The Joy of Listening:
Three Voices in the Poetry of Wisława Szymborska

Abstract: One of the greatest feats that a poet may achieve in his or her lifetime is to develop a voice so characteristic of themself, it would be impossible to confuse it with that of any other poet. Polish-speaking and non-Polish-speaking scholars alike have agreed that the voice of 1996 Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska is utterly distinct, despite the fact that her poems explore a wide range of topics and are told from multiple narrative perspectives, rarely featuring herself through any personal details. How, then, is it possible for hundreds of poems, each with their own narrator, to still be “heard” as the voice of Szymborska? The author of this thesis found that each poem is structured in a way, which urges readers to ask questions and seek further clarification from whoever is speaking. The way in which this is accomplished, however, varies with the use of literary devices, depending on the topic that the poem covers. More specifically, Szymborska crafts three striking voices— classified as her “sub-voices”—, each abiding by characteristic literary techniques and found to be the most perceptible when associated with the themes of political history, women’s rights, and language. This thesis analyses these three voices— Political, Feminist, and Creative— and explores how Szymborska implements the questioning structure within each. To demonstrate how other poets might embody her sub-voices, which are effective at challenging established truths and widely accepted societal narratives, the author also imitates Szymborska’s style and presents three unique poems.

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