The Three Strangest Words

By Wisława Szymborska
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak

When I utter the word Future,
the first syllable is already headed for the past.

When I utter the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I utter the word Nothing,
I create something no non-existence can contain.


Joanna Trzeciak is Associate Professor of Russian and Translation Studies at Kent State University. Her research concerns Nabokov as a self-translating author. Her translations of Polish and Russian literature have appeared in The New York TimesThe New YorkerTimes Literary SupplementHarper’sThe AtlanticParis ReviewField, and New Ohio Review, among others. Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wisława Szymborska (W.W. Norton, 2001), was awarded the Heldt Translation Prize. Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Różewicz (W.W. Norton, 2011) was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize, and is the winner of the Found in Translation Award and the AATSEEL Award for Best Scholarly Translation.

Originally appeared in NOR 5

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