Namesake: On Being Small (Or, How to Name a Blog)

Wisława Szymborska, Kraków, 1980, photo: Wojciech Plewiński / Forum

Wisława Szymborska, Kraków, 1980, photo: Wojciech Plewiński / Forum

We struggled to pick a name for this site. We wanted to give a sense of the topics areas we’ll be addressing without being too literal, too self-helpy, or too limiting since this site focuses on career and work, but also greater life choices. We brainstormed, researched, and tested out ideas (the runner up was “The Sounding Line,” after a nautical tool for measuring depths). We thought about literary references (James and the Giant Peach), biological themes (equilibrium, symbiosis), and object analogies (Newton’s Cradle).

After yet another brainstorming session that didn’t go anywhere, we were pretty decided to go with “The Sounding Line.” but Leda remembered Wislawa Szymborska’s poem, “Under One Small Star” (copied below). We like Small Answers as a name and believe that it captures our essentially humble approach, our blend of ambition and realism, and our practical orientation. The themes in Szymborska’s poem address many of Small Answer’s central themes, particularly the imperfect nature of living a human existence.

The line “My apologies to great questions for small answers” suggests that we have only mundane and human-scale answers to the great mysteries of the universe. Big Questions — the ones about the meaning of life, of why we are here and what to do while we are — have no certain answers. Szymborska’s poem suggests that these uncertainties are addressed in small ways: by living the lives we have, by chopping wood and carrying water. For us, these small answers can be very significant. Small changes can have big impacts.

In NPR’s obituary of Wislawa Szymborska, David Orr writes “Szymborska’s poems generally focus on everyday subjects or situations, and her tone stays firmly in the middle ground. She doesn’t rant; she calmly assesses.” We hope to do the same.


Under One Small Star

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.

My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.

Please, don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.

May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.

My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.

My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.

Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.

Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.

I apologize for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths.

I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at five a.m.

Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.

Pardon me, deserts, that I don’t rush to you bearing a spoonful of water.

And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the same cage,

your gaze always fixed on the same point in space,

forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.

My apologies to the felled tree for the table’s four legs.

My apologies to great questions for small answers.

Truth, please don’t pay me much attention.

Dignity, please be magnanimous.

Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from your train.

Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.

My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.

My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.

I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,

since I myself stand in my own way.

Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,

then labor heavily so that they may seem light.


-Wislawa Szymborska


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