View with a Grain of Sand

by Wisława Szymborska

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Themes and Meanings

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In “View with a Grain of Sand,” Szymborska stimulates her readers to question their interpretations of the world around them. Viewers of the lake might normally watch the waves lapping at the shore, but readers of the poem are reminded that the waves and the shore in themselves signify nothing except that the wind has ruffled the surface of the lake and that the water ends at a certain point. The refreshment, serenity, or pleasure usually associated with such perceptions have nothing to do with the lake itself but only with the people who view the lake. The poem encourages readers to remember this as they consider their own responses to such scenery. If the water, shore, and wind that humans see as beautiful are untouched by human thought, they also lack any inherent meaning for human beings. The same is true of the sky and sun, which only obey their own natures and do nothing of what humans believe them to do. By implication, the only meaning is that which people make for themselves in their thoughts about the world. Even the passage of time, essential to thought and human consciousness, has no essential meaning for humankind. People may perceive it as purposeful or fast, but that is only because of their capacity to deceive themselves. Time, in the final line of the poem, truly bears an “inhuman” message, one that people could never understand because it is totally alien to them. The human perception of time will always be in human terms. It is as if human nature forever cuts humanity off from the rest of existence because people seek meaning and sense where none exists and find only themselves, their thoughts, and their feelings.

Szymborska’s assertion that the human mind’s activities and attempted interpretations of the world reflect only human reality resembles some of the insights offered by Buddhist and Hindu doctrines: The world is essentially an illusion, and profound understanding of existence must come through the mind itself. However, Szymborska does not offer teachings about the true nature of knowledge or the mind but only suggests that no one may fully grasp the inhumanity of the universe. She has mused over the emotional implications nature scenes have for many observers and has suggested that there are no meanings or essential emotions to be connected with such scenes. She implies that the human habit of contemplating their place in the world is best answered by suggesting that people may truly have no place in existence except for whatever places they create in their own thought.

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