The Turn of the Century

by Wislawa Szymborska


It was supposed to be better than the rest, our twentieth century,
But it won’t have time to prove it.
Its years are numbered,
its step unsteady,
its breath short.
Already too much has happened
that was not supposed to happen.
What was to come
has yet to come.
Spring was to be on its way,
and happiness, among other things.

Fear was to leave the mountains and valleys.
The truth was supposed to finish before the lie.

Certain misfortunes
were never to happen again
such as war and hunger and so forth.

The defenselessness of the defenseless,
was going to be respected.
Same for trust and the like.

Whoever wanted to enjoy the world
faces an impossible task.

Stupidity is not funny.
Wisdom is not cheerful.

is no longer the same young girl
et cetera. Alas.

God was at last to believe in man:
good and strong,
But good and strong
are still two different people.

How to live–someone asked me in a letter,
someone I had wanted
to ask the very same thing.

Again and as always,
and as seen above
there are no questions more urgent
than the naive ones.

Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak.

9 thoughts on “The Turn of the Century

  1. “Liked” and also adding my thoughts: fantastic poem (and I don’t usually like thoughts expressed in poetic form because, well, I don’t like having to work to try and unravel what someone’s trying to say to me – and getting it wrong!)
    “there are no questions more urgent than the naive ones.” Or, the simple ones… or obvious ones. And finding no answers within what we are offered it behooves us to go out, whether in hope or despair, to find our own answers and use them to apply our own, our personal solutions. And that’s exactly where I’m at now. I will not win, but neither can I lose, and yes, the “we” of the 20th century has died and been replaced by the “I” of this one: there is no more “we” because “we” failed me; it failed all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sha’Tara. Szymborska had a knack for speaking clearly in her poems, so we don’t have to work too hard to unravel the meaning. One reason why she is/was great.

      Yes on the “behoovement” (if that’s a word — well, now it is 🙂 ). There are no ready-made answers, and those who present such — the gurus and leaders and authorities of all kinds — should be viewed with healthy suspicion and their ideas inspected closely.

      “And that’s exactly where I’m at now.”

      It’s a good place to be, no? It is probably the only place to be — if we remain realistic — so we may as well accept it.

      Win/lose is the wrong paradigm, and the reason why we are in such trouble now. It is a good thing to shed it already (not that I believe it would happen on a large scale).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, that was in July, and look what’s happened since. So much horribly polluted water under the bridge of non-change. “Behoovement” would make a great movement of self empowerment. It “behooves” me to move on my own towards my own ends and own future. I want nothing whatsoever to do with “collectives” or “groups” or any concept that takes individuals that never got a chance to develop their sense of self and omelette them in “the group” starting from kindergarten and to their collective ends. When (not if, there is no if) I see a need I will not bitch or rant about it, neither ignore it nor try to get a group together to deal with it, or pressure some other group actually responsible for the problem to apply solutions to it. I will not work with, but only alongside, other individuals when appropriate but in most cases (as I’ve been doing for decades) I will consider the need, assess my own resources as they may apply to the need, then get to work resolving that one problem. There aren’t “homeless people” there is one homeless person that needs my help. There aren’t “the poor” there is one single mother with a ramshackle shack of a house that needs repairs to keep a roof over her children and herself and I can certainly deal with that. In these worlds, the last “rich” worlds, there are still more people of means than not. It is up to these people of means to take responsibility for those around them without means. If they do not; if they’d rather spend their wherewithal on entertainment and toys, then so be it. Let that be the kind of society and world the next generation continues with, until “Donald Trump” will seem a pretty mild intrusion compared to what’s really in store for the self-styled entitled. That’s my statement in regard to making change. When I think this way I’m reminded of the story of a reporter walking along a sea shore after a savage storm. He noticed hundreds of starfish strewing the strand and a little girl frantically picking up the animals and flinging them back into the ocean. The man approached the girl and said, “You realize that no matter how many your throw back it, it won’t any real difference to how many are still going to die.” She replied, as she flung another, “It makes a difference to that one.” And that is how a self empowered individual must look at problems. I am not “billions” – I am one.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s