I still plan a post on Ansel Adams and Polaroid (in general) but I saw “The Milk Maid” posted by Art, Culture and Civilization on Facebook . I ‘shared’ it along with Wislawa Szymborska’s poem about the painting and, wanted to share a little bit about the poet herself.


by Wislawa Szymborska, c. 2009

As long as the woman from Rijksmuseum 
in painted silence and concentration
day after day pours milk
from the jug to the bowl,
the World does not deserve
the end of the world.

Szymborska was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. She died early last year. Her obituary in the New York Times, linked heresaid she hadn’t written too much when she won the Nobel.

The Milk Maid, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660

The Milk Maid, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660

The Nobel announcement surprised Ms. Szymborska, who had lived an intensely private life. “She was kind of paralyzed by it,” said Clare Cavanagh, who, with Stanislaw Baranczak, translated much of Ms. Szymborska’s work into English.

“Her friends called it the ‘Nobel tragedy,’ ” Dr. Cavanagh, a professor of literature at Northwestern University, said in an interview on Wednesday. “It was a few years before she wrote another poem.”

Her ‘tragedy’ has nothing to with anything; I just think it’s a notable factoid. She lived in Poland during WWII and escaped Nazi forced labor because she worked as a railroad employee.

“When I was young I had a moment of believing in the Communist doctrine. I wanted to save the world through Communism. Quite soon I understood that it doesn’t work, but I’ve never pretended it didn’t happen to me.

“At the very beginning of my creative life I loved humanity. I wanted to do something good for mankind. Soon I understood that it isn’t possible to save mankind.”

That quote, to me, relates back to the woman from Rijksmuseum. Vermeer was published in TUTAJ (Here), her 2009 book of poetry.


NOTE: I’ve seen a few translations of  “Vermeer.” Here are seven selected poems from HERE, as translated by Andrzej Duszenko.