If there are angels

The Gold Rush

Too many things happening and too little time is leaving the Bioscope a little neglected of late, for which apologies. The colour series will return, and some more substantial posts, once I’ve got some other things out of the way. But in the meanwhile, let us have a cultural interlude. It has been too long since we had a poem for your delectation, so here is a particular favourite: Polish poet and Nobel Prize winner Wisława Szymborska‘s 1993 poem, ‘Slapstick’:

If there are angels,
I doubt they read
our novels
concerning thwarted hopes.

I’m afraid, alas,
they never touch the poems
that bear our grudges against the world.

The rantings and railings
of our plays
must drive them, I suspect,
to distraction.

Off-duty, between angelic –
i.e. inhuman – occupations,
they watch instead
our slapstick
from the age of silent film.

To our dirge wailers,
garment renders,
and teeth gnashers,
they prefer, I suppose,
that poor devil
who grabs the drowning man by his toupee
or, starving, devours his own shoelaces
with gusto.

From the waist up, starch and aspirations;
below, a startled mouse
runs down his trousers.
I’m sure
that’s what they call real entertainment.

A crazy chase in circles
ends up pursuing the pursuer.
The light at the end of the tunnel
turns out to be a tiger’s eye.
A hundred disasters
mean a hundred cosmic somersaults
turned over a hundred abysses.

If there are angels,
they must, I hope,
find this convincing,
this merriment dangling from terror,
not even crying Save me Save me
since all of this takes place in silence.

I can even imagine
that they clap their wings
and tears run from their eyes
from laughter, if nothing else.

From The End and the Beginning (1993), trans. Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

As the shoelace-devouring Chaplin put it (at least I think it was him), ‘life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot’. It all depends where you are standing, and who is observing.