“An Interview with Atropos,” by Wislawa Szymborska

This fall’s bonanza of Polish literature continues with new translations of the Vermeer of modern poetry, Wislawa Szymborska.

Szymborska was born in 1923 in Prowent, Poland. Five collections of her poems have been published in English. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. This poem is translated by Clare Cavanagh and the great Stanislaw Baranczak.  Read more in her new book, Here.

An Interview with Atropos

Madam Atropos?

That’s correct.

Of Necesssity’s three daughters,
you fare the worst in world opinion.

A gross exaggeration, my dear poet.
Klotho spins the threat of life,
but the thread is delicate
and easily cut.
Lachesis determines its length with her rod.
They are no angels.

Still you, Madame, hold the scissors.

And since I do, I put them to good use.

I see that even as we speak …

I’m a Type A, that’s my nature.

You don’t get bored or tired,
maybe drowsy working nights? Really, not the slightest?
With no holidays, vacations, weekends,
no quick breaks for cigarettes?

We’d fall behind, I don’t like that.

Such breathtaking industry.
But you’re not given commendations,
orders, trophies, cups, awards?
Maybe just a framed diploma?

Like at the hairdresser’s? No, thank you.

Who, if anyone, assists you?

A tidy little paradox—you mortals.
Assorted dictators, untold fanatics.
Not that they need me to nudge them.
They’re eager to get down to work.

Wars must surely make you happy
what with all the assistance you receive.

Happy? I don’t know the feeling.
I’m not the one who declares them,
I’m not the one who steers their course.
I will admit, though, that I’m grateful,
they do help to keep me au courant.

You’re not sorry for the threads cut short?

A little shorter, a lot shorter—
Only you perceive the difference.

And if someone stronger wanted to relieve you,
tried to make you take retirement?

I don’t follow. Express yourself more clearly.

I’ll try once more: do you have a Higher-Up?

… Next question please.

That’s all I’ve got.

Well goodbye then.
Or to put it more precisely …

I know, I know. Au revoir.


[We note with gratitude the wonderfully apt feminine endings.]

Buy Here by Wislawa Szymborska, translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak, out today

Read other new translations of Szymborska in The New York Review of Books and Harper’s

Helen Vendler on Szymborska

Jenny Holzer’s installation featuring Szymborska’s work at the Art Institute of Chicago, with a lot of interesting related stuff

This poem is copyright © by Wislawa Szymborska, translation copyright © by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak, reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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2 Responses to “An Interview with Atropos,” by Wislawa Szymborska

  1. Kevin says:

    Glad to hear there is a new work out by Szymborska! I just finished an album of original songs based of her Nobel Prize winning poetry. You can sample it here:


    Thanks for listening!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Little Star Journal, marinacecilie. marinacecilie said: @littlestarmag. Szymborska gives me rare moments. “An Interview with Atropos,” by Wislawa Szymborska http://t.co/oFEKlbQ […]