"Hermitage" by Wisława Szymborska
The poet Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012) lived her entire lifetime in her native Poland. Writing after World War II, she conformed to Stalinist ideological proscriptions, which she began quietly discarding in the 1960s. The poem "Hermitage" was published in her 1976 book "A Large Number." In 1996 she won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The poem reflects a light skepticism built on irony rather than entrenched hostility, perhaps masking disappointment that the hermit does not evoke greater austerity.
Hermitage, by Wisława Szymborska
You expected a hermit to live in the wilderness,
but he has a little house and a garden,
surrounded by cheerful birch groves,
ten minutes off the highway.
Just follow the signs.
You don't have to gaze at him through binoculars
You can see and hear him right up close,
while he's patiently explaning to a tour group from Wiliczka
why he's chosen strict isolation.
He wears a grayish haabit,
and he has a long white beard,
cheeks pink as a baby's,
and bright-blue eyes.
He'll gladly pose before the rosebush
for color photographs.
His picture is being taken by one Stanley Kowalik
who promises prints once they're developed.
Meanwhile a tight-lipped old lady from Bydgoszcz
whom no one visits but the meter reader
is writing in the guestbook:
"God be praised
for letting me
see a genuine hermit before I die."
Teenagers write, too, using knives on trees:
"The Spirituals of '75 -- meeting down below."
But what's Spot up to, where has Spot gone?
He's underneath the bench pretending he's a wolf.