View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems

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9780156002165: View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems
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From one of Europe’s most prominent and celebrated poets, a collection remarkable for its graceful lyricism. With acute irony tempered by a generous curiosity, Szymborska documents life’s improbability as well as its transient beauty to capture the wonder of existence. Preface by Mark Strand. Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, winners of the PEN Translation Prize.

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True, the gentlemen of the Swedish Academy have made more than their share of bloopers. But when they bestowed the Nobel Prize upon Wislawa Szymborska in 1996, they got it right, rescuing a major poet from minor obscurity. Two previous collections of her work had appeared in English, of course. Yet View with a Grain of Sand is by far the best introduction to the Polish writer, conveying not only the fantastic lightness of her touch but the entire worlds she manages to pack into, as it were, a grain of sand. Miniscule wonders are her specialty, such as the tableau she records in "Miracle Fair": "The usual miracle: / invisible dogs barking / in the dead of night. / One of many miracles: / a small and airy cloud / is able to upstage the massive moon." Yet Szymborska is also a love poet of peculiar tartness:

True love. Is it really necessary?
Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
like a scandal in Life's highest circles.
Perfectly good children are born without its help.
It couldn't populate the planet in a million years,
it comes along so rarely.

What comes along so rarely, in fact, is a writer of this quality--and a translation that does her justice. Szymborska's brilliance would probably overpower even a second-rate rendering into English. But thanks to the efforts of Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, she is not only brilliant but supremely readable--an intellectual comedian for whom "there's nothing more debauched than thinking."

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In these 100 poems Wislawa Szymborska portrays a world of astonishing diversity and richness, in which nature is wise and prodigal and fate unpredictable, if not mischievous. With acute irony tempered by a generous curiosity, she documents life's improbability as well as its transient beauty. The ruins of Troy; sunlight gleaming on a pewter jug; birds returning in the spring; the Abominable Snowman lurking in the Himalayas; a body-building contest; a symphony; a macabre laboratory experiment with a decapitated dog; a postcard from a sister who has "much to tell"; the discovery of a new star; the irrationality of love; the infinity of (pi).

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