“A Word on Statistics,” by Wislawa Szymborska

I signed in to Etsy a little while ago to do some holiday shopping and browsing, and I paged through the “items you might like” automated recommendation module we have on our home page now. One of the recommendations was a letterpress book containing the poem “A Word on Statistics,” by Wislawa Szymborska, made by Susan Angebranndt, owner of Green Chair Press.

A Word on Statistics

The title was intriguing, so I took a closer look. I had never heard of this poem or the poet, so I found it online and it is delightful.  I spend a lot of time these days exercising my left brain (the logical, analytical side) but I try to keep my right brain supple by continuing to read poetry and literature, too.  A poem like this brings both of those modes of thinking together quite beautifully.  Of course, I shared this serendipitous discovery (delivered to me using statistical methods!) to the 80+ folks in my Etsy Circle by favoriting it, which puts it in my activity feed on Etsy (we launched Circles and Activity Feeds at Etsy earlier this week).  This series of events was satisfying on so many levels!

Check out the Wikipedia page for Wislawa Szymborska, who won the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature and also wrote “Pi,” which is featured in another beautiful letterpress book made by Susan at Green Chair Press. Here’s the poem:


by Wislawa Szymborska
(translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak)

Out of every hundred people,
those who always know better:

Unsure of every step:
almost all the rest.

Ready to help,
if it doesn’t take long:

Always good,
because they cannot be otherwise:
four — well, maybe five.

Able to admire without envy:

Led to error
by youth (which passes):
sixty, plus or minus.

Those not to be messed with:

Living in constant fear
of someone or something:

Capable of happiness:
twenty-some-odd at most.

Harmless alone,
turning savage in crowds:
more than half, for sure.

when forced by circumstances:
it’s better not to know,
not even approximately.

Wise in hindsight:
not many more
than wise in foresight.

Getting nothing out of life except things:
(though I would like to be wrong).

Balled up in pain
and without a flashlight in the dark:
eighty-three, sooner or later.

Those who are just:
quite a few, thirty-five.

But if it takes effort to understand:

Worthy of empathy:

one hundred out of one hundred —
a figure that has never varied yet.