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Moment / Wisława Szymborska

translated from Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

This beautiful poem was suggested by Mindsprings regular Mechteld-Hanna and gives me a chance to spotlight the Nobel-prize winning Polish poet, Wisława Szymborska. Although I never met her during my stay in Poland, I did attend a reading by her famous translator here, Stanisław Barańczak. Since it was in the first few months of living in Gdańsk, my very limited Polish at that stage meant most of his verses went over my head.

Mechteld-Hanna sent this as a Spring poem, but as always in Szymborska's work, hefty things are at play, just under the surface. And indeed, her meditation upon the illusion of timelessness is very timely as I read more and more about the climate crisis. We are hampered from really responding to the deep and climactic changes ahead because we adhere to the 'polite agreement' that these woods will be 'alive without end' and the path will run from 'always to ever'. It's not true, but perhaps the beauty can permit us to linger?

I walk on the slope of a hill gone green.

Grass, little flowers in the grass,

as in a children’s illustration.

The misty sky’s already turning blue.

A view of other hills unfolds in silence.

As if there’d never been any Cambrians, Silurians,

rocks snarling at crags,

upturned abysses,

no nights in flames

and days in clouds of darkness.

As if plains hadn’t pushed their way here

in malignant fevers,

icy shivers.

As if seas had seethed only elsewhere,

shredding the shores of the horizons.

It’s nine-thirty local time.

Everything’s in its place and in polite agreement.

In the valley a little brook cast as a little brook.

A path in the role of a path from always to ever.

Woods disguised as woods alive without end,

and above them birds in flight play birds in flight.

This moment reigns as far as the eye can reach.

One of those earthly moments

invited to linger.

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