A Great Number


Four billion people on this earth,
while my imagination remains as it was.
It clumsily copes with great numbers.
Still it is sensitive to the particular.
It flutters in the dark like a flashlight,
and reveals the first random faces
while all the rest stay unheeded,
unthought of, unlamented.
Yet even Dante could not retain all that.
And what of us?
Even all the Muses could not help.

Non omnis moriar–a premature worry.
Yet do I live entire and does it suffice?
It never sufficed, and especially now.
I choose by discarding, for there is no other means
but what I discard is more numerous,
more dense, more insistent that it ever was.
A little poem, a sigh, cost indescribable losses.
A thunderous call is answered by my whisper.
I cannot express how much I pass over in silence.
A mouse at the foot of a mountain in labor.
Life lasts a few marks of a claw on the sand.
My dreams–even they are not, as they ought to be, populous.

There is more of loneliness in them than of crowds and noise.
Sometimes a person who died long ago drops in for a moment.
A door handle moves touched by a single hand.
An empty house is overgrown with annexes of an echo.
I run from the threshold down into the valley
that is silent, as if nobody's, anachronic.

How that open space is in me still–
I don't know.


                                      Polish; trans. Czeslaw Milosz


Wislawa Szymborska, Polish, trans. Czeslaw Milosz.