Jan 12 2018

Wislawa Szymborska – A Contribution to Statistics

Published by at 9:57 am under Poetry

A Contribution to Statistics
by Wislawa Szymborska

English version by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

Out of a hundred people

those who always know better
— fifty-two

doubting every step
— nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand
if it doesn’t take too long
— as high as forty-nine,

always good
because they can’t be otherwise
— four, well maybe five,

able to admire without envy
— eighteen,

suffering illusions
induced by fleeting youth
— sixty, give or take a few,

not to be taken lightly
— forty and four,

living in constant fear
of someone or something
— seventy-seven,

capable of happiness
— twenty-something tops,

harmless singly, 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
— thirty
(I wish I were wrong),

hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
— eighty-three
sooner or later,

— thirty-five, which is a lot,

and understanding
— three,

worthy of compassion
— ninety-nine,

— a hundred out of a hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

— from Poems New and Collected, by Wislawa Szymborska / Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak

/ Image by Andy Maguire /

I always knew statistics had a poetic heart. After such terrible abuse by advertisers and politicians, statistics will redeem themselves in great and painful art.

worthy of compassion
— ninety-nine,

— a hundred out of a hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

Of course, even the best-natured of statistics exist to taunt us, to challenge us. Then again, that’s what those irascible poets do too…

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 >>

Wislawa Szymborska, Wislawa Szymborska poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wislawa Szymborska

Poland (1923 – 2012) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Wislawa Szymborska (pronounced vis’wava sim’borska) was born in Prowent, Poland in 1923. When she was still a child, in the early 1930’s, her family moved to Krakow.

When World War II broke out, Wislawa Szymborska was still a student, and had to continue her education in secret. Toward the end of the war she found work with the railroads, protecting her from being deported to the forced labor camps in Germany. She also found occasional work as an illustrator.

With the end of the war, she began her university studies, focusing on language, literature, and sociology. It was then that she connected with the Polish writing scene and published her first poems.

Because of difficult finances, she eventually had to drop out of school. She married in 1948 (and later divorced, in 1954). During this time she worked as a secretary and illustrator for a magazine.

With the rise of Soviet influence over Poland in the post-war era, Wislawa Szymborska, like many artists and intellectuals, initially embraced or, at least, accepted the new Soviet-style society. But she gradually distanced herself from official ideology which increasingly showed itself to be foreign-dominated bureaucratic totalitarianism and not supportive of the people. By the 1980s she was contributing material for underground samizdat publications in opposition to official ideology.

She spent much of her career as a columnist for a Polish literary review magazine, and many of her essays have been gathered together and published in book form.

In 1996 Wislawa Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Although her poetry is loved throughout the world, she has published fewer than 250 poems.

More poetry by Wislawa Szymborska

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Wislawa Szymborska – A Contribution to Statistics”

  1. jim carlinon 12 Jan 2018 at 12:27 pm

    Occum’s Razor-be brief
    say what counts–from the heart 🙂

  2. Sammon 12 Jan 2018 at 1:35 pm

    Her wit
    the Statistics
    of this poem.

    Wonderful Ivan.
    Thank you!

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