Wisława Szymborska Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Wisława Szymborska was born in Bnin (now Kórnik), a small town situated near Poznań in the western part of Poland. When she was eight years old, her family moved to Cracow, the city that the poet made her home for life. There, Szymborska went to a prestigious school for girls, run by nuns of the St. Ursula order. Her education was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II; she had to continue her schooling at clandestine classes, whereby she received her high school diploma. After the war, Szymborska studied sociology and Polish philology at the Jagiellonian University, but neither of those fields held enough interest for the young poet. She left the university in 1948 and embarked on a number of proofreading and editorial jobs.

In the years 1953-1981 Szymborska worked for the weekly Życie Literackie, where she was responsible for two extremely popular columns: Poczta literacka, featuring responses to aspiring writers and Lektury nadobowiązkowe, a series of playful commentaries on all sorts of reading matter.

In the early 1950’s Szymborska became a member of Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza (PZPR), the official party of the Communist regime. She gave up her membership in 1966, disillusioned by the party’s policies—a decision requiring considerable courage in the political climate of the time. Szymborska became part of the Cracow underground literary movement and cooperated with the monthly...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Wisawa Szymborska (shihm-BOHR-skah) is one of the most important Polish poets of the post-World War II period. During the second half of the twentieth century, there was a renaissance in Polish poetry, with a number of poets creating work of great breadth and power. Two poets of this era, in fact, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature: Czesaw Miosz in 1980 and Szymborska in 1996.awa}awa}awa}awa}

Wisawa Szymborska was born in 1923 in the small town of Bnin, near the larger city of Poznan. She lived in Bnin (now part of Kórnick) for her early years and moved to the city of Cracow in 1931; she has lived in Cracow ever since. She was selected for university work and graduated from the prestigious Jagellonian University, where she studied literature and languages, in the midst of World War II. She published her first poem in a Cracow newspaper in 1945. By 1948, she had a collection of twenty-six poems and attempted to have them published as a book. However, Poland was at that time a satellite of Russia, and the communist influence and ideology was very strong. Her proposed book was rejected as presenting a “morbid” rather than heroic treatment of World War II. In addition, it did not celebrate the triumph of the proletariat as communist ideology demanded. She was branded a purveyor of decadent art, and communist leaders began a campaign to undermine her work.

In 1952 Szymborska tried again to publish a book of poems. These poems, in contrast to the aborted collection of 1948, were on themes—such as the need for peace and an anti-Western stance—that the communist establishment found agreeable. However, there was a good deal of criticism of the style of the book; it was described as “agitation-propaganda in a ‘chamber music’ style.” Dlatego yjemy (that’s what we live for) was published in 1952, but Szymborska did not include any of the poems from that book in her collected works. She found a way to accommodate the authorities in this one instance, but it compromised her vision if not her literary technique.

In 1954 Szymborska published another book of poems, Pytania zadawane sobie (questions to put to myself). The poems of this collection directly reject the communist agenda and socialist poetics. The subjects of these poems include love and the consciousness of the self. Her typical wit, a quality for which communist ideology had little use, is always present.

Szymborska found her unique voice in the collection Woanie do Yeti (calling out to Yeti), published...

(The entire section is 1041 words.)