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Wislawa Szymborska dies at 88; Nobel-winning Polish poet

Wislawa Szymborska won the literature prize in 1996 and wrote about the nature of the soul, totalitarianism and death — with beguiling clarity and a sense of wonder.

February 03, 2012|By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times

Szymborska later renounced her early poems, calling the social-realist style she had adopted "a mistake of my youth." A shift in her political thinking was apparent by 1957 when her third volume, "Calling Out to Yeti," was published. In one of its poems she compared Josef Stalin to the Abominable Snowman.

She reportedly resigned from the Polish Socialist Party in 1966. She worked as a critic for a literary magazine for almost 30 years. In the 1980s she joined an underground magazine and became active in the Solidarity movement that helped topple the Communist government.

"My life as a citizen of this country has changed dramatically since Solidarity," she told The Times in 1996, "but my life as a poet has not."

She published a collection every six or seven years, writing by hand in a modest apartment with a view of a parking lot. Though rarely seen on the streets of Krakow, she had a tight circle of friends and wrote them letters in limericks, a form that she delighted in. Her personal secretary, Michal Rusinek, told Polish television this week that she was composing poems until she died.

From her "Poems New and Collected" (2000):

when it comes you'll be dreaming

that you don't need to breathe;

that breathless silence is

the music of the dark

and it's part of the rhythm

to vanish like a spark.

elaine.woo@latimes.com

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