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“Both plain-spoken and luminous . . . [Szymborska’s] is the best of the Western mind—free, restless, questioning.” — New York Times Book Review

A New York Times Editors’ Choice

“Vast, intimate, and charged with the warmth of a life fully imagined to the end. There’s no better place for those unfamiliar with her work to begin.”
One of Europe’s greatest poets is also its wisest, wittiest, and most accessible. Nobel Prize winner Wisława Szymborska draws us in with her unexpected, unassuming humor. “If you want the world in a nutshell,” a Polish critic remarked, “try Szymborska.” But the world held in these lapidary poems is larger than the one we thought we knew.

​Edited by her longtime, award-winning translator, Clare Cavanagh, Map traces Szymborska’s work until her death in 2012. Of the approximately two hundred fifty poems included here, nearly forty are newly translated; thirteen represent the entirety of the poet’s last Polish collection, Enough, never before published in English. Map offers Szymborska’s devoted readers a welcome return to her “ironic elegance” (TheNew Yorker).
“Her poems offer a restorative wit as playful as it is steely and as humble as it is wise . . . Her wry acceptance of life’s folly remain[s] her strongest weapon against tyranny and bad taste.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544705159
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/12/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 529,614
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

WISLAWA SZYMBORSKA (1923–2012) was born in Poland and worked as a poetry editor, translator, and columnist. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996.

CLARE CAVANAGH received an NBCC award for criticism and a PEN Translation Award for her work, with STANISLAW BARANCZAK, on Szymborska’s poetry.

Read an Excerpt

The Questions You Ask Yourself
What do a smile and
handshake hold?
Do your greetings never
keep you as far
apart as other people
sometimes are
when passing judgment
at first glance?
Do you open each human
fate like a book,
seeking feelings
not in fonts
or formats?
Are you sure you
decipher people completely?
You gave an evasive
word in answering,
a bright joke in place of openness
how do you tally your losses?
Stunted friendships,
frozen worlds.
Do you know that friendship,
like love, requires teamwork?
Someone missed a step
in this demanding effort.
In your friends’ errors
do you bear no blame?
Someone complained, advised.
How many tears ran dry
before you lent a hand?
Jointly responsible
for the happiness of millennia,
don’t you slight
the single minute
of a tear, a wince?
Do you never overlook
another’s effort?
A glass stood on the table,
no one noticed
until it fell,
toppled by a thoughtless gesture.
Are people really so simple
as far as people go?

Now see, here’s Hania, the good servant.
And those aren’t frying pans, you know, they’re halos.
And that’s a holy image, knight and serpent.
The serpent means vanity in this vale of woes.
And that’s no necklace, that’s her rosary.
Her shoes have toes turned up from daily kneeling.
Scarf dark as all the nights she sits up, weary,
and waits to hear the morning church bells pealing.
Scrubbing the mirror once, she saw a devil:
Bless me, Father, he shot a nasty look.
Blue with yellow stripes, eyes black as kettles — 
you don’t think he’ll write me in his book?
And so she gives at Mass, she prays the mysteries,
and buys a small heart with a silver flame.
Since work began on the new rectory,
the devils have all run away in shame.
The cost is high, preserving souls from sin,
but only old folks come here, scraping by.
With so much of nothing, razor-thin,
Hania would vanish in the Needle’s Eye.
May, renounce your hues for wintery gray.
Leafy bough, throw off your greenery.
Clouds, repent; sun, cast your beams away.
Spring, save your blooms for heaven’s scenery.
I never heard her laughter or her tears.
Raised humble, she owns nothing but her skin.
A shadow walks beside her — her mortal fears,
her tattered kerchief yammers in the wind.

Still Life with a Balloon
Returning memories?
No, at the time of death
I’d like to see lost objects
return instead.
Avalanches of gloves,
coats, suitcases, umbrellas — 
come, and I’ll say at last:
What good’s all this?
Safety pins, two odd combs,
a paper rose, a knife,
some string — come, and I’ll say
at last: I haven’t missed you.
Please turn up, key, come out,
wherever you’ve been hiding,
in time for me to say:
You’ve gotten rusty, friend!
Downpours of affidavits,
permits and questionnaires,
rain down and I will say:
I see the sun behind you.
My watch, dropped in a river,
bob up and let me seize you — 
then, face to face, I’ll say:
Your so-called time is up.
And lastly, toy balloon
once kidnapped by the wind — 
come home, and I will say:
There are no children here.
Fly out the open window
and into the wide world;
let someone else shout “Look!”
and I will cry.

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