Yesterday morning I stumbled upon this poem by Wislawa Szymborska, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about descriptive writing and its ability to create impressions, stir emotions, and intimately transport the reader to places his eyes have never beheld. “The Joy of Writing” speaks of this power of pen, ink, idea, and word to bring a page to life.
The Joy of Writing
Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence – this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”
Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.
Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.
They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.
Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?
The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.
By Wislawa Szymborska
From No End of Fun, 1967
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh
© Wislawa Szymborska, S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh
I love the way Szymborska illustrates the relationship between ink and action, the way her thoughts are transformed into words and her words into rich images. I suppose that’s why I’m drawn to descriptive writing; it holds such sway over me that I’m involuntarily plunged into the heart of a work—to taste, to smell, to hear and, in this case, to spy secretly on a skittish deer that bounds from the poet’s pen.
In future posts, I’ll revisit the concept of descriptive writing with vivid examples that will alternately delight, inspire, transport, and move you too. After all, isn’t that its purpose?