Cat in an empty apartment

Dying – one doesn’t do that to a cat. 
For what can a cat do
in an empty apartment.
Scratching against the walls. 
Rubbing on the furniture.
In a way, nothing here was changed, 
and yet it has been altered.
In a way, nothing was moved,
and yet it has been confused.
In the evening, the light burns no more. 

Footsteps heard on the stairway,
but not those.
The hand, which lays fish on the plate, 
is too not the one, that did it once. 

Something does not begin here 
at its usual time.
Something does not happen here 
as it should.
Someone was, and was here 
then at-all-once disappeared 
and now he’s persistently gone.

It peered into all the cupboards.
Scampered across the shelves.
Wedged itself under the rug, investigated. 
Even went against the rule
and scattered the papers.

What else is there to do. 
Sleeping, waiting.

Let him dare return,
let him dare show himself.
Right away he’ll learn,
that one doesn’t do this to a cat. 
There will be a stroll in his direction 
as though utterly begrudging,
little by little,
on most offended paws.
And no leaps or chirps at first.

by Wisława Szymborska; translated by Amelia Sodhi

Kot w pustym mieszkaniu 

Umrzeć – tego się nie robi kotu. 
Bo co ma począć kot
w pustym mieszkaniu. 
Wdrapywać się na ściany. 
Ocierać między meblami.
Nic niby tu nie zmienione, 
a jednak pozamieniane. 
Niby nie przesunięte,
a jednak porozsuwane.
I wieczorami lampa już nie świeci.

Słychać kroki na schodach,
ale to nie te.
Ręka, co kładzie rybę na talerzyk, 
także nie ta, co kładła. 

Coś się tu nie zaczyna 
w swojej zwykłej porze. 
Coś się tu nie odbywa 
jak powinno.
Ktoś tutaj był i był,
a potem nagle zniknął
i uporczywie go nie ma. 

Do wszystkich szaf się zajrzało.
Przez półki przebiegło.
Wcisnęło się pod dywan i sprawdziło. 
Nawet złamało zakaz
i rozrzuciło papiery.
Co więcej jest do zrobienia.
Spać i czekać.

Niech no on tylko wróci, 
niech no się pokaże.
Już on się dowie,
że tak z kotem nie można. 
Będzie się szło w jego stronę 
jakby się wcale nie chciało, 
na bardzo obrażonych łapach.
O żadnych skoków pisków na początek.

by Wisława Szymborska 

News from the Centre: in celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, the Poetry Centre is thrilled to bring together contemporary jazz band Wandering Wires and our Beatin’ the Blues competition winners to create a fusion performance of jazz and poetry on Sunday 28th April from 8-9pm at Cafe Tarifa, Cowley Road, Oxford. Book your tickets (only £5) here.

Then on 30 April, we’re at Waterstones to host four Canadian poets (Chad Campbell, James Arthur, Stephanie Warner, and Jim Johnstone) and celebrate the recent publication of an exciting new anthology of Canadian poetry. Sign up to attend here.

And on 20 May we are collaborating with the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture to bring the acclaimed poet Gillian Allnutt  to Oxford – don’t miss her!

Find out more about these and other upcoming events, including a reading by Ilya Kaminsky and Shara Lessley and the launch of three new ignitionpress pamphlets on our Eventbrite page.

This is the second of two poems we are featuring to celebrate the Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation, whichis currently open for entries until Friday 12 July. Translate any poem from any language, ancient or modern into English, and be in the running for a cash prize and publication by the Stephen Spender Trust. The categories for the main prize are 14-and-under, 18-and-under and Open (adult), and will be judged by the Poetry Centre’s own Mary Jean ChanMargaret Jull Costa and Olivia McCannon. For the second year, the Trust is also running a ‘Polish Spotlight‘, with workshops in schools and a special prize for translation from Polish in the categories 10-and-under, 14-and-under and 18-and-under. You can find more details on the Trust’s website.

The winner of last year’s Polish Spotlight in the 18-and-under category was Amelia Sodhi. Writing about her translation of Wisława Szymborska’s poem ‘Cat in an empty apartment’, Amelia says: ‘There are many poems on grief, but never from a cat’s perspective. When I was looking for a poem to translate, ‘Kot w pustym mieszkaniu’ stood out to me. Szymborska captures a beautiful melancholy in this poem, through simplicity, repetition, and notably through the more subjective narration in the last stanza. She is able to recreate a certain feeling of grief that, so far, I have struggled to find in other poems; her illustration of the pain of loss isn’t something over the top but something small, and hence, even more potent.’

The Stephen Spender Trust was established in 1997 to honour Stephen Spender’s achievements as poet and translator of poetry, and as champion of the rights of creative artists and writers to free expression. Founding members who have since died include Valerie Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Czesław Miłosz, Harold Pinter and Natasha Spender. Inspired by Stephen Spender’s literary interests and achievements, the Stephen Spender Trust aims to widen appreciation of the literary legacy of Stephen Spender and his contemporaries and to promote literary translation. You can find out more on the Trust’s website.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers