Szymborska, Wislawa 1923-

views updated

SZYMBORSKA, Wislawa 1923-

(Stancykowna, a pseudonym)

PERSONAL: Born July 2, 1923, in Prowent-Bnin, Poland; married (husband deceased). Education: Attended Jagellonian University, 1945-48.

ADDRESSES: Home—Ul. Krolewska 82/89, 30-079, Cracow, Poland.

CAREER: Poet and critic; Poetry editor and columnist, Zycie literackie (literary weekly magazine), 1953-81.

MEMBER: Polish Writers' Association (member of general board, 1978-83).

AWARDS, HONORS: Cracow literary prize, 1954; Gold Cross of Merit, 1955; Ministry of Culture prize, 1963; Knight's Cross, Order of Polonia Resituta, 1974; Goethe Prize, 1991; Herder Prize, 1995; Polish PEN Club prize, 1996; Nobel Prize for Literature, Swedish Academy, 1996.



Dlatego zyjemy (title means "That's Why We Are Alive"), [Warsaw, Poland], 1952.

Pytania zadawane sobie (title means "Questions Put to Myself"), [Warsaw, Poland], 1954.

Wolanie do Yeti (title means "Calling out to Yeti"), [Warsaw, Poland], 1957.

Sol (title means "Salt"), Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy (Warsaw, Poland), 1962.

Wiersze wybrane (collection), Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy (Warsaw, Poland), 1964, reprinted 2000.

Sto pociech (title means "A Hundred Joys"), Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy (Warsaw, Poland), 1967.

Poezje wybrane (title means "Selected Poems"), Ludowa Spoldzielnia Wydawnicza (Warsaw, Poland), 1967.

Poezje (title means "Poems"), Przedmowa Jerzego Kwiatkowskiego (Warsaw, Poland), 1970.

Wybor poezje (collection), Czytelnik (Warsaw, Poland), 1970.

Wszelki wypadek (title means "There but for the Grace"), Czytelnik (Warsaw, Poland), 1972.

Wybor wierszy (collection), Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy (Warsaw, Poland), 1973.

Tarsjusz i inne wiersze (title means "Tarsius and Other Poems"), Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza (Warsaw, Poland), 1976.

Wielka liczba (title means "A Great Number"), Czytelnik (Warsaw, Poland), 1976.

Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems, translated by Magnus J. Krynski and Robert A. Maguire, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1981.

Poezje wybrane (II), (title means "Selected Poems II"), Ludowa Spoldzielnia Wydawnicza (Warsaw, Poland), 1983.

Ludzie na moscie, Czytelnik (Warsaw, Poland), 1986, translation by Adam Czerniawski published as People on a Bridge: Poems, Forest (Boston, MA), 1990.

Poezje = Poems (bilingual edition), translated by Krynski and Maguire, Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 1989.

Wieczor autorski: wiersze (title means "Authors' Evening: Poems"), Anagram (Warsaw, Poland), 1992.

Koniec i poczatek (title means "The End and the Beginning"), Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 1993.

View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.

Widok z ziarnkiem piasku: 102 Wiersze, Wydawnictwo Literacki (Cracow, Poland), 1996.

Nothing Twice: Selected Poems, selected and translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 1997.

Hundert Gedichte, Hundert Freuden, Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 1997.

O asmierci bez przesady = de la mort sans exagerer, Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 1997.

Nulla e in regalo, Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 1998.

Poems, New and Collected, 1957-1997, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1998.

Nic darowane = Keyn shum masoneh = Nothing's a gift = Nichts ist geschenkt = Me'um lo nitan bematanah, Amerykansko-Polsko-Izraelska Fundacja Shalom (Warsaw, Poland), 1999.

Poczta literacka, czyli, Jak zostac (lub nie zostac) pisarzem, Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 2000.

Miracle Fair: Selected Poems, Norton (New York, NY), 2001.

Nowe lektury nadobowiazkowe: 1997-2002, Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 2002.

Nonrequired Reading: Prose Pieces, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2002.

Chwila (title means "Moment"), Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 2002, published in bilingual edition as Chwila/Moment, translations by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak, 2003.

