Wislawa Szymborska: Biography and Works

The poetic production of Wisława Szymborska, although modest in quantity, about 350 published poems, was always highly appreciated by critics and readers. In it, we can appreciate the great personal and intellectual evolution of its author; a woman whose history was entangled by the German occupation during World War II.

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Wisława Szymborska was a Polish poet, essayist and translator. Author of more than 15 poetry books, she also dedicated herself to illustrate and edit.

During her youth, Wisława was forced to study clandestinely in a Nazi-occupied Poland. After the war, the poet becomes an advocate of communism. However, throughout hierlife, the disenchantment would increase and ended up disappointed with this ideology. After her first two books, Wisława rejects the communist leader Stalin.

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, her life was not just a literary creation. Wisława Szymborska also gained great popularity thanks to his Polish translations of universal masterpieces.


Actually, Wisława was the second name of Szymborska. Her full name was Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska and was born on July 2, 1923 in Prowent, now part of the city of Kórnik, in western Poland.

At the time of his birth, her father worked as a steward under the command of Count Władysław Zamoyski, a tycoon and landowner. The earl was the owner of the city of Kórnik.

When the count died in 1924, the Szymborska family moved to Torun. There, at the age of five years, Wisława began to write poetry while studying in an elementary school.

The atmosphere in his house was quite intellectual; everyone read a lot and argued about books. Wisława always showed her poems to her father and, if she liked what she wrote, she gave him a coin as a reward.

After a second move in 1931, Wisława enrolled in a convent school in Krakow, but was unable to complete his studies there. The poet, during his youth, suffered personally for the premature death of his father and, socially, as a result of the German occupation of Poland.

The impact of the Second World War

When World War II began, Germany occupied Poland in 1940. This caused Polish citizens to be unable to attend public schools.

The poet had been strongly linked to the ancient royal city under the Wawel castle. Wisława continued his studies in an underground school, under the Wawel castle.

It should be noted that, during the 20th century, Wawel Castle was the residence of the Polish president after the nation was invaded. Krakow became the seat of the General Government of Germany, and Wawel subsequently became the residence of Nazi Governor General Hans Frank.

After years of clandestine training, Wisława Szymborska was able to finish high school exams in 1941.

In 1943, she became a railroad employee, managing to evade deportation to Germany for forced labor. This was, in turn, the period in which he managed to work creating illustrations for a textbook in English and began to write stories and poems.

When the war ended in 1945, Wisława Szymborska enrolled in the Jagiellonian University of Krakow to study Polish literature. Later, he switched to sociology. However, he had to abandon his studies in 1948 without obtaining his degree due to financial restrictions.

Literary beginnings of Wisława Szymborska

In March 1945, Wisława Szymborska made her debut in a Krakow newspaper called Dziennik Polski with her poem Szukam słowa (Finding the word). Soon, many other poems began to appear in different newspapers and local media.

After abandoning her studies in 1948, she assumed the position of secretary in a biweekly educational magazine. At the same time, she also worked as an illustrator for the magazine and continued writing poetry. In 1949, she completed his first collection of poems.

Like most intellectuals of that time, Szymborska’s early work reflected the socialist philosophy that was the pattern in Poland at that time. Her debut collection Dlatego żyjemy (That’s why we live, 1952), contains many poems that echoed his political ideology.

In the 1950s, Szymborska became a member of the Polish Workers’ Party. Her next collection, Pytania zadawane sobie (Questions asked to one), published in 1954, echoed his socialist sentiment.

However, Szymborska became disillusioned with the communist ideology and, in his third collection of poems, Wołanie do Yet (Call to the Yeti), published in 1957, reveal the disenchantment and the changes suffered in his thought. The poems in this collection express their dissatisfaction with communism, in particular, with Stalinism.

In them, she shows his deep concern for humanity and came to compare in a poem the Soviet leader Stalin with an abominable snowman. With these actions, she broke all ties with the Polish Workers’ Party.

“At the beginning of my creative life I loved humanity. I wanted to do something good for humanity. I soon understood that it is not possible to save humanity. “

-Wisława Szymborska-

The author ended up rejecting her first two works, prior to 1957. She considered them in the wake of socialist realism, which she had already renounced and with which the rest of her life would be very critical.

Wisława Szymborska: work

Throughout her life, Wisława Szymborska wrote more than fifteen books of poetry and prose. However, not only was she a famous poet, but she gained a considerable reputation as a critic and translator thanks to her book reviews and translations of French poetry.

From 1968, she directed her own book review column called Lektury Nadobowiązkowe. Much of these essays would be compiled and published later in the form of a book.

In addition to the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, Szymborska received many other awards. Among them: the Prize of the Ministry of Culture of Poland (1963), the Goethe Prize (1991), the Herder Prize (1995) and the Polish PEN Club Award (1996), etc.

In 1995, she was awarded the title of Honorary Doctor of Letters by Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznan.

In 2011, Wisława Szymborska received the Order Orła Białego or the Order of the White Eagle. It should be added that this is the highest honor bestowed on any individual by the Government of Poland.

Personal life and legacy

Wisława Szymborska married the poet Adam Włodek in 1948. Her home on Krupnicza Street 22, in Kraków, became a nerve center for writers of his time. Among them, the renowned writer Czeslaw Milosz stands out.

The couple separated in 1954, although they remained close friends until death. They did not have any children.

Szymborska became romantically involved with writer Kornel Filipowicz fifteen years later. They never married and they always lived apart.

“Let people who never find true love keep saying that there is no such thing. Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.”

-Wisława Szymborska-

Wisława Szymborska died peacefully while asleep on February 1st, 2012 at her home in Krakow. She was then 88 years old and was working on a new poem.

Currently, Szymborska’s poems have been included in some school programs. She has become an internationally recognized poet and her work has been translated into different languages ​​such as English, French and German; likewise, there are numerous translations into languages ​​such as Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and even Chinese.

His poems are especially remarkable for their language and precision. At the same time, his poetic work gives off a sense of ironic detachment.

“Somewhere, the world must have an end.”

-Wisława Szymborska-

While Polish history from the Second World War to Stalinism clearly influenced his poetry, Wisława Szymborska was also a deeply personal poet, who explored the great truths that exist in everyday and common things. His poetry is a reflection of the interests that marked his life and how it, like his work, was evolving and taking different paths over time.