Wislawa Szymborska, the endearing poet from Poland, died on the first day of February this year, at the age of 88. The world first started paying attention to the notoriously private Szymborska when she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996, “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”. Many also knew that she was an avid smoker, as Szymborska is most often than not, armed with a cigarette when photographers paid her a visit.
But few had known that she had switched from reading polish literature to sociology at university. This is merely conjecture, but it is likely that her grasp on the human condition and equality could be attributed to her field of studies, together with the political events that shaped her lifetime.
On what many called Szymborska’s utopian and socialist ideology, reflected by her earlier works, she simply said,
“When I was young I had a moment of believing in the Communist doctrine. I wanted to save the world through Communism. Quite soon I understood that it doesn’t work, but I never pretended that it didn’t happen to me.”
“It was the youth. I made a lot of mistakes but I took all my actions in good faith. At that time, I was naïve and wished to save the world.”
Although Szymborska was always concerned about the state of the world, she never took to meddling in the affairs of politics. As opposed to many less worthy candidates and celebrities, she never thought that her status, fame and talent should allow her to air her views to the world as some kind of authority. She was not interested in giving her opinions on the hot topics of the day, or fueling on controversies in the papers. Szymborska might even be wary of the media, as she rarely gives interviews. It seems that whatever she wants to share with the world, she shares in her poems.
Perhaps Szymborska could be best described, and remembered, by one of the most famous photograph of her. She had just been told about her winning of the Nobel Prize, in a circle of close friends. As always, she kept a shy but warm smile that lit up the room. There was not a hint of ostentatiousness and pride she could afford to display, just a little old lady giving herself a light smack on the forehead.
[Extended Reading: Nobel Lecture - The Poet and The World (1996)]
Note: Sociology students, you may now cite “I wish to become a poet like Wislawa Szymborska,” when questions over your career options arise.
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