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(2 July 1923 – 1 February 2012 / Prowent)

Biography of Wislawa Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska poet

Wisława Szymborska-Włodek [viˈswava ʂɨmˈbɔrska] 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.

She was described as a "Mozart of Poetry". In Poland, Szymborska's books have reached 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.

Szymborska 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". She became better known internationally as a result of this. Her work has been translated into English and many European languages, as well as into Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese.

Life

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 lived and worked until her death in early 2012. When World War II broke out in 1939, she continued her education in underground classes. 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 (Looking for a 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. The union was childless. Around the time of her marriage 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 communist 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.

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 periodical, 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.

Death

Wisława Szymborska died 1 February 2012 at home in Kraków, aged 88. Her manager Michał Rusinek confirmed the information and said that she "died peacefully, in her sleep". She was surrounded by friends and relatives at the time. Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski described her death on Twitter as an "irrepairable loss to Poland's culture".

She was working on new poetry right until her death, though she was unable to arrange her final efforts for a book in the way she would have wanted. Her last poetry will be published later in 2012.

Themes

Szymborska frequently employed literary devices such as irony, paradox, contradiction and understatement, to illuminate philosophical themes and obsessions. Many of her poems feature war and terrorism. In "Calling out to the Yeti" (1957), she compared Joseph Stalin to the abominable snowman.

She wrote from unusual points of view, such as a cat in the newly empty apartment of its dead owner. Her reputation rests on a relatively small body of work, fewer than 350 poems. When asked why she had published so few poems, she said: "I have a trash can in my home".

Pop Culture

Szymborska's poem "Nothing Twice" turned into a song by composer Andrzej Munkowski performed by Łucja Prus in 1965 makes her poetry known in Poland, rock singer Kora cover of "Nothing Twice" was a hit in 1994.

The poem "Love At First Sight" was used in the film Turn Left, Turn Right, starring Takeshi Kaneshiro and Gigi Leung.
Three Colors: Red, a film directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski, was inspired by Szymborska's poem, "Love At First Sight".

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
2011: Order of the White Eagle

Wislawa Szymborska's 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")

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PoemHunter.com Updates

Tortures

Nothing has changed.
The body is susceptible to pain,
it must eat and breathe air and sleep,
it has thin skin and blood right underneath,
an adequate stock of teeth and nails,
its bones are breakable, its joints are stretchable.
In tortures all this is taken into account.

Nothing has changed.

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