“TORTURES”–A Poem by Wislawa Szymborska

Poet Wislawa Szymborska

Poet Wislawa Szymborska


By Elaine Magliaro

I selected a poem that I think is most appropriate to post this Poetry Friday after the release of the Senate’s CIA torture report earlier in the week. “Tortures” was written by my favorite poet–Wislawa Szymborska. Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.

by Wislawa Szymborska

Nothing has changed.
The body is susceptible to pain;
it has to eat and breathe the air, and sleep;
it has thin skin, and the blood is just beneath it;
an adequate supply of teeth and fingernails;
its bones can be broken; its joints can be stretched.
In tortures, all this is taken into account.

Nothing has changed.
The body shudders as it shuddered
before the founding of Rome and after,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
Tortures are just as they were, only the earth has grown smaller,
and what happens sounds as if it’s happening in the next room.

Nothing has changed.
It’s just that there are more people,
and beside the old offences new ones have sprung –
real, make-believe, short-lived, and non-existent…

Click here to read the full text of the poem.


Poetry Foundation:

Readers of Szymborska’s poetry have often noted its wit, irony, and deceptive simplicity. Her poetry examines domestic details and occasions, playing these against the backdrop of history.

The Academy of American Poets:

While the Polish history from World War II through Stalinism clearly informs her poetry, Szymborska is also a deeply personal poet who explores the large truths that exist in ordinary, everyday things. “Of course, life crosses politics,” Szymborska once said “but my poems are strictly not political. They are more about people and life.”

Charles Simic:

“…More than any poet I can think of, Szymborska not only wants to create a poetic state in her readers, but also to tell them things they didn’t know before or never got around to thinking about.”

My previous posts of poetry written by Szymborska:

A Poem for National Poetry Month: “Hatred” by Wislawa Szymborska

“The End and the Beginning”: An Anti-War Poem by Wislawa Szymborska (VIDEO)


20TH CENTURY POETRY AND WAR–PART 8: Women’s Voices (Peace Pledge Union)

Wisława Szymborska (Poetry Foundation)

Wisława Szymborska (Academy of American Poets)

Wislawa Szymborska, Nobel-Winning Polish Poet, Dies at 88 (New York Times)


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4 Responses to “TORTURES”–A Poem by Wislawa Szymborska

  1. Thanks again Elaine. I am bemused by the release of the so called “Torture Report.” As an expert on interrogation myself, I can only wonder what in the hell those people were thinking. That’s what happens when strategy is based on hatred, as Wislawa Szymborska saw with a clarity of vision as only a poet can.

    Hatred cost the Nazis the war. Hitler wanted to build a nuclear weapon, but as I discussed in an exchange with randyjet the other day, he thwarted himself by wanting his scientists to build it without using “Jewish science.” By that, he meant the work of Einstein and other Jewish physicists. And as someone who had a dear friend imprisoned as a “Terror Flier” at Buchenwald, I have skin in the game. Now where have we heard the term “terror” misused that badly in recent years?

  2. Elaine M. says:


    I think Szymborska used repetition in this poem to great effect…beginning each stanza with the line “Nothing has changed.”

  3. blouise17 says:

    Nothing has changed.
    Except for the course of rivers,
    the lines of forests, coasts, deserts and glaciers.
    Amid those landscapes roams the soul,
    disappears, returns, draws nearer, moves away,
    a stranger to itself, elusive,
    now sure, now uncertain of its own existence,
    while the body is and is and is
    and has nowhere to go.


    I love this work

  4. Pingback: “CONSOLATION”: A Poem by Wislawa Szymborska | Flowers For Socrates

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