Reading

Hatred Poem

Wislawa Szymborska, a Polish poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, describes “hatred” in a poem.


See how efficient it still is,

how it keeps itself in shape—

our century’s hatred.

How easily it vaults the tallest obstacles.

How rapidly it pounces, tracks us down.

 

A portrait of the Polish poet and winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in literature, Wislawa Szymborska, at the ceremony where she was decorated with the Order of the White Eagle of Poland, the highest decoration given to civilians in Poland.

 

It is not like other feelings.

At once both older and younger.

It gives birth itself to the reasons that give it life.

When it sleeps, it’s never eternal rest.

And sleeplessness won’t sap its strength; it feeds it.

 

One religion or another—

whatever gets it ready, in position.

One fatherland or another—

whatever helps it get a running start.

Just also works well at the outset

until hate gets its own momentum going.

Hatred. Hatred.

Its face twisted in a grimace

of erotic ecstasy.

 

Oh these other feelings, listless weaklings.

Since when does brotherhood draw crowds?

Has compassion ever finished first?

Does doubt ever really rouse the rabble?

Only hatred has just what it takes.

 

Gifted, diligent, hard-working.

Need we mention all the songs it has composed?

All the pages it has added to our history books?

All the human carpets it has spread

over countless city squares and football fields?

 

Let’s face it:

it knows how to make beauty.

The splendid fire-glow in midnight skies.

Magnificent bursting bombs in rosy dawns.

You can’t deny the inspiring pathos of ruins

and a certain bawdy humor to be found

in the sturdy column jutting from their midst.

 

Hatred is a master of contrast—between explosions and dead quiet,

red blood and white snow.

Above all, it never tires

of its leitmotif—the impeccable executioner

towering over its soiled victim.

 

It’s always ready for new challenges.

If it has to wait awhile, it will.

They say it’s blind. Blind?

It has a sniper’s keen sight

and gazes unflinchingly at the future

as only it can.1

Citations

  • 1 : “Hatred,” from View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems, by Wislawa Szymborksa, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. Copyright © 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Audio Version

A reading of Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska's poem “Hatred”. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.

Connection Questions

  1. What words does Wislawa Szymborska use to describe hatred? What factors does she consider most important in keeping hate alive? How are her views similar to those expressed in Readings 7 and 8? How do you account for differences?
  2. People often speak of hatred as “blind”? Why does Szymborska describe it as having “a sniper’s keen sight”? Do you agree?
  3. If you were to write a poem about hatred, what words would you use to describe it? How is it like other emotions? How is it different? Why does Szymborska see it as more powerful than other emotions? How does hatred get its power?
  4. In the introduction to the guide that Facing History and Ourselves created for his film Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg wrote of the Holocaust, “Even today the world has not yet learned the lesson of those terrible years. There are far too many places where hate, intolerance, and genocide still exist. Thus Schindler’s List is no less a “Jewish story” or a “German story” than it is a human story. And its subject matter applies to every generation.” To what extent do his comments apply to the hatred that inspired the Kishinev Massacre? To what extent is he describing “our century’s hatred”?

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