Poet Wisława Szymborska     Ave atque Vale     1923-2012     Uncredited and Undated Photograph
It can’t take a joke,
find a star, make a bridge.
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
building ships, or baking cakes.
In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.
It can’t even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.
Preoccupied with killing,
it does the job awkwardly,
without system or skill.
As though each of us were its first kill.
Oh, it has its triumphs,
but look at its countless defeats,
missed blows,
and repeat attempts!
Sometimes it isn’t strong enough
to swat a fly from the air.
Many are the caterpillars
that have outcrawled it.
All those bulbs, pods,
tentacles, fins, tracheae,
nuptial plumage, and winter fur
show that it has fallen behind
with its halfhearted work.
Ill will won’t help
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d’etat
is so far not enough.
Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies’ skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.
Whoever claims that it’s omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it’s not.
There’s no life
that couldn’t be immortal
if only for a moment.
Death
always arrives by that very moment too late.
In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you’ve come
can’t be undone.—
Wisława Szymborska, “On Death, without Exaggeration” 1986

Poet Wisława Szymborska     Ave atque Vale     1923-2012     Uncredited and Undated Photograph

It can’t take a joke,

find a star, make a bridge.

It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,

building ships, or baking cakes.

In our planning for tomorrow,

it has the final word,

which is always beside the point.

It can’t even get the things done

that are part of its trade:

dig a grave,

make a coffin,

clean up after itself.

Preoccupied with killing,

it does the job awkwardly,

without system or skill.

As though each of us were its first kill.

Oh, it has its triumphs,

but look at its countless defeats,

missed blows,

and repeat attempts!

Sometimes it isn’t strong enough

to swat a fly from the air.

Many are the caterpillars

that have outcrawled it.

All those bulbs, pods,

tentacles, fins, tracheae,

nuptial plumage, and winter fur

show that it has fallen behind

with its halfhearted work.

Ill will won’t help

and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d’etat

is so far not enough.

Hearts beat inside eggs.

Babies’ skeletons grow.

Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves

and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

Whoever claims that it’s omnipotent

is himself living proof

that it’s not.

There’s no life

that couldn’t be immortal

if only for a moment.

Death

always arrives by that very moment too late.

In vain it tugs at the knob

of the invisible door.

As far as you’ve come

can’t be undone.—

Wisława Szymborska, “On Death, without Exaggeration” 1986

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    Poet Wisława Szymborska Ave atque Vale 1923-2012 Uncredited and Undated Photograph It can’t take a joke, find a star,...
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