Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wisława Szymborska, boundary, psalm, the fog's reprehensible drifting

Table Mountain, Cape Town
New Years is both arbitrary and meaningful. Boundaries are also arbitrary but with far greater consequence.  A Wisława Szymborska poem on the subject. Her native Poland has been brutalized by governments' decisions.

Psalm (1976)

Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!
How many clouds float past them with impunity;
how much desert sand shifts from one land to another;
how many mountain pebbles tumble onto foreign soil
in provocative hops!

Need I mention every single bird that flies in the face of frontiers
or alights on the roadblock at the border?
A humble robin - still, its tail resides abroad
while its beak stays home. If that weren't enough, it won't stop bobbing!

Among innumerable insects, I'll single out only the ant
between the border guard's left and right boots
blithely ignoring the questions "Where from?" and "Where to?"

Oh, to register in detail, at a glance, the chaos
prevailing on every continent!
Isn't that a privet on the far bank
smuggling its hundred-thousandth leaf across the river?
And who but the octopus, with impudent long arms,
would disrupt the sacred bounds of territorial waters?
And how can we talk of order overall?
when the very placement of the stars
leaves us doubting just what shines for whom?

Not to speak of the fog's reprehensible drifting!
And dust blowing all over the steppes
as if they hadn't been partitioned!
And the voices coasting on obliging airwaves,
that conspiratorial squeaking, those indecipherable mutters!

Only what is human can truly be foreign.
The rest is mixed vegetation, subversive moles, and wind.


Translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh
& posted here.

Wisława Szymborska, 1976 (Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996)

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