The End and the Beginning

by Wislawa Szymborska | January 18, 1993

After every war
someone’s got to tidy up.
Things won’t pick
themselves up, after all.

Someone’s got to shove
the rubble to the roadsides
so the carts loaded with corpses
can get by.

Someone’s got to trudge
through sludge and ashes,
through the sofa springs,
the shards of glass,
the bloody rags.

Someone’s got to lug the post
to prop the wall,
someone’s got to glaze the window,
set the door in its frame.

No sound bites, no photo opportunities
and it takes years.
All the cameras have gone
to other wars.

The bridges need to be rebuilt,
the railroad stations, too.
Shirt sleeves will be rolled
to shreds.

Someone, broom in hand,
still remembers how it was.
Someone else listens, nodding
his unshattered head.
But others are bound to be bustling nearby
who’ll find all that
a little boring.

From time to time someone still must
dig up a rusted argument
from underneath a bush
and haul it off to the dump.

Those who knew
what this was all about
must make way for those
who know little.
And less than that.
And at last nothing less
than nothing.

Someone’s got to lie there
in the grass that covers up
the causes and effects
with a cornstalk in his teeth,
gawking at clouds.

—Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

This poem appeared in the January 18, 1993 issue of the magazine.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//article/books-and-arts/100292/the-end-and-the-beginning