Wislawa Szymborska: “Map”

What would a Poetry Month be without the immortal Wislawa Szymborska? This is just one poem.
Maybe I should post 4 or 5 poems, just for good measure. It is her vision that proves it’s the vision that makes the poem. The skill is in allowing the poem to create that vision as a vision inside the reader’s mind and heart, the heart being a word or place wherein resides one’s essence. The poem is simply a map for that vision.


Flat as the table
it’s placed on.
Nothing moves beneath it
and it seeks no outlet.
Above—my human breath
creates no stirring air
and leaves its total surface

Its plains, valleys are always green,
uplands, mountains are yellow and brown,
while seas, oceans remain a kindly blue
beside the tattered shores.

Everything here is small, near, accessible.
I can press volcanoes with my fingertip,
stroke the poles without thick mittens,
I can with a single glance
encompass every desert
with the river lying just beside it.

A few trees stand for ancient forests,
you couldn’t lose your way among them.

In the east and west,
above and below the equator—
quiet like pins dropping,
and in every black pinprick
people keep on living.
Mass graves and sudden ruins
are out of the picture.

Nations’ borders are barely visible
as if they wavered—to be or not.

I like maps, because they lie.
Because they give no access to the vicious truth.
Because great-heartedly, good-naturedly
they spread before me a world
not of this world.

translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh
Map: Collected and Last Poems
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


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Filed under Poetry, Poets, Remembering Poets, women poets

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