making something...

Wisława Szymborska

The Three Oddest Words

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no non-being can hold.

            (Trans. by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)


... saying the unsayable ... drawing that which cannot be drawn ... With these lines, Szymborska finds the music before a note is played.


anhaga said...

Thanks for posting this, Sam. This poem fuels thought.

The first couplet especially is a revelation, for me. I had never noticed that the word future really does contain the past, at least in the romance languages. In French, for example, fut is the 3rd person singular past of to be: Il fut, it was.

A possible versin of this couplet might be

Lorsque je forme le mot futur
la première syllable appartient déjà au passé.

I'm sure Szymborska is aware of this. It is hard to imagine a Polish poet who doesn't know French.

It would be interesting to see if this inhabiting of the future by the past holds true in the original. It would be interesting to see what French translators have done with these lines. (Something better than my clumsy attempt, no doubt.)

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

This is an amazing piece James. I'm certain that Szymborska has been translated into French. I like your approach to her poem. Thanks for the read.

Paula said...

What a gem, Sam, bur small wonder: there are numberless gems in her poetry.

rae said...


Thanks for this - I enjoyed the read. I'm a fan of hers and hadn't read this before.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Szymborska is a force. Thanks Paula and Rachel for the comments.