Avva has linked a site with three poems by Wislawa Szymborska, the first two with the Polish original accompanied by a translation into English and several into Russian, the last only in Polish and Russian. It’s a good opportunity to at least get a sense of what the originals are like, and of course if you know Russian it’s a feast of multiple translations.

Here’s a sample—Polish (without diacritics) and English—from Avva’s entry:

Dwie malpy Bruegla
Tak wyglada moj wielki maturalny sen:
siedza w oknie dwie malpy przykute lancuchem,
za oknem fruwa niebo
i kapie sie morze.
Zdaje z historii ludzi.
Jakam sie i brne.
Malpa wpatrzona we mnie, ironicznie slucha,
druga niby to drzemie —
a kiedy po pytaniu nastaje milczenie,
podpowiada mi
cichym brzakaniem lancucha.
I keep dreaming of my graduation exam:
in a window sit two chained monkeys,
beyond the window floats the sky,
and the sea splashes.
I am taking an exam on the history of mankind:
I stammer and flounder.
One monkey, eyes fixed upon me, listens ironically,
the other seems to be dozing —
and when silence follows a question,
he prompts me
with a soft jingling of the chain.
Translation by Magnus Y. Krynski, Robert A. Maguire


  1. I have always been fascinated by Polish-English translations. The phraseology of polish seems so much more poetic than the English because it is so much more flexible in terms of word order.
    In short, part of the poetry in polish is the choice of possible word order from a multitude of options. In English, as a result, the phraseology seems a little constricted.

  2. What a nasty habit! No diacritics.
    I do not like the idea at all.

  3. Michael Farris says

    Here’s a version with the appropriate diacritics (unless I missed one or two). And as to be expected, I’m not so sure I like this translation and so I’ve done my own (provisional, be kind)
    Here’s the diacriticized original:
    Dwie małpy Bruegla
    Tak wygląda mój wielki maturalny sen:
    siedzą w oknie dwie małpy przykute łańcuchem,
    za oknem fruwa niebo
    i kąpie się morze.
    Zdaję z historii ludzi.
    Jąkam się i brnę.
    Małpa wpatrzona we mnie, ironicznie słucha,
    druga niby to drzemie —
    a kiedy po pytaniu nastaje milczenie,
    podpowiada mi
    cichym brząkaniem łańcucha.
    And my preliminary provisional version. (note, I’ve tried to keep the syllable count roughly even and I use ‘she’ for the monkey since it is grammatically feminine in Polish)
    Two monkeys of Bruegel
    This is the dream of my final oral exam:
    two monkeys sit in the window held by a chain,
    past the window flies the sky
    and the ocean depths swim.
    I recite from human history.
    I stutter and blunder.
    One monkey stares at me, ironically listening,
    the other pretends to nap –
    and when silence follows a question,
    she whispers the answer
    with a soft jangle of her chain.

  4. Thanks!

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