Krakow Says Goodbye to Wisława Szymborska

At 11.30am on February 9 2012, the only indication that a funeral of national significance was taking place at Krakow’s Rakowicki Cemetery was the line of city guards across the central avenue, and a handful of mourners just inside the gate.

When Poland’s president, Bronisław Komorowski, stood to deliver a short eulogy half an hour later, the crowd had swelled to several thousand, all there to pay their respects to the Nobel Prize winning poet Wisława Szymborska.

A kilometre away on Krakow’s Main Market Square, tradition was suspended in honour of the poet as the bugler in the tower of St Mary’s Church sounded the opening notes of a popular song based on her poem Nic dwa razy instead of the hourly hejnał mariacki.

Among the mourners were also Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Ewa Kopacz, Speaker of the Sejm, Bogdan Borusewicz, Speaker of the Senate, and Bogdan Zdrojewski, Minister of Culture and National Heritage.

Together with Cracovians and tourists alike, they heard Mr Komorowski describe Ms Szymborska as ‘the grand lady of poetry’. He added that she had been a poet of serenity. Jacek Majchrowski, Mayor of Krakow, also delivered a brief speech in her honour. He said that Ms Szymborska, who lived most of her life in the city, had been beloved by Cracovians, and that she had returned that love. Mr Majchrowski concluded his speech with a farewell on behalf of the city and its residents.

Adam Zagajewski, one of Poland’s best known contemporary poets, said the world would remember Ms Szymborska as a humanist. He listed quiet fortitude as among her virtues, and said she had spoken only the words that it was important were said. His eulogy was followed by heartfelt words from the poet’s secretary, Michał Rusinek, who reported a conversation with Ms Szymborska shortly before her death. She was pleased, said Mr Rusinek, to have lived a long, good and interesting life, with good friends. He closed his eulogy by introducing the song Black Coffee, by Ella Fitzgerald, which he said had been a particular favourite of the poet.

As the music began, a procession from the podium erected for the event began to make its way towards the Szymborska family tomb. The urn containing the poet’s remains, and a cushion bearing her Order of the White Eagle medal, Poland’s highest honour, were followed by a steady stream of mourners, the snow and cold forgotten.

Wisława Szymborska died peacefully in her sleep, at home in Krakow, on February 1 2012, aged 88. She had been suffering from lung cancer.

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