A Few Words on the Soul

Thanks to my friend Fawad, I have been introduced to the fine poetry of , Wislawa Szymborska (b. 1923) also the 1996 Polish Nobel Laureate.

A Few Words on the Soul

We have a soul at times.

No one’s got it non-stop,

for keeps.

Day after day,

year after year

may pass without it.


it will settle for awhile

only in childhood’s fears and raptures

Sometimes only in astonishment

that we are old.

It rarely lends a hand

in uphill tasks,

like moving furniture,

or lifting luggage,

or going miles in shoes that pinch.

It usually steps out

whenever meat needs chopping

or forms have to be filled.

For every thousand conversations

it participates in one,

if even that,

since it prefers silence.

Just when our body goes from ache to pain,

it slips off-duty.

It’s picky,

it doesn’t like seeing us in crowds.

our hustling for a dubious advantage

and creaky machinations make it sick.

Joy and sorrow

aren’t two different feelings for it.

It attends us

only when the two are joined.

We can count on it

when we’re sure of nothing

and curious about everything.

Among the material objects

it favors clocks with pendulums

and mirrors, which keep on working

even when no one is looking.

It won’t say where it comes from

or when it’s taking off again,

though it’s clearly expecting such questions.

We need it

but apparently

it needs us

for some reason too.

(Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)

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