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Wisława Szymborska

Look, this is Susanna, a servant so good,
And these saucepans are haloes, or so it appears.
This dragon in the picture should be understood
As vanity incarnate in this vale of tears.

And this is her rosary, not for show at all,
And her boots have the noses badly worn from kneeling,
And as black as night-vigil is her simple shawl
As she waits till the morn for the bells to start pealing.

She once saw the devil while wiping the dust
Off a mirror – he gave her one of his strange looks.
He was purple all over, and made a wry mouth,
What happens if he enters her into his books?

So she’ll give for the sisterhood and for the Mass,
And surely buy a medal with a flaming heart.
The price of all the devils has risen, alas
Since it helped the new work on the vicarage start.

To save a soul from temptation is a costly thing,
And her bones now start rattling as old age is nigh.
She is so much deprived of all earthly things
She’ll be lost in the vastness of a needle’s eye.

May, give up all your colours, be bleak like December,
Leafy branches, now blooming, be ashamed for ever.
Suns, regret you are shining, clouds – penance remember,
Springtime, welcome snow coating, you will bloom in heaven.

I haven’t heard her laughter, haven’t heard her weep,
Susanna, always humble, craves no earthly things,
And her shadow-like mourning her company keeps
While her shawl is torn howling in the gusts of wind.

Translated by Agnieszka Kreczmar

This is the first published English translation of Wisława Szymborska’s early poem. It was most recently republished in Wiersze wybrane (Kraków: a5 Publishers, 2004). It was originally published in Wisława Szymborska, Wołanie do Yeti (1957).

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The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 12/6/08