a wandering woman writes

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Allegro Ma Non Troppo

Assisi, from Rocca Maggiore, as the morning fog clears.


A few weeks ago I fell madly in love with the poetry of Wislawa Szymborksa. I enjoyed the coincidence of meeting this Szymborska poem a day after I got back from Assisí. One morning in Assisi I dutifully recited all the Italian words I knew for my Italian breakfast companion at the B & B. I started strong, with the smattering of Italian I'd learned for the trip, and by the end of the performance, as la italiana enthusiastically cheered me on, I found the words I'd learned as a child reading sheet music: andante, vivace, lento, and, yes, allegro ma non troppo. Who says childhood piano lessons don't pay off?


Allegro Ma Non Troppo

Life, you're beautiful (I say)
you just couldn't get more fecund,
more befrogged or nightengaley,
more anthillful or sproutspouting.

I'm trying to court life's favor,
to get into its good graces,
to anticipate its whims.
I'm always the first to bow,

always there where it can see me
with my humble, irreverent face,
soaring in the winds of rapture,
falling under waves of wonder.

Oh how grassy is this hopper,
how this berry ripely rasps.
I would never have conceived it
if I weren't conceived myself!

Life (I say) I've no idea
what I could compare you to.
No one else can make a pine cone
and then make the cone's clone.

I praise your inventiveness,
bounty, sweep, exactitude,
sense of order - gifts that border
on witchcraft and wizardry.

I just don't want to upset you,
tease or anger, vex or rile.
For millenia, I've been trying
to appease you with my smile.

I tug at life by its leaf hem:
will it stop for me, just once,
momentarily forgetting
to what end it runs and runs?

by Wislawa Szymborska
from Poems, New and Collected, 1957 - 1997
Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh


I have always loved the sound of the Polish language, a common sound in Chicago, and I have to say, Syzmborska has me tempted to try to learn a bit, if only to read her poems as she wrote them.

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