Way back in the days of graduate school, I remember reading that the best poets hoped to make a modest few thousand dollars from their writing per year. The obvious question from an Average Joe or Jane, or perhaps one's parents would be "Well, why do it?" Why be creative? It's not easy to speak of inspiration, or creative energy, or guiding principles when the world view of success is quite the opposite. As everyone knows though, the best writing and the best art can sometimes make the act of living an easier pill to swallow.
Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska (born 1923) is a writer and an artist in the best sense of the word. In 1996, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her poetry. Ms. Szymborska's words of acceptance speaks with dignity about the process of writing, and shows her humility and mindfulness in having been chosen for this award.
Following are several excerpts from her Nobel Lecture:
They say the first sentence in any speech is always the hardest. Well, that's one behind me, anyway. But I have a feeling that the sentences to come - the third, the sixth, the tenth, and so on, up to the final line - will be just as hard, since I'm supposed to talk about poetry. I've said very little on the subject, next to nothing, in fact. And whenever I have said anything, I've always had the sneaking suspicion that I'm not very good at it. This is why my lecture will be rather short. All imperfection is easier to tolerate if served up in small doses.
. . . . . . . .
When I'm asked about this on occasion, I hedge the question too. But my answer is this: inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people who inspiration visits. It's made up of all those who've consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners - and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it's born from a continuous "I don't know."
There aren't many such people. Most of the earth's inhabitants work to get by. They work because they have to. They didn't pick this or that kind of job out of passion; the circumstances of their lives did the choosing for them. Loveless work, boring work, work valued only because others haven't got even that much, however loveless and boring - this is one of the harshest human miseries. And there's no sign that coming centuries will produce any changes for the better as far as this goes.
And so, though I may deny poets their monopoly on inspiration, I still place them in a select group of Fortune's darlings.
. . . . . . . .
The world - whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we've just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don't know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we've got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world - it is astonishing.
From "View with a Grain of Sand" by Wislawa Szymborska, published by Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995:
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
They're both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.
Since they'd never met before, they're sure
that there'd been nothing between them.
But what's the word from the streets, staircases, hallways-
perhaps they've passed by each other a million times?
I want to ask them
if they don't remember-
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a "sorry" muttered in a crowd?
a curt "wrong number" caught in the receiver?
but I know the answer.
No, they don't remember.
They'd be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.
Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.
There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn't read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood's thicket?
There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.