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To first understand Wislawa Szymborska’s poetry, one must comprehend where she came from and her many life experiences. Szymborska was a Polish poet born in 1923 and spent the entirety of her life living in Poland. This, of course, means that when she was alive she experienced WWII (as this war occurred between 1939 and 1945) firsthand. This explains the many themes of war she incorporates throughout her poetry, as clearly demonstrated in “The End and the Beginning,” as well as many other works produced by her. Without her encounters pertaining to the impact that World War II had on her life, more likely than not would readers not have the many poignant and beautifully written poems she has produced. Szymborska also writes in numerous interesting points of view, adding a sense of uniqueness to her poetry and allowing her audience to experience different versions of a story she has conveyed. The emotion is raw and portrayed beautifully throughout her poetry.

Starting off with “The End and the Beginning,” readers can obviously see the effect that WWII had on Szymborska. Of course, without the prior knowledge of who she was as a person, this would be more difficult to infer, but after some simple research, it is clear that these were the events which inspired this poem. The opening stanza makes it evident that this piece is surrounding the theme of warfare, beginning with

“After every war

someone has to clean up.

Things won’t

straighten themselves up, after all.”

Not only is it made extremely clear what the topic is in this poem that Szymborska has produced, but in four short lines, Wislawa was able to convey such powerful emotion that her audience becomes automatically hooked. The post-war, almost apocalyptic world which she painted with words gives readers a clear image of post-WWII incidents, so disturbingly emotional and detailed that it almost places readers directly within the scene. Szymborska continues, later in the poem:

“Someone has to drag in a girder

to prop up a wall.

Someone has to glaze a window,

rehang a door.”

Again, the image of post-war occurrences Szymborska wrote about are not only incredibly detailed given the few words she used, but also filled to the brim with heart wrenching, sorrowful emotion. To touch briefly on point of view, it is unclear if Wislawa is writing “The End and the Beginning” from her own perspective, but it is definitely one of someone who is regretful of all the damage the war has caused, pondering if all the bloodshed was worth the outcome.

Continuing on the topic of perspective within Szymborska’s poetry, “Unexpected Meeting” is an interesting piece which makes the reader question who is supposed to be the narrator of the poem. To me, as an audience member, I was constantly switching back and forth reading this work from an animal’s point of view and a human’s point of view. There is a sense of human ownership given when Szymborska referred to animals as “ours,” as shown below:

“Our tigers drink milk.

Our hawks walk on the ground.

Our sharks drown in the water.

Our wolves yawn in front of the open cage.”

This leaves readers to possibly have been given the impression that these creatures are owned by a human, leaving the poem to be read from a human’s point of view. However, the line at the end of the poem is left open to interpretation:

“Our people

have nothing to say.”

The phrase “Our people” which was used could possibly show an ownership over the human race that the animals have, leaving audience members to wonder if Szymborska has made the point that humans are actually worse beings than those in the animal kingdom. (Side note: Mark Twain wrote a wonderful essay on this topic, providing evidence as to why humans are far more destructive and cruel than other animals.) It is an interesting poem because the perspective of the narrator is played with so much, making readers question who, or what is supposed to be telling the story. Szymborska was a poet who played with this aspect a lot, giving her poetry much more depth, and has to be thought about a lot more.

Looping back to the theme of warfare that so often comes along with Szymborska’s work, “Reality Demands” surrounds the common reality of hardship that each person seems to face. Again, without Wislawa’s experiences within the WWII era, this is most likely a poem which would not exist (or, at least, to the same extent of how successful it is). The point of this poem is to demonstrate that even though each person deals with constant sadness and tragedy, one must move forward with their lives, much as how Szymborska had to do during the war. It is indicative through the lines

“Letters fly back and forth

between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,

a moving van passes

beneath the eye of the lion at Chaeronea…”

that this poem is directly relative to what happened during WWII, and how this impacted the author. Again, there is a great sense of emotion present within this piece, as Wislawa was able to portray the misfortunes of the time in such a descriptive yet heartbreaking manner.

Overall, Szymborska, in my opinion, is a very skilled poet and has the ability to portray so many interesting aspects throughout her writing, such as point of view, emotion, and the common theme of warfare. To reiterate, it is also important to know this authors circumstance, as it is important to know all authors circumstances, before reading her work.


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