A look back at the life of Nobel prize-winning poet Wisława Szymborska who passed away seven years ago today

Wiesława Szymborska, who died on February 1st seven years ago at the age of 88, had a career that stretched from the end of the Second World War till the beginning of the current century, and one that defined her as one of the foremost writers of her generation and a giant of post-war Polish poetry. PAP/EPA

She was a poet who shunned publicity but became world famous when she won a Nobel Prize.

She was also a writer who through her prose would become an indelible name in the history of Polish literature.

Wisława Szymborska, who died on February 1st seven years ago at the age of 88, had a career that stretched from the end of the Second World War till the beginning of the current century, and one that defined her as one of the foremost writers of her generation and a giant of post-war Polish poetry.

For her work she was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature for, according to the Nobel committee, “poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.”

Szymborska, who was born near Poznań in 1923, cut her poetic teeth in the late 1940s and early 50s, and was forced, like many of her artistic peers, to balance, and perhaps compromise, her individual freedom with the socialist line of the country’s communist government.Edward Węglowski/PAP

Szymborska, who was born near Poznań in 1923, cut her poetic teeth in the late 1940s and early 50s, and was forced, like many of her artistic peers, to balance, and perhaps compromise, her individual freedom with the socialist line of the country’s communist government.

She would later renounce her early political work, and slowly began to establish herself in opposition circles, while her poems began to dwell on philosophical themes and obsessions. 

One of her most famous poems, A Large Number (Wielka Liczba) reflects on the human meaning that lies behind numbers. Public domain

“Her poetry is characterized by a simplified, ‘personal’ language’ that is unlike contemporary language, often with a little twist at the end, with a striking combination of spirituality, ingenuity, and empathy,” wrote the Nobel committee.

But throughout her career, and despite the fame her career and the Nobel prize brought her, Szymborska kept herself out of the spotlight preferring to maintain a quiet life in her adopted hometown of Kraków.

For her work she was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature for, according to the Nobel committee, 'poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.' Pictured here at the Nobel Prize ceremony with the King of Sweden. Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP

She also maintained a humble opinion of her prowess of a poet that no doubt helped her endear herself to the public.

In her Nobel acceptance speech she said: “And whenever I have said anything, I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that I’m not very good at it. This is why my lecture will be rather short. All imperfection is easier to tolerate if served up in small doses.”

And when asked why she had written fewer than 350 poems, not many for a career of around 60 years, she replied that she had a rubbish bin at home.