Friday, December 23, 2011

"Still life with a balloon" by Wistawa Szymborska

The following poem by Wistawa Szymborska was included in a collection of poems published in 1957 under the title “Calling out to Yeti”. A "still life" in painting, is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically ordinary objects which may be either natural or man-made. Here we have a poem that is a still life. The canvas laid out before us is life itself as we look at it from a certain distance. The poet does not use memories to paint this canvas. For memories are deceitful, fabricated with old age or suppressed on purpose. They contain colours that cannot withstand the passing of time and fade away. But objects; our life is full of them. They come and they go. They contain fragments of our character, our age, our self. We can assemble the pieces in the puzzle. We can faithfully retrace a path with objects. Like Hansel’s little white pebbles we will look back and find our way. But if in the end we find ourselves still staring at a dark canvas, there is hope. Hope in the lost objects. The ones that got away. The forsaken ones. And they will lead us back in time faithfully. They might even show us an alternative ending or beginning. Like “Rosebud” in Citizen Cane, the balloon in this poem will be the object that will ring the bell of truth and will eventually liberate the poet.  

STILL LIFE WITH A BALLOON by Wistawa Szymborska

Returning memories?
No, at the time of death
I’d like to see lost objects
return instead

Avalanches of gloves,
coats, suitcases, umbrellas -
come, and I’ll say at last:
What good’s all this?

Safety pins, two odd combs,
a paper rose, a knife,
some string-come, and I’ll say
at last: I haven’t missed you.

Please turn up, key, come out,
wherever you’ve been hiding,
in time for me to say:
You’ve gotten rusty, my friend!

Downpours of affidavits,
permits and questionnaires,
rain down and I will say:
I see the sun behind you.

My watch, dropped in a river,
bob up and let me seize you-
then, face to face, I’ll say:
Your so-called time is up. 

And lastly, toy balloon
once kidnapped by the wind-
come home, and I will say:
There are no children here.

Fly out the open window
and into the wide world;
let someone else shout “Look!”
and I will cry.

(The poem can be found in the book Wistawa Szymborska “Poems new and collected 1957-1997” translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, Harcourt editions. Thank you John Sortix for this wonderful gift) 

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