Compare the poems by Szymborska and Milosz read over the course of this unit. All are important twentieth century writers addressing a similar theme: death. Which poet addresses it in terms of the times he lived in (and its threat of fascism), and which addresses it in a more personal way? Characterize each poet’s treatment of this theme, citing evidence from the poems.
"A Contribution to Statistics" by Wislawa Szymborska Out of a hundred people those who always know better –fifty-two doubting every step –nearly all the rest, glad to lend a hand if it doesn’t take too long –as high as forty-nine, always good because they can’t be otherwise –four, well maybe five, able to admire without envy –eighteen, suffering illusions induced by fleeting youth –sixty, give or take a few, not to be taken lightly –forty and four, living in constant fear of someone or something –seventy-seven, capable of happiness –twenty-something tops, harmless singly, savage in crowds –half at least, cruel when forced by circumstances –better not to know even ballpark figures, wise after the fact –just a couple more than wise before it, taking only things from life –thirty (I wish I were wrong), hunched in pain, no flashlight in the dark –eighty-three sooner or later, righteous –thirty-five, which is a lot, righteous and understanding –three, worthy of compassion –ninety-nine, mortal –a hundred out of a hundred. thus far this figure still remains unchanged.
"And Yet the Books" by Czeslaw Milosz. And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings, That appeared once, still wet As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn, And, touched, coddled, began to live In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up, Tribes on the march, planets in motion. “We are, ” they said, even as their pages Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame Licked away their letters. So much more durable Than we are, whose frail warmth Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes. I imagine the earth when I am no more: Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant, Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley. Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born, Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.
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