Table of Contents
Early life and education
Born in Kornic, Poland, Szymborska’s family moved to Krakow in 1931, where she is still based. When World War II broke out in 1939, she continued her education in underground lessons. From 1943, she worked as a railroad employee and managed to avoid being deported to Germany as a forced labourer. It was during this time that her career as an artist began with illustrations for an English-language textbook. She also began writing stories and occasional poems. lDuring 1945-1948 she studied Polish Literature and Sociology at the Jagiellonian University. Szymborska made her début in March 1945 with a poem “Szukam slowa” (I am Looking for a Word) in the daily “Dziennik Polski”.
Poetry, communism, and politics
During Stalinism in Poland in 1953 she participated in the defamation of Catholic priests from Kraków who were groundlessly condemned by the ruling Communists to death. Her first book was denied publication in 1949 since it did not pass censorship. Despite this, she remained loyal to communist ideology in her early career, praising Stalin and socialism. Her political views are reflected in her debut collection Dlatego żyjemy (“That is what we are living for”), containing the poems Lenin and Młodzieży budującej Nową Hutę (“For the Youth that Builds Nowa Huta”), about the construction of a Stalinist industrial town near Kraków. She also became a member of the ruling Polish United Workers’ Party.
Szymborska gradually grew estranged from socialist ideology and renounced her earlier political work. Although she did not officially leave the party until 1966, she began to establish contacts with dissidents. As early as 1957, she befriended Jerzy Giedroyc, the editor of the influential Paris-based emigré journal Kultura, to which she also contributed.
In 1953, she joined the staff of the literary review magazine Życie Literackie (“Literary Life”), where she continued to work until 1981 and from 1968 ran her own book review column entitled Lektury Nadobowiązkowe (“Non-compulsory Reading”). Many of her essays from this period were later published in book form. From 1981 to 1983, Szymborska was an editor of the Kraków-based monthly Pismo. During the 1980s, she intensified her oppositional activities, contributing to the samizdat periodical Arka under the pseudonym “Stańczykówna”, as well as to Kultura in Paris.
During 1953-1981 she worked as poetry editor and columnist in the Kraków literary weekly “Zycie Literackie” where the series of her essays “Lektury nadobowiazkowe” appeared (the series has been renewed lately in the addition to “Gazeta Wyborcza”-“Gazeta o Ksiazkach”). The collection “Lektury nadobowiazkowe” was published in the form of a book four times.
Szymborska has published 16 collections of poetry: Dlatego zyjemy (1952), Pytania zadawane sobie (1954), Wolanie do Yeti (1957), Sól (1962), Wiersze wybrane (1964), Poezje wybrane (1967), Sto pociech (1967), Poezje (1970), Wszelki wypadek (1972), Wybór wierszy (1973), Tarsjusz i inne wiersze (1976), Wielka liczba (1976), Poezje wybrane II (1983), Ludzie na moscie (1986). Koniec i poczatek (1993, 1996), Widok z ziarnkiem piasku. 102 wiersze (1996). Wislawa Szymborska has also translated French poetry.
Her poems have been translated in English, German, Swedish, Italian, Danish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Czech, Slovakian, Serbo-Croatian, Romanian, Bulgarian and other languages. They have also been published in many foreign anthologies of Polish poetry.
Wislawa Szymborska is the Goethe Prize winner (1991) and Herder Prize winner (1995). She has a degree of Honorary Doctor of Letters of Poznan University (1995). In 1996 she received the Polish PEN Club prize. She has also been awarded with distinctions by the city of Krakow (1954) and the Polish Ministry of Culture (1963).