Poetry: “Any Case” by Wislawa Szymborska


Guerrilla Warfare (Picket Duty In Virginia) by Albert Bierstadt. [Public domain]


My deepest condolences to the people of Norway. I too was stunned and shocked that such senseless violence would occur in the peace-loving part of the world which awards the Nobel Peace Prize.

If that idiot was angry, why did he take his anger out on innocent people who just happened to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time?    And why all those teenagers?

At times like this only a poem will suffice:

Any Case

–  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

Wisława Szymborska, Cracow (Poland), October 2009

Polish poet  Wisława Szymborska [viˈswava ʂɨmˈbɔrska]  (born July 1923),  has only published about two hundred and fifty poems, mostly about war and terrorism, but every one of them, like the poem above, is “unforgettable”.

In 1996 she won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Academy praised her “poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”.

Billy Collins wrote in an introduction to one of her books: “Her simple, relaxed language dares to let us know exactly what she is thinking…we are led, almost unaware, into the intriguing and untranslatable realms that lie just beyond the boundaries of speech.”

*  * * * * *

February 4, 2012.  I just heard that Wislawa Szymborska died this week. R.I.P.


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16 Responses to Poetry: “Any Case” by Wislawa Szymborska

  1. theonlycin says:

    The poem is perfect for what has happened, I just can’t get over it, and that guy looks so smug, he must be a monster 😦

  2. Priya says:

    The poem describes the situation so well. Wislawa Szymborska must’ve seen and felt a lot to be able to write such a poignant verse.
    It is difficult to understand what moves people like Breivik. Well, is there a need to understand, really? It is sad that some people wish to satisfy the monsters inside them by creating fear and monsters in others. Is there even an end to this?
    Thank you for this post, Rosie.

    • dearrosie says:

      I believe Wislawa Szymborska knows more than she’d ever want to know about the horrors of war, and writes so knowledgeably about it, because she survived the Nazi occupation of Poland during the second world war.

      Priya when a horrific event like this takes place in a peace loving country like Norway, I fear for the world.

      • Priya says:

        Yes, the rate at which chaos and anarchy and a love for war and fear is growing among people is alarming.

  3. souldipper says:

    To have the peace of any nation snuffed is unfathomable. To see such an outward demonstration of hatred is terrifying. To murder others as a testament to a hatred based on hysteria (often with limited or no personal experience) requires the insanity of a person who cannot face his own hatred for himself.

  4. Reggie says:

    What an exquisitely worded poem, Rosie – I can’t think of a more fitting response to this horrific gut-wrenching event.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Reggie,
      I also apologize to you for not replying sooner. I had no idea that I’d missed these few comments.

      I’d love to be able to write poetry like this.

  5. Barbara Rodgers says:

    Rosie, this Szymborska poem is so appropriate for this horrific act. Norway is such a liberal, peaceful country, where crime and poverty hardly exist and most of the policemen don’t even carry guns… My heart goes out to the land of (some of) my ancestors…

  6. dearrosie says:

    Barbara my apologies for taking so long to reply to your comment.

    I didn’t know that policemen in Norway don’t carry guns.
    When a madman goes crazy and kills innocent people in a peaceful country like Norway that’s when we have to sit down and brainstorm what can we do to fix it.

  7. Pingback: Wislawa Szymborska, the Polish poet died last week. | Wondering Rose

  8. Oh, I adored Ms, Szymborska! What an absolute joy to find a kindred spirit who does also! That just made my day 🙂

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