We knew the World Backwards and Forwards

“Life lasts but a few scratches of the claw in the sand.”

We knew the world backwards and forwards
So small it fit in a handshake
So easy it could be described in a smile
As plain as the echoes of old truths and a prayer

History did not greet us with triumphant fanfare
It flung dirty sand in our eyes
Ahead of us were distant roads leading nowhere
Poisoned wells, bitter bread

The spoils of war is our knowledge of the world
So large it fits in a handshake
So hard it could be described in a smile
As strange as the echoes of old truths and a prayer.

By Wisława Szymborska
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak