Szymborska, Wislawa 1923- (Stancykowna)

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Szymborska, Wisława 1923- (Stancykowna)


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


Home—Cracow, Poland.


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


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


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.

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

Wiersze, BOSZ (Olszanica, Poland), 2003.

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

Wiersze Wybrane, Wydawn (Cracow, Poland), 2004.

Fin y Principio, Ediciones Vigía (Matanzas, Cuba), 2004.

Dwukropek, Wydawn (Cracow, Poland), 2005.

Monologue of a Dog: New Poems, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2006.

Wiersze 1946-1996, Wydawn (Cracow, Poland), 2006.

Zmysł Udziału: Wybór Wierszy, Wydawn Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 2006.


Lektury nadobowiazkowe (collected book reviews), Wydawnictwo Literackie (Cracow, Poland), 1973, translation published as Nonrequired Reading: Prose Pieces, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2002.

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).


Polish author Wisława Szymborska was thrust into the international spotlight in 1996 after receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. She is one of her country's most popular female writers and is valued as a national treasure, yet Szymborska remains little known to English-speaking readers even though by the late twentieth century several of her books—including her poetry—were available in English translation, among them People on a Bridge: Poems, View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems, and Nonrequired Reading: Prose Pieces.

Explaining Szymborska's work, translator Stanislaw Baranczak noted in the 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 Wisława Szymborska's is probably the most elusive as well as the most distinctive," wrote Jaroslaw Anders in New York Review of Books. Anders further 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 View with a Grain of Sand 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 and the translation by Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. Edward Hirsch remarked in a New York Review of Books article 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, "Szymborska'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, 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."

Szymborska's collection Monologue of a Dog: New Poems takes its title from the first poem, which is written in the voice of a dog owned by a cruel dictator. Szymborska uses the figure of the dog to comment on all those who are swept up in the regime of such a leader. The dog of the title shares his master's sense of arrogance, even criticizing the people who shot him and caused his lingering death. "The situation is deliciously weird, and Szymborska gives voice to the dog in all its ‘dogginess’ without getting mawkish," remarked Claire Keyes in Women's Review of Books. Keyes found the title poem "powerful" but advised that, as a whole, the collection is more "fascinating and diverse" than the title would suggest. Szymborska's simple yet powerful language was also praised by David Mehegan in the Boston Globe. He remarked each one of her poems contains a line "of strangeness, of hardly-possibleness, a shift so lightly handled that before we know it, we are yanked away in a conveyance that feels like a sensible sedan with airbags and a spacious trunk, but in truth is a psychic magic carpet."

Many commentators have remarked on the deceptively simple quality of Szymborska's work. In plain 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."

Szymborska "knows philosophy, literature, and history, but mostly she knows common human experience," noted 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 zewszystkich 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.


Antioch Review, summer, 2006, Carol Moldaw, review of Monologue of a Dog: New Poems.

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; November 1, 2005, Ray Olson, review of Monologue of a Dog, p. 14.

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

Library Journal, September 1, 1981, Alice-Catherine Carls and Robert Hudzik, review of Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems, p. 1636; July, 1995, Louis McKee, review of View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems, 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; October 1, 2005, Karla Huston, review of Monologue of a Dog, p. 81.

New Republic, January 1, 1996, Helen Hennessey Vendler, review of View with a Grain of Sand, p. 36.

New York Review of Books, October 21, 1982, Jaroslaw Anders, review of Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts, p. 47; April 18, 1996, Edward Hirsch, review of View with a Grain of Sand, p. 35; October 8, 1998, Helen Hennessey Vendler, review of Poems, New and Collected, 1957-1997, p. 37.

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

Observer (London, England), August 18, 1991, review of People on a Bridge, p. 51.

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

Publishers Weekly, April 7, 1997, Joanna Trzeciak, review of View with a Grain of Sand, p. 68; March 30, 1998, review of Poems, New and Collected, 1957-1997, p. 77; September 23, 2002, review of Nonrequired Reading, p. 69; August 15, 2005, review of Monologue of a Dog, p. 34.

Times Literary Supplement, September 17, 1999, Clair Wills, review of Poems, New and Collected, 1957-1997, p. 25.

Washington Post Book World, July 30, 1995, Stephen Dobyns, review of View with a Grain of Sand, p. 8.

Wisconsin Bookwatch, January, 2006, review of Monologue of a Dog.

Women's Review of Books, May 1, 2006, Claire Keyes, "An Acrobat of the Imagination," p. 22.

World Literature Today, spring, 1982, review of Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts, p. 368; winter, 1992, Bogdana Carpenter, review of People on a Bridge: Poems, pp. 163-164; summer, 1991, Alice-Catherine Carls, review of Poezje = Poems, p. 519; March 1, 2007, Magdalena Kay, review of Monologue of a Dog, p. 73.


Boston Globe Online, (February 5, 2006), David Mehegan, review of Monologue of a Dog.

Moondance, (February 29, 2008), Lys Anzia, review of Monologue of a Dog.

Words without Borders, (February 8, 2008), W. Martin, review of Monologue of a Dog.

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Szymborska, Wislawa 1923- (Stancykowna)

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