Like Yves Bonnefoy (21 February 2012 posting), Wislawa Szymborska (who died on 1 February 2012) was born in 1923. Like him she was concerned with the connections of the universal and the particular. Here, in "A Large Number," she reflects, as she did in "A Contribution to Statistics," on the human meaning that lies behind numbers:
A Large Number by Wislawa Szymborska
Four billion people on this earth,
but my imagination is till the same.
It’s bad with large numbers.
It’s still taken by particularity.
It flits in the dark like a flashlight,
illuminating only random faces
while all the rest go blindly by,
never coming to mind and never really missed.
But even a Dante couldn’t get it right.
Let alone someone who is not.
Even with all the muses behind me.
Non omnis moriar—a premature worry.
But I am entirely alive and is that enough.
It never was, and now less than ever.
My choices are rejections, since there is no other way,
but what I reject is more numerous,
denser, more demanding than before.
A little poem, a sigh, at the cost of indescribable losses.
I whisper my reply to my stentorian calling.
I can’t tell you how much I pass over in silence.
A mouse at the foot of the maternal mountain.
Life lasts as long as a few sighs scratched by a claw in the sand.
My dreams—even they’re not as populous as they should be.
They hold more solitude than noisy crowds.
Sometimes a long-dead friend stops by awhile.
A single hand turns the knob.
An echo’s annexes overgrow the empty house.
I run from the doorstep into a valley
that is quiet, as if no one owned it, already an anachronism.
Where, there’s still all this space inside me
I don’t know.
"A Large Number," translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, is found in Szymborska's View With a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems (Harcourt Brace, 1993).