As my students crafted thesis statements for sample poetry explications, I sat at the front of the room getting lost in poetry for a little bit. In particular, I found myself (as I have been for some time now) drawn to the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska. As Milosz’s introduction to her poem “View with a Grain of Sand” says (in his great anthology A Book of Luminous Things), “Poetry in the twentieth century has been moving, in at least one of its branches, toward the philosophical essay, and this has gone along with a certain blurring of borderlines between literary genres.” Szymborska’s poetry is like reading a vivid, brief essay that shines a little light on the world.
Take these lines from “View with a Grain of Sand”:
We call it a grain of sand
but it calls itself neither grain nor sand.
It does just fine without a name,
whether general, particular,
incorrect or apt.
Our glance, our touch mean nothing ot it.
It doesn’t feel itself seen or touched.
And that it fell on the windowsill
is only our experience, not its.
For it it’s no different than falling on anything else
with no assurance that it’s finished falling
or that it’s falling still.
This query into what we ascribe of humanity to that which is not human fascinates me. And yet, even as she challenges the idea of sand having a sense of itself, she calls to mind that it just might, and that perhaps we might give heed more to it’s own way of existence. Lovely.
Perhaps this is why I like Symborska’s poetry – because it’s paradoxical, as life is. A grain of sand which has no feeling but that between our fingertips and yet feels so much to us.