Outward Bound Ideas

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

90. Anne Stevenson - Speaking to the Twenty-first Century

From: Speaking to the Twenty-first Century
by Anne Stevenson
Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska
Translated by Joanna Trzeciak

And yet, Szymborska’s view of humanity’s helpless subjection to the workings of evolution is in no way reductive. No note of bitterness, no melodramatic claim to absurdity taints her humanism. Nature, for this poet, is the process that has thrown the human species on top “for now”; what will happen in the next million years is anybodys guess. “The unthinkable is thinkable”, yes, but not controllable. It is enough to love the (for us) beautiful truth that the earth exists and that life continues with its wars of survival and processes of feeding, living, reproducing and dying. The trick is to see it happening with human eyes, feel it with human hearts, know it through human brains, yet never to expect nature to do us favours. If we can manage that, says Szymborska – in nearly every poem, once you read them carefully – we can live in the “Miracle Fair” of the “commonplace” whatever our fate or luck. And there is always an alternative; humans, alone among the species, can live in their imaginations. “The admirable number pi: / three point one four one. Every further digit is also just a start / (five nine two, for it never ends”. In ‘Pi’, opening her imagination to eternity, Szymborska suggests that even the universe is no match for the mind of man: “O how short, all but mouse-like, is the comet’s tail!”


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