“Nothing Twice” by Wisława Szymborska

I feel there is a sort of stigma against poems that rhyme. People seem to think they are appropriate for young children who are first learning about poetry. They’re fine for limmericks and jump-rope songs and Shel Silverstein, but not for serious, grown-up poetry. Well, as you’ve probably deduced by now, I beg to differ.

Granted, rhyming poetry is not something I consciously seek out, but then I came across the following poem by Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska (please wait with bated breathe for an upcoming post devoted to her).

I’d already found several poems of hers I’d loved, but this poem gave me respect for its translators. Can you imagine not just accurately translating a poem into another language (each language having its own idioms and nuances, both crucial in poetry), but ensuring that the poem rhymes – in both languages? It’s no wonder the translators, Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak, received the 1996 PEN translation prize for their work on Szymborska’s View with a Grain of Sand.


Nothing Twice 

Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice. 

Even if there is no one dumber,
if you’re the planet’s biggest dunce,
you can’t repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once. 

No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with precisely the same kisses. 

One day, perhaps some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent. 

The next day, though you’re here with me,
I can’t help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock? 

Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It’s in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow. 

With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we’re different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.


About Andrea Nicole

NZ enthusiast in the PNW. Internationally published writer, educator, grammar nerd, genealogist, and all-around storyteller. Recovering homebody. @Whitworth and @WGU alumna. #edchat
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