Polish poet wins nobel prize for literature

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — A shy, 73-year-old Polish poet who disavowed her Stalinist past to become an inspiration for movie makers and rock bands won the Nobel Prize for literature Thursday.
Wislawa Szymborska had gone for a walk in the southern Polish holiday resort of Zakopane just before the Swedish Academy announced the $1.12 million award.
“I am very happy, I am honored, but at the same time stunned and a little bit frightened with what awaits me,” she told Poland’s Radio Zet. “I’m afraid I will not have a quiet life for some time now, and this is what I prize the most.”
Arguably Poland’s most popular poet, Szymborska’s work inspired the 1994 movie “Red” as well as providing lyrics for Polish rock stars. Critics say she is both deeply political and witty, using humor in unexpected ways.
The citation described her as a “Mozart of poetry,” a woman who mixed elegance of language with “the fury of Beethoven” and who was not afraid to tackle serious subjects with levity.
Szymborska’s later poetry is revenge of sorts against her first two books, published in 1952 and 1954, both attempts to conform to social realism at a time when Communist censorship held sway over Poland.
She later disclaimed both books and became a critic of Josef Stalin, likening him to the Abominable Snowman in the 1957 poem “Calling Out to Yeti.”
Szymborska (pronounced vees-WAH-wah sheem-BOR-skah) “is very reserved. Some call her shy but she is a very intense person,” said Sture Allen, the secretary for the Swedish Academy.
Praise quickly poured in from her native country for the first of this year’s Nobel laureates.
“Again, Poland was noticed, and first of all this woman was noticed — so modest as a person and so great in spirit,” former President Lech Walesa, the 1983 Nobel peace laureate, told Radio Zet.
In a burst of patriotic fever, Polish Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko said he will exempt Szymborska, a native of the medieval city of Krakow, from paying tax on the prize money.
Szymborska’s influence and works have spread beyond literary circles into Poland’s popular culture.
Polish rock singer Cora put her poem “Nothing Twice” into song last year, and another Szymborska poem, “Love At First Sight,” inspired the lauded, enigmatic movie “Red” by the late Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Her most recent book, “The End and the Beginning” from 1993, is not yet translated into English. Works available in English include “View With a Grain of Sand,” “People on a Bridge” and “Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems.”
One publisher, Harcourt Brace, ordered 12,000 more copies of “View with a Grain of Sand” and said they should be in U.S. bookstores within 10 days.
The Swedish Academy keeps its deliberations secret and the criteria it uses for choosing winners are not known, other than the prize’s basic stipulation that it honor fine writing.
Szymborska is the third woman in the past six years to win the literature prize, after American Toni Morrison in 1993 and Nadine Gordimer of South Africa in 1991.
The Nobel Prizes in medicine, economics, physics and chemistry will be announced next week in Stockholm, followed by the peace prize on October 11 in Oslo.

Examples of the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska. The selections are from books translated from Polish into English.
From “The Joy of Writing”

The joy of writing.
Power of preserving.
The Revenge of a mortal hand.
From “On Death, Without Exaggeration”

There is no life
that couldn’t be immortal
if only for a moment.