“The End and the Beginning” by Wisława Szymborska

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

—Wisława Szymborska, from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wisława Szymborska, 2001. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY. Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak. Copyright 2001 by Wisława Szymborska.

5 thoughts on ““The End and the Beginning” by Wisława Szymborska

  1. Leyland Ryan

    So sad, so dark, so practical and hardnosed, so flint-eyed to the end; and then, it’s sweet and very fresh.


  2. Like Leyland noted above “practical and hardnosed.” This reminded me of how I felt after 9/11. It was heart wrenching to think of the lost people and mourning families, so I wondered about the practical. How would they ever clean that up? Who would do it? How would they ever be the same after doing so…


Comments are closed.