Eating Poetry (XXVI) – “A Contribution to Statistics”

by A. Jay Adler on November 13, 2010
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A Contribution to Statistics

Out of a hundred people

those who always know better
-fifty-two

doubting every step
-nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand
if it doesn’t take too long
-as high as forty-nine,

always good
because they can’t be otherwise
-four, well maybe five,

able to admire without envy
-eighteen,

suffering illusions
induced by fleeting youth
-sixty, give or take a few,

not to be taken lightly
-forty and four,

living in constant fear
of someone or something
-seventy-seven,

capable of happiness
-twenty-something tops,

harmless singly, savage in crowds
-half at least,

cruel
when forced by circumstances
-better not to know
even ballpark figures,

wise after the fact
-just a couple more
than wise before it,

taking only things from life
-thirty
(I wish I were wrong),

hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
-eighty-three
sooner or later,

righteous
-thirty-five, which is a lot,

righteous
and understanding
-three,

worthy of compassion
-ninety-nine,

mortal
-a hundred out of a hundred.
thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

Wislawa Szymborska (translated by S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh)

from 1996 Nobel Prize Lecture

Wisława Szymborska (b. July 2, 1923 in Bnin, P...
Image via Wikipedia

The world – whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we’ve just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don’t know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we’ve got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world – it is astonishing.

But “astonishing” is an epithet concealing a logical trap. We’re astonished, after all, by things that deviate from some well-known and universally acknowledged norm, from an obviousness we’ve grown accustomed to. Now the point is, there is no such obvious world. Our astonishment exists per se and isn’t based on comparison with something else.

Granted, in daily speech, where we don’t stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like “the ordinary world,” “ordinary life,” “the ordinary course of events”… But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone’s existence in this world.

It looks like poets will always have their work cut out for them.

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1 comment

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Maureen November 13, 2010 at 8:07 am

Wonderful.

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