Wislawa Szymborska takes on the whole universe in her poem “Metaphysics.” She mentions the rules of a foregone game that we are all participating in. Through the passage of time we are all subject to the same conditions. “It’s been and gone./ It’s been, so it’s gone.” The poem is taking on the large and difficult to define world of metaphysics. She is speaking in vague terms of the existence of “something” and how it recedes into past tense. The poem ends with humor “until it was gone,/ even the fact/ that today you had a side of fries.” This side of fries is the first specific reference in the poem. It is a small thing in terms of the whole cosmos, but it grounds the “something”. The something can be as small as a side of fries, but it is easy to place such an event in the past. Many of Szymborska’s poems do this, opening the universe up and then narrowing it down into a tiny detail. The fries stand in as an instance of order and simplicity in a universe that is difficult to conceptualize in its vastness.
Szymborska’s poem “Divorce” deals with the aftermath of the ending of a marriage. It is a personal narrative that is very different from “Metaphysics”. The poem deals mostly with the division of belongings as one person leaves the home. ‘For the walls bright squares where pictures once hung”. Still divorce is “For the kids the first ending of the world”. Eight out of the thirteen lines begin with the word “for.” The repetition lends rhythm to the poem. The last line in the poem contemplates when the two people joined in marriage became separate again. “Are they still linked with the conjunction ‘and’/ or does a period divide them.” She is listing objects that should not or cannot be equally divided, a VCR, a car, a set of encyclopedias. The tone of the poem is serious, although she touches does treat it with a bit of humor. Mentioning that the car “better if there were two” is funny, but doesn’t take the reader away from the subject of the poem which is a sad one.
In her collection, Here, Szymborska moves comfortably between discussing the entire universe to moving into the personal moments that make up a life.