The Camel

by Wislawa Szymborska

English version by Joanna Trzeciak
Original Language Polish

Don't tell a camel about need and want.

Look at the big lips
pursed
in perpetual kiss,
the dangerous lashes
of a born coquette.

The camel is an animal
grateful for less.

It keeps to itself
the hidden spring choked with grass,
the sharpest thorn
on the sweetest stalk.

When a voice was heard crying in the wilderness,

when God spoke
from the burning bush,

the camel was the only animal
to answer back.

Dune on stilts,
it leans into the long horizon,
bloodhounding

the secret caches of watermelon

brought forth like manna
from the sand.

It will bear no false gods
before it:
not the trader
who cinches its hump
with rope,
nor the tourist.

It has a clear sense of its place in the world:

after water and watermelon,
heat and light,
silence and science,

it is the last great hope.

-- from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska, by Wislawa Szymborska / Translated by Joanna Trzeciak

<<Previous Poem | More Poems by Wislawa Szymborska | Next Poem >>


/ Image by Al-Shamary /


View All Poems by Wislawa Szymborska

Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I like this poem because it gives us an opportunity to consider the energies embodied by the camel, what it represents, what we can learn from it.

The camel is one of my favorite symbolic representations of the spiritual seeker.

Don't tell a camel about need and want.

First, the camel is a natural ascetic. It can survive on so little in the harshest desert environments.

The camel is an animal
grateful for less.


As such, the camel represents a purity and essentialism, needing nothing extraneous. It is a being complete and capable within itself.

It is also a good symbol for conservation. What little it needs it carefully gathers and stores within itself, wasting nothing.

And, of course, the camel is the quintessential journeyer:

Dune on stilts,
it leans into the long horizon...


It travels through the hidden and forgotten places with endurance and persistence, practically becoming part of the landscape it passes though.

The camel's special gift is that, unlike other creatures, it discovers the desert's secret places and hidden treasures, unrecognized and unappreciated by others.

It keeps to itself
the hidden spring choked with grass,
the sharpest thorn
on the sweetest stalk.


The camel is a knower of secrets, an imbiber of secret sustenance.

And let's not forget that the camel has attitude. Unlike the docile horse, camels are famous for their rebellious nature. The camel is no meek follower of rules. The camel is an independent thinker.

It will bear no false gods
before it:
not the trader
who cinches its hump
with rope,
nor the tourist.


The camel knows itself and doesn't try to conform to the demands and expectations of society.

It has a clear sense of its place in the world:

after water and watermelon,
heat and light,
silence and science,

it is the last great hope.


Seeker, become like the camel, a journeyer, far seeing, at ease in the open, solitary, silent spaces, drinking from secret springs, content and whole in yourself.



Recommended Books: Wislawa Szymborska

Poems New and Collected Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems Nothing Twice: Selected Poems Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems
More Books >>





The Camel