no ordinary existence

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.

- Wisława Szymborska, from her 1996 Nobel Lecture. Szymborska died today in Krakow, at the age of 88. You can read her obituary here, and the fulltext of her Nobel Lecture here.


daniela elza said...

I love that lecture. I used her words in my thesis, in my defence.
Rob, today I know who I am reading at your series.
I am deeply saddened. And I grieve today.

theresa said...

Beautiful and timely passage. Thanks for posting it.

Rob Taylor said...

I'm glad it helped, Daniela and Theresa.

And yeah, a pretty wonderful lecture. I posted her playful opening to it on this blog... wow... almost five years ago. One of my earliest quotes!

frank said...