Wislawa Szymborska was born on July 2, 1923, in Bnin, a small town in Western Poland. Her family moved to Krakow in 1931 where she lived most of her life.
Szymborska studied Polish literature and sociology at Jagellonian University from 1945 until 1948. While attending the university, she became involved in Krakow’s literary scene and first met and was influenced by Czeslaw Milosz. She began work at the literary review magazine Życie Literackie (Literary Life) in 1953, a job she held for nearly thirty years.
During her lifetime, Szymborska authored more than fifteen books of poetry. Her collections available in English include Monologue of a Dog (Harcourt, 2005); Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska (Norton, 2001); Poems, New and Collected, 1957-1997 (Harcourt, 1998); View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems (Harcourt, 1995); People on a Bridge (Forest, 1990); and Sounds, Feelings Thoughts: Seventy Poems (Princeton UP, 1981). She is also the author of Nonrequired Reading (Harcourt, 2002), a collection of prose pieces.
While the Polish history from World War II through Stalinism clearly informs her poetry, Szymborska was also a deeply personal poet who explored the large truths that exist in ordinary, everyday things. “Of course, life crosses politics,” Szymborska once said “but my poems are strictly not political. They are more about people and life.”
In the introduction to Miracle Fair, Czeslaw Milosz wrote: “Hers is a very grim poetry…a comparison with the despairing vision of Samuel Beckett and Philip Larkin suggests itself. Yet, in contrast to them Szymborska offers a world where one can breathe.”
Writing in the New York Review of Books, Stanislaw Barańczak said: “Wit, wisdom and warmth are equally important ingredients in the mixture of qualities that makes her so unusual and every poem of hers so unforgettable.”
In 1996, Szymborska won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her other awards include the Polish Pen Club prize, an Honorary Doctorate from Adam Mickiewicz University, the Herder Prize and The Goethe Prize.
Wislawa Szymborska died on February 1, 2012, at the age of eighty-eight.
Photo credit: Polish News Agency PAP