The Kindness of the Blind
by Wislawa Szymborska (Nobel Prize in Literature 1996)
Translated from the Polish by J. Kostkowska
A poet is reading to the blind.
He did not suspect it was so hard.
His voice is breaking.
His hands are shaking.
He feels that here each sentence
is put to the test of the dark.
It will have to fend for itself
without the lights or colors.
A perilous adventure
for the stars in his poems,
for the dawn, the rainbow, the clouds, neon lights, the moon,
for the fish until now so silver under water,
and the hawk so silently high in the sky.
He is reading—for it is too late to stop—
of a boy in a jacket yellow in the green meadow,
of red rooftops easy to spot in the valley,
the restless numbers on the players’ shirts,
and a nude stranger in the door cracked open.
He would like to pass over—though it’s not an option—
all those saints on the cathedral’s ceiling,
that farewell wave from the train window,
the microscope lens, ray of light in the gem,
video screens, and mirrors, and the album with faces.
Yet great is the kindness of the blind,
great their compassion and generosity.
They listen, smile, and clap.
One of them even approaches
with a book held topsy-turvy
to ask for an invisible autograph.
A selection of works by Wislawa Szymborska in English
People on a bridge. Poems. Introd. and transl. by Adam Czerniawski. London, Boston: Forest Books, 1990.
View with a grain of sand. Selected poems. Transl. by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1995.
Nothing twice. Selected poems. Selected and transl. by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. Kraków: Wydawn. Literackie, 1997.
Poems, new and collected, 1957-1997. Transl. by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998.
Miracle fair. Selected poems. Transl. by Joanna Trzeciak. New York: Norton, 2001.