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She published her last book, “Here,” in 2008.

Yet the shy poet fiercely clung to her privacy, and lived a quiet life in her beloved Krakow despite her popularity. She reluctantly faced the limelight that accompanies the Nobel Prize, and the corresponding lecture in front of 1,800 people was a heavy burden for a woman who had said she’s comfortable only in groups of up to a dozen.

After arriving in Stockholm to receive her Nobel, reporters at the airport asked Szymborska about the first poem she ever wrote.

She replied with modesty and humor familiar to her readers.

“It’s hard to say what the first one was about because I started very early to write poems. I was about 4 years old,” she said. “Of course they were clumsy and ridiculous. But when one poem was right, my father took it and gave me some money to buy chocolates.

“So I can say I started living by my poetry when I was 4.”


Monika Scislowska reported from Warsaw; Ryan Lucas, who previously worked in Warsaw, is now based in Cairo.