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Tuesday, 07 February 2012 20:36

Szymborska Wislawa, polish poetWisława Szymborska (2 July 1923 – 1 February 2012) was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Prowent, which has since become part of Kórnik, she later resided in Kraków until the end of her life.

In Poland, Szymborska's books reach sales rivaling prominent prose authors: although she once remarked in a poem, "Some Like Poetry" ("Niektórzy lubią poezję") that no more than two out of a thousand people care for the art.[2] Many of her poems feature war and terrorism.[3] Szymborska's reputation rests on a relatively small body of work: she has not published more than 250 poems to date.

Szymborska frequently employed literary devices such as irony, paradox, contradiction, and understatement, to illuminate philosophical themes and obsessions. She was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature "for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality".[4] She became better known internationally as a result of this. Her work has been translated into many European languages, as well as into Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese.


Wisława Szymborska was born on 2 July 1923 in Prowent, Poland (present-day Bnin, Kórnik, Poland), the daughter of Wincenty and Anna Szymborski. Her family moved to Kraków in 1931 where she has lived and worked ever since. When World War II broke out in 1939, she continued her education in underground lessons. From 1943, she worked as a railroad employee and managed to avoid being deported to Germany as a forced labourer. It was during this time that her career as an artist began with illustrations for an English-language textbook. She also began writing stories and occasional poems.

Beginning in 1945, Szymborska took up studies of Polish language and literature before switching to sociology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. There she soon became involved in the local writing scene, and met and was influenced by Czesław Miłosz. In March 1945, she published her first poem Szukam słowa (I seek the word) in the daily paper Dziennik Polski; her poems continued to be published in various newspapers and periodicals for a number of years. In 1948 she quit her studies without a degree, due to her poor financial circumstances; the same year, she married poet Adam Włodek, whom she divorced in 1954. At that time, she was working as a secretary for an educational biweekly magazine as well as an illustrator.

Her first book was to be published in 1949, but did not pass censorship as it "did not meet socialist requirements." Like many other intellectuals in post-war Poland, however, Szymborska remained loyal to the PRL official ideology early in her career, signing political petitions and praising Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin and the realities of socialism. This attitude is seen in her debut collection Dlatego żyjemy ("That is what we are living for"), containing the poems "Lenin" and "Młodzieży budującej Nową Hutę" ("For the Youth who are building Nowa Huta"), about the construction of a Stalinist industrial town near Kraków. She became a member of the ruling Polish United Workers' Party. Like many Polish intellectuals initially close to the official party line, Szymborska gradually grew estranged from socialist ideology and renounced her earlier political work. Although she did not officially leave the party until 1966, she began to establish contacts with dissidents. As early as 1957, she befriended Jerzy Giedroyc, the editor of the influential Paris-based emigré journal Kultura, to which she also contributed. In 1964, she opposed a Communist-backed protest to The Times against independent intellectuals, demanding freedom of speech instead.[5]

In 1953, she joined the staff of the literary review magazine Życie Literackie (Literary Life), where she continued to work until 1981 and from 1968 ran her own book review column entitled Lektury Nadobowiązkowe ("Non-compulsory Reading"). Many of her essays from this period were later published in book form. From 1981-83, Szymborska was an editor of the Kraków-based monthly Pismo. During the 1980s, she intensified her oppositional activities, contributing to the samizdat periodical Arka under the pseudonym "Stańczykówna", as well as to Kultura in Paris. Szymborska translated French literature into Polish, in particular Baroque poetry and the works of Agrippa d'Aubigné. In Germany, Szymborska was associated with her translator Karl Dedecius, who did much to popularize her works there.

Major works

1952: Dlatego żyjemy ("That's Why We Are Alive")
1954: Pytania zadawane sobie ("Questioning Yourself")
1957: Wołanie do Yeti ("Calling Out to Yeti")
1962: Sól ("Salt")
1966: 101 wierszy ("101 Poems")
1967: Sto pociech ("No End of Fun")
1967: Poezje wybrane ("Selected Poetry")
1972: Wszelki wypadek ("Could Have")
1976: Wielka liczba ("A Large Number")
1986: Ludzie na moście ("People on the Bridge")
1989: Poezje: Poems, bilingual Polish-English edition
1992: Lektury nadobowiązkowe ("Non-required Reading")
1993: Koniec i początek ("The End and the Beginning")
1996: Widok z ziarnkiem piasku ("View with a Grain of Sand")
1997: Sto wierszy - sto pociech ("100 Poems - 100 Happinesses")
2002: Chwila ("Moment")
2003: Rymowanki dla dużych dzieci ("Rhymes for Big Kids")
2005: Dwukropek ("Colon")
2009: Tutaj ("Here")

Prizes and awards

1954: The City of Kraków Prize for Literature
1963: The Polish Ministry of Culture Prize
1991: The Goethe Prize
1995: The Herder Prize
1995: Honorary Doctor of the Adam Mickiewicz University (Poznań)
1996: The Polish PEN Club prize
1996: Nobel Prize for Literature


1998 Boston Review: Poems - New and Collected 1957-1997 by Francis Padorr Brent [2]
2006 The Christian Science Monitor: A fascinating journey with two women poets by Elizabeth Lund [3]
2006 Moondance magazine: Stories/Poems. Plain and Simple. -- Mapping the Words of Wislawa Szymborska on Her Latest Book, Monologue of a Dog by Lys Anzia [4]
2006 Sarmatian Review: Wislawa Szymborska's 'Conversation With a Stone' -- An Interpretation by Mary Ann Furno [5]
2006 Words Without Borders: Monologue of a Dog — New Poems of Wislawa Szymborska by W. Martin [6]


[1] Dates of birth and death for Wisława Szymborska
[2] Szymborska, Wisława. "Some Like Poetry".
[3] Duval Smith, Alex (14 October 2005). "A Nobel Calling: 100 Years of Controversy". The Independent (Independent Print Limited). Retrieved 26 April 2008. "1996: The themes in this Polish poet's 16 collections are wide-ranging, though many deal with war and terrorism. Her poem, "The End and the Beginning", reads: "No sound bites, no photo opportunities And it takes years All the cameras have gone To other wars." Szymborska was born in Kórnik, in western Poland, in 1923."
[4] "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1996". Nobelprize. 7 October 2010. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
[5] prawy.pl/r2_index.php?dz=felietony&id=27894&subdz=11
[6] Notice of Wisława Szymborska's death

Source: Wikipedia
Text available under Creative Commons Licence
Photo source:Chancellary of the President of Poland (wikipedia.pl) (Ta fotografia, zgodnie z notą o prawach autorskich, która do sierpnia 2011 roku była zamieszczona w oficjalnym serwisie internetowym Prezydenta Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, jest udostępniona na warunkach licencji GNU Free Documentation License w wersji 1.2, ponieważ pierwotnie pochodzi z Archiwum Kancelarii Prezydenta Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej – www.prezydent.pl.)

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