The three strangest words

I work in futures (of the strategy and scenarios kind, not the financial speculation) which is how I first came across this poem by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1996. But I also love the lexicographical play on the three words.


When I say the word Future,
the first syllable is already a part of the past.

When I say the word Silence,
I spoil it.

When I say the word Nothing,
I create something that nothingness cannot contain.

The translation is by Ian Firla. The last time I looked, her work was out of print in English. But there are more poems here, and here.



    1. Ian,

      And funnily enough I was thinking about this poem just a few days ago for an article I am writing about the relationship between the future and the past. I’ve seen a number of translations of this poem (one is ‘automatically linked’ by WordPress at the end of the post) and your seems the most elegant; one gets the impression that the compression Szymborska achieves is a struggle in English.


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