Wisława Szymborska Biography

(Polish Poet, Essayist, Translator and Winner of 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature)

Birthday: July 2, 1923 (Cancer)

Born In: Kórnik, Poland

Wisława Szymborska was a Polish poet, essayist and translator. Based at Kraków since the age of eight, she had her fair share of trouble because of untimely death of her father and German occupation of Poland. Although she started writing poems at the age of five and had her debut in Kraków newspaper at the age of 22, circumstances did not allow her to publish her first book until she was 29. Her first book, which was to be published in 1949, did not pass censorship as it did not reflect the communist ideology. Therefore, she changed her style and her next two books followed the party line. Later she regretted her stance and admitted that it was a mistake. With time, her works became more mature and became famous for ironic precision. Paradox, contradiction and understatements were other hallmarks of her works. She was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. Described as the ‘Mozart of Poetry’ Szymborska kept on writing poems almost till her death.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska

Died At Age: 88


Spouse/Ex-: Adam Włodek

father: Wincenty Szymborski

mother: Anna Szymborski

Nobel Laureates In Literature Poets

Died on: February 1, 2012

place of death: Kraków, Poland

Cause of Death: Lung Cancer

Notable Alumni: Jagiellonian University

More Facts

education: Jagiellonian University

awards: 1996 - Nobel Prize in Literature
1991 - Goethe Prize
1990 - Kościelski Award - People on a Bridge

1995 - Herder Prize
2006 - Nike Award: Audience Award - Colon

Childhood & Early Life
Wisława Szymborska was born on July 2, 1923 in Prowent, now a part of Kórnik town in western Poland. She was the second child of her parents, Wincenty Szymborska, and Anna (née Rottermund) Szymborski.
At the time of her birth, her mother was working as a steward under Count Władysław Zamoyski, who owned a large property including the town of Kórnik. When the count died in 1924, the family moved to Torun. Wislawa started writing poetry at the age of five while studying in an elementary school in Torun.
Environment at her home was quite intellectual; everybody read a lot and discussed about books. Wisława always showed her poems to her father and if he liked what she wrote he gave her coin as a reward.
For some reason, the family again made a move and in 1931, settled at Kraków, one of the oldest cities in Poland. Wisława was enrolled at a convent school in Kraków, but could not finish her studies there.
As the Second World War set in, Germany occupied Poland and in 1940, the Polish citizens were barred from attending public schools. Wisława continued her studies in an underground school. Her father had died by that time.
In 1943, she took up a job under a railroad company. This helped her to evade deportation to Germany as forced labor. This was also the period when she got the job of creating illustrations for an English language text book and began to write stories and poems.
When the war ended in 1945, Wisława enrolled at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow to study Polish literature. Later she shifted to sociology. However, she had to leave her studies in 1948 without earning her degree due to financial constraints.
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Wisława Szymborska began her literary career while studying at the Jagiellonian University. In March 1945, she made her debut in a Kraków newspaper called Dziennik Polski with her poem ‘Szukam słowa’ (I Seek the Word). Soon, many other poems began to appear in different local news papers and periodicals.
After leaving her studies in 1948, she took up the job of the secretary in a bi-weekly educational magazine. At the same time, she also worked as the illustrator for the magazine and continued to write poetry.
In 1949, she completed her first collection of poems. Unfortunately, the book did not pass censorship as the poems did not reflect the communist ideology of postwar Poland. Therefore, she began to work in that line.
Like most intellectuals of that era, young Szymborska’s early works reflected socialist philosophy followed by Poland at that time. Her debut collection ‘Dlatego żyjemy’ (That is what we are living for), published in 1952, contains many poems that echoed her political belief.
In 1953, she joined a weekly magazine called Życie Literackie (Literary Life) as an editorial staff. Some time now, she also became a member of Polish United Workers’ Party. Her next collection, ‘Pytania zadawane sobie’ (Questions Put to Myself), published in 1954, echoed the same socialist sentiment.
However, she soon got disillusioned with communist ideology and her third collection ‘Wołanie do Yeti’ (Calling Out to Yeti), published in 1957, bears testimony to such shifts. Poems in this collection show her deep concern for humanity and in one poem, she compared Soviet leader Stalin to an abominable snowman. Ultimately, she severed all ties with Polish United Workers’ Party.
It was ‘Sol’ (Salt), published in 1962, which established her as a mature poet. Since then, she wrote numerous poems. In all, she had 21 books to her credit. Her last book ‘Błysk rewolwru’ (The Glimmer of a Revolver) was published posthumously in 2013.
Indeed, Szymborska was not just a famous poet. Over the years, she also gained considerable reputation for her book reviews and translations of French poetry. From 1968, she ran her own book review column called ‘Lektury Nadobowiązkowe’. Later she published many of these essays as a book.
Her association with Życie Literackie ended in 1981 and for next two years she was the editor of NaGlos (OutLoud), a Kraków-based monthly periodical. At the same time, she intensified her oppositional activities.
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This was also the time when she began to contribute to the dissident periodical called Arka. However, she used a pseudonym ‘Stańczykówna’. Besides, she also made regular contribution to the Kultura, a leading Polish-émigré literary-political magazine, published from Paris.
Major Works
Among Szymborska’s collections, ‘Sól’ (1962; Salt), ‘Sto pociech’ (1967; No End of Fun), and ‘Wszelki wypadek’ (1972; Could Have) are most noteworthy. The poems in these three collections are especially remarkable for their language and precision. At the same time they all posses a sense of ironic detachment.
’Dwukropek’ (Colon), published in 2005, is another of her major works. It was selected as the best book of 2006 by readers of Gazeta Wyborcza, a popular newspaper published from Warsaw.
Awards & Achievements
Wisława Szymborska was awarded 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature "for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality"
Other than the Nobel Prize, Szymborska received many other prizes including the Polish Ministry of Culture Prize (1963), Goethe Prize (1991), Herder Prize (1995) and Polish PEN Club prize (1996) etc.
In 1995, she was bestowed with Honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznan).
In 2011, Szymborska received Order Orła Białego or the Order of the White Eagle. It is the highest honor bestowed to any individual by the Government of Poland.
Personal Life & Legacy
Wisława Szymborska married poet Adam Włodek in 1948. Their little house at 22 Krupnicza Street in Kraków became a hub for the writers. However, the couple split up in 1954; but remained close friends till death. They did not have any children.
She died peacefully in her sleep on February 1, 2012 at her home in Kraków. She was then 88 years old and was working on a new poem.
Today Szymborska’s poems have been included in school syllabus. Now she is also an internationaly known poet and her work has been translated into different European languages like English, French and German as well as into Asian languages like Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese.

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