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Monday, September 5, 2011

Number 254: Wislawa Szymborska "Seen From Above"

Seen From Above

On a dirt road lies a dead beetle.
Three pairs of legs carefully folded on his belly.

Instead of death's chaos – neatness and order.

The horror of this sight is mitigated,

the range strictly local, from witchgrass grass to spearmint.

Sadness is not contagious.

The sky is blue.

For our peace of mind, their death seemingly shallower,
animals do not pass away, but simply die,
losng – we wish to believe – less awareness and the world,
leaving – it seems to us – a stage less tragic.
Their humble little souls do not haunt our dreams,
they keep their distance,
know their place.

So here lies the dead beetle on the road,
glistens unlamented when the sun hits.
A glance at him is as good as a thought:
he looks as though nothing important had befallen him.
What's important is valid supposedly for us.
For just our life, for just our death,
a death that enjoys an extorted primacy.

--Wislawa Szymborska
(translated by Magnus J. Krynski and Robert A. Maguire)

Hap Notes: Ah, the superiority of large creatures! How we love to think that our lives have meaning and thoughts and philosophies and other creatures do not. It's interesting to note that much that we have learned about other creatures in the last 50 years supports the idea that they converse in their own ways. The Human Genome Project shows that we have a good deal in common with the worm.

I don't exactly know why people are repulsed by, let alone not sympathetic to, insects. They are so fascinating and often quite beautiful. Remember the James K. Baxter Poem we did about the wild bees? (Here it is if you want a refresher: See where he compares the raiding of a bee hive to the siege of Carthage? Why do we think we are superior to other creatures? And for those thinking of the Bible and all that "man will have dominion over the earth," one wonders if that phrase doesn't carry with it a heavy responsibility?

I'm not suggesting that you invite a spider to tea or have a cluster of ladybugs over for dinner (although that would be mighty nice of you) but each creature has function and meaning on the planet, do they not? This planet is whirling with tangles of the births and deaths of millions of creatures every day. Isn't that an amazing miracle when one thinks of the stages needed to create or kill any living organism? Makes your head spin, doesn't it?

The universe is a very busy place. It's not a bad idea to stop and rejoice/lament all this with an open heart.

Note the title of this poem. What does it imply aside from our obvious height difference with a beetle?

Here's where we've talked about Szymborska before:

The masthead, in addition to a dead beetle (I believe it's a Stag Beetle), features a picture of witchgrass and also, jewelry made from dead beetles. It's cool looking stuff but the idea of using dead creatures for adornment is somewhat abhorrent and speaks directly to the point of the poem, does it not?
(Here's where I found the jewelry:

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