A new collected volume from the Nobel Prize–winning poet, with over thirty poems never previously published together in English, including the thirteen poems from the final Polish collection, Enough.
“Both plain-spoken and luminous . . . [Szymborska’s] is the best of the Western mind—free, restless, questioning.” — New York Times Book Review
A New York Times Editors’ Choice
“Vast, intimate, and charged with the warmth of a life fully imagined to the end. There’s no better place for those unfamiliar with her work to begin.”
One of Europe’s greatest poets is also its wisest, wittiest, and most accessible. Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska draws us in with her unexpected, unassuming humor. “If you want the world in a nutshell,” a Polish critic remarked, “try Szymborska.” But the world held in these lapidary poems is larger than the one we thought we knew.
?Edited by her longtime, award-winning translator, Clare Cavanagh, Map traces Szymborska’s work until her death in 2012. Of the approximately two hundred fifty poems included here, nearly forty are newly translated; thirteen represent the entirety of the poet’s last Polish collection, Enough, never before published in English. Map offers Szymborska’s devoted readers a welcome return to her “ironic elegance” (TheNew Yorker).
“Her poems offer a restorative wit as playful as it is steely and as humble as it is wise . . . Her wry acceptance of life’s folly remain[s] her strongest weapon against tyranny and bad taste.”
— Los Angeles Times Book Review
The Questions You Ask Yourself
What do a smile and
Do your greetings never
keep you as far
apart as other people
when passing judgment
at first glance?
Do you open each human
fate like a book,
not in fonts
Are you sure you
decipher people completely?
You gave an evasive
word in answering,
a bright joke in place of openness —
how do you tally your losses?
Do you know that friendship,
like love, requires teamwork?
Someone missed a step
in this demanding effort.
In your friends’ errors
do you bear no blame?
Someone complained, advised.
How many tears ran dry
before you lent a hand?
for the happiness of millennia,
don’t you slight
the single minute
of a tear, a wince?
Do you never overlook
A glass stood on the table,
no one noticed
until it fell,
toppled by a thoughtless gesture.
Are people really so simple
as far as people go?
Now see, here’s Hania, the good servant.
And those aren’t frying pans, you know, they’re halos.
And that’s a holy image, knight and serpent.
The serpent means vanity in this vale of woes.
And that’s no necklace, that’s her rosary.
Her shoes have toes turned up from daily kneeling.
Scarf dark as all the nights she sits up, weary,
and waits to hear the morning church bells pealing.
Scrubbing the mirror once, she saw a devil:
Bless me, Father, he shot a nasty look.
Blue with yellow stripes, eyes black as kettles —
you don’t think he’ll write me in his book?
And so she gives at Mass, she prays the mysteries,
and buys a small heart with a silver flame.
Since work began on the new rectory,
the devils have all run away in shame.
The cost is high, preserving souls from sin,
but only old folks come here, scraping by.
With so much of nothing, razor-thin,
Hania would vanish in the Needle’s Eye.
May, renounce your hues for wintery gray.
Leafy bough, throw off your greenery.
Clouds, repent; sun, cast your beams away.
Spring, save your blooms for heaven’s scenery.
I never heard her laughter or her tears.
Raised humble, she owns nothing but her skin.
A shadow walks beside her — her mortal fears,
her tattered kerchief yammers in the wind.
Still Life with a Balloon
No, at the time of death
I’d like to see lost objects
Avalanches of gloves,
coats, suitcases, umbrellas —
come, and I’ll say at last:
What good’s all this?
Safety pins, two odd combs,
a paper rose, a knife,
some string — come, and I’ll say
at last: I haven’t missed you.
Please turn up, key, come out,
wherever you’ve been hiding,
in time for me to say:
You’ve gotten rusty, friend!
Downpours of affidavits,
permits and questionnaires,
rain down and I will say:
I see the sun behind you.
My watch, dropped in a river,
bob up and let me seize you —
then, face to face, I’ll say:
Your so-called time is up.
And lastly, toy balloon
once kidnapped by the wind —
come home, and I will say:
There are no children here.
Fly out the open window
and into the wide world;
let someone else shout “Look!”
and I will cry.
New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
“Both plain-spoken and luminous . . . Szymborska’s skepticism, her merry, mischievious irreverence and her thirst for the surprise of fresh perception make her the enemy of all tyrannical certainties. Hers is the best of the Western mind—free, restless, questioning.” — New York Times Book Review
“Vast, intimate, and charged with the warmth of a life fully imagined to the end, there’s no better place for those unfamiliar with her work to begin.” — Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“Listening to Clare Cavanagh speak of translation as an art is a reminder that translators must be as adept as poets at working with words . . . Map is not only impressive because of Szymborska’s precise, intimate, and observationally funny poems . . . but because of Cavanagh and Baranczak’s tireless dedication in bringing them to English without sacrificing their forms.” — Jacob Victorine, Publishers Weekly profile
“Nobel laureate Szymborska’s gorgeous posthumous collection, translated and edited by her confidant, Cavanagh, with Baranczak, includes more than 250 poems, selected from 13 books, dating back to 1952, as well as previously unreleased poems from as far back as 1944. This revered Polish poet, who came to fame well after the poet Charles Simic first handed her work to an editor, interweaves insights into the suffering experienced during World War II and the Cold War brutalities of Stalin with catchy, realistic, colloquial musings on obvious and overlooked aspects of survival. Her poems are revelatory yet rooted in the everyday. She writes about living with horrors, and about ordinary lives: people in love, at work, enjoying a meal. Throughout, Szymborska considers loss and fragility, as when former lovers walk past each other and an aging professor is no longer allowed his vodka and cigarettes. She writes, too, of the imprecision of memory, and, in the title poem, the discovery that maps ‘give no access to the vicious truth.’ This is a brilliant and important collection.” — Mark Eleveld, Booklist, starred review
“Szymborska (1923–2012), winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, has her vast and impressive poetic repertoire on full display in this posthumously published volume. Ordered chronologically, the book reveals her development over seven decades, including a gradual departure from end rhyme and the sharpening of her wit. As multitudinous as Whitman, she conveyed deep feeling through vivid, surreal imagery and could revive clichéd language by reconnecting it to the body in startling ways: ‘Listen,/ how your heart pounds inside me.’ To say that Szymborska wore many hats as a poet is an understatement: odes, critiques, and persona poems are just a few of the forms her writing took. Yet, despite their diversity, the constants of her poems were nuance and observational humor: ‘Four billion people on this earth,/ but my imagination is still the same.’ Also apparent is Szymborska’s rare ability to present an epiphany in a single line, and her bravery in writing toward death: ‘But time is short. I write.’ Ever the student, she obsessively explored the histories and processes of writing, never far from penning another Ars Poetica. ‘Everything here is small, near, accessible,’ Szymborska writes in the title poem—a maxim about the way the reader feels within her lines.” — Publishers Weekly, starred and boxed review
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