* writing the woods with wislawa szymborska

In the summer course I’m teaching, we have been discussing ideas of writing as performance; that is, what gets going as soon as words are on the page. It’s similar to what William Stafford means when he says, “The moon you are describing is the one you are creating,” which I wrote about in a post from this Spring. 

I came across this week’s poem, “The Joy of Writing” by Wislawa Szymborska, and share it here because of the connection it has to these concepts of writing as performance. From the beginning, the poem ties the act of writing to what’s being described, creating a singular conceit of “these written woods.” The metaphor is stretched enjoyably far. What I find most enjoyable of all, at least this week, is the startling nature of the last line: “Revenge of a mortal hand.” In contrast to the title of the poem which sets up low dramatic expectations, Szymborska takes us down to that last line with a sense of mortality and complication that is surprising as well as apt and necessary.

The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides 1824-7 by William Blake 1757-1827

The Joy of Writing – Wislawa Szymborska

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence – this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Happy mortaling!

José

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Reasons (not) to Dance by Jose Angel Araguz

Reasons (not) to Dance

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

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3 thoughts on “* writing the woods with wislawa szymborska

  1. the 4th verse is incredible. that pretty much sums the control that can be so intoxicating about writing. that the poet could stop the bullets makes my chest sink. i was once melancholy for a few days when i decided i had to kill a character in a narrative poem i was writing. i tried my best to save him but it just worked for him to be sacrificed. poor Charlie.

    1. Daniel – Thanks for stopping by! Your comment on sacrificing a character in a narrative poem made me think of Robinson Jeffers who talks about doing a similar thing in his longer poems. Jeffers, however, viewed it a little more intensely/calculatedly, seeing his sacrificing of characters as a kind of way to pay tribute via sacrifice to something higher, and ensure some kind of emotional and creative protection. It sounds convuluted, luckily the poem’s aren’t. He’s also the poet who gave us the line, “I’d rather kill a man than a hawk,” which should help add color to his outlook as described above. Take care, José

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