Poets are an extraordinary type of people. They know how to play with words without being disrespectful towards them and can dazzle us with just a handful of syllables. Among these, Wisława Szymborska without a doubt has a privileged spot both in my library and in the list of people whose capacity of facing life I truly admire. In her case a disarmingly lightness, contagious and not at all frivolous stands out.
“Telling your feelings to unknown people is a bit like selling your own soul. But then again it gives a lot of joy.”
I stumbled upon her poems only recently – and I must add unfortunately, because I am sure that if I had discovered her before, the quality of my days would have improved a lot.
Born in Cracow between the two big wars, she started writing since her childhood. She grew up in a cultured family and surrounded by books, already when she was around 5 she had fun creating verses for her father, who used to give her a coin for each poem she made for him. Her youth, oppressed by nazi and socialist occupation, is clearly the box where magic happened: her capacity of transforming the harsh reality of existence in something fascinating, purged from triviality’s patina, but still true and earnest.
“What is poetry?”
“Well, I don’t know, I don’t know and I cling to this, like you would with the safety of a handrail”.
What totally bewitched me though, was discovering her long life aptitude in collage making, whose irreverent nature, disenchanted and fantastic imaginary are the visual alter ego of her poetic production. These artworks were given during her famous “generosity lucky dips” or sent around the world to friends or people who particularly drew Wisława’s admiration – one was even delivered to Woody Allen, whose dialogues and character’s love for books truly fascinated her. Allen, an equal admirer of Szymborska’s work, was pleased by the gift, he even expressed the significance it had had for him: “much higher than all those golden statues they give you in Hollywood”.
Her poems, though having an enormous specific depth, appear simple, direct, fluid. Reading them, it feels like your own thoughts materialise in front of you. You can almost touch them, crystal clear. Because Wisława tells things with humility but without tip-toeing around them, with a tailored combination of words, dense with meaning but as gentle as a butterfly.
Irony and playfulness are two aspects that characterise her whole existence. They were accompanied and got amplified by that lightness that was following her everywhere she went: memorable her passions for kitschy things, composing limericks and her mania of having her picture taken underneath street signs with peculiar names.
“Do you like travelling?”, I asked her a lot after. “No. I love coming back”.
A small gem which shouldn’t be missed to fully understand her personality is the documentary Life sometimes is bearable, whose title, explained by director Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, encloses entirely this great woman’s philosophy. It’s a sentence which came out while sitting in a small square in Trieste, between a sip of coffee and a cigarette: one of those moments when you find yourself surrounded by old buildings, hearing the sea babbling in the background and watching people run around doing their daily tasks, while slowly drinking coffee. There, in those moments life is bearable”.