Poland's 1996 Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska, whose simple words and playful verse plucked threads of irony and empathy out of life, has died.
She was 88.
Szymborska, a heavy smoker, died in her sleep of lung cancer yesterday evening at her home in the southern city of Krakow, her personal secretary Michal Rusinek said.
She died surrounded by relatives and friends, said Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska, a journalist and a friend of the poet.
The Nobel award committee's citation called her the "Mozart of poetry," a woman who mixed the elegance of language with "the fury of Beethoven" and tackled serious subjects with humor. While she was arguably the most popular poet in Poland, most of the world had not heard of the shy, soft-spoken Szymborska before she won the Nobel prize.
She has been called both deeply political and playful, a poet who used humor in unforeseen ways. Her verse, seemingly simple, was subtle, deep and often hauntingly beautiful. She used simple objects and detailed observation to reflect on larger truths, often using everyday images, an onion, a cat wandering in an empty apartment, an old fan in a museum, to reflect on grand topics such as love, death and passing time. Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said on Twitter her death was an "irreparable loss to Poland's culture."
Last year, President Bronislaw Komorowski honored Szymborska with Poland's highest distinction, The Order of the White Eagle, in recognition of her contribution to her country's culture.
Despite six decades of writing, Szymborska had less than 400 poems published.
Asked why, she once said: "There is a trash bin in my room. A poem written in the evening is read again in the morning. It does not always survive."
Szymborska was born in the village of Bnin, now part of Kornik, near Poznan in western Poland on July 2, 1923. Eight years later she moved with her parents to Krakow, and developed deep ties to the medieval city, with its rich artistic and intellectual milieu. She lived there until her death.