English 200 Poetry Explication: “True Love” by Wislawa Szymborska This paper is an essay is an analysis of Wislawa Szymborska’s poem “True Love. ” When I first read the poem, I was struck by its sheer simplicity and passion at what Szymborska feels that it means for two people to be in love. However; upon further contemplation, I see how she uses the lovers to represent change in an otherwise boring and regimented world where all actions must be taken for the betterment and advancement of the state.
True Love” is a powerful piece that is told through the persona of an anonymous authoritarian bureaucrat who questions the value of love when compared to the needs of the state. “True Love” was written at a time when Soviet control was strangling the Eastern Bloc countries, particularly Poland. In this situation, citizens were expected to devote their lives to the advancement of the State – personal needs were secondary. In light of this situation, Szymborska forces the reader to examine the poem on a number of levels including the socio/political level and also at the base level of two people brought together as one.
I will discuss how Szymborska, very cleverly, uses the lovers to illustrate how individuals can make effect change from within a system when they are passionate about their beliefs. I will also discuss that love, the most primal of mans’ needs, can be so complex in its simplicity that it can overwhelm and frighten those who misunderstand it. The first stanza of the poem consists of four lines: “True love. Is it normal, is it serious, is it practical? What does the world get from two people Who exist is a world of their own? ” (lines 1-4)
Szymborska begins by asking questions about love; however, is she actually asking about love or is she questioning whether it is practical for a society to acknowledge love? As an emotional human being, one would be able to answer these questions in the affirmative that, yes, love is normal and serious and practical. When people are in love, they are happy and probably more productive because of their commitment to the other person. However, when one looks at these first four lines with the jaded eye of, say, an authoritative, repressive bureaucrat then, perhaps, love serves no purpose but to get in the way of serving the state.
This person might answer these same questions by saying that, though love might be normal and serious, it is not practical because how can one dedicate his/her life to society if they are more concerned about the person that they love? To this person, the world (state) would get nothing from two people who exist is a world of their own so this should not be allowed to happen. In lines 5 – 13, Szymborska uses the persona of the bureaucrat to begin casting dispersions and snide comments about the audacity that two people would have to dare fall in love. “Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason, rawn randomly from millions, but convinced it had to happen this way – in reward for what? For nothing. ” (lines 5-8) In these lines, the reader begins to understand that he is now hearing the voice of the faceless bureaucrat whose soul interest is the betterment of the state. Or, perhaps, we are hearing the words of someone who has suffered through bad relationships in the past. I believe it to be the former. Szymborska wrote this poem in 1972 in a Poland that had been under the authoritarian rule of the Soviet Union since 1945. In the six years before the Soviets, Poland was ruled by the occupational forces of the Nazi Third Reich.
I am convinced that the persona that we are hearing is the voice of an authoritarian government representative – a cold, uncaring Orwellian figure. This is the section of the poem where the jaded voice of the person rings through loud and clear when he states; “it had to happen this way – in reward for what? For nothing. ” (line 7-8) Of course, the person in love would disagree vehemently with this for their reward is garnered each time they look into the eyes or feel the touch of the one they love – that is part of the reward, the reciprocal love shared between two lovers.
They would answer; “yes, it did happen this way and here is my (our) reward. ” The persona continues his lament when he states; “The light descends from nowhere. Why on these two and not on others? Doesn’t this outrage justice? Yes it does. Doesn’t it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles, and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts. ” (lines 10-13) In these lines, not only does the persona question the value of two people being in love but he also questions the existence of a higher power (God); “The light descends from nowhere.
And why on these two and not others? ” (lines 10-11) The persona refuses to believe God or faith could play a role in determining who falls in love or why love happens but, then wonders why these two people have been chosen to be with each other. Seemingly taken aback for a moment, the persona then falls back into his numbing, bureaucratic role when he asks the questions, and then answers his own questions, in the affirmative, about how love how love would disrupt the “painstakingly erected principles” and would the moral be cast from the peaks.
The persona typifies the cold, uncaring demagogues who reveled in the Soviet occupation of Eastern European countries, never questioning those in power and ensuring that all rules were followed. “Look at the happy couple. Couldn’t they at least try to hide it, fake a little depression for their friends’ sake! Listen to them laughing – it’s an insult. ” (lines 14-18) With these lines, the persona is now drawing attention to the lovers, trying to castigate them and make the other citizens, presumably those who experience no love in their lives, hate the lovers as much as he does.
