Biography

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 446

Szymborska was born in Kornik in western Poland on July 2, 1923. In 1931, her family moved to Krakow. During World War II, when Germany occupied Poland, Szymborska attended school illegally. In March 1945, she published her first poem, “Szukam slowa” (“I am Looking for a Word”) in the daily Dziennik Polski. Later that year, she began a course of study in Polish literature and sociology at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, which she completed in 1948. She also finished her first collection of poetry that year, but the book was not published because the ruling Communist party in Poland found the work too complex and bourgeois. She revised the work to make it more political, and it was published in 1952 as Dlatego zyjemy (That’s What We Live For). Szymborska was later to disavow the political position she took in this and other early socialist-realist verse. From 1953 to 1981, Szymborska worked on the Krakow literary weekly Zycie Literacia (Literary Life) as poetry editor and wrote a weekly column. Her columns were later collected in several volumes under the title Lektury nadobowiazkowe (Optional Readings).

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While she worked at Zycie Literacia, Szymborska’s reputation in Poland grew steadily, although she remained an intensely private person. She published poetry, won national and international prizes, and traveled abroad to read and discuss her work. She published several slim volumes of verse during this time, including the 1972 work Wszelki wypadek (Could Have) in which “Astonishment” first appeared. The collection of twentyseven poems explores the diversity, plenitude, and richness of everyday life, which for the poet is a source of astonishment and inspires metaphysical questions. Like most of her mature work, the poems in the volume are not political and philosophically skeptical in tone.

In 1981, Szymborska resigned from Zycie Literacia and joined the editorial staff of the monthly magazine Pismo. She continued to write poetry and essays, translated French poetry, and gained influence in Poland’s literary circle as well as its underground press. In 1991, Szymborska won the Goethe Prize and in 1995, she was awarded the Herder Prize and received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Poznan University. In 1996, she received the Nobel Prize for literature. The Nobel Committee called her work “poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.” Szymborska has written that winning the Nobel Prize at age seventy-three came as a shock to her. A shy and self-effacing person, she was uncomfortable at being suddenly thrust into the limelight and besieged by reporters. Although she continues to publish and remains a force in Polish literary circles, Szymborska shies away from interviews and media attention and lives a quiet life in Krakow.

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