Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

A dark sky with a few scattered stars fades to a bright pink horizon over dark waters

Sally Haslanger on “Under One Small Star”


A dark sky with a few scattered stars fades to a bright pink horizon over dark waters
“Venus, Jupiter & Aldebaran” by Luis Argerich [source]

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. 

This is entry #88 in our ongoing 100 Philosophers, 100 Artworks, 100 Words Series.

Philosopher: Sally Haslanger (MIT)

Artwork: “Under One Small Star” (1972), poem by Wislawa Szymborska, translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh. In Map: Collected and Last Poems (2015)

Words: This poem speaks so deeply to me of how impossible it is to live a life that does justice to all that is good and beautiful and important. We not only fail to do justice to what is valuable, but we are mistaken about what is valuable: the falcon may be stuffed.  We may not have enough to make a difference, even if we try: how would the spoonful of water help? How can we apologize to time, to necessity, to wars?  But isn’t it apt that we do?  What can apologizing do but make slightly bearable what really isn’t?

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