wislawa Szymborska died February 1, 2012 in Krakow.