Born in Kraków in 1945, Ewa Lipska is one of Poland’s foremost poets. Since her debut collection in 1967, Lipska has published more than 20 books of poetry to great acclaim. Together with her friend, Nobel Prize-winning poet Wisława Szymborska, Lipska reinvented Polish poetry written by women by veering away from the sentimentalism with which it was associated at the time, and embracing a more intellectual and ironic verse. The poems below are part of Dear Ms. Schubert, freshly translated into English by Robin Davidson and Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska, for Princeton University Press. Get your copy here.
Dear Ms. Schubert, I can’t muffle the return of
the past. The noisy quarrels of foreign languages.
I can’t mute our loud hot-headed fevers.
The escapes from home. The penetrating smells
of funerals and mint. Life in quotation marks.
I can’t isolate the minority from the screams
of the larger whole. What does the doctor say?
It’s just an untreated case of chronic echo.
Dear Ms. Schubert, I dreamed
I went to confession. As you know, I’m
not a believer, and the dream took me by surprise.
A woman sat in the confessional and it’s to her
that, in a single breath, I told the story of the Nibelungs.
I spoke of hatred, love, revenge.
The woman burst out laughing and turned to dust.
Because courage frightens me, I immediately