Posts Tagged ‘Michał Rusinek’

Nobelist Wisława Szymborska on “work as one continuous adventure”

Friday, October 24th, 2014
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May in Kraków – must they be compared?

When I saw her Kraków, with poet Julia Hartwig (at right) – in May 2011

An embarrassingly long time ago, someone from the Adam Mickiewicz Institute’s online magazine, Culture.pl, wrote to bring my attention to a recent post about Wisława Szymborska and her “9 Secret Sides” – I’ve written about the poet here and here, but not much since. I liked this story about getting the Nobel Prize, though I’m not sure how “secret” it is. In Kraków, I spoke to the friend, Michał Rusinek, who “cut the cord,” literally, after the announcement was made, severing her endlessly ringing telephone line with a pair of scissors. Anyway, from the website:

“Szymborska was notoriously private and rarely gave interviews. It is thus not surprising that she met the sudden global recognition thrust upon her with the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996 with great hesitancy, calling it the ‘Stockholm Tragedy.’  Szymborska was at a writers’ retreat in the Polish mountain town of Zakopane when the prize was announced and initially refused to take calls with the news, preferring to instead finish her lunch privately.  It was only after a number of calls – including one from her friend and colleague Czesław Miłosz – that she agreed to speak to the press.  By the end of that day, however, she’d had enough and retreated to place even more remote, where she hoped she would not be found by reporters.

“Though the majority of media coverage of the prize feature quotations from her colleagues, rather than from Szymborska herself, she was, of course, center stage at the awarding of the prize.  She admitted to Miłosz that ‘the most difficult thing will be to write a speech.  I will be writing it for a month.  I don’t know what I will be talking about, but I will talk about you.’  In the end she delivered one of the shortest Nobel Lectures to date, the beautiful The Poet and the World.

Szymborska

With “love and imagination”

She didn’t mention him in the speech, actually, but it’s a good Nobel talk nevertheless (translated by the incomparable Stanisław Barańczak over here). I picked this passage out, in particular, on today’s rereading:

“I’ve mentioned inspiration. Contemporary poets answer evasively when asked what it is, and if it actually exists. It’s not that they’ve never known the blessing of this inner impulse. It’s just not easy to explain something to someone else that you don’t understand yourself.

“When I’m asked about this on occasion, I hedge the question, too. But my answer is this: inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It’s made up of all those who’ve consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners – and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous ‘I don’t know.’

scissors“There aren’t many such people. Most of the earth’s inhabitants work to get by. They work because they have to. They didn’t pick this or that kind of job out of passion; the circumstances of their lives did the choosing for them. Loveless work, boring work, work valued only because others haven’t got even that much, however loveless and boring – this is one of the harshest human miseries. And there’s no sign that coming centuries will produce any changes for the better as far as this goes.”

I may not be a Nobel poet – but let’s raise a glass in thanks from those of us (Humble Moi included) who get to do our jobs with love and imagination. It’s always a privilege. I never forget it. Now let me get back to my work…