“One Version of Events” by Wislawa Szymborska

“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.

Individual fates

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,

trusting blindly

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

Untitled by Zdzislaw Beksinski

This entry was posted in Poetry, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to “One Version of Events” by Wislawa Szymborska

  1. lampmagician says:

    Thank you, Monika. I didn’t know her yet. A wonderful piece 🙏💖🙏
    Any knowledge that doesn’t lead to new questions quickly dies out: it fails to maintain the temperature required for sustaining life.
    (I’d found it when I looked after her 😊💖)

    Liked by 1 person

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