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Ball point pen on today's newspaper

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.

Death
always arrives by that very moment too late.

By Wislawa Szymborska

Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska died from complications with lung cancer. She was 88

2 Comments
  1. Pat
    February 2, 2012 -

    I love this comical characterization of death's defeat by Wislawa Szymborska.

  2. February 2, 2012 -

    Death has no skills...that's brilliant. The suffering and their loved ones long for more efficiency, the able-bodied long for less. As long as there are people who continue to love her work, then she can be immortal, even if for a moment.