Wislawa Szymborska (1923-present) Early Life Born July 2, 1923 in Bnin (now Kornik), a small town in Western Poland Moved at age eight to Krakow in 1931, where she has lived her entire life. Her family lived near a railway station in which she gained inspiration for later poetry. Witnessed Nazi occupation of Poland during WWII; effect of Stalinism on Poland Studied Polish literature and Sociology at Jagellonian University from 1945 until 1948 Jobs: poetry editor (1953-1981 at Życie Literackie (“Literary Life”)), columnist (“Non-Required Reading,” 1968-1981), secretary, office clerk, poet, illustrator First poem she wrote debuted in 1945, “Szukam slowa” (“I am looking for a word”) Inspired by illegal films; attended classes and the theater illegally under post-WWII Communist rule Politics Her first book was published in 1949, but it initially did not pass censors because it “did not meet socialist requirements.” Early fascination with Socialism; signs petitions and vocalizes support for Stalin, Lenin, and socialist ideology 1953: participated in the groundless persecution and condemnation of Catholic priests by the ruling party Like most Polish intellectuals, she quietly turns from Socialist beliefs in 1960s; officially leaves the Polish United Workers Party in 1966 1964: participates in a protest against government ruling against The Times (larger issue: independence of intellectuals and freedom of speech) Communists gained power; tightened cultural policy and Szymborska’s work is deemed “too complex” and “bourgeois” 1980s: labor and cultural revolution; 1981: martial law declared by ruling (but weakened) communist party; 1989: Poland’s first democratic parliamentary election Avoids political commentary in later work, except in her human rights work. “Apolitical poems are political too.” Later Years She later retracted her first two years of poetry, beginning in 1945, and has not allowed them to be published since. Married poet Adam Wlodek in 1948, but divorced in 1954. Later partnered with another Polish writer, but he died of prolonged illness in the early 1990s. "For the last few years my favourite phrase has been 'I don't know'. I've reached the age of self-knowledge, so I don't know anything. People who claim that they know something are responsible for most of the fuss in the world." Known for quick wit and sense of humor, humility, and lack of travel/public presence Not antisocial—merely feels that public events/exposure for writers is mostly fanfare and a waste of creative energy Humility, Wit, or Craziness? On why she received the Nobel Prize: "It all happened because of a friend in the States. It's all because of his sofa. Just before getting his Nobel Prize Czeslaw Milosz  sat on this sofa, then Seamus Heaney  sat on it and he won the prize, and then it happened that I sat on it, and then I got the prize! It's a magic sofa!" Honors 1954: City of Krakow prize for literature 1963: Polish Ministry of Culture prize 1991: Goethe Prize 1995: Herder Prize 1995: honorary doctorate Adam Mickiewiscz University 1996: PEN Club Prize Nobel Prize for literature in 1996 Has written around 200 poems and only 13 slim volumes in her career (~7-10 years per volume)—possibly the least prolific Nobel Laureate in history Reason for sparse writing: “I have a wastebasket in my study.” Jan. 17, 2011: Order of the White Eagle (Poland’s highest honor) Poetic Ideas/Traits Style: Marked simplicity, irony, understatement, “underlying complexity”, paradox, contradiction, introspection, wit Not known for, but uses: anaphora, pathetic fallacy, repetition, and varying tones (satiric, mocking, inquisitive, hopeful, etc.) “approach, not reproach” Early poetry was problematic because she tried “to love humankind, not humans” (common mentality under Stalinism) Expresses pessimism/skepticism about the future of mankind, but still maintains the belief that words have a powerful effect on people (“joy of imagination”) Focus on minute details, brevity of life, death, war A Cat in an Empty Apartment Die? One does not do that to a cat. Because what's a cat to do in an empty apartment? Climb the walls. Caress against the furniture. It seems that nothing has changed here, but yet things are different. Nothing appears to have been relocated, yet everything has been shuffled about. The lamp no longer burns in the evenings. Footsteps can be heard on the stairway, but they're not the ones. The hand which puts the fish on the platter is not the same one which used to do it. Something here does not begin at its usual time. Something does not happen quite as it should Here someone was and was, then suddenly disappeared and now is stubbornly absent. Wislawa Szymborska All the closets were peered into. The shelves were walked through. The rug was lifted and examined. Even the rule about not scattering papers was violated. What more is to be done? Sleep and wait. Let him return, at least make a token appearance. Then he'll learn that one shouldn't treat a cat like this. He will be approached as though unwillingly, slowly, on very offended paws. With no spontaneous leaps or squeals at first.