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“Nothing More Animal-Like”

Humor and Profundity All Mixed Together

The beginning of this year has introduced me to two great Eastern European poetesses. I think I will be reading a lot of their poems in the months to come. I have already written a couple of postings about Marina Tsvetaeva—and I am just getting started! Earlier, I posted a poem by Wisława Szymborska, but now I am starting to get serious about her as well, what with her curious mixture of humor and profundity. You can find an example of those two traits in this poem:

In Praise of Self-Deprecation

The buzzard has nothing to fault himself with.
Scruples are alien to the black panther.
Piranhas do not doubt the rightness of their actions.
The rattlesnake approves of himself without reservations.

The self-critical jackal does not exist.
The locust, alligator, trichina, horsefly
live as they live and are glad of it.

The killer-whale’s heart weighs one hundred kilos
but in other respects it is light.

There is nothing more animal-like
than a clear conscience
on the third planet of the Sun.

I am still working in the smug self-satisfaction of Republicans, but I am nowhere near Wisława in poetic ability, so I’ll just let her have her say. If you are interested in reading more of her poetry, I suggest you find a copy of Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems by Wisława Szymborska (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981). Szymborska won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.


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