13+ Best Wislawa Szymborska Poems Everyone Should Read

Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature.

She is renowned for her thoughtful, poignant, and often wry observations of life. Her poetry combines elements of irony, wit, and deep philosophical insight, making her work both accessible and profound. Let’s delve into the themes and essences of some of her notable poems:

Famous Wislawa Szymborska Poems


I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.

“Possibilities” is a reflection on personal preferences and the small choices that define us. Szymborska lists various likes and dislikes, from the trivial to the profound, illustrating how these choices weave the fabric of our individuality. It’s a celebration of personal idiosyncrasies and the diverse possibilities of human nature.

True Love

True love. Is it normal
is it serious, is it practical?
What does the world get from two people
who exist in a world of their own?

Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
drawn randomly from millions but convinced
it had to happen this way – in reward for what?
For nothing.
The light descends from nowhere.
Why on these two and not on others?
Doesn’t this outrage justice? Yes it does.
Doesn’t it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

Look at the happy couple.
Couldn’t they at least try to hide it,
fake a little depression for their friends’ sake?
Listen to them laughing – it’s an insult.
The language they use – deceptively clear.
And their little celebrations, rituals,
the elaborate mutual routines –
it’s obviously a plot behind the human race’s back!

It’s hard even to guess how far things might go
if people start to follow their example.
What could religion and poetry count on?
What would be remembered? What renounced?
Who’d want to stay within bounds?

True love. Is it really necessary?
Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
like a scandal in Life’s highest circles.
Perfectly good children are born without its help.
It couldn’t populate the planet in a million years,
it comes along so rarely.

Let the people who never find true love
keep saying that there’s no such thing.

Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.

In “True Love,” Szymborska approaches the concept of love with her characteristic skepticism and irony. She questions the exclusivity and rarity of true love, pondering why it should be privileged among all human experiences. The poem humorously yet poignantly challenges societal and romantic ideals about love.

First Love

They say
the first love is the most important.
That’s very romantic
but it’s not the case with me.

There was something between us yet there wasn’t.
It transpired and expired.

My hands don’t tremble,
when I stumble upon small mementos
or a stack of letters wrapped in twine
—not even a ribbon.

Our only meeting after all these years
is a conversation between two chairs
at a cold table.

Other loves
still breathe deeply within me.
This one lacks the breath to sigh.

But still, just the way it is,
it can do what the rest are not yet able to do:
not even dreamt of
it accustoms me to death.

Translated by Joanna Trzeciak

“First Love” captures the universal and timeless nature of a person’s first romantic encounter. Szymborska explores the impact of first love on an individual’s life, suggesting its everlasting imprint despite its often fleeting nature. This poem dives into the sweetness and ache of young love, remembered and cherished.


Island where all becomes clear.
Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immermorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzling straight and simple.
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.

“Utopia” is an exploration of the concept of an ideal world. Szymborska presents a vision of utopia that is unattainable yet continuously sought after by humanity. The poem reflects on the paradox of striving for a perfect society, knowing it can never truly be achieved, highlighting the inherent contradictions and the beauty of human aspiration.

Going Home

He came home. Said nothing.
It was clear, though, that something had gone wrong.
He lay down fully dressed.
Pulled the blanket over his head.
Tucked up his knees.
He’s nearly forty, but not at the moment.
He exists just as he did inside his mother’s womb,
clad in seven walls of skin, in sheltered darkness.
Tomorrow he’ll give a lecture
on homeostasis in metagalactic cosmonautics.
For now, though, he has curled up and gone to sleep.

In “Going Home,” Szymborska delves into the feelings of returning to familiar places and the passage of time. This poem evokes nostalgia and the complex emotions associated with revisiting one’s roots, reflecting on change, memory, and the concept of home.


It’s good you came—she says.
You heard a plane crashed on Thursday?
Well so they came to see me
about it.
The story is he was on the passenger list.
So what, he might have changed his mind.
They gave me some pills so I wouldn’t fall apart.
Then they showed me I don’t know who.
All black, burned except one hand.
A scrap of shirt, a watch, a wedding ring.
I got furious, that can’t be him.
He wouldn’t do that to me, look like that.
The stores are bursting with those shirts.
The watch is just a regular old watch.
And our names on that ring,
they’re only the most ordinary names.
It’s good you came. Sit here beside me.
He really was supposed to get back Thursday.
But we’ve got so many Thursdays left this year.
I’ll put the kettle on for tea.
I’ll wash my hair, then what,
try to wake up from all this.
It’s good you came, since it was cold there,
and him just in some rubber sleeping bag,
him, I mean, you know, that unlucky man.
I’ll put the Thursday on, wash the tea,
since our names are completely ordinary

“Identification” is a poignant reflection on identity and the loss of individuality in the face of tragedy. The poem likely draws on post-war themes, critiquing how numbers and impersonal identification methods can erase personal history and humanity.

