Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska recreates the experience of the flood story in Genesis, moving beyond the physical confines of ark and animals into the realm of emotion and expression.

An endless rain is just beginning.
Into the ark, for where else can you go:
you poems for a single voice,
private exultations,
unnecessary talents,
surplus curiosity,
short-range sorrows and fears,
eagerness to see things from all sides.

Rivers are swelling and bursting their banks.
Into the ark: all you chiaroscuros and halftones,
you details, ornaments, and whims,
silly exceptions,
forgotten signs,
countless shades of the color gray,
play for play's sake,
and tears of mirth.

As far as the eye can see, there's water
and a hazy horizon.
Into the ark: plans for the distant future,
joy in difference,
admiration for the better man,
choice not narrowed down to one of two,
outworn scruples,
time to think it over,
and the belief that all of this
will still come in handy some day.

For the sake of the children
that we still are,
fairy tales have happy endings.
That's the only finale that will do here, too.
The rain will stop,
the waves will subside,
the clouds will part
in the cleared-up sky,
and they'll be once more
what clouds overhead ought to be:
lofty and rather lighthearted
in their likeness to things
drying in the sun —
isles of bliss,


Into the Ark by Wislawa Szymborska is reprinted from Polish Poetry of the Last Two Decades of Communist Rule: Spoiling Cannibals' Fun, edited and translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Claire Cavanagh, published by Northwestern University Press in 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved; reprinted by permission of Northwestern Univ. Press.

Reprinted in Modern Poems on the Bible: An Anthology, ed. David Curzon. Jewish Publication Society, 1994.

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