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A poem by a Polish Nobel Prize winner, translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh.
2019-06-26 10:00:00

Could Have

“Forêt de Compiègne”, Berthe Morisot, 1885, Art Institute of Chicago
Could Have
Could Have

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.

You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck—there was a forest.
You were in luck—there were no trees.
You were in luck—a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
a jamb, a turn, a quarter inch, an instant.
You were in luck—just then a straw went floating by.

As a result, because, although, despite.
What would have happened if a hand, a foot,
within an inch, a hairsbreadth from
an unfortunate coincidence.

So you’re here? Still dizzy from another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn’t be more shocked or speechless.
how your heart pounds inside me.


“Could Have” from MAP: Collected and Last Poems by Wisława Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh. 

English translation copyright © 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Used by permission. All rights reserved. 



Wisława Szymborska

Wisława Szymborska

was a Polish poet, essayist, translator, columnist and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. In Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska’s documentary “Life Is Bearable at Times...”, Woody Allen said: “She is able to capture the pointlessness and sadness of life, but somehow still be affirmative.” She died in 2012.