A Great Man’s House

It was written in marble in golden letters:
here a great man lived and worked and died.
He laid the gravel for these paths personally.
This bench — do not touch — he chiseled by himself
out of stone.
And — careful, three steps — we’re going inside.

He made it into the world at just the right time.
Everything that had to pass, passed in this house.
Not in a high rise,
not in square feet, furnished yet empty,
amidst unknown neighbors,
on some fifteenth floor,
where it’s hard to drag school field trips.

In this room he pondered,
in this chamber he slept,
and over here he entertained guests.
Portraits, an armchair, a desk, a pipe, a globe, a flute,
a worn-out rug, a sun room.
From here he exchanged nods with his tailor and
who custom made for him.

This is not the same as photographs in boxes,
dried out pens in a plastic cup,
a store-bought wardrobe in a store-bought closet,
a window, from which you can see clouds better
than people.

Happy? Unhappy?
That’s not relevant here.
He still confided in his letters,
without thinking they would be opened on their
He still kept a detailed and honest diary,
without the fear that he would lose it during a
The passing of a comet worried him most.
The destruction of the world was only in the hands
of God.

He still managed not to die in the hospital,
behind a white screen, who knows which one.
There was still someone with him who remembered
his muttered words.

He partook of life
as if it were reusable:
he sent his books to be bound;
he wouldn’t cross out the last names of the dead from
his address book.
And the trees he had planted in the garden behind
the house
grew for him as Juglans regia
and Quercus rubra and Ulmus and Larix
and Fraxinus excelsior.

This poem humorously critiques the reverence afforded to “great men” and the curiosity about their mundane lives. Szymborska’s irony highlights the absurdity of elevating these individuals, questioning what truly makes someone worthy of admiration.

Some People Like Poetry

Some people –
that means not everyone.
Not even most of them, only a few.
Not counting school, where you have to,
and poets themselves,
you might end up with something like two per thousand.

Like –
but then, you can like chicken noodle soup,
or compliments, or the color blue,
your old scarf,
your own way,
petting the dog.

Poetry –
but what is poetry anyway?
More than one rickety answer
has tumbled since that question first was raised.
But I just keep on not knowing, and I cling to that
like a redemptive handrail.

Szymborska comments on the subjective nature of poetry’s appeal in “Some People Like Poetry.” She notes that not everyone will love or understand poetry, and that’s perfectly okay—suggesting that poetry, like any art form, holds a unique and personal place for those who do connect with it.

Some People

Some people fleeing some other people.
In some country under the sun
and some clouds.

They leave behind some of their everything,
sown fields, some chickens, dogs,
mirrors in which fire now sees itself reflected.

On their backs are pitchers and bundles,
the emptier, the heavier from one day to the next.

Taking place stealthily is somebody’s stopping,
and in the commotion, somebody’s bread somebody’s snatching
and a dead child somebody’s shaking.

In front of them some still not the right way,
nor the bridge that should be
over a river strangely rosy.
Around them, some gunfire, at times closer, at times farther off,
and, above, a plane circling somewhat.

Some invisibility would come in handy,
some grayish stoniness,
or even better, non-being
for a little or a long while.

Something else is yet to happen, only where and what?
Someone will head toward them, only when and who,
in how many shapes and with what intentions?
Given a choice,
maybe he will choose not to be the enemy and
leave them with some kind of life.

In “Some People,” Szymborska reflects on the randomness of survival, likely drawing from the context of war. The poem contemplates the inexplicable fate that saves some while condemning others, delving into themes of life, death, and the arbitrary nature of existence.

Under one small Star

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.
Please, don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologize for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths.
I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at five a.m.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.
Pardon me, deserts, that I don’t rush to you bearing a spoonful of water.
And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the same cage,
your gaze always fixed on the same point in space,
forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.
My apologies to the felled tree for the table’s four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don’t pay me much attention.
Dignity, please be magnanimous.
Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from your train.
Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.
I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.
Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labor heavily so that they may seem light.

