Krijtdiertjes, (Otwornice) with poetry by Wislawa Szymborska,
and lithography by Ronald Noorman


We, too, can divide ourselves, it's true.
But only into flesh and a broken whisper.
Into flesh and poetry.

—from "Autotomy" by Wislawa Szymborska

"They say the first sentence in any speech is always the hardest. Well, that one's behind me, anyway. But I have a feeling that the sentences to come – the third, the sixth, the tenth, and so on, up to the final line – will be just as hard, since I'm supposed to talk about poetry. I've said very little on the subject, next to nothing, in fact. And whenever I have said anything, I've always had the sneaking suspicion that I'm not very good at it. This is why my lecture will be rather short. All imperfection is easier to tolerate if served up in small doses."

—from the Nobel Lecture by Wislawa Szymborska



Wislawa Szymborska is a Polish poet whose intelligent and empathic explorations of philosophical, moral, and ethical issues won her the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.
Wislawa Szymborska was born in Kórnik in Western Poland on 2 July 1923. Szymborska has lived most of her life in Krakow; she studied Polish literature and society at Jagiellonian University and has worked as an editor and columnist. Szymborska made her début in March 1945 with a poem Szukam slowa (I am Looking for a Word).

While the Polish history from World War II through Stalinism clearly informs her poetry, Szymborska is also a deeply personal poet who explores the large truths that exist in ordinary, everyday things. 'Of course, life crosses politics,' Szymborska has said 'but my poems are strictly not political. They are more about people and life.'
Szymborska frequently employs literary devices such as irony, paradox, contradiction, and understatement, to illuminate philosophical themes and obsessions.
Szymborska's compact poems often conjure large existential puzzles, touching on issues of ethical import, and reflecting on the condition of people both as individuals and as members of human society. Szymborska's style is succinct and marked by introspection and wit.

Szymborska was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature 'for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality'.[3]

Szymborska is often described as modest to the point of shyness. She has long been cherished by Polish literary contemporaries (including Czelaw Milosz) and her poetry has been set to music by Zbigniew Preisner.

In the introduction to Miracle Fair, Czeslaw Milosz wrote: "Hers is a very grim poetry… a comparison with the despairing vision of Samuel Beckett and Philip Larkin suggests itself. Yet, in contrast to them Szymborska offers a world where one can breathe."

Wislawa Szymborska also published several collections of short articles written during her career as a columnist. A selection of her reviews was published in English under the title Nonrequired Reading: Prose Pieces (2002).

Wis?awa Szymborska died on Wednesday, 1 February 2012, at home in Kraków, aged 88. Described by the Nobel committee as the "Mozart of poetry" but with "something of the fury of Beethoven" – and by an Italian newspaper as the "Greta Garbo of World Poetry" – Szymborska died in her sleep from lung cancer, said her personal secretary Michal Rusinek. He said that she "died peacefully, in her sleep". She was surrounded by friends and relatives at the time.
Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski described her death on Twitter as an "irreparable loss to Poland's culture".
She was working on new poetry right until her death, though she was unable to arrange her final efforts for a book in the way she would have wanted. Her last poetry will be published later in 2012. Wis?awa Szymborska was buried in her family tomb in Rakowicki Cemetery in Krakow on Thursday, February 9th.

Prizes and awards

1954: The City of Krakow Prize for Literature

1963: The Polish Ministry of Culture Prize

1991: The Goethe Prize

1995: The Herder Prize

1995: Honorary Doctor of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Pozna?

1996: The Polish PEN Club prize

1996: Nobel Prize for Literature


In 2012 Ergo Pers published Krijtdiertjes, a limited edition artist's book with poems by Wislawa Szymborska and prints by Ronald Noorman.
Ronald Noorman is, beyond a doubt, a draughtsman at heart, being an artist who makes full use of the qualities and potential of his medium. Aside from intimacy and transparency, terseness is a particularly striking characteristic of his recent work.
In Krijtdiertjes, the minimalism of Noorman is juxtaposed to the wit and deceptive simplicity of Szymborska's poetry.


Krakow, January 27, 2009. Wislawa Szymborska reading Metafizyka (Metaphysics),
from the collection 'Krijtdiertjes' (Otwornice), Ergo Pers 2012.

