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A Few Words on the Soul

September 29, 2012

This is a poem by Wislawa Szymborska, h/t Catalina.

We have a soul at times.
No one’s got it non-stop,
for keeps.

Day after day,
year after year
may pass without it.

it will settle for awhile
only in childhood’s fears and raptures.
Sometimes only in astonishment
that we are old.

It rarely lends a hand
in uphill tasks,
like moving furniture,
or lifting luggage,
or going miles in shoes that pinch.

It usually steps out
whenever meat needs chopping
or forms have to be filled.

For every thousand conversations
it participates in one,
if even that,
since it prefers silence.

Just when our body goes from ache to pain,
it slips off-duty.

It’s picky:
it doesn’t like seeing us in crowds,
our hustling for a dubious advantage
and creaky machinations make it sick.

Joy and sorrow
aren’t two different feelings for it.
It attends us
only when the two are joined.

We can count on it
when we’re sure of nothing
and curious about everything.

Among the material objects
it favors clocks with pendulums
and mirrors, which keep on working
even when no one is looking.

It won’t say where it comes from
or when it’s taking off again,
though it’s clearly expecting such questions.

We need it
but apparently
it needs us
for some reason too.

Categories: musing
  1. Deborah gieringer
    September 29, 2012 at 10:37 am



  2. September 29, 2012 at 10:44 am

    My favorite stanza: Joy and sorrow…


  3. September 29, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    Beautiful! Here’s one for you, by my favorite poet, Mary Oliver:

    Some Questions You Might Ask

    Is the soul solid, like iron?
    Or is it tender and breakable, like
    the wings of a moth in the beak of an owl?
    Who has it, and who doesn’t?
    I keep looking around me.
    The face of the moose is as sad
    as the face of Jesus.
    The swan opens her white wings slowly.
    In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
    One question leads to another.
    Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
    Like the eye of a hummingbird?
    Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
    Why should I have it, and not the anteater
    who loves her children?
    Why should I have it, and not the camel?
    Come to think of it, what about maple trees?
    What about the blue iris?
    What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
    What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
    What about the grass?


  4. Becky Jaffe
    September 29, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Hi Mercy,

    Do you know this poem and/or poet?

    Love, Becky


  5. Emmanuel Kowalski
    October 1, 2012 at 1:52 am

    To be precise, this is a _translation_ of a poem by Wislawa Szymborska (the translators are Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)…


  1. October 18, 2012 at 3:00 pm
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