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Under a Certain Little Star, also known by its other name Under One Small Star is a poem written by the Polish writer and poet Wislawa Szymborska. The poem first appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, a National Journal for Literature and Discussion. Translated by Joanna Trzeciak in English, the poem appeared in the journal’s spring edition in the year 2001. Written from the first person’s point of view, the poem explores the speaker’s remorse and reflections as they ask for an apology for several things that occupy the abstract and tangible aspect of human existence. The poem shows the keen awareness of the speaker about their limitations within their life.
About the Author
Maria Wislawa Anna Szymborska was born on 2nd July 1923 in Prowent, now Kórnik in west-central Poland. She is a renowned Polish poet, essayist and translator and her work insightfully grapples with the themes of human existence, morality and the mysteries of life. Szymborska’s early education was interrupted by World War II, and she began her literary journey in the 1940s. Her debut poetry collection, That’s What We Live For, was published in 1952, marking the beginning of her poetic exploration. One of her key achievements includes her being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. The Nobel Committee praised her for her “poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.” Szymborska’s notable collections include Calling Out to Yeti (1957), Salt (1962), The People on the Bridge (1986), and View with a Grain of Sand (1995).
The poem comprises 27 long lines that are divided into two stanzas, which contain twenty and seven lines respectively. The poem is narrative as it consists of long lines told in a narrative structure. The poem is told from a first-person point of view.
Lines 1- 5
My apologies to chance for calling it necessity. My apologies to necessity in case I’m mistaken. May happiness not be angry if I take it for my own. May the dead forgive me that their memory’s but a flicker. My apologies to time for the multiplicity of the world overlooked each second.
The poem begins with the speaker seeking an apology for several things. They start by apologising to the abstract notions of chance and necessity if they have mistaken the two with each other. They move onto the notion of happiness, which is personified here. They ask for forgiveness from happiness if they have made it angry by making it their own. The speaker says sorry to their close relations who had passed away making their memory dull in the speaker’s mind. The speaker apologises to time as they have often overlooked the complexity and multiplicity of the world each second.
Through these lines and the entire poem, the poet shows how to err is human. As the speaker asks for forgiveness for several things ranging from abstract concepts to their loved ones who are no longer alive, we can see how it is natural for all humans to be ignorant and make mistakes.
Lines 6- 10
My apologies to an old love for treating the new one as the first. Forgive me far-off wars for taking my flowers home. Forgive me open wounds for pricking my finger. My apologies for the minuet record, to those calling out from the abyss. My apologies to those in railway stations for sleeping comfortably at five in the morning.
The speaker goes on to seek an apology from their old love because they went ahead to treat their new love as if it were the first. The speaker wants forgiveness from the “far-off wars” since they lived life in bliss and ignorance and brought flowers home. The speaker also addresses their wounds and apologises for pricking their finger. The speaker apologises to the people who called out for the speaker’s help from the abyss but the speaker was listening to a minuet record. Lastly, the speaker seeks an apology from all those people who sleep in the railway station as the speaker travels on the train at five in the morning.
In these lines, the speaker addresses several people who are both known and unknown and seeks an apology. The speaker realises that as a human it is normal to make mistakes both knowingly and unknowingly and hurt other people in this process. The speaker also apologises to all those who were at the war when the speaker was living in complete ignorance. This shows the extent to which the speaker is aware of their existence and how it impacts other people.
Pardon me hounded hope for laughing sometimes. Pardon me deserts for not rushing in with a spoonful of water. And you O hawk, the same bird for years in the same cage, forever still and staring at the same spot, absolve me even if you happened to be stuffed. My apologies to the tree felled for four table legs. My apologies to large questions for small answers. Truth, do not pay me too much attention. Solemnity, be magnanimous to me. Endure, O mystery of being that I might pull threads from your veil.
Here, the speaker begins by apologising to Hope for laughing at it. The speaker says sorry to the deserts for not rushing to them with a spoonful of water. The speaker next addresses a hawk who has been trapped in a cage for several years and has been staring at the same spot. The speaker asks the hawk to exonerate them from their guilt even though the hawk is trapped inside the cage. The speaker expresses regret towards the tree that has been felled and made into four table legs. The speaker apologises to large questions in case they have small, simple answers. The speaker directly addresses the truth and asks it to not pay too much attention to the speaker. The speaker asks solemnity to be generous to them. The speaker refers to the “mystery of being” and asks it to endure as the speaker might pull some threads from its veil.
Yet again, the speaker is addressing tangible and intangible entities and seeking an apology from all of them. The poem incorporates several natural elements in this section- the desert, a hawk and the tree that has been cut to transform into the legs of a table. This shows how the speaker is considerate not only towards humans but also nature. As the speaker addresses the mystery of being, they apologise for trying to decode it and reduce its complexity.
Soul, don’t blame me that I’ve got you so seldom. My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere. My apologies to all for not knowing how to be every man and woman. I know that as long as I live nothing can excuse me, because I myself am my own obstacle. Do not hold it against me, O speech, that I borrow weighty words, and then labor to make them light.
The speaker is remorseful towards their soul because they own it so often. The speaker apologises to everything since they cannot be everywhere for all the things. They seek an apology to everyone for not knowing how to be every man and woman. Here, the poem provides us with concluding lines. The speaker is aware that as long as they live, they cannot be excused from all the mistakes and faults they have, mostly because they are their own biggest obstacle. The speaker lastly even apologises to language and speech because they borrow weighty words from it but go on to labour so that they lightly express their emotions.
There is a sense of inadequacy that the speaker feels. They cannot be everywhere for everyone and can not be every man and woman. This is a limitation shared by all humans yet the speaker especially feels remorseful about it. Thus, in these lines, the speaker represents everyone who is burdened with their human existence.