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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cat in an Empty Apartment

(Wislawa Szymborska, 1923-2012, Polish
poet and translator)

With sadness we note that the great Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska died last week.

Szymborska received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996 “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality,” according to the citation that announced the prize. Her criticism of civilization “often finds expression in an irony made more scathing by its very restraint: ‘There is no such thing as a self-critical jackal.’ In this way her muse becomes subversive in the best meaning of that term.”

The Committee also remarked that Szymborska has been compared to the greatest of composers, to Mozart “in view of her wealth of inspiration and the veritable ease with which her words seem to fall into place,” and to Beethoven for “the fury . . . in her creative work.”

Ave atque vale. Hail and farewell.

(To read the eight poems we have published of hers in this blog, please click on her name in the “labels” just below today’s poem.)


Die — you can’t do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here,
but nothing is the same.
Nothing has been moved,
but there’s more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit.

Footsteps on the staircase,
but they’re new ones.
The hand that puts fish on the saucer
has changed, too.

Something doesn’t start
at its usual time.
Something doesn’t happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here,
then suddenly disappeared,
and stubbornly stays disappeared.

Every closet has been examined.
Every shelf has been explored.
Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.
A commandment was even broken,
papers scattered everywhere.
What remains to be done.
Just sleep and wait.

Just wait till he turns up,
just let him show his face.
Will he ever get a lesson
on what not to do to a cat.
Sidle towards him
as if unwilling
and ever so slow
on visibly offended paws,
and no leaps or squeals at least to start.

~ Wislawa Szymborska

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