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I loved Wislawa Szymborska’s poems. She is a very subtle writer, and it’s amazing to me that her work was translated from Polish to English so successfully. I particularly liked her poem “Unexpected Meeting,” and the way she utilized imagery to say something about what her characters were feeling without ever explicitly saying so. “Our hawks walk on the ground. Our sharks drown in water. Our wolves yawn in front of the open cage,” she writes, creating a sense of wrongness without ever saying it outright. Even people who do not spend much time with these animals know that it is not likely for a hawk to walk rather than fly, or a shark to drown in water, or a wolf to not run out of an enclosure at its first chance of freedom. This whole poem is about a very short exchange, where two acquaintances meet unexpectedly and do not know what to say to each other.  This is a scenario that every person has experienced at some point in their life, but, in just thirteen short lines, Szymborska has expressed the deep awkwardness of that situation in a completely honest and unique way.

I’m curious about the history between these two people.  Are they estranged friends?  Were they in a romantic relationship that fizzled out?  The lines “We treat each other with exceeding courtesy; we say, it’s great to see you after all these years,” make me believe that, whatever their relationship was and however it ended, it was painful and difficult for both of them.

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