Wisława Szymborska

Thoughts Haunting Me in Busy Streets

Faces.
Billions of faces on the surface of the world.
Supposedly each different
from those that were and will be.
But Nature—and who can really tell—
maybe tired from constant work
repeats her former ideas
and puts on us faces
already worn.

Maybe Archimedes in jeans is passing you by,
Catherine the Great in second-hand clothes,
one of the pharaohs with a briefcase, in glasses. 

A widow of a barefoot cobbler
from a still small Warsaw,
the master from the cave of Altamira
taking grandchildren to the zoo,
a shaggy Vandal on the way to a museum
to get his delight.

Some who fell two hundred centuries ago,
five centuries ago
and half a century ago.

Someone transported here in a gilded carriage,
someone in a cart to the scaffold.

Montezuma, Confucius, Nebuchadnezzar,
their nannies, their laundresses and Semiramis,
speaking only in English.

Billions of faces on the surface of the world.
Your face, mine, whose—
you will never find out.
Maybe Nature must cheat,
and to keep pace, and to keep up
she starts to cast for what is sunk
in the mirror of oblivion.