TOPICS > Arts

Robert Pinsky Reads Wislawa Szymborska’s Poem, “Hatred”

August 19, 1999 at 12:00 AM EST

TRANSCRIPT

ROBERT PINSKY: The cycles of mistrust, savagery, revenge and violation in the Balkans remind us what a powerful, important force hatred is in the world. Hatred drives much of what happens, public as well as private. The Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska comments on hatred in her poem of that title. Here it is, as translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh:

HATRED 

See how efficient it still is,
how it keeps itself in shape—
our century’s hatred.
How easily it vaults the tallest obstacles.
How rapidly it pounces, tracks us down.

It’s not like other feelings.
At once both older and younger.
It gives birth itself to the reasons
that give it life.
When it sleeps, it’s never eternal rest.
And sleeplessness won’t sap its strength; it feeds it.

One religion or another -
whatever gets it ready, in position.
One fatherland or another -
whatever helps it get a running start.
Justice also works well at the outset
until hate gets its own momentum going.
Hatred. Hatred.
Its face twisted in a grimace
of erotic ecstasy.

Oh these other feelings,
listless weaklings.
Since when does brotherhood
draw crowds?
Has compassion
ever finished first?
Does doubt ever really rouse the rabble?
Only hatred has just what it takes.

Gifted, diligent, hard-working.
Need we mention all the songs it has composed?
All the pages it has added to our history books?
All the human carpets it has spread
over countless city squares and football fields?

Let’s face it:
it knows how to make beauty.
The splendid fire-glow in midnight skies.
Magnificent bursting bombs in rosy dawns.
You can’t deny the inspiring pathos of ruins
and a certain bawdy humor to be found
in the sturdy column jutting from their midst.

Hatred is a master of contrast-
between explosions and dead quiet,
red blood and white snow.
Above all, it never tires
of its leitmotif – the impeccable executioner
towering over its soiled victim.

It’s always ready for new challenges.
If it has to wait awhile, it will.
They say it’s blind. Blind?
It has a sniper’s keen sight
and gazes unflinchingly at the future
as only it can.