This poem is an apology to all the mistakes made unwittingly, emphasizing human imperfections. Szymborska seeks forgiveness from the universe, acknowledging her flaws under the vast, indifferent sky.

On Death, without Exaggeration

It can’t take a joke,
find a star, make a bridge.
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
building ships, or baking cakes.

In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.

It can’t even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.

Preoccupied with killing,
it does the job awkwardly,
without system or skill.
As though each of us were its first kill.

Oh, it has its triumphs,
but look at its countless defeats,
missed blows,
and repeat attempts!

Sometimes it isn’t strong enough
to swat a fly from the air.
Many are the caterpillars
that have outcrawled it.

All those bulbs, pods,
tentacles, fins, tracheae,
nuptial plumage, and winter fur
show that it has fallen behind
with its halfhearted work.

Ill will won’t help
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d’etat
is so far not enough.

Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies’ skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

Whoever claims that it’s omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it’s not.

There’s no life
that couldn’t be immortal
if only for a moment.

always arrives by that very moment too late.

In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you’ve come
can’t be undone.

Szymborska demystifies death, portraying it without the usual grandeur or fear associated with it. She speaks of death as an inevitable, ordinary part of life, stripping it of any power to awe or terrify, reflecting on its simplicity and inevitability.

The Three Oddest Words

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no non-being can hold.

“The Three Oddest Words” challenges the conventional meanings attached to everyday words. Szymborska finds it strange how common words like “I,” “You,” and “We” can carry profound, often unexplored implications about identity and relationships.

The Joy of Writing

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence – this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

Here, Szymborska celebrates the act of writing and the god-like power it affords the writer to create and control worlds. It’s a meditation on the creative process and the freedom and joy found in artistic expression.


How did she influence Polish literature?

Wislawa Szymborska, a Nobel Prize-winning poet, significantly influenced Polish literature with her unique voice, profound insights, and innovative approach to poetry.
Her work is characterized by its accessibility, intellectual depth, and exploration of philosophical themes through everyday occurrences and objects.
Szymborska’s poetry has been praised for its precision, wit, and ability to illuminate complex ideas in a relatable manner.
She brought a fresh perspective to Polish literature, focusing on the individual’s experience within the broader context of history, morality, and existential questions, thereby expanding the thematic and stylistic boundaries of Polish poetry.

What are some of her themes?

Szymborska’s poetry encompasses a wide range of themes, including but not limited to:

The intricacies and paradoxes of human experience
The beauty and mystery of existence
The impact of history on individual lives
Love, in its various forms and manifestations
The natural world and our place within it
The limitations of human knowledge and understanding
The absurdity of war and political oppression

Her work often reflects a deep curiosity about the world and a compassionate, yet unsentimental, observation of life.

What does the poem “The Onion” mean?

In “The Onion,” Szymborska explores the complexity and layered nature of reality through the simple metaphor of an onion. The poem suggests that, like an onion, truth and existence consist of many layers, and peeling them away does not necessarily lead to a core or a simple answer. The onion becomes a symbol of the endless depth of being, challenging the notion of a singular truth or meaning. The poem is a reflection on the nature of understanding and the endless quest for knowledge.

What is the theme of the poem “The End and the Beginning” by Wislawa Szymborska?

“The End and the Beginning” contemplates the aftermath of war and the human effort required to rebuild and move on from devastation. The poem suggests that after the dramatic events (“the end”), the slow and often overlooked work begins: clearing the rubble, repairing the damage, and healing. The theme revolves around the cyclical nature of history, the resilience required to face the consequences of conflict, and the understated, mundane efforts that are necessary for recovery and new beginnings.

What is the meaning of “True Love” by Wisława Szymborska?

In “True Love,” Szymborska takes a somewhat ironic and skeptical view of the concept of true love as a unique and exclusive bond that fate has destined for two people. She questions the statistical improbability and the societal expectations surrounding the notion of finding one’s “one and only” love.
The poem reflects on the randomness of love and challenges romantic clichés, urging readers to appreciate love’s presence without succumbing to the pressure of its traditional mythologies. Through her characteristic wit, Szymborska invites us to ponder the everyday miracle of connecting with another person in a world teeming with possibilities.

Wislawa Szymborska’s poetry invites readers to ponder life’s complexities, ironies, and the beauty hidden in the mundane. Through her work, she engages with the existential, encouraging a deeper appreciation for the nuanced tapestry of human experience.