Krakow

Wisława Szymborska

12 Oct 2017

To borrow from the lady herself, “they say the first sentence…is always the hardest. Well, that one’s behind me, anyway.” So Wisława Szymborska began the most important speech of her life when she accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. It was light-hearted moments like these that perhaps endeared the humble Polish poet to noted fans like Woody Allen. Though often playful and imaginative, Szymborska’s poetry is hardly light verse, however. Recurring themes of her work include war, torture, death and the passage of time, and though highly contemplative, she never manoeuvred away from the subject at hand.

Born outside Poznań in 1923, her family soon moved to Kraków where she would quietly spend the rest of her life. During Nazi occupation Szymborska secretly attended an underground secondary school and after the war studied literature and sociology at Jagiellonian University, dropping out before getting a degree due to financial problems. It was during this time that she first began publishing her poetry and had a short-lived six year marriage with fellow poet Adam Włodek. Like many of her contemporaries, Szymborska’s early work adhered to official Soviet ideology and her first two collections – 1952’s Dlatego Żyjemy (That’s What We Are Living For) and 1954’s Pytanie Zadawanie Sobie (Questions Put to Myself) – later become known as her Stalinist period.

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