Poland: Thank you note, Wislawa Szymborska
When I rule the world, Wislawa Szymborska’s ‘Thank you note’ will be pasted upon lampposts and bus stops, near rose sellers and card shops in the run up to valentine’s day each year. When I first came across it, the poem pulled me close, whispered in my ear and wrote itself into my veins. While so many bestsellers and blockbusters portray romantic relationships as the only ones worth striving for, Szymborska takes a moment to celebrate the relationships that fizzle into friendship and the friends who can say
‘Almost as patient
as a sundial,
what love can’t,
what love never would.'
Verdict: Doc martens. Lacking the glamour of those ruby slippers, but comfortable, familiar and reliable.
St Lucia: Love After Love, Derek Walcott
In contrast, Derek Walcott’s ‘Love After Love’ takes a much more pop cult-ish concept as its subject – learning to love oneself – but endows this love with a quiet dignity which is sadly lacking in Bridget Jones’ stack of self-help books. In language which is at times almost biblical, Walcott paints the quiet luxury of evenings alone with a glass of wine and one’s own thoughts for company.
‘The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome’
Verdict: brushed cotton checked shirt. Makes you feel good without the need to shave your legs.
Italy: Veglia, Giuseppe Ungaretti
Giuseppe Ungaretti’s ‘Wake’ is a love letter to the love letter, hauntingly capturing the life-affirming power of the written word, no matter who it is addressed to. For a soldier forced to spend ‘a whole night / thrown near / a massacred / companion’, writing becomes a lifeline allowing him to survive until dawn, as, with no particular addressee in mind, he writes
‘letters full of love
I have never been
attached to life
Verdict: leather jacket. Gritty, but comfy. Something you slip on to feel alive.
Germany: An Anna Blume, Kurt Schwitters
Like so many Dadaist projects, Schwitters’ ‘An Anna Blume' (translated into English as ‘Eve Blossom’) doesn’t fit nicely into any category. Is it a parody of poems such as Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’? Is it – with its wonderfully energetic ‘du deiner dich dir, ich dir, du mir. Wir?’ – an over-exuberant love poem itself? Or is it a playful love poem to the endlessly suggestive possibilities of language? As Schwitters might argue, ‘That (by the way) is beside the point!’
Verdict: DIY customised blazer. The ‘I don’t care what anyone else thinks (and if I did wouldn’t let on)’ garment.