“If we’d been allowed to choose,
we’d probably have gone on forever.
The bodies that were offered didn’t fit,
and wore out horribly.
The ways of sating hunger
made us sick.
We were repelled
by blind heredity
and the tyranny of glands.
The world that was meant to embrace us
decayed without end
and the effects of causes raged over it.
were presented for our inspection:
appalled and grieved,
we rejected most of them.
Questions naturally arose, e.g.,
who needs the painful birth
of a dead child
and what’s in it for a sailor
who will never reach the shore.
We agreed to death,
but not to every kind.
Love attracted us,
of course, but only love
that keeps its word.
Both fickle standards
and the impermanence of artworks
kept us wary of the Muses’ service.
Each of us wished to have a homeland
free of neighbors
and to live his entire life
in the intervals between wars.
No one wished to seize power
or to be subject to it.
No one wanted to fall victim
to his own or others’ delusions.
No one volunteered
for crowd scenes and processions,
to say nothing of dying tribes—
although without all these
history couldn’t run its charted course
through centuries to come.
Meanwhile, a fair number
of stars lit earlier
had died out and grown cold.
It was high time for a decision.
Voicing numerous reservations,
candidates finally emerged
for a number of roles as healers and explorers,
a few obscure philosophers,
one or two nameless gardeners,
artists and virtuosos—
though even these livings
couldn’t all be filled
for lack of other kinds of
It was time to think
the whole thing over.
We’d been offered a trip
from which we’d surely be returning
soon, wouldn’t we.
A trip outside eternity—
monotonous, no matter what they say,
and foreign to time’s flow.
The chance may never come our way again.
We were besieged by doubts.
Does knowing everything beforehand
really mean knowing everything.
Is a decision made in advance
really any kind of choice.
Wouldn’t we be better off
dropping the subject
and making our minds up
once we get there.
We looked at the earth.
Some daredevils were already living there.
A feeble weed clung to a rock,
that the wind wouldn’t tear it off.
A small animal
dug itself from its burrow
with an energy and hope
that puzzled us.
We struck ourselves as prudent,
petty, and ridiculous.
In any case, our ranks began to dwindle.
The most impatient of us disappeared.
They’d left for the first trial by fire,
this much was clear,
especially by the glare of the real fire
they’d just begun to light
on the steep bank of an actual river.
A few of them
have actually turned back.
But not in our direction.
And with something they seemed to
have won in their hands.”
Translated by Claire Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak
Found in Wislawa Szymborska, Poems New and Collected, Kindle edition