Wierze, BOSZ (Olszanica, Poland), 2003.

Rymowanki dla duzych dzieci: z wyklejankami autorki, Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 2003.


Lektury nadobowiazkowe (collected book reviews; title means "Non-Compulsory Reading"), Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 1973.

Zycie na poczekaniu: Lekcja literatury z Jerzym Kwiatowskim i Marianem Stala, Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 1996.

Contributor to anthologies, including Polish Writing Today, Penguin (New York, NY), 1967; The New Polish Poetry, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1978; and Anthologie de la poesie polonaise: 1400-1980, revised edition, Age d'homme, 1981. Also contributor, under pseudonym Stancykowna, to Arka (underground publication) and Kultura (exile magazine; published in Paris).

SIDELIGHTS: Polish author Wislawa Szymborska was thrust into the international spotlight in 1996 after receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. Although she is one of her country's most popular female writers and is valued as a national treasure, Szymborska remains little known to English-speaking readers, although by the late twentieth century several of her books—including her poetry—were available in English translation, among them; People on a Bridge, View with a Grain of Sand, and Nonrequired Reading: Prose Pieces. The reclusive and private Szymborska was cited by the Swedish Academy for "poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality." Her poetry, described by Los Angeles Times critic Dean E. Murphy, is "seductively simple verse . . . [which has] captured the wit and wisdom of everyday life" in Poland during much of the twentieth century.

Explaining Szymborska's work, translator Stanislaw Baranczak noted in New York Times Book Review: "The typical lyrical situation on which a Szymborska poem is founded is the confrontation between the directly stated or implied opinion on an issue and the question that raises doubt about its validity. The opinion not only reflects some widely shared belief or is representative of some widespread mind-set," Baranczak added, "but also, as a rule, has a certain doctrinaire ring to it: the philosophy behind it is usually speculative, anti-empirical, prone to hasty generalizations, collectivist, dogmatic and intolerant."

Szymborska received critical acclaim for the first collection of her work to appear in English translation, Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems. "Of the poetic voices to come out of Poland after 1945 Wislawa Szymborska's is probably the most elusive as well as the most distinctive," wrote Jaroslaw Anders in New York Review of Books. Anders commented: "Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts contains poems from [Szymborska's] five books written since 1957, comprising more or less half of what the poet herself considers her canon. Its publication is of interest not only because of Szymborska's importance as a poet, but also because her work demonstrates that the diversity of poetic modes in Poland is much greater than is usually perceived." Alice-Catherine Carls, in a review of Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts in Library Journal, called the work "one of those rare books which put one in a state of 'grace,'" while Robert Hudzik, also in Library Journal, maintained that the collection "reveals a poet of startling originality and deep sympathy."

The 1995 collection Views with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems was also praised by many critics who lauded Szymborska's directness and distinctive voice. Stephen Dobyns in Washington Post Book World praised both the humor of Szymborska's work as well as the translation by Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. Edward Hirsch in a New York Review of Books review concurred, arguing that the volume reveals "the full force of [Szymborska's] fierce and unexpected wit." Louis McKee, in a Library Journal review, also praised the "wonderfully wicked" wit of Szymborska. Dobyns concluded: "The poems are surprising, funny and deeply moving. Szymborska is a world-class poet, and this book will go far to make her known in the United States."

Publication of Poems New and Collected, 1957-1997 inspired further critical acclaim. "It may seem superfluous to praise a Nobel Laureate in literature, but Szymborska is a splendid writer richly deserving of her recent renown," affirmed Graham Christian in Library Journal. Noting the poet's "unflinching examination of torture and other wrongs inflicted by repressive regimes," Christian went on to say that Szymborska's verse contains "the exhilarating power of a kind of serious laughter." Despite the poems' frequently grim subject matter, "Syzmborska's tough naturalism does allow rays of light to penetrate its bleak landscapes, leaving lasting, sustaining impressions," declared a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.

