Adam Gopnik on Wislawa Szymborska: “Life fully imagined”
Though hardly a happy poet in the usual sense—born in Krakow in 1923, possibly the worst moment and place ever to arrive on this planet, with Hitler waiting to greet her on her sixteenth birthday and Stalin evilly coming along behind, how could she be?—Szymborska’s poetry had the gift of creating both the happiness of wisdom felt and the ecstatic happiness of the particulars of life fully imagined. From the experience of armies and dogmas and death that shaped her early life, she found a new commitment to the belief that the poetic impulse, however small its objects, is always saner than the polemical imperative, however passionate its certitudes.
Szymborska took as subjects “chairs and sorrows, scissors, tenderness, transistors, violins, teacups, dams and quips,” to use a list from the title poem in that last collection [Here]. Though determinedly microcosmic, she was never minor. Szymborska takes on an onion, and that onion is peeled, down to its essence. A Szymborska poem is always charming, wonderfully charming, charming as a small child singing, charming as a great pop-song lyric. But her poems are also, to use an old word, “deep,” mysteriously so, about the very nature of existence.