The Onion

The onion, now that’s something else.
Its innards don’t exist.
Nothing but pure onionhood
fills this devout onionist.
Oniony on the inside,
onionesque it appears.
It follows its own daimonion
without our human tears.

Our skin is just a coverup
for the land where none dare go,
an internal inferno,
the anathema of anatomy.
In an onion there’s only onion
from its top to its toe,
onionymous monomania,
unanimous omninudity.

At peace, of a peace,
internally at rest.
Inside it, there’s a smaller one
of undiminished worth.
The second holds a third one
the third contains a fourth.
A centripetal fugue.
Polyphony compressed.

Nature’s rotundest tummy
its greatest success story,
the onion drapes itself in its
own aureoles of glory.
We hold veins, nerves, and fat,
secretions’ secret sections.
Not for us such idiotic
onionoid perfections.

Poem by Wislawa Szymborska -Polish poet, essayist, translator, and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature

Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

A Large Number, 1976

Wisława Szymborska – born 2 July 1923 in Kórnik, Poznań province; died 1 February 2012 in Kraków. From 1931 she lived in Kraków, and between 1945-48 she studied Polish.

Literature and Sociology at the Jagiellonian University. She made her debut in March 1945 with the poem Looking for Words published in a supplement to the daily newspaper “Dziennik Polski”.

From 1953 to 1981 she worked on the Krakow-based weekly magazine “Życie Literackie”, where she ran the poetry column and the book review column “Lektury nadobowiązkowe” (later resumed as  “Gazeta o Książkach” in the supplement to Gazeta Wyborcza). Several books collecting these essays have been published.

Szymborska published 13 collections of poetry: That’s Why We Are Alive (1952), Questioning Yourself (1954), Calling Out to Yeti (1957), Salt (1962), No End of Fun (1967), Could Have (1972), A Large Number (1976), People on the Bridge (1986), The End and the Beginning (1993, 1996), Moment (2002), Colon (2005), and Here (2009), as well as an unfinished collection published posthumously, Enough (2012). 

Szymborska’s poetry has been translated into over forty languages. She also translated poetry herself, mainly from French and German. In 1991 she received the Goethe Prize. In 1995 she won the Herder Prize, and in May of that same year, she was awarded the honorary degree honoris causa by Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. In 1996, Wisława Szymborska received the Polish PEN Club award and the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 2001 she became an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2011 she was awarded the highest Polish national decoration, the Order of the White Eagle.


15 thoughts on “The Onion

    • As you know, I follow you for a while, but lately, I didn’t get any email notifications, so I managed my reader and updated the email notifications under your blog name. I hope it will do the trick?


  1. I love the way you introduce me to poets I would likely not find on my own. What an interesting woman, and this poem says SO much. I’m so glad I didn’t miss it.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s