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Poland’s 1996 Nobel poet Szymborska dies at 88
Szymborska was born in the village of Bnin, now part of Kornik, near Poznan in western Poland on July 2, 1923. Eight years later she moved with her parents to Krakow, and developed deep ties to the medieval city, with its rich artistic and intellectual milieu. She lived there until her death.
After the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939, launching World War II, Szymborska found work as a railway clerk to avoid deportation to Germany as a forced laborer. In her free time, she studied at illegal underground universities.
She resumed her formal studies after the war in Polish literature and sociology at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, but never earned a degree.
In 1945, she published her first poem, “I Am Looking for a Word,” in a weekly supplement to the local “Dziennik Polski” newspaper.
The young poet quickly became a fixture of the city’s postwar literary circles, which initially accepted Soviet-imposed ideology in art and literature, and she joined the communist party in 1952.
Her first two books, published in 1952 and 1954, were heavily influenced by Socialist Realism, the official doctrine that art must serve revolutionary goals, at a time when the communist censors held sway.
One poem, entitled “Youth Building Nowa Huta,” heroically recalled the construction of what the communist regime hailed as a utopian socialist neighborhood on Krakow’s outskirts centered around a giant steel mill. Another poem, “Lenin,” praised Russia’s revolutionary leader.
Her later poetry served as a revenge of sorts against her first two books, both of which she later disavowed. She likened Soviet leader Josef Stalin to the abominable snowman in the 1957 poem “Calling Out To Yeti,” and frequently mocked communism in her verse.
From 1953 to 1981, she worked as a poetry editor and columnist for the literary weekly Zycie Literackie, or Literary Life, where she wrote a column called Lektury Nadobowiazkowe, or Non-Required Reading.
Szymborska published some 20 volumes of poetry in all _ one every four or five years _ a handful of which have been translated into over a dozen languages. Works available in English include “View With a Grain of Sand,” “People on a Bridge” and “Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems.”
But her poetry was wildly popular with her Polish readers, who snapped up each new volume upon release. Polish rock singer Kora turned her poem “Nothing Twice” into a popular song. The tune was a 1994 hit in Poland, leading Poles to sing: “nothing can ever happen twice/in consequence, the sorry fact is/that we arrive here improvised/and leave without the chance to practice.”
Another Szymborska poem, “Love At First Sight,” inspired the lauded, enigmatic movie “Red” by the late Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Despite her advanced age, Szymborska’s work continued to speak to a broad public. Her collection, “Dwukropek,” was selected by readers of the nationwide Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper as the best book of 2006.
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