Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, winner of the Nobel prize for literature in 1996, died last week. A nice article by Dana Stevens of Slate shares a wonderful poem that touches on the mystery of what others think of us and why they behave towards us as they do. The poem takes on special meaning in light of her death. Of course she’ll never find out now. But given all the death and destruction Szymborska lived through–which included both the Nazi and the Stalinist conquests of Poland–some of the letters of the alphabet may have died themselves during those years. Or maybe it’s just that she got old and outlived them. As I read it, the poem, with stoic resignation, seems to relegate questions that once seemed of momentous importance to relative insignificance. But that’s just one interpretation. Like the poetry of Robert Frost, the tone of “ABC” is enigmatic so that each reader may read it differently.
I’ll never find out now
What A. thought of me.
If B. ever forgave me in the end.
Why C. pretended everything was fine.
What part D. played in E.’s silence.
What F. had been expecting, if anything.
Why G. forgot when she knew perfectly well.
What H. had to hide.
What I. wanted to add.
If my being around
to J. and K. and the rest of the alphabet.