The Century’s Decline

Our twentieth century was going to improve on the others.

It will never prove it now,

now that its years are numbered,

its gait is shaky,

its breath is short. 

 

Too many things have happened

that weren’t supposed to happen,

and what was supposed to come about

has not.

 

Happiness and spring, among other things,

were supposed to be getting closer.

 

Fear was expected to leave the mountains and valleys.

Truth was supposed to hit home 

before a lie.

 

A couple of problems weren’t going

to come up anymore:

hunger, for example,

and war, and so forth.

 

There was going to be respect

for helpless people’s helplessness,

trust, that kind of stuff.

 

Anyone who planned to enjoy the world

is now faced

with a hopeless task.

 

Stupidity isn’t funny.

Wisdom isn’t gay.

Hope

isn’t that young girl anymore,

et cetera, alas.

 

God was finally going to believe

in a man both good and strong,

but good and strong

are still two different men.

 

“How should we live?” someone asked me in a letter.

I had meant to ask him

the same question.

 

Again, and as ever,

as may be seen above,

the most pressing questions

are naïve ones.

-Wislawa Szymborska-