Notes From a Nonexistent Himalayan Expedition - Wislawa Szymborska

This is a poem Wislawa Szymborska wrote in the 1950s. She knows what's up. She has an idea about what the world is facing this week in the wake of the American election. Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, represents increasingly inhuman and corrupt Stalinism.



So these are the Himalayas.

Mountains racing to the moon.

The moment of their start recorded

on the startling, ripped canvas of the sky.

Holes punched in the desert of clouds.

Thrust into nothing.

Echo--a white mute.



Yeti, down there we've got Wednesday,

bread and alphabets.

Two times two is four.

Roses are red there, 

and violets are blue.


Yeti, crime is not all 

we're up to down there.

Yeti, not every sentence there

means death.


We've inherited hope--

the gift of forgetting.

You'll see how we give

birth among the ruins.


Yeti, we've got Shakespeare there.

Yeti, we play solitaire

and violin. At nightfall,

we turn lights on, Yeti.


Up here it's neither moon nor earth.

Tears freeze.

Oh Yeti, semi-moonman,

turn back, think again!


I called this to the Yeti

inside four walls of avalanche,

stomping my feet for warmth 

on the everlasting 



translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak


I first read a few stanzas from "Notes From a Nonexistent Himalayan Expedition" when I was a teenager, in a book called How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch. It was probably the first time I encountered and understood a gracious, curious response to an atrocity--a response that left the victim more human than her victimizer. As a writer, I was (and I'm afraid I still am) angry, resentful, prone to despair, and eager to drive pain and injustice home in new ways. I think that for a long time my unacknowledged aim as a writer has been to hurt the reader. I love those acid, stomach-punching last lines. I love viscera. I love saying what no what else is willing to say. I've wanted to hurt the reader exactly as much as I have been hurt. I don't want to do that anymore.