I've been reading the lectures of Nobel literature laureates. There are some exalted names among them, but the one I liked best was a name I didn't know and couldn't possibly pronounce. Wislawa Szymborska was a Polish poet, a contemporary of Czeslaw Milosz and Zbigniew Herbert, who died last year at 88. She won the Nobel in 1996, and spoke in her acceptance lecture about poetry as an occupation, and inspiration as something that attends any kind of work done with love and imagination. Inspiration, she says, comes out of a continuous “I don’t know.” In praise of this phrase she says: “It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny earth hangs suspended.” Poets in particular are inspired by it, and every poem is a makeshift answer to it.
This poem, “Possibilities", seems much more positive. These things, at least, she already knows.
I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love's concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms' fairy tales to the newspapers' front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven't mentioned here
to many things I've also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.