Wislawa Szymborska

Dlatego ?yjemy ("That's Why We Are Alive"), 1952

Pytania zadawane sobie ("Questioning Yourself"), 1954

Wo?anie do Yeti ("Calling Out to Yeti"), 1957:

Sól ("Salt"), * 1962:

101 wierszy ("101 Poems"), 1966:

Sto pociech ("No End of Fun"), 1967

Poezje wybrane ("Selected Poetry"), 1967

Wszelki wypadek ("Could Have"), 1972

Wielka liczba ("A Large Number"), 1976

Ludzie na mo?cie ("People on the Bridge"), 1986

Poezje: Poems, bilingual Polish-English edition, 1989

Lektury nadobowi?zkowe ("Non-required Reading"), 1992

Koniec i pocz?tek ("The End and the Beginning"), 1993

Widok z ziarnkiem piasku ("View with a Grain of Sand"), 1996

Sto wierszy - sto pociech ("100 Poems - 100 Happinesses"), 1997

Chwila ("Moment"), 2002

Rymowanki dla du?ych dzieci ("Rhymes for Big Kids"), 2003

Dwukropek ("Colon"), 2005

Tutaj ("Here"), 2009



Wislawa Szymborska was born on 2nd July 1923 as a daughter of Wincenty Szymborski and Anna nee' Rottermund. Her family moved to Kraków in 1931 where she has lived and worked ever since.

When World War II broke out in 1939, she continued her education in underground lessons. From 1943, she worked as a railroad employee and managed to avoid being deported to Germany as a forced labourer. It was during this time that her career as an artist began with illustrations for an English-language textbook. She also began writing stories and occasional poems.

Beginning in 1945, Szymborska took up studies of Polish language and literature before switching to sociology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. There she soon became involved in the local writing scene, and met and was influenced by Czes?aw Mi?osz. In March 1945, she published her first poem Szukam s?owa ("I seek the word") in the daily paper Dziennik Polski; her poems continued to be published in various newspapers and periodicals for a number of years. In 1948 she quit her studies without a degree, due to her poor financial circumstances; the same year, she married poet Adam W?odek, whom she divorced in 1954. At that time, she was working as a secretary for an educational biweekly magazine as well as an illustrator.

During Stalinism in Poland in 1953 she participated in the defamation of Catholic priests from Kraków who were groundlessly condemned by the ruling Communists to death. Due to Stalin's death a month later the sentence was not, however, enforced. [4]

Her first book was to be published in 1949, but did not pass censorship as it "did not meet socialist requirements." Like many other intellectuals in post-war Poland, however, Szymborska remained loyal to the PRL official ideology early in her career, signing political petitions and praising Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin and the realities of socialism. This attitude is seen in her debut collection Dlatego ?yjemy ("That is what we are living for"), containing the poems Lenin and M?odzie?y buduj?cej Now? Hut? ("For the Youth that Builds Nowa Huta"), about the construction of a Stalinist industrial town near Kraków. She also became a member of the ruling Polish United Workers' Party.

Like many Polish intellectuals initially close to the official party line, Szymborska gradually grew estranged from socialist ideology and renounced her earlier political work. Although she did not officially leave the party until 1966, she began to establish contacts with dissidents. As early as 1957, she befriended Jerzy Giedroyc, the editor of the influential Paris-based emigré journal Kultura, to which she also contributed. In 1964 she opposed a Communist backed protest to The Times against independent intellectuals, demanding freedom of speech.[5]

In 1953, she joined the staff of the literary review magazine Literary Life, where she continued to work until 1981 and from 1968 ran her own book review column entitled Lektury Nadobowi?zkowe ("Non-compulsory Reading"). Many of her essays from this period were later published in book form. From 1981 to 1983, Szymborska was an editor of the Kraków-based monthly Pismo. During the 1980s, she intensified her oppositional activities, contributing to the samizdat periodical Arka under the pseudonym "Sta?czykówna", as well as to Kultura in Paris.

[1] Alex Duval Smith (2005-10-14). "A Nobel Calling: 100 Years of Controversy". The Independent ( Retrieved 2008-04-26. "1996: The themes in this Polish poet's 16 collections are wide-ranging, though many deal with war and terrorism. Her poem "The End and the Beginning" reads: "No sound bites, no photo opportunities And it takes years All the cameras have gone To other wars." Szymborska was born in Kornik, in western Poland, in 1923."
[2] Some Like Poetry
[3]"The Nobel Prize in Literature 1996". Nobelprize. October 7, 2010. Retrieved October 7, 2010.
[4] Wojciech Czuchnowski Blizna. Proces kurii krakowskiej 1953, Kraków 2003
[5] Sebastian Paslawski Ludzie: Wislawa Szymborska Admiratorka Lenina i Stalina

Czeslaw Milosz | Our Common Heritage: On Wislawa Szymborska (translated by Joanna Trzeciak)

Poetry International | A film of Wislawa Szymborska reading her work was played alongside a live reading by Polish poet Ewa Lipska during the 41st Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam in June 2010.
John Albert Jansen, Einde en Begin: Een ontmoeting met Wislawa Szymborska, Oogland Filmproductions 2011 |

Wislawa Szymborska | Nobel Lecture, December 7, 1996 | The Poet and the World


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