Dialogues with Things


Conversation with a Stone
by Wislawa Szymborska

I knock at the stone’s front door
“It’s only me, let me come in.
I want to enter your insides,
have a look around
breathe my fill of you.”

“Go away,” says the stone.
“I’m shut tight.
Even if you break me to pieces,
we’ll all still be closed.
You can grind us to sand,
we still won’t let you in.”

I knock at the stone’s front door.
“It’s only me, let me come in.
I’ve come out of pure curiosity.
Only life can quench it.
I mean to stroll through your palace,
then go calling on a leaf, a drop of water.
I don’t have much time.
My mortality should touch you.”

“I’m made of stone,” says the stone.
“And must therefore keep a straight face.
Go away.
I don’t have the muscles to laugh.”

I knock at the stone’s front door.
“It’s only me, let me come in.
I hear you have great empty halls inside you,
unseen, their beauty in vain,
soundless, not echoing anyone’s steps.
Admit you don’t know them well yourself.

“Great and empty, true enough,” says the stone,
“but there isn’t any room.
Beautiful, perhaps, but not to the taste
of your poor senses.
You may get to know me but you’ll never know me through.
My whole surface is turned toward you,
all my insides turned away.

“I knock at the stone’s front door.
“It’s only me, let me come in.
I don’t seek refuge for eternity.
I’m not unhappy.
I’m not homeless.
My world is worth returning to.
I’ll enter and exit empty-handed.
And my proof I was therewill be only words,
which no one will believe.”

“You shall not enter,” says the stone.
“You lack the sense of taking part.
No other sense can make up for your missing sense of taking part.
Even sight heightened to become all-seeing
will do you no good without a sense of taking part.
You shall not enter, you have only a sense of what that sense should be,only its seed, imagination.

“I knock at the stone’s front door.
“It’s only me, let me come in.
I haven’t got two thousand centuries,
so let me come under your roof.”

“If you don’t believe me,” says the stone,
“just ask the leaf, it will tell you the same.
Ask a drop of water, it will say what the leaf has said.
And, finally, ask a hair from your own head.
I am bursting from laughter, yes, laughter, vast laughter,
although I don’t know how to laugh.

“I knock at the stone’s front door.
“It’s only me, let me come in.

“I don’t have a door,” says the stone.



The Sun Rising
By John Donne

Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
               Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
               Late school boys and sour prentices,
         Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride
         Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time
               Thy beams, so reverend and strong
               Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
               If her eyes have not blinded thine,
               Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
         Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
         Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.
               She’s all states, and all princes, I,
               Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor’s mimic, all wealth alchemy
               Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
               In that the world’s contracted thus.
         Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
         To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.

2 thoughts on “Dialogues with Things

  1. I love the progression of the first poem, and its final line is perfect. The second poem is gorgeous, but it’s Donne, so I shouldn’t be so surprised.

    “She’s all states, and all princes, I, Nothing else is.” Beautiful.

  2. I just stumbled on this poem by Zbigniew Herbert–another of these Polish poets (I wonder if you’ve encountered him? I love the absurdity of his name). I think its something like the “Conversations with a Stone,” maybe a little colder. If you like it, you might look at two other poems of his here: http://www.uvm.edu/~sgutman/Herbert.html. All of them seem to me strong and moving. I really liked your cartography poem you posted by the way–it’s a bit like Milosz or Szymborska I think: clear confidence surveying a half-alien half-human terrain.

    by Zbigniew Herbert

    The pebble
    is a perfect creature

    equal to itself
    mindful of its limits

    filled exactly
    with a pebbly meaning

    with a scent that does not remind one of anything
    does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

    its ardour and coldness
    are just and full of dignity

    I feel a heavy remorse
    when I hold it in my hand
    and its noble body
    is permeated by false warmth

    – Pebbles cannot be tamed
    to the end they will look at us
    with a calm and very clear eye

    Translated by Peter Dale Scott and Czeslaw Milosz

    Do you know that passage from Eliot where he talks about “old stones that cannot be deciphered?”

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