Friday, November 28, 2014


This is a portrait of my father's father, John Rukin Hopper--- 
probably taken at about the time he asked the young schoolteacher, 
who became the grandmother I resemble, to be his wife.


Billions of faces on the earth's surface.
Each different, so we're told,
from those that have been and will be.
But nature---since who really understands her?---
may grow tired of her ceaseless labors
and so repeats earlier ideas
by supplying us with preworn faces.

Those passersby might be Archimedes in jeans,
Catherine the Great draped in resale,
some pharaoh with briefcase and glasses.

An unshod shoemaker's widow
from a still pint-sized Warsaw,
the master from the cave at Altamira
taking his grandkids to the zoo,
a shaggy Vandal enroute to the museum
to gasp at past masters.

The fallen from two hundred centuries ago,
five centuries ago,
half a century ago.

One brought here in a golden carriage,
another conveyed by extermination transport
Montezuma, Confucius, Nebuchadnezzar,
their nannies, their laundresses, and Semiramide
who only speaks English.

Billions of faces on the earth's surface.
My face, yours, whose---
you'll never know.
Maybe nature has to shortchange us,
and to keep up, meet demand,
she fishes up what's been sunk
in the mirror of oblivion.

Wislawa Szymborska

Here; translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and 
Stanislaw Baranczak, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010, pp 7,9.

It is not difficult to ascertain why Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize. This poem jumps all over time and spaces, yet remains very clear. The echoes of things we know enrich our experience of the poem as we read. Here is another translation of the same poem; it wasn't clear to me from the web page who the translator was. Much can be learned from studying versions of the same poem by different translators! Because of the indexing, many of these works are now quite easy to find online.
And if you have even a slight acquaintance with more than one language, compare the original with the translations in editions that also present the original poem on the facing pages.

This young man made a strong impression on me when I went with my grandsons 
to the Odawa Powwow near Harbor Springs in Michigan
several years ago. It's a serious face.
I wonder what his life is like now.

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