A Poem by Wislawa Szymborska

Some Like Poetry

not all, that is.
Not even the majority of all, but the minority.
Not counting school, where one must,
or the poets themselves,
there'd be maybe two such people in a thousand.

but one also likes chicken-noodle soup,
one likes compliments or the color blue,
one likes an old scarf,
one likes to prove one's point,
one likes to pet a dog.

but what short of thing is poetry?
Many a shaky answer
has been given to this question.
But I do not know and do not know and hold on to it,
as to a saving bannister.

-- translated by Joanna Trzeciak, in the collection Miracle Fair

Some People Like Poetry

Some people--
that means not everyone.
Not even most of them, only a few.
Not counting school, where you have to,
and poets themselves,
you might end up with something like two per thousand.

but then, you can like chicken noodle soup,
or compliments, or the color blue,
your old scarf,
your own way,
petting the dog.

but what is poetry anyway?
More than one rickety answer
has tumbled since that question first was raised.
But I just keep on not knowing, and I cling to that
like a redemptive handrail.

-- translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh and printed in The New Republic, October 28, 1996

To conclude National Poetry Month: One poem, two translations from the Polish. Which do you prefer?

This is why working on translations is so hard and so interesting, and why you have to find the right English "voice" for every foreign-language author and book (your cousin who speaks fluent Spanish won't do): Translation requires interpretation of the meaning of the text, and an adjustment of the translator's voice to serve the author's point. I like the second translation better, because its personality is warmer (all that use of the second person), less formal, more personal, as poetry should be: something you live with, that helps you get through the day, like dark chocolate or true friends. And I like the word "redemptive" in the last line. But I also like the "do not know and do not know" in the first translation, the active demonstration of and insistence upon that not-knowing; and the elegance of the word "bannister," as opposed to the plain dull "handrail." In translations even more than in other writing, I'm aware of an author actively making choices, and every word counts.

Thanks for sticking with me all this month! We'll be back to the usual approximation of "normal" here in May. And more Szymborska, all translated by Trzeciak: here, here, and here.