Wislawa Szymborska
A Little on the Soul


Periodically one has a soul.

Nobody has it all the time

and forever.


Day after day

year after year

can pass without it.


Sometimes only in rapture

and in fears of childhood

it dwells within longer.

Sometimes only in the astonishment,

that we have become old.


It rarely assists us

in strenuous pursuits,

such as moving furniture,

carrying suitcases

or tromping through a road in tight shoes.


While filling in forms

and chopping meat

it usually takes the day off.


In a thousand of our conversations

it participates in one,

and not even necessarily in one,

preferring silence.


When our bodies start aching more and more,

it silently leaves the ward.


It's fussy:

it doesn't see us immediately in a crowd,

it sickens at our attempts at mere advantage

and the shrill clamor of business.


Joy and sorrow

are not all that different to it.

Only in the combination of them

does it stand up.


We can rely on it,

when we are certain of nothing,

and when everything seizes us.


Among all material objects

it likes best clocks with pendulums

and mirrors, which work fervently,

even when no one looks.


It doesn't say where it comes from

and when it will disappear next,

but it clearly awaits such questions.


It looks like,

as much as we need it,

also it

needs us for something too.



Translated from the Polish by
Rick Hilles and Maya Jablonsk
Michigan Quarterly Review, Summer 2003