Back in 1999, US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky read Wislawa’s Szymborska’s poem Hatred on the PBS Newshour Poetry Series. Unfortunately, the video of Pinsky’s poetry reading is no longer available—but the text of the poem is still posted online. Before his reading of Szymborska’s poem, Pinsky said, “The cycles of mistrust, savagery, revenge and violation in the Balkans remind us what a powerful, important force hatred is in the world. Hatred drives much of what happens, public as well as private. The Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska comments on hatred in her poem of that title.”
NOTE: Szymborska’s poem was translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.
By Wislawa Szymborska
See how efficient it still is,
how it keeps itself in shape—
our century’s hatred.
How easily it vaults the tallest obstacles.
How rapidly it pounces, tracks us down.
It’s not like other feelings.
At once both older and younger.
It gives birth itself to the reasons
that give it life.
When it sleeps, it’s never eternal rest.
And sleeplessness won’t sap its strength; it feeds it.
One religion or another –
whatever gets it ready, in position.
One fatherland or another –
whatever helps it get a running start.
Justice also works well at the outset
until hate gets its own momentum going.
Its face twisted in a grimace
of erotic ecstasy…
Hatred is a master of contrast-
between explosions and dead quiet,
red blood and white snow.
Above all, it never tires
of its leitmotif – the impeccable executioner
towering over its soiled victim.
It’s always ready for new challenges.
If it has to wait awhile, it will.
They say it’s blind. Blind?
It has a sniper’s keen sight
and gazes unflinchingly at the future
as only it can.
Click here to read the entire poem.
SOURCES & FURTHER READING
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1996: Wislawa Szymborska (Press Release)