Today, I’m sharing a poem by the Polish poet, Wisława Szymborska (who won the Nobel Prize in literature back in 1996, by the way). I include many of Szymborska’s poems in my “favorite-poems-of-all-time” folder. Not only is her writing sublime, but, well, she has a lot to say . . . and in that sneaky, clever way that really fine poets have. Even more wonderous, to me, is that her poems come to us as English translations from their original Polish. (Translation . . . is such a gift.)
A Contribution to Statistics
by Wisława Szymborska
Out of a hundred people
those who always know better
doubting every step
— nearly all the rest,
glad to lend a hand
if it doesn’t take too long
— as high as forty-nine,
because they can’t be otherwise
— four, well, maybe five,
able to admire without envy
living in constant fear
of someone or something
capable of happiness
— twenty-something tops,
savage in crowds
— half at least,
when forced by circumstances
— better not to know
even ballpark figures,
wise after the fact
— just a couple more
than wise before it,
taking only things from life
(I wish I were wrong),
hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
sooner or later,
worthy of compassion
— a hundred out of a hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.
This poem can be found in MAP: Collected and Last Poems, Wisława Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak, edited by Clare Cavanagh, 2015, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, Mariner Books. Information about the poet can be found here.
You can find A Gathering of Poetry every month . . . on the third Thursday.
Gather up some poetry!
(Bonny is hosting a special link-up for A Gathering of Poetry. Be sure to check it out!)
Oh I love this Kym, I am going to write it into my planner. Thanks
After opening your blog, I anxiously clicked on “Read More” after reading that you were sharing a Szymborska poem. She’s been one of my favorite poets after first hearing her read “A Tale Begun” on NPR back in 2007, and this one is equally wonderful. Her contribution to statistics is far more interesting than most other data, and even more so when you consider it’s been translated. Thank you for a new to me Szymborska poem!
As a retired quantitative researcher, I love this one!
I have no Szymborska poetry books in my collection… this is something I need to rectify immediately!
I think my favorite line of this poem is this: “better not to know, even ballpark figures”
That line is an absolute gut punch… she has a way of putting you right inside the poem, firmly.
Thank you so much for sharing this thought-provoking poem!
Naturally the last statistic is the best one!
I love poems like this one…
I’m reading Babel so translations are occupying my mind these days. Thanks for this beautiful poem and the reminder that we are indeed all mortal.
Translation is an art. My sister and I were talking about this poet this week. I had never heard of her until recently. What a wonderful poem.