A Contribution to Statistics

by Wislawa Szymborska

English version by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak
Original Language Polish

Out of a hundred people

those who always know better
-- fifty-two

doubting every step
-- nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand
if it doesn't take too long
-- as high as forty-nine,

always good
because they can't be otherwise
-- four, well maybe five,

able to admire without envy
-- eighteen,

suffering illusions
induced by fleeting youth
-- sixty, give or take a few,

not to be taken lightly
-- forty and four,

living in constant fear
of someone or something
-- seventy-seven,

capable of happiness
-- twenty-something tops,

harmless singly, savage in crowds
-- half at least,

cruel
when forced by circumstances
-- better not to know
even ballpark figures,

wise after the fact
-- just a couple more
than wise before it,

taking only things from life
-- thirty
(I wish I were wrong),

hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
-- eighty-three
sooner or later,

righteous
-- thirty-five, which is a lot,

righteous
and understanding
-- three,

worthy of compassion
-- ninety-nine,

mortal
-- a hundred out of a hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

-- from Poems New and Collected, by Wislawa Szymborska / Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I always knew statistics had a poetic heart. After such terrible abuse by advertisers and politicians, statistics will redeem themselves in great and painful art.

Of course, even the best-natured of statistics exist to taunt us, to challenge us. Then again, that's what those irascible poets do too...



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