Pop star and habitual drug abuser Whitney Houston died this weekend, and you'd have thought the world had come to an end. I didn't need Facebook or a television to hear the outcry of wailing and devastation. You'd have thought Jesus had returned, tripped over a garden hose, and impaled himself on a garden rake. No, on second thought, I doubt that would have provoked such an avalanche of publicly expressed grief.
But you know what? All death is sad, so I'm going to reroute myself in mid-blog and not make a point of comparing the avalanche of public grief poured out for a hollow pop star to the relative lack of acknowledgement of the passing of a writer considered legendary already in her own time.
I adore the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska. In my estimation it combines the best aspects of academic and what might be called post-confessional poetry. There's no artifice. There's no filter between her and reader. There's no bullshit. The only apt comparison I can make is to the work of misanthrope poet Charles Bukowski, also a favorite of mine. But Szymborska was a much better poet (and I consider Bukowski a very good to great writer). Enough of my stammering. Here is an example. A stunning poem. A poem simple enough to be accessible to every reader but deep enough to be read for an entire lifetime.
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?
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 - its 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.
Her poetry is ironic, funny, unique, but always soulful and full of dead-on observations about humanity and the situations we all find ourselves in. You feel less alone in a despair, a loneliness or a trial of faith when you read her work. I currently have no books written by Wislawa Szymborska in my home, and that is because when I have them I always decide someone else needs them more. No other writer's books have been passed on to others as often as hers.
After writing these words I am pacified. I have come to realize that pop stars and their meteoric rise to fame and sudden deaths will always capture the attention of the public, but a true artist creating in the rarefied strata of the immortals, the way Szymborska did, will be here for all the future generations who need her wit, her wisdom, and her unflinching insistence on humanity.