World Literature: The Nobel Prize

My first class on ‘World Lit- The Nobel Prize’ was on Monday 17th. So it was back to the routine and fun to meet up with my friends from last year.

Some interesting facts on the Nobel. 107 individuals have received the Nobel Prize for Literature and guess how many were women? Only 12! The youngest receipient was Rudyard Kipling at 42 in 1907 and oldest was Doris Lessing at 88 in 2007. Most of the prizes were for European languages. Tagore wrote in Bengali and English and was the first Non-European to receive it in 1931. We did discuss the reasons for this and were also amazed to find one writer of ‘Occitan’ a language of Southern France had won it. I had never heard of the language before, I was familar with Provencal, but it is only a part of that region. More fascinating was the actual criteria laid down by Alfred Nobel, and how it has been interpreted over the years. I won’t go into details of that here.

We moved over to the texts that we would be looking at in detail, the first one being the poems of Wislawa Szymborska. The citation on her award stated “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”. We now have to find out how it articulates in her work. We are studying her recently translated book of poems ‘Miracle Fair’. In an article M.A. Packalen says ‘ the ever present existential questions are leitmotifs in Szymborska’s poetry. The poems describe with the same gravity both empirical reality and the non-existing, the potential – that which is best described by its absence, a kind of quasi-reality.’

The line that stays in my mind is “Life lasts as long as a few signs scratched by a claw in the sand”.

Yes, I do find some of her work challenging but look at the simplicity of this poem, the title poem in our book:

A miracle, for what else could you call it:
today the sun rose at three-fourteen
and will set at eight-o-one.

A miracle, less surprising than it should be:
even though the hand has fewer than six fingers,
it still has more than four.

Absolutely wonderful I could read poems like this again and again. The words evoke such strong emotions, the lines dance lyrical from my head straight to my heart.I am one happy person!

5 thoughts on “World Literature: The Nobel Prize

  1. Lotus Reads

    Make that two happy people, Leela! I have never read anything by Szymborska before so it was a real treat for me to read those lovely lines from the “Miracle Fair” poem! Thank you also for the great information on the Nobel, I had no idea only 12 women have been recipients of the Prize so far…wow…how can that be, especially as there are so many wonderful women writers! I so hope to see that change in the coming years!


  2. Leela Soma

    Szymborska is a poet I would not have read either but for this class. I love her work so much now. btw Liz Lochead has been appointed the 'Makar' our Poet Laureate in Scotland. She is another down to earth wonderful person and it resonates in her prolific contribution to the literary scene in Glasgow. Both poets have some of their work online. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading them Angie. Well re so few women writers winning the Nobel I guess it was because like most things in the early part of the 20thC the Prize was both Euro-centric and a male preserve. Selma Lagerlof won it in 1909, maybe the exception? It has been redressed and I'm sure there will be many more worthy winners in the future.Thanks for the comment Angie.


  3. Happy Reader

    That was an amazing piece of information regarding the Nobel prizes, Leela! Thanks for sharing them. Never knew Doris Lessing won it at the ripe old age of 88! Well, you are never too old for anything, even a nobel.


  4. Leela Soma

    It may be trivia on the Nobel Prize but fascinating glimpse to how the literary world has progressed, that's why I am enjoying the class Chitra. I learn lots of new things, read books I might not have picked up and meet some wonderful like- minded people.Thanks for the comment.


  5. Leela Soma

    Dear James, Please give me more details before I can add your link to this blog. In what way is your blog connected to mine? Also I would like to know more about the reasons for wanting to establish the link. Thanks.



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