Caturday felids: A sad poem about Polish cats

Most Caturday felids are upbeat, but this one is a bit sad. Cats, after all, are part of life, and life isn’t all beer and skittles.

Below I’ve reposted an animated Google doodle that appeared, as far as I know, only on the Polish Google site (July 2).


It was in honor of  the 90th anniversary of Wisława Szymborska’s birth (she was born in 1923 and died last year). I hadn’t heard of Symborka, though I should have, for she received the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature for her poetry, and led a colorful life.

How little do we read the Nobelists whose literature isn’t in English! Fortunately, much of her poetry has been translated into English, and the doodle above apparently refers to a poem about a apartment cats whose owner has died suddenly, and away from home. It was translated by two other poets and appeared in The New York Review of Books:

Cat in an Empty Apartment
Wisława Szymborska
translated from the Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

Die—you can’t do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here
but nothing is the same.
Nothing’s been moved
but there’s more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit.

Footsteps on the staircase,
but they’re new ones.
The hand that puts fish on the saucer
has changed, too.

Something doesn’t start
at its usual time.
Something doesn’t happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here,
then suddenly disappeared
and stubbornly stays disappeared.

Every closet’s been examined.
Every shelf has been explored.
Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.
A commandment was even broken:
papers scattered everywhere.
What remains to be done.
Just sleep and wait.

Just wait till he turns up,
just let him show his face.
Will he ever get a lesson
on what not to do to a cat.
Sidle toward him
as if unwilling
and ever so slow
on visibly offended paws,
and no leaps or squeals at least to start.


Wisława Szymborska-Włodek

h/t: Grania, Malgorzata


  1. Sarah
    Posted July 13, 2013 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    She was a marvelous poet and in Baranczak and Cavanaugh she has gifted translators.

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 13, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Cats in an Empty Apartment is so sad because I always think of things like this from the pet’s point of view. I know people (some of them elderly relatives) who don’t want to get pets even though they love them, in fear of dying and leaving the pets alone.

    • jesperbothpedersen1
      Posted July 13, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

      I have this irrational fear that I’ll die in some freakish home accident and my poor dog, driven by famine, will start nomming away at my dead corpse.

      I always make sure to fill his bowl.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 13, 2013 at 6:48 am | Permalink

        I’d be okay with my pets eating me….it would be gross for whoever found me though. 🙂

        • jesperbothpedersen1
          Posted July 13, 2013 at 6:55 am | Permalink

          Imagine being that pet though.

          It must be a weird feeling eating your buddy.:-)

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted July 13, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

            I dunno, maybe at that point they just see you as meat. Yucky old meat. 😛 I have heard of dogs that have stayed with a body and not eaten it but maybe they had other food. Yuck anyway.

            • Posted July 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

              I’ve thought of it, too, and it would be a great honor, to me, to be grokked by my cats when I’m gone.

    • RFW
      Posted July 13, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      I’m in that class. When the last of my Gang of Four died four years ago, I determined that I wanted my next cats to be about ten years so I was fairly sure of outliving them.

      Luckily, I found a mother-daughter pair, 10 and 9 y.o. respectively, who needed a new home. It is sad that they will be gone in another six years or so and I will once again be bereft, but the thought of leaving a much-loved pet behind is even less pleasing. It’s extremely difficult to find homes for mature cats!

  3. Posted July 13, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Most cats would be willing to accept another servant in case of dire need. Baihu, though…I fear he’d never trust anybody else….


    • RFW
      Posted July 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      One of my two, the daughter, is not a very trusting cat. She spent her first six months of so with me running and hiding. What turned her around was simply giving her a quick pet every time I walked by her. I don’t think she’s any more trusting as a result, but at least she accepts me and demonstrates considerable affection — as long, that is, as it’s on her terms.

      • Posted July 13, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        Oh, Baihu and I are inseparable. My cheek is his favorite bedtime pillow. My shoulders are perpetually scarred because he spends so much time perched on them.

        It’s all the other humans he won’t have anything to do with….


  4. Grania Spingies
    Posted July 13, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    The poem made me teary-eyed.

  5. Posted July 13, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful and poignant poem. Sniffle..

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 13, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      + 1

  6. Edward Hessler
    Posted July 13, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Szymborska is a favorite poet and I’m glad you found this poignant Doodle. Her poems are all over the web, including five published at the Nobel Prize for Literature site. Here are a few from the University of Buffalo. I just read “Pi” and recommend it. If “Why Poetry” is there, it is a smiler.

    ( )

  7. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted July 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    That’s sad, subtle, and very good. ‘Nothing seems different here But nothing is the same’ captures the mood precisely.

  8. Marella
    Posted July 13, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Poor kitteh. Life goes on, but not as it should.

  9. Jerzy
    Posted July 14, 2013 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    Hi, This poem is really great, but the title of your post is misleading. It’s not about “polish cats” – american or english cats are same. The main point is about love and relations between people and animals, about their place in our life. It is not correct to suggest that fate of polish cats is worse than others and thats what u actually did, likely without intention.

  10. Posted July 14, 2013 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    To lovers of poems about animals rarely if ever mentioned in literature, I recommend Szymborska’s Tarsier

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 14, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      I am a tarsier and a tarsier’s son,
      the grandson and great-grandson of tarsiers,
      a tiny creature, made up of two pupils
      and whatever simply could not be left out;

      Thank you very much for posting that link; so moving and thought-provoking.

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