Feed on

In “Unexpected Meeting”, Szymborska marvels at the simplicity of the animal kingdom. This simplicity is reflected in the shortness of the sentences: “Our tigers drink milk. Our hawks walk on the ground. Our sharks drown in water. Our wolves yawn in front of the open cage.” (Szymborska 137). In the preceding couplet, she acknowledges how less simple mankind is, how we often present false versions of ourselves to others or act in a way that is the opposite of what we are feeling, as opposed to animals: “We are very polite to each other, insist it’s nice meeting after all these years.” (Szymborska 137). The final stanza reflects the apathy felt by the poem’s two subjects towards their own species, thinking them to be far below animals, who are simple and true and extraordinary in so many ways, unlike humans: “We fall silent in mid-phrase, smiling beyond salvation. Our people have nothing to say.” (Szymborksa 137).

In “The Women of Rubens”, Szymborska writes about the subjects of Peter Paul Rubens’s paintings, a 15th century Flemish artist known for his depictions of full-figured women. It is interesting to see how Szymborska celebrates nonconventional body types just as Rubens does, assuring her readers that just because they don’t look like other women doesn’t mean that they are ugly or imperfect: “For even the sky is convex, convex the angels and convex the god—mustachioed Phoebus who on a sweaty mount rides into the seething alcove.” (Szymborska 139). Her descriptions of slimmer women are also worth mentioning; at times, it almost seems as if she is making criticisms towards them, comparing them to birds: “Their ribs all showing, their feet and hands of birdlike nature. Trying to take wing on bony shoulder blades.” (Szymborska 139). The second to last stanza demonstrates the ways in which trends fall in and out of fashion: “The thirteenth century would have given them a golden background, the twentieth—a silver screen. The seventeenth had nothing for the flat of chest.” (Szymborska 139). In the wake of this changed (or changing) attitude towards full-figured women, Szymborska celebrates them, heaping praise upon them: “O meloned, O excessive ones, doubled by the flinging off of shifts, trebled by the violence of posture, you lavish dishes of love!” (Szymborska 138).

In “Pieta”, a reporter seeks out the mother of a man who was killed, bombarding her with questions about her now-famous son’s life and death, which she answers. Right away, we are able to see that this is nothing new to the mother, that she has long since become used to such intrusions, and that she is ready for anything the reporter may have to ask her: “She holds herself erect, hair combed straight, eyes clear.” (Szymborska 139). The insensitive nature of the reporter is reflected in the answers given by the mother to their questions: “Yes, she was standing by the prison wall then…Regretting not bringing a tape recorder and movie camera. Yes, she knows what those things are.” (Szymborska 139). The mother’s pain is evident as she recalls the aftermath of her son’s death: “On the radio she had read his last letter. On the television she had sung old lullabies. Once she had even acted in a film, staring into the klieg lights till the tears came. Yes, she is moved by the memory. Yes, she’s a little tired. Yes, it will pass.” (Szymborska 139). We especially feel for the mother in the final two lines of the poem, knowing that she is being forced to relive her trauma again and again with each new person who comes to seek her out: “Getting up. Expressing thanks. Saying goodbye. Going out, walking past the next batch of tourists.” (Szymborska 140).

In “Theater Impressions”, the narrator (perhaps Szymborska) informs us of her love for the endings of tragic plays. A few lines that really stood out to me in this poem were, “The trampling of eternity with the tip of a golden slipper.” (Szymborska 140) and “Bows solo and ensemble: the white hand on the heart’s wound, the curtsey of the lady suicide, the nodding of the lopped-off head.” (Szymborska 140). I found the last stanza to be especially relatable, as I have often felt the same sadness when finishing a book or a film, wishing that it did not have to end: “But truly elevating is the lowering of the curtain, and that which can still be glimpsed beneath it: here one hand hastily reaches for a flower, there a second snatches up a dropped sword. Only then does a third, invisible, perform its duty: it clutches at my throat.” (Szymborska 141).

In “Under a Certain Little Star”—my personal favorite of the collection—we are treated to an examination of one’s perceived faults. I really resonated with this poem when I read it; it made me remember when I had similar ideas about myself when I was younger, focusing so much of my energy on my own perceived faults, no matter how small they might be. Lines such as “Forgive me, far-off wars, for bringing flowers home.” (Szymborska 141) and “I apologize to everyone that I cannot be every man and woman.” (Szymborska 141) are so applicable to moments in my life where I considered myself to be at fault for the smallest, most indirect of things/problems. This is a poem that I believe everyone should read, because, without a doubt, everyone has felt like this at some point in their lives. Though they may not always be aware that other people feel or have felt the same way, I believe that this poem, as it did for me, could help to clue more readers in on the fact that no one is perfect, that you are not to blame for every little problem, and that, similarly, you cannot fix everything that is wrong with the world; you just have to live your life. The poem’s title is also interesting to consider. Could the “certain little star” be referring to the sun? Could an overarching theme of this poem be the reality of everyone living on Earth—all of the problems that we face, all of the questions that we ponder, and all of the personal struggles that we battle within ourselves?

In “Reality Demands”, we are reminded of the everyday tragedy of reality, but also that in the face of all these tragedies, life continues on. Mostly, the poem serves as a reminder that we must live in the present, no matter what we have faced in the past: “Letters fly back and forth between Pearl Harbor and Hastings…” (Szymborska 142); “On tragic mountain passes the wind rips hats from unwitting heads, and we can’t help laughing at that.” (Szymborska 143). The haunting possibility that every inch of the world has been touched by tragedy at some point in time really stuck with me: “Perhaps all fields are battlefields, all grounds are battlegrounds, those we remember and those that are forgotten.” (Szymborska 143). I also really enjoyed, “There is so much Everything that Nothing is hidden quite nicely.” (Szymborska 142). I think that this could definitely be considered a timeless poem; no matter how bright our future may be, the possibility of tragedy always exists, and this poem serves as a great reminder that no matter what, we must, and do, go on.

In “The End and the Beginning”, we glimpse the details of the aftermath of war, as well as how the memory of the event in the minds of the witnesses inevitably fades over time with the coming of future generations. The stanzas depicting the post-battle cleanups are especially haunting: “Someone’s got to shove the rubble to the roadsides so the carts loaded with corpses can get by.” (Szymborska 144); “Someone’s got to trudge through sludge and ashes, through the sofa springs, the shards of glass, the bloody rags.” (Szymborska 144); “Someone’s got to lug the post to prop the wall, someone’s got to glaze the window, set the door in its frame.” (Szymborska 144). Perhaps even more heartbreaking than that is the acknowledgement of how, eventually, all memory of the tragedy will be forgotten: “Those who knew what this was all about must make way for those who know little. And less than that. And at last nothing less than nothing.” (Szymborska 145). This also ties in nicely with the preceding poem “Reality Demands”, which acknowledges that life and time will always move forward, no matter what horrible things unfold each day.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.