Friday, March 18, 2016

Poetry Friday: Szymborska's "Possibilities" - and a Challenge

Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska 1923-2012
 For Poetry Friday, I offer up this list poem by Nobel-prize winner Wislawa Szymborska. Enjoy! And here's a challenge: Write a list poem this week, inspired by these lines: "I prefer the absurdity of writing poems/ to the absurdity of not writing poems." (P.S. I will forgive Ms. Szymborska for preferring cats. We all know dogs are preferable.)


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.

                     By Wislawa Szymborska from "Nothing Twice", 1997
                     Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh
The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted this week by Robyn Hood Black over at Life on the Deckle Edge. Head over there to see what other people have posted.  And by the way, Happy 1st Day of Spring, this Sunday!


  1. Wow! She must have been quite a person as well as a fine poet. Thanks for sharing, Julie.
    Re. canine vs. feline, I've always had BOTH my entire life and can't imagine life without either species. My personal bent is that writing is canine and art is feline, based on myself and other writers and artists I know. ;0) Others might have another opinion, especially if they are cats....

    1. Confession: I've never had a cat, so I really can't make any claims. My bet is that I prefer canine exuberance (those "zeroes on the loose"?) to what feels like feline unreadability ("those lined up behind a cipher"...?) And you're right, Robyn, Szymborska must have been quite a person.

  2. What a wonderful poem--so many lines leapt out at me and I found myself nodding, delighted that she had captured something I myself had sensed but never voiced, like, "I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars." This is one to reread! Thanks for sharing.

  3. It would be fun to take your challenge, Julie. This shows a life filled, doesn't it? Each line helps us consider her meaning. I like the "cunning kindness", hm-m! Thanks for sharing.

  4. This is the kind of poem you could take a week or two to write--just adding to it as things occur. Each preference takes me down a different thought tributary. Very interesting.

  5. Replies
    1. Me, too, Mary Lee - I'm looking forward to surprising myself!

  6. This was so inspiring, I decided to write my own. Now my day is half-gone, and I have you to thank! LOL Here is my poem:
    Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Loved your list, Brenda - commented over at your site.

    2. Thanks. You are the birding gmail commenter then? Nice of you to come by.

  7. I prefer to write such a poem as this than not write such a poem as this. The absurdity is knowing that I don't always follow through on what I prefer.

  8. I followed a suggestion once, Michelle, to write a list of ten things I really, truly love to do, and later was told to circle any one of them that I had done in the last six months. Only ONE on the list got circled!! So I decided then and there to try to do a few more things I preferred!