The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The story of the death of Lot’s wife in the biblical book of Genesis has both intrigued and disturbed many readers. Angels command Lot to take his family and flee the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, telling them not to look back. For disobeying this warning, Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt.

“Lot’s Wife” features forty-three unrhymed lines of varied lengths. Its unnamed title character apparently is speaking to the reader after her death. The paradox implied by having her do this is compounded by other unusual circumstances as the poem unfolds. Although the speaker discusses her possible reasons for turning back toward Sodom and therefore perishing, she seems either unable or unwilling to reveal her true reasons for doing so. She begins noncommittally, “They say I looked back from curiosity./ But I could have had reasons other than curiosity.” Nowhere does she state exactly what did happen; rather, she presents a variety of possibilities. She suggests reasons such as longing for a silver bowl she left behind, distraction while adjusting her sandal, and even weariness of looking at the back of her husband’s neck. Mentioning that Lot would not have stopped even had she died, she adds that she may have looked back in resentment of him.

The wife also alleges fearing that someone was following them and hoping that God had decided not to destroy the cities. She states that she may have felt fatigued, lonely, or...

(The entire section is 405 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although no translation can fully communicate the sounds of the original, translators Magnus J. Krynski and Robert A. Maguire captured much of Wisawa Szymborska’s technique. The lines are similar in length and, as far as grammar permits, usually display the same phrasing and word order as the Polish, although minor exceptions occur. For example, where the original sixth line reads “mòa mojego, Lota,” the translation has “of Lot my husband,” putting Lot’s name before his relationship to the speaker. The translation stresses the rhythmic nature of the line, with the stressed syllable “Lot” between the unstressed “of” and “my,” allowing the line to be read more fluidly than “of my husband, Lot,” its literal rendering. This subtle change preserves Szymborska’s original rhythm.

“Lot’s Wife” uses conversational language, which, combined with the uneven lines and lack of rhyme, gives a strong impression of everyday communication. However, the apparent simplicity is deceptive. The language itself is carefully chosen. For instance, seven of the lines in English, or almost one-sixth of the poem, begin repetitively with “I looked back.” (There is an eighth in the Polish.) Almost half the poem’s repetition is lost in translation generally—as in lines which in Polish, but not English, begin with the same preposition. Still, the translation has rhythm and repetition enough to create a pattern in which the woman who died because she looked back at Sodom returns to her death again and again. Adding to...

(The entire section is 632 words.)