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By Wislawa Szymborska, from Map: Collected and Last Poems, due out next year from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Szymborska (1923–2012), a Polish poet, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh.

I misbehaved in the cosmos yesterday.
I lived around the clock without questions,
without surprise.

I performed daily tasks
as if only that were required.

Inhale, exhale, right foot, left, obligations,
not a thought beyond
getting there and getting back.

The world might have been taken for bedlam,
but I took it just for daily use.

No whats — no what fors —
and why on earth it is —
and how come it needs so many moving parts.

I was like a nail stuck only halfway in the wall
(comparison I couldn’t find).

One change happened after another
even in a twinkling’s narrow span.

Yesterday’s bread was sliced otherwise
by a hand a day younger at a younger table.

Clouds like never before and rain like never,
since it fell after all in different drops.

The world rotated on its axis,
but in a space abandoned forever.

This took a good 24 hours.
1,440 minutes of opportunity.
86,400 seconds for inspection.

The cosmic savoir vivre
may keep silent on our subject,
still it makes a few demands:
occasional attention, one or two of Pascal’s thoughts,
and amazed participation in a game
with rules unknown.


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September 1997

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