Hello, and welcome to Poetry Soup! I’m your host, Emma Catherine Hoff. Each episode, I’ll discuss a different poem and poet. In this episode, I’ll be talking about the human race — which is, apparently, no end of fun.
The great Polish poet, Wisława Szymborska, once said, “I prefer the absurdity of writing poems to the absurdity of not writing poems.” Lucky for her, she has written many amazing poems, and today I’ll be talking about one of her best works, titled “No End of Fun.”
Wisława Szymborska was born on July 2, 1923 in Prowent, Poznań Voivodeship, Poland, which is now Kórnik, Poland. When her father died, her family moved to Torun and then Krakow, where she spent the rest of her life. Wisława Szymborska was a staff member of a literary review magazine called Życie Literackie (which means Literary Life). She was a poet, essayist, and translator. In 1996, she was given the Nobel Prize in Literature. Much of her work is centered around history and war, for example, in her poem “Hitler’s First Photograph,” she ironically uses ultra-sweet language to describe Adolf Hitler as a baby.
Now I’m going to read “No End of Fun.” In this satirical poem, you learn how strange humans are, and how, in some cases, we are to be pitied.
So he's got to have happiness,
he's got to have truth, too,
he's got to have eternity
did you ever!
He has only just learned to tell dreams from waking;
only just realized that he is he;
only just whittled with his hand né fin
a flint, a rocket ship;
easily drowned in the ocean's teaspoon,
not even funny enough to tickle the void;
sees only with his eyes;
hears only with his ears;
his speech's personal best is the conditional;
he uses his reason to pick holes in reason.
In short, he's next to no one,
but his head's full of freedom, omniscience, and the Being
beyond his foolish meat—
did you ever!
For he does apparently exist.
He genuinely came to be
beneath one of the more parochial stars.
He's lively and quite active in his fashion.
His capacity for wonder is well advanced
for a crystal's deviant descendant.
And considering his difficult childhood
spent kowtowing to the herd's needs,
he's already quite an individual indeed—
did you ever!
Carry on, then, if only for the moment
that it takes a tiny galaxy to blink!
One wonders what will become of him,
since he does in fact seem to be.
And as far as being goes, he really tries quite hard.
Quite hard indeed—one must admit.
With that ring in his nose, with that toga, that sweater.
He's no end of fun, for all you say.
Poor little beggar.
A human, if ever we saw one.
“No End of Fun” is the last poem in Szymborska’s 1967 collection by the same name. Szymborska begins her poem by talking about how humans desire so much. She writes how humans want everything — happiness, truth, and eternity. The ironic outside narrator, who is both Szymborska and some sort of extraterrestrial being, uses the words “did you ever!” three times throughout the poem to express disgust and surprise. This narrator appreciates the humans in the confines of their foolishness. The humans are like the country bumpkins of the universe, born beneath one of the “more parochial stars.”
Szymborska repeats the exclamation of “did you ever!” three times in her poem. Then, in the end, she switches to, “if ever we saw one,” reinforcing the feeling of shock that we feel in the poem — how is it possible for us to even exist? She also comments on how young the human race really is, how quickly it will end, and how ignorant it is. According to Szymborska, man has “only just learned to tell dreams from waking.” Szymborska also writes, “a flint, a rocket ship;/easily drowned in the ocean’s teaspoon,/not even funny enough to tickle the void.” She shows that we’ve evolved so quickly, and yet we have so much more to explore and to do. She skips quickly through time here, and in the line, “with that ring in his nose, with that toga, that sweater.” Primitive man, ancient man, and modern man. The narrator uses this line to prove how old and wise it is. According to this cynical creature, human life spans are so short — you almost feel bad for them.
The title of this poem is “No End of Fun,” and yet, the poem is about how the human race will end. It is almost like humanity is judging itself, and Szymborska is judging us, too. This poem makes us feel uncomfortable — most people would rather not think about these things. The poem is funny, but it’s also depressing. Szymborska shows that, compared to the rest of the universe, we’re really small and young — and that there could always be something out there that’s laughing at us.
That was “No End of Fun” by Wislawa Szymborska. Maybe one day, you’ll meet a cynical alien just like the one she describes. I hope you enjoyed this episode of Poetry Soup, and I’ll see you soon with the next one!