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The Courtesy of the Blind

The poet reads his lines to the blind.
He hadn’t guessed that it would be so hard.
His voice trembles. 
His hands shake. 

He senses that every sentence 
is put to the test of darkness. 
He must muddle through alone, 
without colors or lights. 

A treacherous endeavor
for his poems’ stars, 
dawns, rainbows, clouds, their neon lights, their moon, 
for the fish so silvery thus far beneath the water
and the hawk so high and quiet in the sky. 

He reads—since it’s too late to stop now—
about the boy in a yellow jacket on a green field, 
red roofs that can be counted in the valley, 
the restless numbers on soccer players’ shirts, 
and the naked stranger standing in a half-shut door. 

He’d like to skip—although it can’t be done—
all the saints on that cathedral ceiling, 
the parting wave from a train, 
the microscope lens, the ring casting a glow, 
the movie screens, the mirrors, the photo albums. 

But great is the courtesy of the blind, 
great is their forbearance, their largesse. 
They listen, smile, and applaud. 

One of them even comes up 
with a book turned wrongside out 
asking for an unseen autograph.

—Wisława Szymborska

“The Courtesy of the Blind” from MONOLOGUE OF A DOG: New Poems by Wisława Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

English translation copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.


Poetry 180

About the Poet

Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012) was the 1996 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the author of over 20 volumes of poetry, including Map: Collected and Last Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).

Learn more about Wisława Szymborska at The Poetry Foundation.