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Szymborska’s irony

In this paper I will be discussing a poem by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska – “A Thank-You Note” – and how she uses the element of irony. Szymborska’s work has been considered grim poetry because she tackles on the subject of war and its aftermath, death, and terrorism among other things. However, I beg to disagree. On the contrary, I think that Szymborska’s poetry is refreshingly optimistic in its depiction of unapologetic realism. The candidness and sincerity by which she approaches the subject of her poetry and her distinct writing style works together to show reality as is.

She infuses irony in her writing – indeed, irony is a major element in her works. Irony, in the way she examines a subject, and then irony in her choice of words. “A Thank-You Note” expresses the persona’s gratitude to the people that she does not love, “I owe a lot / to those I do not love. ” The poem enumerates the things that the persona enjoys because she does not love these people. When in lines 3-4, “Relief in accepting / others care for them more”, the persona indirectly says that she is relieved that she is spared from the anguish of proving that she loves and cares for them the most.

All throughout the poem the persona lists all the things that she owes to the people she does not love – peace of mind and a sense of freedom that people one does not love cannot disturb, no insane yearning because “no eternity passes, / only a few days or weeks. ” The persona further explains that for all these things and the fact that she is able to exist in a three-dimensional world, the credit goes to those she does not love – in a way saying that they do not upset her objective view of reality.

In lines 34-35, Szymborska uses irony in her choice of words succinctly: “They don’t even know / how much they carry in their empty hands. ” And finally, the poem ends with an imaginary statement form love as an answer to the poem’s first statement, that the persona owes a lot to the people she does not love because without love she owes them nothing. It is interesting why Szymborska has chosen “A Thank-You Note” as a title for this poem. There is no question that the persona is sincere in thanking the people she does not love for not having to go through all the agony that love weights in a person’s heart.

But she does not really have to thank these people because she does not even care about them, the very reason why she is happy with them. By not caring deeply for these people she is relieved of the burdens of love, and also its rewards. Szymborska depicted the other side of love – of it entailing such responsibility and burden, focusing on the sacrifices that one has to give instead of the rewards that come with it. The final irony of it all is that, love cannot help but give to the people that it owes its love to, and perhaps that is something not to be thankful for, as compared to the traditional notions of love as redeeming.

Szymborska employs her sense of witty irony to develop the poem. In “A Thank-You Note” Szymborska starts out with an unexpected opening, the persona stating that she owes a lot to those she does not love and ends the poem by saying that she owes a lot because she owes them nothing, thereby giving measure to what owing them nothing actually means, what is its value, and inversely, shows the value of what love can make a person do. “A Thank-You Note” is personal and intimate and takes on a subjective tone, rendering it a human voice, using “I” as the persona.

Szymborska’s poem describes the realities of living even in the unpleasant minutest details, and by doing so, ironically opens the readers’ eyes to what is beautiful beneath all that seemingly grim poetry. In the end, it is Szymborska’s masterful use of irony, both in her approach to her chosen theme and in her distinct writing style. WORKS CITED: Szymborska, Wislawa. A Thank-You Note, in Miracle Fair. Translated by Joanna Trzeciak. NY: Norton, 2001. pp. 24-25

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