Sean Gapsar Bye at The Quarterly Conversation:
During the Polish poet Wisława Szymborska’s lifetime, it was commonly said that in Poland each of her new volumes was greeted with a rush to the bookshops, with enthusiastic readers even memorizing and reciting her verses. After winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, her fame spread worldwide. Modest and private, Szymborska found the experience mortifying—she reportedly referred to her Nobel Prize as “the Stockholm tragedy” and kept the medal itself in a drawer.
Szymborska and her fellow Nobel Prize–winner Czesław Miłosz formed two opposite poles (if you’ll pardon the expression) of the postwar generation of Polish poets. Miłosz’s intellectual seriousness and grandiose ego contrasted with Szymborska’s accessible wit and self-effacing charm. But much united them—both survived the Second World War, both embraced and then abandoned Communism, and both endeavored to express their country’s suffering through their work. Though chafing against the idea of political poetry, they shared with their fellow postwar poets a conviction that poetry should tackle the big questions—life and death, freedom and slavery.
By the time Szymborska passed away in 2012, she was one of the last exemplars of that school: Polish poetry had been blown wide open by the collapse of Communism two decades before, and, reconnected with the Western world, younger poets looked abroad for inspiration.