(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“View with a Grain of Sand” is a poem of thirty-seven lines grouped into seven stanzas that range from four to seven lines each. In both Polish and English, the poem exhibits occasional irregular rhymes, although these are not the same lines in both versions. (For example, the fourth stanza rhymes the second and fourth lines in Polish and the first and second line in English.) Like much of Wisawa Szymborska’s poetry, the language in “View with a Grain of Sand” sounds like everyday conversation, differing from prose or ordinary speech only in very subtle rhythms and patterns of sound.

The speaker of the poem may be Szymborska herself, although such an identification does not affect the meaning conveyed or the impression formed by the poem. This speaker pictures a lake and its surroundings, beginning with a grain of sand from the shore. She mentions that the sand is complete in and of itself and that it is not affected by people touching it, talking about it, or dropping it on a windowsill; these things pertain solely to human experience. The speaker then considers the window that overlooks the lake but that has nothing to do with the lake itself except in human perception. The poem reminds its readers that the “wonderful view” exists only in the individual mind, as do colors, sounds, odors, and, most strikingly, pain. Szymborska’s speaker goes on to say essentially the same thing about the lake, that it knows nothing of the attributes people...

(The entire section is 557 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Wisawa Szymborska’s “View with a Grain of Sand” is a thirty-seven-line metaphysical and existential poem comprising seven irregular stanzas that vary between four and seven lines. The poem has no regular meter or rhyme scheme. Poetic meaning often does not survive translation, given that it is difficult to translate the rhythms, rhyme, tone, idioms, and puns created in another language. However, because Szymborska writes with clear, straightforward language, English translations of her poetry tend to be faithful to the original.

The poem is told from the point of view of an anonymous speaker using the familiar and inclusive “we” and “our” and “us.” The reader and speaker are experiencing the same scene together.

As with most of Szymborska’s poems, “View with a Grain of Sand” examines and undermines common, everyday perceptions. Szymborska looks at the ordinary and taken for granted and shows how they are astonishing as well. She embraces the Pascalian notion of human consciousness—that consciousness is what defines humans and separates humans from not only the inanimate universe but also other life forms. As Blaise Pascal’s universe remains “unaware,” so does that of Szymborska. All awareness lies with the human observer. In Pascal’s view of consciousness, dignity and higher nobility are found in this human awareness.

The poem begins with a falling grain of sand, echoing William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence” (wr. 1803; pb. 1863), which also famously begins with a grain of sand. Here, Blake is showing how something seemingly insignificant can actually be infinite, and that the unimportant can be more significant than what is normally considered important or significant. While Szymborska agrees with Blake—that nothing is simply ordinary—she examines the ordinary from the perspective of human perception and expression. One might look at that grain of sand as Blake does, and see a...

(The entire section is 804 words.)