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September 19, 2019


#Poetry Wislawa Szymborska

by N@ncy

  • Author: Wislawa Szymborska (1923 – 2012)
  • Title: Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems by Wislawa Szymborska
  • Genre: poems
  • Published: 1981
  • Table of contents: 261 pages
  • Trivia: Wislawa Szymborskawas awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 1996.
  • Trivia: I could stare at Szymborka’s photo for hours!
  • She looks like the cat that swallowed the canary.
  • A person who appears self-satisfied especially
  • …while concealing something  mischievous.



  1. I saw an interview with Szymborska and
  2. …this is the still photo taken of it.
  3. She captured my heart with her ‘je m’en fiche’
  4. …( dont’ give a damn) attitude.
  5. With a cigarette in hand and swirling a glass of wine
  6. she commented on her life and poetry.
  7. When asked why she never published more than 350 poems?
  8. She answered:
  9. “I have a trash can in my home”.
  10. Her sense of humor and lack of pretentiousness,
  11. …that is what attracted me to her work.


Two Monkeys Brueghel

Subject: enslavement

  1. I am not very good at interpeting poetry yet
  2. …and needed to research this poem.
  3. Szymbroska links the ‘control’ of the two monkeys
  4. to her situation and that of Brueghel.
  5. Brueghel painted this in 1562 while Spain
  6. dominated the two provinces The Spanish Netherlands.
  7. North: William of Orange became
  8. …stadtholder of Holland, Utrecht and Zeeland.
  9. South: Count of Egmont took charge of Flanders and Artois.


  1. Monkeys in chains is a symbol of repression and the
  2. ….background of Antwerp’s harbor is a symbol of freedom.



  1. Szymborska wrote this poem in 1957 as a condemnation
  2. ….of the repressive atmosphere of the Stalinist period.


Tone: is somber almost hopeless.


  1. “..beyond the window floats the sky and the sea splashes
  2. …is a metaphor for freedom.


  1. Image of chained ‘animals’ looking out to the sea (freedom)
  2. …and not being able to free themselves.


  1. The speaker in the poem is taking a final exam in
  2. …“the History of Mankind” while the two monkeys look on.
  3. “One monkey stares and listens with mocking disdain,
  4. The other seems to be dreaming away–
  5. But when it is clear I don’t know what to say
  6. He prompts me with a gentle
  7. Clinking of his chain.”


  1. Words like “jingling chains,” the speaker who
  2. ‘ stutters and flounders’ or the description of
  3. the monkey’s ‘ ironic smile or dozing off
  4. ‘creates sense that any resistance was useless.



  1. Szymborska made me feel emotional because
  2. these animals represent the people who have become
  3. unemotional and with no voice under political repression.
  4. I asked myself: ” What would it feel like… being bound in chains?



Two Monkeys by Brueghel   (trans. from the Polish by Magnus Kryski)


  • I keep dreaming of my graduation exam:
  • in a window sit two chained monkeys,
  • beyond the window
  • floats the sky,
  • and the sea splashes.


  • I am taking an exam on the history of mankind:
  • I stammer and flounder.


  • One monkey, eyes fixed upon me, listens ironically,
  • the other seems to be dozing–
  • and when silence follows a question,
  • he prompts me
  • with a soft jingling of the chain.



  1. It is said Szymborska is the ‘Mozart of poetry” .
  2. Her words are at times humorous yet powerful.
  3. By the 1950’s the political climate in Poland had changed considerably.
  4. Poetry was to become an extension of state propaganda and
  5. …a reinforcement of the official ideology.
  6. Nobel winner Szymborska (literature) did not include her
  7. …Stalinist poetry in her collected editions, she was too embarrassed.
  8. This was an excellent book and I would recommend it wholeheartedly.
  9. Coup de coeur!
  10. #MustRead



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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sep 19 2019

    I’d be very keen to watch that bio on Szymborska – they’ve picked a great photo from it. I read a number of quotes that obviously came from that doco in the various sites I visited earlier when I was putting together my post.


    • Sep 19 2019

      Wislawa was a clever and strong woman to survive WWII Poland.
      She was so humble and reflective.
      This quote reminds me of her:
      “You climb the mountain to see the world.
      You don’t climb the mountain so the world can see you.”

      Liked by 1 person


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