“Harmless Singly, Savage in Crowds”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOkay, time for a poetry break.

The poet is Wislawa Szymborska of Poland.  She lived through World War II, won the 1996 Nobel Prize in literature and died in 2012.

This particular poem is good for those of you who may walk into worship on Sunday mornings (or work on Monday), a bit apprehensive about who you will find, and what state they will be in.  How do you judge the character of those you share the pews with, or preach to?  And what baggage, what concealed emotional weapons do you suppose they carry with them?  Clutch this poem tightly in your fist next Sunday, scan the crowd, and figure out how to love them all.

A Contribution to Statistics

Out of a hundred people

those who always know better
— fifty-two

doubting every step
— nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand
if it doesn’t take too long
— as high as forty-nine,

always good
because they can’t be otherwise
— four, well maybe five,

 able to admire without envy
— eighteen,

 suffering illusions
induced by fleeting youth
— sixty, give or take a few,

 not to be taken lightly
— forty and four,

 living in constant fear

of someone or something
— seventy-seven,

capable of happiness
— twenty-something tops,

harmless singly, savage in crowds
— half at least,

when forced by circumstances
— better not to know
even ballpark figures,

wise after the fact
— just a couple more
than wise before it,

taking only things from life
— thirty

(I wish I were wrong),

 hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
— eighty-three
sooner or later,

— thirty-five, which is a lot,

and understanding
— three,

 worthy of compassion
— ninety-nine,

— a hundred out of a hundred.

Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

~ Wislawa Szymborska ~

(Poems: New and Selected, trans. by S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh)

One response to ““Harmless Singly, Savage in Crowds”

  1. Nancy Hoxworth


    You have the poet’s eye and a pastor’s heart — a rich combination.

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