“The Joy of Writing”, a poem by Polish poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012) is an engaging piece that uses vivid images and everyday language to provide new meanings about the creative art of writing. The poem seems to centre on three questions about a commonplace character, related images created with written words and setting. The poem mentions of a doe that hounds the woods in order to drink water from a spring and lifts its head on hearing some ominous sounds. The initial images that Szymborska uses on paper as a writer using her mind and pen set her to reflect on writing as a personal and creative act. Although the poem is very light and oozes sweetness in wording and imagery while elaborating on the joys of writing, Wislawa also uses it to showcase her worldly-wise and singular wisdom about the human condition.
The plot of the story is a subtle one where an imaginary doe comes to life once the poet gets pen on paper. The “written doe” which is bound by the “written woods” is originally bound to the woods. The doe then gets alarmed when the poet prepares to write. “Why does she lift her head; does she hear something? she pricks her ears beneath my fingertips”. The doe then parts the boughs (tree branches) as she prepares to pounce out of the woods once the poet begins to write. Amidst all the preparation comes a moment of doubt when the poet mentions of hunters who are ready to pounce on the doe once she starts to write. This part of the plot indicates the low moment of the story. The poet then hits a high moment when she states that she is the only one who can authorize for things to happen. She mentions of the twinkling of an eye taking as long as she says as well as nothing happening to the grass and the leaves unless she says so. Towards the conclusion the poet insinuates that he manages to “free” the “written doe” from the “written woods”. This is so because in spite of the hunter being after the doe, she retains the power over the hunter and nature. The last three lines bear in which the poet talks of “revenge” seem to assert that she got the “written doe” out of the “written woods” to revenge against hunters, self-doubt, self and external criticism, as well as injustices of nature.
The poet has extensively characterized herself, hunters and the “written doe”. The “written doe” is characterized as being attentive and cautious. In the first stanza, the doe is said to lift its head as if hearing something. She is perched on four slim legs which seem to indicate preparedness and alertness. The hunters are characterized as being mean and malicious. The third stanza states, “hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights” the mention of squinting eyes brings to mind the image of evil intention and maliciousness. This is confirmed by the next statement that the hunters were prepared to swarm at the sloping pen at any moment, surround the doe and slowly aim their guns. The poet characterizes herself as assertive, domineering and authoritative. She holds and wields all the power including having command over nature. She states that the twinkling of an eye will take as long as I will say! She also adds that that if she wishes she can divide it into eternity! Further ahead, she authoritatively and repeatedly states that not a thing will happen to grass and leaves unless she wills. These three characters; poet, hunters and the poet, shape the
mood and the tone of the poem as well as helping in bringing out the themes of preparedness, as well as the overarching power of writing.
The writer uses images from the real world and creates for them a real-life world of existence so as to impact real-life associations of her poem to situations. The author has used the image of a doe. “Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?” She has borrowed true and actual details about the doe that he uses to describe animal being. She has also placed the animal in its wooded world which makes the image of the doe very believable and realistic. The fictional doe could be an expression of the writer’s inspiration in which she is trying to break herself free with the truth. This could so because of the oversensitivity of the doe to slight distractions. It seems farfetched to state that the poet was referring to herself when she mentioned the doe. I think if she were then she would have opened up her poem using questions such as “who is? Instead of the one she used “why is?”The image of a doe in a wooded environment creates a real-life association of situations to which readers of the poem can associate.
The writer uses the metaphor “doe” to show the captured or unexploited writing talent or the potential that is held in writing. Doe, that in the literal sense means a female deer, antelope or reindeer could be an indication of the agility, flexibility, swiftness and quick reaction to situations that characterize writing. The summation of these qualities could be what the poet intended to put across by using the image of a doe to refer to writers and the writing itself. In its normal self, a doe seems untroubled by the world around it, and it has the inherent capability to react appropriately especially to danger. The preparedness to react to danger brings about joy and contentment. As such the poet could be implying that prowess in writing equips or prepares someone to respond to social injustices and promote a better society at all times. The power of writing is, therefore, equated to the preparedness of does which in essence erases worry and replaces life’s concerns with the joy of knowing that writing can significantly address a myriad of concerns.
The poet metaphorically uses the image or metaphor “hunter” to signify distraction from the beautiful or the joyous course of writing. “Each drop of ink contains a fair supply of hunters” she goes on to elaborate on the “hunting” scene. “Prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment, surround the doe and aim their guns”. The poet perhaps wants to state that writing may have its joys, but the distractions also come in their droves. The mention of, “each drop of ink contains a fair supply of hunters” is an image that shows the intensity of the distractions in writing. The hunters are perhaps the self-critical aspects of the writer’s psyche. There are moments of self-doubt and worry that a piece of writing may not be good enough and won’t be appreciated. The intense self-criticism is usually imagined, and it does not materialise unless a writer grants it such power.
The poem uses rhetorical questions in order to trigger intense thinking among readers and engage them in discovering the joys of writing. Some of the rhetorical questions used include, “Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?”, Why does she lift her head; does she hear something? “whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?” “Is there then a world where I rule absolutely on fate?” These instances of rhetoric draw the readers into the poem and engage their thinking. The opening statement creates openness between the poet and the readers. It seems to create a dialogue between the readers and the poet. The poet does not come out as forcing her opinions on people and the rhetoric enhances her cordial approach. Perhaps the poet does this because her intention is to show people the beauty of writing or rather the joys of writing. She is seemingly persuading people to look at writing as a joyous task.
The poet uses repetition to enhance to show the power that is there in writing. She states, “not a thing will ever happen unless I say sonot a leaf will fallNot a blade of grass will bend” The self-assured manner in which the poet states these things shows her belief in the power of the written word. She strongly states “not a thing will happen” to show that the written word is almost absolute. This is questionable in the real sense, however, the repetition of “not a ” seems to erase all doubt on the power of the written word. Interestingly the repetition expounds on the poet asserting that she can control nature, “not a leaf will fall”. She then states, “not a blade of grass will bend” As a matter of fact, the falling of leaves falling and the bending of grass are matter beyond human control. Though to an extent someone can control them, the moment the author repeatedly states that not a single leaf will fall or a blade of grass bend without her wish, then she is passing a strong message on what she believes is the power of writing. As such the repetition brings about the self- assuredness of the poet in what she believes, she can control through the writing.
The poem “The Joy of Writing”, by Wislawa Szymborska is a fantastic piece that uses imagery centered on an imaginary “written doe” that is to be freed from an imaginary “written woods” through the power of the written word. The plot of the poem indicates the anxiousness of the doe as the poet prepares to write, and then there is a low moment because of the danger posed by hunters. The danger is then followed by the climax of “revenge” against the negative forces to freeing the doe. Therein, lay the three main characters; the doe, the hunters and the poet whose characters such as alertness and preparedness in the doe benefits from the authoritativeness of the poet to overcome the mean and malicious intent of the hunter. The characters help to bring out the themes of preparedness and the overarching power of writing. The images used such as the “written doe” which means the captured writing talent and potential of writing. The metaphor “hunter” means the criticism especially self criticism and discouragements one may encounter when writing. The use of repetition, “not a thing will happen” helps to bring out the character of the poet as authoritative ad domineering. Although the poem is very light and oozes sweetness in wording and imagery while elaborating on the joys of writing, Wislawa also uses it to showcase her worldly-wise and singular wisdom about the human condition.
“The Joy of writing” by Wislawa Szymborska