Friday, February 10, 2006

The Lake of Deep Conviction

In the latest issue of the New York Review of Books there is a Wislawa Szymborska poem ‘Moment’ (trans. Satanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh) in which a simple picturesque landscape of green hill and misty sky seems unreal, with its woods and brook acting out their roles politely, distracting us from the possibility of “snarling crags, upturned abysses” and the violent history of geological transformation through ice and fire. In other poems Szymborska has contrasted slowly changing landscape with the unchanging cruelties of humanity. In ‘Reality Demands’ (trans. Joanna Trzekiak) she wonders whether the long history of conflict means that now “maybe there are no fields but battlefields, those still remembered, and those long forgotten”. In ‘Tortures’ she reflects that pain persists over time: “nothing has changed. Except for the course of boundaries, the line of forests, coasts, deserts and glaciers.”

By contrast, for a different use of landscape in Szymborska’s verse, see her witty allegory ‘Utopia’, which features among other things The Tree of Valid Supposition and the Lake of Deep Conviction.

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