Mercury Day poetry: Nobel Prize edition

Sometime between now and the next sunrise we will learn who this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature is.

I wouldn’t bet money on Bob Dylan or Thomas Pynchon, if I were you. Although I’ve been waiting for TP to win for more than a decade. Having a movie hitting theaters in a few weeks probably dooms his cause, again.

Here’s one poem by 1996’s winner, Wislawa Szymborska. (Link here.) She was born in Western Poland in the early 1920s.

On Death, without Exaggeration

It can’t take a joke,
find a star, make a bridge.
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
building ships, or baking cakes.

In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.

It can’t even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.

Preoccupied with killing,
it does the job awkwardly,
without system or skill.
As though each of us were its first kill.

Oh, it has its triumphs,
but look at its countless defeats,
missed blows,
and repeat attempts!

Sometimes it isn’t strong enough
to swat a fly from the air.
Many are the caterpillars
that have outcrawled it.

All those bulbs, pods,
tentacles, fins, tracheae,
nuptial plumage, and winter fur
show that it has fallen behind
with its halfhearted work.

Ill will won’t help
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d’etat
is so far not enough.

Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies’ skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

Whoever claims that it’s omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it’s not.

There’s no life
that couldn’t be immortal
if only for a moment.

Death
always arrives by that very moment too late.

In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you’ve come
can’t be undone.

 

By Wislawa Szymborska
From “The People on the Bridge”, 1986
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Copyright © Wislawa Szymborska, S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

It somehow seems to fit with some of the intent of a yoga practice.

Posted by Steve