The persona’s hate, though, does not stem from a true dislike but from fear – fear that if more people began to feel love then they would not be so beholden to the state and the power of the state would be diminished. The persona states that the lovers’ laughter is an insult, though to whom is the insult directed? It is an insult to the state because, through all of the dreariness that is their life, the lovers have found something that the state cannot control (their love for each other) and they relish that.
Their laughing is not an insult; quite the contrary, they are laughing because in their world they are one and that makes their world an idyllic place. The third stanza ends with the line; “And their little celebrations, rituals, the elaborate mutual routines – it’s obviously a plot behind the human race’s back! ” (lines 19 – 21) To any regime, the ultimate fear is that they lose control of the citizenry – the cogs in an unemotional machine. When the persona cannot explain (or accept) how love can occur, the only “logical” answer is that it must be a plot against the state (the human race. Why else would these disrespectful citizens waste their energy on each other rather than towards the advancement of the state? Stanza four finds the poem’s persona beginning to panic as he wonders what would happen if, God forbid, more citizens begin to follow the lovers’ example and experience love for themselves; “It’s hard to even guess how far things might go if people start to follow their example. What could religion and poetry count on? What would be remembered? What renounced? Who’d want to stay within bounds? ” (lines 22-26) Historically, oppressive regimes have worked hard to strictly limit what people can read, see, hear or say.
This repression of free expression, it was (is) thought, helped to keep the people in line. The government begins to take on the role of a strict parent, ensuring that their naive child remains ignorant of what takes place outside their home (borders. ) However, how can that same government oppress a population that is aware of basic human rights? Therein lays the rhetorical question; how ‘ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm? (after they’ve seen paree. ) The persona is pondering this very question and fearing the worst possible outcome that a bureaucrat could imagine; “Who’d want to stay within the bounds? (line 26) The fear of seeing two people in love, walking out of step from the rest of the automaton-like population, has pushed the state (our persona) to a point of hysteria. Rather than accept that love happens, that people are unique as individuals, the persona continues to present reason to reject love; “True love. Is it really necessary? Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence, like a scandal in Life’s highest circles. It couldn’t populate the planet in a million years, it comes along so rarely. ” (lines 27-32)
Once again, the persona, having pondered the worst that can happen, deflects from acceptance of love and, instead, questions its relevance in a big-brother type society. “. . . pass over it in silence, like a scandal. . . ” (line 28), or “Perfectly good children are born without its help. ” (line 29) direct the “good” citizens that love is an aberration. If they should ever encounter it (God forbid) they should hold their nose and walk past because it is no better than a scandal that would tear at the very fibre of the society that is looking after their needs.
In fact, love is not ever required for the creation of “perfectly good” children. They state is the ultimate provider who will take care of all your needs from cradle to grave. Yes, to the poem’s persona, everything is for the advancement of the state even if that means the dehumanization of the state’s citizens. The poem ends with three chilling lines; “Let the people who never find true love keep saying there is no such thing. Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die. ” (lines 33-35) According to the persona, ignorance is bliss.
By continuing to march along to the state’s cadence, the “faithful” will have easy lives and nice, quiet, easy deaths. However, it is never “easy” for a thinking, rational human to simply go through the motions each day; living a meaningless life, existing only for the betterment of a faceless, emotionless entity; just another cog in the great machine. Will it have been worth it? For those who never knew that love existed, or chose to ignore love’s existence, then their lives would have been no different than those of a school of fish; simply going along to get along.
For those who have experienced love and passion then their lives would have been lived to the fullest and their deaths mourned and celebrated by those whose lives they had touched with love. The “true love” mentioned in this poem is represents two principles; the first is the love that is found between two people and how, through that love, they can overcome obstacles in their lives. The power of faith and love can be powerful assets when two people are walking a path together through life. The second principle is that of social accountability that should be the responsibility of every compassionate and free thinking person.
The era in which Szymborska wrote this powerful poem is testament to the poem’s social meaning. Soviet oppression was the norm and the “Big Brother” mentality among both bureaucrats and citizens alike encouraged both conformation to the rules and divulging the identities of those who would not conform. Szymborska’s poem forces the reader to identify which group he/she belonged(s) to and how their lives are affected by that decision. Works Cited Schlib, John and John Clifford, eds. Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. Print.