Wisława Szymborska was a Polish poet, essayist and translator. She wrote more than fifteen collections of poetry, but was also an editor and illustrator. Her work allows you to appreciate the amazing personal and intellectual evolution she has gone through. She was a woman marked by the German occupation of Poland during WWII.
In her younger years, Wisława had to study secretly in German-occupied Poland. After the war, the poet became a communist. All her life, however, she becomes disillusioned with communism and no longer approves of it. After her first two books, Wisława no longer supports Stalin.
She won the Nobel Prize in Literature, but her life was not all about literary production. Wisława Szymborska was also famous for her Polish translations of universal masterpieces.
The childhood of Wisława Szymborska
Actually, Wisława was her middle name. Her full name was María Wisława Anna Szymborska, born on July 2, 1923 in Prowent, now part of Kórnik, west of Poland. During her birth, her father was a butler for Count Wladyslaw Zamoyski, a magnate and landowner. The Earl also owned Prowent.
Her family was very intellectual. Everyone read a lot and discussed books. Wisława always showed her poems to her father and if he liked them, he gave her a coin as a reward.
After a second move in 1931, Wisława enrolled in a convent school in Kraków, but she was unable to complete her studies there. The poet suffered in her youth from the early death of her father and the German occupation of Poland.
The Influence of the Second World War
During World War II, the Nazis occupied Poland in 1939. As a result, Polish citizens were not allowed to attend public schools. Wisława continued her studies in an underground school, under Wawel Castle.
In the 20th century, Wawel Castle was the official presidential residence after the occupation of the country. Krakow became the home office of the German cabinet and Wawel later became the residence of Hans Frank, the foremost jurist of Nazi Germany.
After studying underground for years, Wisława Szymborska completed her high school exams in 1941. In 1943 she started working in the railway industry, so she did not have to fear deportation to Germany for forced labor. During this period she managed to illustrate English textbooks and started writing stories and poems.
When the war ended in 1945, Wisława enrolled at Jagiellonian University to study Polish literature. Later, she switched subjects and went on to study sociology. However, in 1948 she had to stop her studies due to financial problems.
Wisława Szymborska .’s Literary Beginnings
In March 1945, Wisława Szymborska made her debut in the newspaper Dziennik Polski, where she published her poem Szukam słowa (In search of the word). Soon, many of her poems were published in various newspapers and local media.
After dropping out of school in 1948, she took a job as a secretary in a biweekly educational magazine. Around the same time, she also worked as an illustrator for this magazine and continued to write poems. In 1949 she completed her first collection of poetry.
Like most intellectuals of the time, Szymborska’s early works reflect the socialist philosophy that characterized Poland at the time. Her first collection, Dlatego żyjemy (That’s Why We’re All Alive ) from 1952, contains many of the poems that reflect her political views.
In the 1950s, Szymborska became a member of the Polish United Workers’ Party. Her next collection, Pytania zadawane sobie ( Questioning Yourself), published in 1954, embraced her socialist ideals.
However, Szymborska became disillusioned with communist ideology, and in her third collection of poems, Wołanie do Yeti (Calling to Yeti), published in 1957, she explains her disillusionment and how her mind had changed. The poems in this collection express her displeasure with communism, in particular with Stalinism.
In these poems, she worries about humanity and even compares Stalin to a Yeti. With these actions she broke away from the Polish United Workers’ Party.
The poet ultimately rejected her first two collections. She felt they were part of the socialist realism that she would be highly critical of for the rest of her life.
The work of Wisława Szymborska
Wisława Szymborska has written more than fifteen collections of poetry in her entire life. Not only was she a famous poet, however, she was also regarded as a critic and translator thanks to her book reviews and her translations of French poetry.
From 1968, she started her own column, called Lektury Nadobowiązkowe (Not Required Reading Material ), in which she discussed books. Most of these essays were compiled and later published as a book.
In addition to her 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, Szymborska also received many accolades. Among them the:
- Polish Ministry of Culture Prize (1963)
- Goethe Prize (1991)
- Shepherd Prize (1995)
- Polish PEN Translation Prize (1996)
In 1995 she was awarded the title of Honorary Doctor of Arts by Adam Mickiewicz University in Pozna. In 2011, Wisława Szymborska was even awarded the Order of the White Eagle. This is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon any individual by the Polish government.
Personal life and her legacy
Wisława Szymborska married the poet Adam Włodek in 1948. Their house at 22 Krupnicza Street, in Kraków, became the meeting place for many writers of the time. Among the visitors are the writer Czeslaw Milosz. The couple divorced in 1954 but remained close friends. They had no children.
Fifteen years later, Szymborska got into a relationship with the writer Kornel Filipowicz. They would never marry and always lived separately.
Wisława Szymborska died peacefully in her sleep on February 1, 2012, at her home in Kraków. She was 88 years old and was working on a new poem.
Today, Szymborska’s poems are included in certain school programs. She has become an internationally renowned poet and her work has been translated into languages, including Dutch. They have also appeared in English, French, Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, and even Chinese, among others.
Her poems stand out for their accuracy and beauty. At the same time, her poetic work conveys a sense of ironic detachment.
While Polish history at the beginning of World War II and Stalinism clearly influenced her poetry, Wisława Szymborska was a profound poet. She explored many great truths in common and everyday things.
Her poetry is a reflection of the many things that characterized her life and how this, like her poems, evolved and walked many new paths every day.