David Reads “Any Case” for Day 20, by Wislawa Szymborska

Polish Poet, Wislawa Szymborska
Polish Poet & Nobel Prize winner, Wislawa Szymborska

Well the recording for day 20 did make it up onto SoundCloud, but my apologies for the lateness of it’s posting here on The Dad Poet. Frankly, I needed some sleep. And today is such a lovely day in Penn’s Woods, and so much to be done, and at last some motivation, despite the chilliness of this spring day. So I haven’t been in a hurry.

I mentioned last time about needing a hopeful sort of poem, a little love, a little lightness. And I plan on going out to do a little filming of the Dog Wood trees on my street in preparation for a video recording of aTony Hoagland piece for you. But still, despite the heaviness of the news, and our collective anxieties this week, there are reasons why singing a certain amount of blues music is helpful. There are poems that help us brood sometimes, and that is needed too. We have to dwell on the pain for just a moment, in order to face and overcome it. We look it in the eye, let ourselves feel the fear, the pain, the losses, just long enough to know the enemy. Somehow this can give us strength to conquer.

The danger, of course, as perhaps with anything, is the over-reaction of losing oneself to the darkness, of feeling more despair than is warranted, and thereby giving up hope, relinquishing resolve. My friend Ann Keeler Evans has written recently about the dangers and follies of false empathy (“I must ask you not to feel my pain more deeply than I.”), and I think the warning is a wise one. I won’t get into the various reasons people chose that path, but in that direction lay only the graveyard of defeat.

I want to face the darkness, but only long enough to assess it, and calculate what spiritual, intellectual and emotional resources, which I already have at my disposal, are  needed in the present to keep, or regain a foothold on my dreams. Strength, resolve, peace and balance, one moment at a time.

Wisława Szymborska (b. July 2, 1923 in Bnin, P...
Wisława Szymborska (1923 – 2012) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s poem was one I almost couldn’t read at first. The bombings in Boston, the killing and maiming, the nation’s tension and anger seemed to bring the bombings in Somalia closer to home. The explosions in Texas brought back to our memories the tragedy of the entire Branch Davidian disaster. And sometimes we are wont to give up hope. But the town of Boston did not do that, and neither should we. We should keep our heads about us though, and somehow poetry, art in general helps me to do that.

“Any Case” first came to my attention on Thursday, April 11th when local Calligraphy artist Nancy Cleaver brought a framed work of hers to Poetry Under the Paintings at Faustina’s where I gather once a month with fellow poets and poetry lovers. The work was a beautiful rendering of Wislawa Szymborska’s poem, translated by Sharon Olds and Grazyna Drabik. It stuck a chord with me, and I wished that I had turned the cameras on that night instead of leaving them in my bag.

Then after the Boston Bombings this week Idra Novey on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog posted about the poem, mistakenly calling it “Any Place.” I do not bring that up out of a desire to correct, but out of interest in how that possible Freudian slip sheds light on what art does for us in times of tragedy. Sometimes we gravitate toward works that help us reckon with what is happening in our world, to us or around us. And admittedly we in the United States usually have it less hard than others when it comes to suffering acts of terrorism. It doesn’t hit our back yards and streets on a regular basis as it has and does in other parts of the world. As Ann has said, while “in some parts of the world,

Almost every breath is a prayer of sadness and loss.
It shouldn’t diminish my mourning
But does deepen and shape my commitment
To keep working for Peace (oh, so many places in need)

Brian’s cousin was there. She witnessed the first bomb go off. She works up the street from the Marathon finish line and was on her way to greet some friends who would be crossing that line soon. On the way she met a few others she knew on the sidewalk and, thankfully, “luckily” she stopped to chat.  Minutes later the blast, and she might have been right there if not. . . So it is no wonder, when the bombs and bullets hit near home we would think, as Szymborska’s poem indicates it could happen “Any Place.” Let us be brave like the citizens of Boston. This way, the darkness does not win.

Wislawa Szymborska is a new voice to me, though she passed away just a little over a year ago at the age of 88. I have been enjoying reading some of her other poems today, as well as some grand, over-the-top, and sometimes unsolicited  advice to other writers. Be sure to follow those links. You might take issue with her on one and applaud her on the next, but you will not find her boring.

– by Wislawa Szymborska

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Closer. Farther away.
It happened, but not to you.

You survived because you were first.
You survived because you were last.
Because alone. Because the others.
Because on the left. Because on the right.
Because it was raining. Because it was sunny.
Because a shadow fell.

Luckily there was a forest.
Luckily there were no trees.
Luckily a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A frame, a turn, an inch, a second.
Luckily a straw was floating on the water.

Thanks to, thus, in spite of, and yet.
What would have happened if a hand, a leg,
One step, a hair away?

So you are here? Straight from that moment still suspended?
The net’s mesh was tight, but you? through the mesh?
I can’t stop wondering at it, can’t be silent enough.
How quickly your heart is beating in me.

–Translated from the Polish by Grazyna Drabik and Sharon Olds

21 Comments Add yours

  1. slpmartin says:

    The fates have no reason…but we always attempt to assign some meaning to that which is quite illogical…how one survives and another dies…a most thought provoking poem.


    1. Yes, I think I have quite fallen for the poet here.


  2. neverending1 says:

    Thank for posting my blog.


    1. My pleasure! Thanks for the opportunity. 🙂


  3. thanks for the quote… and what a lovely reading. what a lovely poem. Hurray for Nancy Cleaver!


    1. Absolutely. Thank you for being so quotable! And for the kind compliments. One of your pieces coming up soon. I’m a day behind with this one, so I haven’t decided what is next for tonight. After a brisk walk and some dogwood filming, it’s time to do some housecleaning. 🙂


    2. Oh! And hopefully you caught the link to Nancy’s smugmug page. I found the peace cards right off the bat in the galleries! 🙂


  4. John says:

    Really nice reading….

    I love, love, LOVE Ms Szymborska … seek out her 9/11 poem (on a day when you’re not feeling so heavy hearted — you can find it here, along with other poems about that day http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/09/911-poetry_n_954492.html)

    I love her poetry… it’s so beautiful and meaningful. I’m glad you’ve discovered her.


    1. Thank you, John! I saw a link to that poem, and as you said, I sort of put it aside for another day. But soon. I still have a bit of Wordsworthian brooding and Denise Levertov Peace poetry in me for April, but I need to intersperse it with some Kay Ryan’s light darkness and Tony Hoagland’s trees. 🙂 Working on the next two recordings now. I really love how you used your photography in the latest post, by the way!


    2. Sigrun says:

      I just read her 9/11 poem the other day, its like nothing else, I thought writing on a theme like this would be almost impossible – Szymborska showed us it is not.


    3. You are the second person today to recommend that poem to me. I saw it, and thought I might not be ready for it yet after the news of this week, so I put it aside for now. I shall pick it up in the next day or so and give it a good read through. Thank you!


  5. Delightful, David. Thanks for this.


  6. Anonymous says:

    Great poem…thanks for the intro to her…k


  7. Luckily one day our blog paths crossed over MadLib/DadLib silliness. Thank you again for your words and the words of others, which you graciously share.


    1. And thanks for faithfully tuning in! I deeply appreciate it.


  8. PB Rippey says:

    I always learn from her poems and return to my copy of “Miracle Fair” often. She and Anna Akhmatova are poets I turn to in dark times.


    1. I shall have to look Anna up. Thank you!


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