Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wislawa Szymborska

Today, a beloved poet of mine, Wislawa Symborska has passed. It is most fitting to recite her poem, "A Few Words on the Soul," at this time. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Szymborska published her poem on the elusive topic of the human soul in her collection titled, Monologue of a Dog. The jacket art of this book, a reprint of a Joseph Cornell work, is appropriate as we aim to classify that which is tangible and intangible, of the flesh and of the spirit, in science and beyond science.

Symborska begins "A Few Words on the Soul" by characterizing the human condition to be at times and at times unaware of the soul. Though, in truth, Szymborska takes that a step further and says, "We have a soul at times./ No one's got it nonstop,/ for keeps." In my mind the human body does not entirely possess this spirit, this spiritual side, that we feel. Is Wislawa saying that the soul comes and goes even as we are walking around on the earth in bodies?

Absolutely. "Day after day,/ year after year/ may pass without it." She discusses the mundane tasks during which the soul finds other engagements. The soul "steps out" when we are moving, carrying suitcases, wearing shoes that hurt, and when beaurocratic forms need filling. There are many chefs that would disagree when Wislawa references food preparation as another time with the soul retreats. Though I couldn't agree more with the soul taking off during mundane, rote conversations. Where does the soul go? What are these other engagements? Are they as lofty as our human ideals?

"It [the soul] prefers silence./...Joy and sorrow/ aren't two different feelings for it./ It attends us/ only when the two are joined." My soul is here, joined with my intellect and artistic inclinations and passions to honor Wislawa Symborska, a great poet of our time, and a poet native to my ancestral land, Poland.

"[The soul] won't say where it comes from/
or when it's taking off again,/
though it's clearly expecting such questions."

And, in the words of my paternal grandfather, Thomas Styperk: "well, Ace, she knows what it's all about now." To Wislawa's soul, I raise a voice in prayer and poetry.