Friday, April 10, 2009

Photograph from September 11

by Wislawa Szymborska

They jumped from the burning floors—
one, two, a few more,
higher, lower.

The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them
above the earth toward the earth.

Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.

There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.

They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.

I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

Translated by Clare Kavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak

4 comments:

DanielleMoyer said...

The encapsulation of this moment is not only grounded within the image created in thought but comes to LIFE within and without the use of words. The lines resonate a familiar sound like the lines from William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:

But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his
shade, When in eternal lines to time thou
growest: So long as men can breathe or eyes can
see, So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Although the end of a life in the physical sense is fast approaching, the essence of “true” life will live forever so long as the words are intact and the lines are continuously read. The event transposed from memory to written documentation surpasses all accounts of loss. Although the poem comes to a close, Wislawa Szymborska does not "end" the poem. The close of the poem is not used to demonstrate ending in any sense. In fact, the lines are not used as a representation of the ending of a life but rather they represent a continuation of living. This is Szymborska’s duty, as people are “halted in life”, they are not to be forgotten in death.

D said...

I've been thinking about this poem for a while now, and I still can't buy into this whole "not add a last line" thing. To me, that doesn't help them - they still fell. Likewise, I don't think the picture helped them - I think it just made the whole thing more real for us, that the situation was so bad that someone would do that. The poem does come to an end for me, and that sucks, but such is life. Had the poet actually not added a last line, just kind of stopping mid-sentence with an ellipsis or a dash or something, then I could see how it doesn't provide closure and just kind of preserves the image of flight.

And in my opinion, a photograph does have a finality to it - that single moment, though "captured" forever, is gone now. It's over. Sure, we can look at the picture and remember that experience, but we can't relive it outside of our memories.

Furthermore, as far as the Shakespeare comparison goes, I don't know whether Shakespeare succeeds in preserving his muse - Shakespeare is the one whose legacy has survived, so while I get the point being made, I don't quite agree with it...

ashley said...

D: I would argue that the fact that these people still fell is actually inclusive in the statement that the author would not add a last line. He is not simply capturing an image in time as the photograph did, but is repressing the idea that they died and in ignoring it with a statement, he is at the same time acknowledging it and pointing out the disturbing quality that the photo holds of showing people right before their deaths. They are suspended in time as they are suspended in the air, and just as the photo does not show the final part of the sequence of falling (death obviously) the poem follows suit and hints it (like the picture) but does not show it. This is almost more painful or gruesome because these people are experiencing their final moments, are about to impact into the ground, have committed a violent tragedy which they probably cannot explain because they have not seen it on the news, they are committing suicide to escape the fires and destruction, and will never see their loved ones again. All of this is much more disturbing than any final line could bring, and in my opinion, does not 'help' them, but suspends all of that emotion and terror and travesty. I entirely agree with you that a photograph has a finality to it, but film does contain images suspended in time and allows us to go back and look at events from the past to understand them or re-experience them, or even experience them anew/getting an idea of understanding through simply looking. Photographs like this one described suspend a moment in time physically on film, and through that image we can gain an understanding and imagine that experience of the individuals.

Courtney K. said...

I think this poem attempts the same goal as the "Falling Man" performance artist in the book of the same name, read earlier in this class. IN this poem, the people still hang there in the balance, and as the poem claims, there is still time for them there. As in the photographs of the falling people, they are held still for eternity, their terrible demise can only be imagined, but does not actually happen.


As the Falling Man performance, the tragedy of this day lives on in the potential for these victims. If 'kept alive' in the works of art, the audience or readers can perhaps think of a way to save these people, at least from future terrorist attacks. There is still time, as these people hang in the balance, for people to question the system and the government as to why this is happening.