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Sunday, 12 October 2014

Wislawa Szymborska: Hatred (It almost makes you have to look away)


St John Altarpiece (detail): Rogier van der Weyden, 1455-60, oil on oak panel (Staatliche Museen, Berlin)

See how efficient it still is,
how it keeps itself in shape --
our century's hatred.
How easily it vaults the tallest obstacles.
How easily it pounces, tracks us down.

It's not like other feelings.
At once both older and younger.
It gives birth itself to the reasons
that give it life.
When it sleeps, it's never eternal rest.
And sleeplessness won't sap its strength; it feeds it.

One religion or another --
whatever gets it ready, in position.
One fatherland or another --
whatever helps it get a running start.
Justice also works well at the outset
until hate gets its own momentum going.
Hatred. Hatred.
Its face twisted in grimace
of erotic ecstasy.

The Last Judgment (detail)
: Rogier van der Weyden, 1446-52, oil on wood (Musée de l'Hôtel Dieu, Beaune)
Oh these other feelings,
listless weaklings.
Since when does brotherhood
draw crowds?
Has compassion
ever finished first?
Does doubt ever really rouse the rabble?
Only hatred's got just what it takes.

Gifted, diligent, hard-working.
Need we mention all the songs it has composed?
All the pages it has added to our history books?
All the human carpets it has spread
over countless city squares and football fields?

The Last Judgment (detail)
: Rogier van der Weyden, 1446-52, oil on wood (Musée de l'Hôtel Dieu, Beaune)

Let's face it:
it knows how to make beauty.
The splendid fires' glow in midnight skies.
Magnificent bursting bombs in rosy dawns.
You can't deny the inspiring pathos of ruins
and a certain bawdy humor to be found
in the sturdy column jutting from their midst.

Hatred is a master of contrast:
between explosions and dead quiet,
red blood and white snow.
Above all it never tires
of its leitmotif -- impeccable executioner
towering over his soiled victim.

It's always ready for new challenges.
If it has to wait a while, it will.
They say it's blind. Blind?
It's got a sniper's keen sight
and gazes unflinchingly at the future
as only it can.

Wislawa Szymborska: Hatred, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak in View with a Grain of Sand, 1995

St John Altarpiece (right panel): Rogier van der Weyden, 1455-60, oil on oak panel, 77 x 48 cm (Staatliche Museen, Berlin)


TC said...

Wislawa Szymborska: Hatred

Wooden Boy said...

Those human creatures, tearing, dragging at each other, all the way down.

Thinking of that "erotic ecstacy", Simone Weil on the Illiad came to mind:

In this work at all times, the human spirit is shown as modified by its relation to force, as swept away, blinded, by the very force it imagined it could handle, as deformed by the weight of the force it submits to.

Amy Gerstler said...

God, Tom, this is chillingly brilliant. What a great pairing. Wislawa Szymborska is one of my very favorite poets of all time. Reading her here in one of her most powerful modes: her approach to politics and critiquing the human character: funny, astute, subtle, articulate, passionate, brilliant, tenacious. Thanks for this.

TC said...

Thanks very much Duncan and Amy.

Though I expect Szymborska probably had the endless wars in the Balkans (in particular) in mind in this poem, the brilliance of her method is such that, mirabile dictu, the poems always seem invested with a relevance at once immediately specific and very nearly universal. And of course she had witnessed at close hand the work of Hatred, and its twin, Power, in the world about her, through much of her adult life. Yet one feels no entry is given those dark twins at the gates of human truth through which each poem seems to have passed well before our experiencing of it. What does come though: intelligence, feeling, strength of heart and mind, recognition of the vulnerability of the soul before the staggering forces arrayed against it in a world dominated by Hatred and Power. In that sense I can't think of a more generous soul among modern world poets, nor any greater gift that any other poet of our time can have left us.

Wislawa Szymborska: Cat in an Empty Apartment

Wislawa Szymborska: Letters of the Dead

Wislawa Szymborska: Bruegel's Two Monkeys

Wislawa Szymborska: Discovery

Wislawa Szymborska: Nothing's a Gift

Wislawa Szymborska: Under One Small Star