Szymborska's 2002 collection, Nonrequired Reading: Prose Pieces, is a collection of short book reviews she wrote while working as a columnist. Nancy R. Ives in Library Journal stated, "The skillful simplicity and lyric quality of these essays make them distinctive. With her poet's gift for compression, Szymborska captures large concepts and brilliantly reduces them to pithy, two-page essays." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly forecasted, "While the conceit of a commonplace book of reader responses may be a little quirky," reviews would assist the general reader in understanding and appreciating Szymborska's works. "This may very well be the season's sleeper hit among literati," the reviewer added, "particularly among non-regular readers of poetry who nevertheless recognize Szymborska's name."

Many commentators have remarked on the deceptively simple quality of Syzmborska's work. In simple language, she speaks of ordinary things, only to reveal extraordinary truths. In a Publishers Weekly article about the poet, Joanna Trzeciak praised "the wit and clarity of Szymborska's turns of phrase. Under her pen, simple language becomes striking. Ever the gentle subversive, she stubbornly refuses to see anything in the world as ordinary. The result is a poetry of elegance and irony, full of surprising turns." And Denise Wiloch, a contributor to Contemporary Women Poets, pointed out that "the seemingly casual musings she captures in her poems are deceptive and full of irony. Her work reverberates long after it is read."

Syzmborska "knows philosophy, literature, and history, but mostly she knows common human experience," concludes Booklist writer Ray Olson. "Her work is ultimately wisdom literature, written in a first person that expresses a universal humanity that American poets—lockstep individualists all—haven't dared essay since early in this century. She is like Brecht without hatred, Sandburg without socialist posturing, Dickinson without hermetism, Whitman without illusory optimism: a great poet."

Szymborska's works have been translated into Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, Chinese, and other languages.



Balbus, Stanislaw, Swiat ze wszystkich stron swiata: O Wislawie Szymborski, Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 1996.

Baranczak, Stanislaw, Breathing under Water and Other East European Essays, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1990.

Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Levine, Madeline, Contemporary Polish Poetry: 1925-1975, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1981.


Booklist, April 15, 1998, Ray Olson, review of Poems New and Collected, 1957-1997; March 15, 1999, Ray Olson, review of Poems New and Collected 1957-1997, p. 1276.

Choice, January, 1992, review of People on a Bridge, p. 752.

Humanities Review, spring, 1982, p. 141.

Library Journal, September 1, 1981, p. 1636; July, 1995, p. 85; April 1, 1998, Graham Christian, review of Poems New and Collected, 1957-1997, p. 92; November 1, 2002, Nancy R. Ives, review of Nonrequired Reading: Prose Pieces, p. 91.

Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1996; October 13, 1996.

Maclean's, October 14, 1996, p. 11.

New Republic, January 1, 1996, p. 36; December 30, 1996, p. 27.

New Yorker, December 14, 1992, p. 94; March 1, 1993, p. 86.

New York Review of Books, October 21, 1982, p. 47; November 14, 1996, p. 17; October 21, 1993, p. 42; April 18, 1996, p. 35; October 8, 1998, p. 37.

New York Times, October 4, 1996, p. C13.

New York Times Book Review, October 27, 1996, Stanislaw Baraczak, "The Reluctant Poet," p. 51.

New York Times Magazine, December 1, 1996, p. 46.

Observer (London, England), August 18, 1991, p. 51.

People, May 5, 1997, review of View with a Grain of Sand, p. 41.

Publishers Weekly, April 7, 1997, Joanna Trzeciak, "Wislawa Szymborska: The Enchantment of Everyday Objects," p. 68; March 30, 1998, review of Poems New and Collected, 1957-1997, p. 77; September 23, 2002, review of Nonrequired Reading, p. 69.

Time, October 14, 1996, p. 33.

Times Literary Supplement, September 17, 1999, Clair Wills, "How Real Is Reality?," p. 25.

U.S. News and World Report, October 14, 1996, p. 32.

Wall Street Journal, October 4, 1996.

Washington Post Book World, July 30, 1995, p. 8.

World Literature Today, spring, 1982, p. 368; winter, 1992, Bogdana Carpenter, review of People on a Bridge, pp. 163-164; winter, 1997; summer, 1991, Alice-Catherine Carls, review of Poezje = Poems, p. 519.*

About this article

Szymborska, Wislawa 1923-

Updated About content Print Article