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Goodness, mostly


So I am listening to the Polish internet radio, "New World." A small group of young people there exudes such gentle happiness and unobtrusive presence that I am instantly transported to a better world of my youth. Today they discussed and read some of the poems of Wisława Szymborska, a great Polish poetess who won the 1996 Nobel Prize in literature. Today we celebrate the centennial anniversary of her birth.  A new complete collection of  Szymborska's poems and letters just came out, all 724 pages of them.  

 A young woman with an especially pleasant voice reflected calmly: "We must greet strangers and always reply to their greetings. I have noticed that seeing good, happy things brings more of them to my life. It is as if goodness is passing me by very fast and unless I see it instantly it vanishes. Puff!" 

Then they played a short recording of another young woman, who sent her early morning greetings accompanied by the quiet cries of young animals. She said: "Someone does not sleep so that someone else can sleep, or - better - someone doesn't sleep so that someone else will not sleep too." 

The young speaker explained, "This is our friend, who has been blessed by the little puppies you hear in the background. You can only hear them, but I wish you could smell them too. Young puppies smell so good." 

This Light is what I want to see and hear, not the punishing Darkness that surrounds us. How's this for my new manifesto? Can I stay mostly happy for a few minutes and share my happiness with others?  
Wisława Szymborska
 A 'Thank You' Note

There is much I owe to those I do not love.
The relief in accepting they are closer to another.
Joy that I am not
the wolf to their sheep. My peace be with them for with them I am free,
and this love can neither give, nor know how to take.
I don't wait for them from window to door.
Almost as patient as a sundial,
I understand
what love does not understand.
I forgive
what love would never have forgiven.
Between rendezvous and letter no eternity passes,
only a few days or weeks.
My trips with them always turn out well. Concerts are heard.
Cathedrals are toured. Landscapes are distinct.
And when seven rivers and mountains come between us,
they are rivers and mountains well known from any map.
It is thanks to them
that I live in three dimensions,
in a non-lyrical and non-rhetorical space, with a shifting, thus real, horizon.
They don't even know
how much they carry in their empty hands. 'I don't owe them anything',
love would have said on this open topic.

- Wisława Szymborska


  1. What a wonderful poem; what a free spirit. She has a profoundly different and constructive view of "adversaries".

  2. Yes, dear Majid. She is also profoundly Polish in the best sense of this descriptor. The best of us have always fought for freedom, independence and quiet humanity. You my want to read up on Czesław Miłosz, another Polish Nobel Prize winner and a former UC Berkeley fellow faculty.


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