A Word on Statistics by Wislawa Szymborska

One of my favourite poets is Wislawa Szymborska and I can across this poem while watching Al Jazzera‘s coverage of the violence Libya.  (From the book Miracle Fair)


Out of every hundred people,
those who always know better:

Unsure of every step:
almost all the rest.

Ready to help,
if it doesn’t take long:

Always good,
because they cannot be otherwise:
four — well, maybe five.

Able to admire without envy:

Led to error
by youth (which passes):
sixty, plus or minus.

Those not to be messed with:

Living in constant fear
of someone or something:

Capable of happiness:
twenty-some-odd at most.

Harmless alone,
turning savage in crowds:
more than half, for sure.

when forced by circumstances:
it’s better not to know,
not even approximately.

Wise in hindsight:
not many more
than wise in foresight.

Getting nothing out of life except things:
(though I would like to be wrong).

Balled up in pain
and without a flashlight in the dark:
eighty-three, sooner or later.

Those who are just:
quite a few, thirty-five.

But if it takes effort to understand:

Worthy of empathy:

one hundred out of one hundred —
a figure that has never varied yet.

(translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak)

2 thoughts on “A Word on Statistics by Wislawa Szymborska”

  1. Szymborska is an incredibly talented and accessible poet. If you like her, you should check out the poetry of her compatriot, Tadeusz Rozewicz.

    W.W. Norton has just published a new collection of Rozewicz’s poetry titled “Sobbing Superpower.” My personal favorite is the poem, “On Felling A Tree.” Like Szymborska, Rozewicz has an ecological consciousness, with poems about mad cow disease, zoos, etc., but his poetry is both broader and deeper than Szymborska’s. Joanna Trzeciak does a wonderful job translating both poets.

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