Monday, February 04, 2008

"A Few Words on the Soul" by Wislawa Szymborska

Taking the cue from one of my favorite destinations on the web, 3QD, I too have resolved to post more of my favorite poems this year. However, on this blog expect to see Urdu poetry as well as Western verse. Unlike my friend Raza Rumi I have no talent for poetry translation so, with regrets, Urdu poetry will be in the original (in Roman letters).

This poem is by the 1996 Polish Nobel Laureate, Wislawa Szymborska (b. 1923) and I just love the playful image of the soul, capable of being summoned only in moments when we are fully attuned to receiving its charms.

A Few Words on the Soul

We have a soul at times.
No one's got it non-stop,
for keeps.

Day after day,
year after year
may pass without it.

it will settle for awhile
only in childhood's fears and raptures
Sometimes only in astonishment
that we are old.

It rarely lends a hand
in uphill tasks,
like moving furniture,
or lifting luggage,
or going miles in shoes that pinch.

It usually steps out
whenever meat needs chopping
or forms have to be filled.

For every thousand conversations
it participates in one,
if even that,
since it prefers silence.

Just when our body goes from ache to pain,
it slips off-duty.

It's picky,
it doesn't like seeing us in crowds.
our hustling for a dubious advantage
and creaky machinations make it sick.

Joy and sorrow
aren't two different feelings for it.
It attends us
only when the two are joined.

We can count on it
when we're sure of nothing
and curious about everything.

Among the material objects
it favors clocks with pendulums
and mirrors, which keep on working
even when no one is looking.

It won't say where it comes from
or when it's taking off again,
though it's clearly expecting such questions.

We need it
but apparently
it needs us
for some reason too.

(Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)


Raza Rumi said...

what a powerful poem
simple lines yet most profound..
thanks for sharing it here. I have been running awaty from the Nobel and booker tags of late given the way these are handed out..

I will have to read her works..


Fawad said...

Raza, thanks for visiting. She is an extremely powerful poet. I share your weariness with the "prize circus" but in my opinion the poets honored by the Nobel Committee have been generally very good (even in translation): Seamus Heaney, Szymborska, Walcott, Brodsky.

BTW, thanks for being a part of Lahore Nama. It delights me anytime thouhtful people write and discuss Lahore.

Raza Rumi said...

Fawad Mian

thanks for the initiation...

Lahore Nama was set up as a little tribute to the memory of Lahore that was.. please send me stuff - articles, forwards and pieces to be posted.

Jis ko falak ne barbaad kar diya
ham rehnay walay hi ussi ujray diyaar ke