Wislawa Szymborska: Photograph from September 11
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Wislawa Szymborska 1923- ) is a Polish poet, essayist and translator. Many of her poems feature war and terrorism. In Poland, her books reach sales rivaling prominent prose authors-- although she once remarked in a poem entitled "Some like poetry" [Niektórzy lubią poezję] that no more than two out of a thousand people care for the art. Szymborska was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature "for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality".
Szymborska frequently employs literary devices such as irony, paradox, contradiction, and understatement, to illuminate philosophical themes and obsessions. Szymborska's compact poems often conjure large existential puzzles, touching on issues of ethical import, and reflecting on the condition of people both as individuals and as members of human society. Szymborska's style is succinct and marked by introspection and wit.
Photograph from September 11
They jumped from the burning floors—
one, two, a few more,
The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them
above the earth toward the earth.
Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.
There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.
They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.
I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.
Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak
Wislawa Szymborska, “Photograph from September 11” from Monologue of a Dog. Copyright © 2005 by Wislawa Szymborska.