Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska’s Poem “Love at First Sight,” Illustrated
By Maria Popova
Some of us call it chance; those less at peace with the randomness that governs the universe may call it “God.” But however we name it, there are moments in life when we feel its workings deeply and seek to make meaning out of them — that is part of our creaturely inheritance as the sensemaking species, the pattern-seeking animal. Hindsight is the enchanted loom on which we weave the pattern of our destiny, threading together fragmentary memories and chance occurrences into a thing of cohesion, from which a shape and a story emerge — a story we call fate. Suddenly, we find in our past omens of our present — synchronicities that become signposts, pointing us to where we were always meant to go.
In this haunting sense of fatedness, the determinism of science and the predestination of spirituality converge.
Because love is the supreme magnifying lens of our human experience, through it all of our hopes and fears are enlarged with life; through it the smallest coincidences swell with meaning. It is when we fall in love that we come to feel this eerie fatedness most acutely — something James Baldwin illuminated as he reckoned with love and the illusion of choice. Suddenly, every smallest serendipity is rife with assurance and every found overlap in yesterday’s shadow — the stuffed snail you both snugged as your most beloved toy eons before you knew of each other’s existence, the song you both secretly loved in high school, the shared aversion to pickled radish — a promise of blissfully joined tomorrows.
Long before she furnished the greatest definition of love in her prose, the Nobel-winning Polish poet Wisława Szymborska (July 2, 1923–February 1, 2012) winked at its fundamental chance-nature in a playful and poignant poem about how lovers cast the spell of fatedness on each other.
Szymborska’s beloved poem, translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak — her longtime translators, whose work prompted the poet to exult in “that rare miracle when a translation stops being a translation and becomes… a second original” — comes newly alive as an illustrated book by Italian graphic artist Beatrice Gasca Queirazza.
On the pages of Queirazza’s Love at First Sight (public library), the text of Szymborska’s poem unspools across a magical-realist sequence of illustrations, woven together by the floating leaf that emerges as the poem’s central symbol for the serendipities we read into love.
The strangers who populate the pages — melancholy, dreamsome people all moving through the world as if distracted by some unseen preoccupation — remind us that any two people may cross each other’s path at any given moment without knowing who they would become to one another in some future season of being, unwittingly enacting the poem’s closing verse:
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.
Complement with Szymborska’s poem “Life While-You-Wait” and her superb Nobel Prize acceptance speech about the relationship between uncertainty and creativity, then revisit David Whyte’s poem “The Truelove” and Emily Dickinson’s poem love-poem to nature reimagined as an animated song.
Published November 10, 2022