Map: Collected and Last Poems

At our December meeting we’ll discuss poems by the Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012), whose centenary falls this year.

As when we’ve read poetry previously, rather than choosing a particular book we’ll discuss half a dozen or so poems sourced from various quarters.

Map is highlighted above as offering a comprehensive selection of her work in English translation, and because the way this website is structured means each meeting is linked to a particular book.

Websites featuring Szymborska’s poems include

Poetry Foundation
The Nobel Prize
The Wisława Szymborska Foundation (Academy of American Poets) (Polish only)

A selection of Szymborska’s books can be found here.

The Life of Cyprian Norwid (1821-1883)

Cyprian Norwid (1821–1883) is today one of the most valued Polish writers. He also practised drawing, graphics and sculpture. His life was full of hardships and storms, but very fruitful artistically and literally. As a child, he lost both of his parents, but thanks to the help of his family, he gained the basics of a good education. In 1842 he went to the West to deepen his artistic studies. In 1846, as a result of a provocation, he was imprisoned by the Prussian police and after his release, he left for the West as one of the many Polish exiles of that century. In 1852 he left France for the United States, from where he returned in mid-1854, trying to settle down in England; after a few months he returned to Paris, which was closer to him and stayed there until the end of his life. He spent the last years (1877-1883) in an asylum for emigrants. This book tells about this difficult but creative life. It is a sketch of Norwid’s biography and literary and artistic output.


This page on the Polish Cultural Institute website features news of events to celebrate Norwid’s bicentenary, including Vade Mecum, a new short film by the Brothers Quay, and a translation of Norwid’s verse comedy of manners Pure Love at Sea-Side Bathing by Adam Czerniawski.

Talking to my Body

At our next meeting we will read poems by Anna Swir, or Anna Świrszczyńska (1909-1984), to give her full name.

Anna Swir was born in Warsaw, Poland, to an artistic though impoverished family. She worked from an early age, supporting herself while she attended university to study medieval Polish literature. In the 1930s she worked for a teachers’ association, served as an editor, and began publishing poetry. Swir joined the Resistance during World War II and worked as a military nurse during the Warsaw Uprising; at one point she came within an hour of being executed before she was spared. In addition to poetry, Swir wrote plays and stories for children and directed a children’s theater. She lived in Krakow from 1945 until her death from cancer in 1984.

I’ve highlighted the most easily available edition of her work in English, Talking to my Body, with translations by Czesław Miłosz and Leonard Nathan, but other collections have appeared, including Fat Like the Sun (1986, translated by Margaret Marshment & Grazyna Baran), as well as two versions of Building the Barricade (1979, translated by Magnus Jan Kryński & Robert A. Maguire, and 2011, translated by Piotr Florczyk).

Eight poems from Talking to my Body are available here on the Poetry Foundation website, and a ninth at here.

Six Polish poets

Edited by Jacek Dehnel (whose Lala we read in 2018), Six Polish poets features poems by Jacek Dehnel, Agnieszka Kuciak, Anna Piwkowska, Tomasz Royzski, Dariusz Suska and Maciej Wozniak, with translations by Ewa Chruściel, Bill Johnston, Karen Kovacik, Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Mira Rosenthal, George Szirtes and Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, and an introduction by Jacek Dehnel. Published in 2009, it made available in English the poetry of a generation of poets who whose first collections (with one exception) were published in the first decade of the 21st century.

Unlike the poets of the previous generation who, in the period of new-found freedom after the fall of communism, adopted a highly individualistic, anarchic, sometimes brutal style, the poets represented here re-examine and experiment with traditional poetic forms, themes and cultural references in poems that are refined and witty, moving and informed, ranging across every aspect of human existence.

Parallel text: Polish / English

Floating the Woods

Not a Polish book, but a collection of poems in English by Zielony Balonik member Ken Cockburn. At the meeting we’ll read and discuss some of the poems and consider translations of them into Polish.

The cover blurb reads, “the places in Floating the Woods are mainly Scottish, stretching from the Borders to Orkney, taking in Edinburgh, the Tay estuary and the River Ness. Through these landscapes move figures from the past – real, legendary and imagined – as the routes of Romans, Vikings and Celtic saints are followed by later figures such as Wordsworth, James Hogg and John Muir. Further afield the First World War casts a long, dark shadow over otherwise idyllic English and Belgian scenes. There are alphabet, calendar, list and found poems, dealing with imaginary shades of blue and the imponderables of etiquette.”

This review appeared recently online.

The Collected Poems 1956–1998

This outstanding new translation brings a uniformity of voice to Zbigniew Herbert’s entire poetic output, from his first book of poems, String of Light, in 1956, to his final volume, previously unpublished in English, Epilogue Of the Storm. Collected Poems: 1956-1998, as Joseph Brodsky said of Herbert’s Selected Poems, is “bound for a much longer haul than any of us can anticipate.” He continues, “for Zbigniew Herbert’s poetry adds to the biography of civilization the sensibility of a man not defeated by the century that has been most thorough, most effective in dehumanization of the species. Herbert’s irony, his austere reserve and his compassion, the lucidity of his lyricism, the intensity of his sentiment toward classical antiquity, are not just trappings of a modern poet, but the necessary armour – in his case well-tempered and shining indeed – for man not to be crushed by the onslaught of reality. By offering to his readers neither aesthetic nor ethical discount, this poet, in fact, saves them frorn that poverty which every form of human evil finds so congenial. As long as the species exists, this book will be timely.”

Some reviews:

Michael Hofmann, in Poetry Magazine

David Orr, in The New York Times

Craig Raine, in The Telegraph

Charles Simic, in The New York Review of Books