Monday, July 27, 2020


Little Nations

Wislawa Szymborska, "Voices," Poems New and Collected 1957–1977, tr. Stanislaw Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh (Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2000), pp. 116-117:
You can’t move an inch, my dear Marcus Emilius,
without Aborigines sprouting up as if from the earth itself.

Your heel sticks fast amidst Rutulians.
You founder knee-deep in Sabines and Latins.
You’re up to your waist, your neck, your nostrils
in Aequians and Volscians, dear Lucius Fabius.

These irksome little nations, thick as flies.
It’s enough to make you sick, dear Quintus Decius.

One town, then the next, then the hundred and seventieth.
The Fidenates’ stubbornness. The Feliscans’ ill will.
The shortsighted Ecetrans. The capricious Antemnates.
The Labicanians and Pelignians, offensively aloof.
They drive us mild-mannered sorts to sterner measures
with every new mountain we cross, dear Gaius Cloelius.

If only they weren’t always in the way, the Auruncians, the Marsians,
but they always do get in the way, dear Spurius Manlius.

Tarquinians where you’d least expect them, Etruscans on all sides.
If that weren’t enough, Volsinians and Veientians.
The Aulertians, beyond all reason. And, of course,
the endlessly vexatious Sapinians, my dear Sextus Oppius.

Little nations do have little minds.
The circle of thick skulls expands around us.
Reprehensible customs. Backward laws.
Ineffectual gods, my dear Titus Vilius.

Heaps of Hernicians. Swarms of Murricinians.
Antlike multitudes of Vestians and Samnites.
The farther you go, the more there are, dear Servius Follius.

These little nations are pitiful indeed.
Their foolish ways require supervision
with every new river we ford, dear Aulus Iunius.

Every new horizon threatens me.
That’s how I’d put it, my dear Hostius Melius.

To which I, Hostus Melius, would reply, my dear
Appius Papius: March on! The world has got to end somewhere.

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