Analysis of the Terrorist He is Watching by Wislawa Szymborska



Well-known in her native Poland, Wisława Szymborska received international recognition when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. “The Terrorist, He’s Watching” by Wislawa Szymborska is a poem that tells about the narrator waiting anxiously for a planted bomb to explode in a bar, watching and describing people as they enter and leave the bar.


The bomb in the bar2 will explode at thirteen twenty3.
Now it’s just thirteen sixteen.
There’s still time for some to go in,
and some to come out.

The terrorist has already crossed the street.
The distance keeps him out of danger,
and what a view -just like the movies1:


1.  simile – perspective of the terrorists

2. assonance – emphasize

3. alliteration - emphasize

First stanza summarizes the situation where a bomb is set at the bar to be exploded after four minutes. Most probably the partner of the terrorist explores the events at a safe distance. In the first and second stanzas his explorations are given in third person point of view.  The introduction creates suspense in the mind of the reader understanding that there will be a bomb blast within five minutes. Narrator is viewing the incident as a scene of a movie which shows his mental condition void of humanity. The simple language used is also suggestive of the simplicity of the activity for them as professionals. But for the reader, the lines generate a shocking picture of impending disaster.

 

A woman in a yellow 1jacket, she’s going in.
A man in dark glasses, he’s coming out.
Teen-agers in jeans, they’re talking.
Thirteen seventeen and four seconds.
The short one, he’s lucky, he’s getting on a scooter,
but the tall one, he’s going in.


1. Yellow colour symbolizes the sickliness or weakness

From the third stanza, the view point of the terrorist is shown. Use of first person narration brings his real time explorations at the bar. Further, from his simple tone of voice, reader can understand his mind set about the crime that he is going to commit. He is probably settled somewhere across the street. His counting people and time increases the suspense and the reader feels he or she is looking at the scene at the same spot. His vivid explanations about each person at the bar creates images. These pictures evoke sympathy in readers’ minds about the innocent people who have no idea what terror awaits them. It seems the terrorist himself is happy about people leaving the bar avoiding the bomb. 


Thirteen seventeen and forty seconds.
That girl, she’s walking along with a green ribbon1 in her hair.
But then a bus suddenly pulls in front of her.
Thirteen eighteen.
The girl’s gone.
Was she that dumb, did she go in or not,
we’ll see when they carry them out.           


1.  Green +ribbon – suggestive of the young

In fourth stanza, narrator further zooming in focusing a girl who is wearing green ribbons. She may be a young school girl. His counting down of the timer deepens the suspense. Narrator and the reader are lost in the scene as a bus covers the girl; the scene is disturbed and no one knows what has happened to the young girl. The terrorist too seems worry about her unknown fate. The mental condition of terrorists and the inhumanity associated with bombing are visible by the line: “we’ll see when they carry them out.” The casual tone and the conversational language shows that the terrorist’s indifferent attitude to the innocent victims.

Thirteen nineteen.
Somehow no one’s going in.
Another guy, fat, bald, is leaving, though.
Wait a second, looks like he’s looking for something in his pockets and
at thirteen twenty minus ten seconds
he goes back in for his crummy gloves1.


1. dirty or useless – the man could have easily bought another had he known he is going to the mouth of hell.

Zooming in further, the ill fate of a fat bald man who is going into the bar at the last minute engage reader to close their ears with both hands. Narrator tells the time in seconds deepens the suspense further. The incident is a lesson that shows impermanence of life. It can fly away at any moment without any notice.    

Thirteen twenty exactly.
This waiting, it’s taking forever.

Any second now.
No, not yet. Yes, now.
The bomb, it explodes1.


1. Use of present tense shows the universality of the incident where we can relate the incident without any time bound and the reader exactly feels what the terrorist actually feels. 

six and seven stanzas show the larger picture. The waiting time suddenly ends with short lines. Narrators words explains his restless waiting is over. The bomb explodes with the innocent people at the bar. 

Through the first person point of view the reader experience something new rather than a news report. They can look through the peephole from the terrorist’s view point. The shocking, thought provoking idea of life in a bubble and the value of lives opens the eye of readers to be better humans to make a better world. 

Hope that you have understood the magic of first person point of view. If you have any ideas, feel free to discuss it in the comment section.  


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2 Comments

  1. This is really helpful work! I congratulate on your blog Sampath! Keep it up! You ar
    e such an amazing teacher!

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    1. Thank you, comment like yours help me to extend my work further.

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