Wislawa Szymborska

(2 July 1923 – 1 February 2012 / Prowent)

Hunger Camp At Jaslo - Poem by Wislawa Szymborska

Write it. Write. In ordinary ink
on ordinary paper: they were given no food,
they all died of hunger. "All. How many?
It's a big meadow. How much grass
for each one?" Write: I don't know.
History counts its skeletons in round numbers.
A thousand and one remains a thousand,
as though the one had never existed:
an imaginary embryo, an empty cradle,
an ABC never read,
air that laughs, cries, grows,
emptiness running down steps toward the garden,
nobody's place in the line.

We stand in the meadow where it became flesh,
and the meadow is silent as a false witness.
Sunny. Green. Nearby, a forest
with wood for chewing and water under the bark-
every day a full ration of the view
until you go blind. Overhead, a bird-
the shadow of its life-giving wings
brushed their lips. Their jaws opened.
Teeth clacked against teeth.
At night, the sickle moon shone in the sky
and reaped wheat for their bread.
Hands came floating from blackened icons,
empty cups in their fingers.
On a spit of barbed wire,
a man was turning.
They sang with their mouths full of earth.
"A lovely song of how war strikes straight
at the heart." Write: how silent.
"Yes."


Translated by Grazyna Drabik and Austin Flint

Anonymous submission.


Comments about Hunger Camp At Jaslo by Wislawa Szymborska

  • Gold Star - 13,409 Points Terry Craddock (5/9/2015 5:53:00 PM)

    'Hunger Camp At Jaslo' by Wislawa Szymborska is an act of genocide in an open field. The poet declares

    Write it. Write. In ordinary ink
    on ordinary paper: they were given no food,
    they all died of hunger. All. How many?
    It's a big meadow. How much grass
    for each one? Write: I don't know.

    Such powerful emotive images in simple words, the details, 'they all died of hunger' gives an indication of the duration of their suffering. The questions, 'All. How many? ' and 'It's a big meadow. How much grass/ for each one? ' indicates the scale of this inhuman slaughter.

    The killing is calculated cruelty, cold impersonal, which the poet writes in an illustrative form indicating we shall never know details of their personalities, starvation murdered lives, with the words

    Write: I don't know.
    History counts its skeletons in round numbers.
    A thousand and one remains a thousand,

    which leads to the rounding off of this atrocity as impersonal impartial figures, mass murder as mere indifferent figures on a page. The juxtaposition of these words with personalized verse tracing back the uncounted one to the expectations, hopeful joys of pregnancy to birth, to early childhood ABC, the laughs cries, growing into emptiness is brilliantly defined as

    as though the one had never existed:
    an imaginary embryo, an empty cradle,
    an ABC never read,
    air that laughs, cries, grows,
    emptiness running down steps toward the garden,
    nobody's place in the line

    seems to depict a young child; viciously murdered through deliberate prolonged starvation.

    In the second stanza, nature bears witness to this crime, with focus upon the selected chosen scene of mass murder, where we are taken included with the words 'We stand in the meadow where it became flesh'; the flesh of our corpses will litter this field but 'the meadow is silent as a false witness./ Sunny. Green. Nearby, a forest'. Thus we are told this crime is not hidden in a dark hidden location, but committed in the open in a beautiful sunny place.

    The struggle of the suffering starving trying to survive is vividly described as

    ... a forest
    with wood for chewing and water under the bark-
    every day a full ration of the view
    until you go blind.

    Freedom life is viewed observed, in the envy of a bird free to fly away to live, to escape this place of skeletal encroaching death with

    Overhead, a bird-
    the shadow of its life-giving wings
    brushed their lips.

    This image quickly turns to nightmare scavenging, as birds eat flesh around heads, the 'life-giving wings' which 'brushed their lips'; turns to scavengers feeding upon human corpses, eating flesh lips down to the teeth as 'Their jaws opened./ Teeth clacked against teeth' reveals. Even the glorious moon becomes a motif of death because 'At night, the sickle moon shone in the sky/ and reaped wheat for their bread.' The moon nightly illuminates mass murder, sickle harvests their bodies.

    A ghostly disembodied image of hunger is the haunting line, 'Hands came floating from blackened icons, / empty cups in their fingers.' A concentration camp image of electrified imprisonment wire, confining this dehumanized humanity is graphic

    On a spit of barbed wire,
    a man was turning.

    The planning of this mass death is as precise as the barbecue roasting of a pig. 'They sang with their mouths full of earth' could have a major twofold meaning, in starvation they tried to eat earth in hunger and died, also depicting, corpses buried in earth. These atrocities cannot be dismissed with the excuse this is war as the line

    A lovely song of how war strikes straight
    at the heart. declares. We are left with the final words

    Write: how silent.
    Yes.

    These words are an accusation directed at governments, which knew these atrocities were happening and did nothing, and against all the silent witnesses, and the murdering perpetrators of the crime. The poem is masterful 10+++ (Report) Reply

    3 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Gold Star - 36,050 Points Chinedu Dike (5/9/2015 10:43:00 AM)

    A lovely narrative poem nicely penned. Thanks for sharing. (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: history, running, food, war, moon, song, green, water, sky, night



Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003



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