Wislawa Szymborska: “Thank-You Note”

Photo by Stas Novikov

I owe so much
to those I don’t love.

The relief as I agree
that someone else needs them more.

The happiness that I’m not
the wolf to their sheep.

The peace I feel with them,
the freedom –
love can neither give
nor take that.

I don’t wait for them,
as in window-to-door-and-back.
Almost as patient
as a sundial,
I understand
what love can’t,
and forgive
as love never would.

From a rendezvous to a letter
is just a few days or weeks,
not an eternity.

Trips with them always go smoothly,
concerts are heard,
cathedrals visited,
scenery is seen.

And when seven hills and rivers
come between us,
the hills and rivers
can be found on any map.

They deserve the credit
if I live in three dimensions,
in nonlyrical and nonrhetorical space
with a genuine, shifting horizon.

They themselves don’t realize
how much they hold in their empty hands.

“I don’t owe them a thing,”
would be love’s answer
to this open question.

• Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

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