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Home » The Terrorist, He Watches : A Critical Examination of Wisława Szymborska’s Poem

The Terrorist, He Watches : A Critical Examination of Wisława Szymborska’s Poem

Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches” is a haunting portrayal of the mindset of a terrorist, as seen through the eyes of the poet. The poem is a reflection on the nature of violence and the human condition, and it raises important questions about the role of the individual in society and the responsibility we have to each other. In this article, we will take a critical look at Szymborska’s poem and explore the themes and ideas it presents. We will examine the language, imagery, and structure of the poem, and consider its relevance in today’s world. Ultimately, we will see that “The Terrorist, He Watches” is a powerful and thought-provoking work that challenges us to confront the darker aspects of human nature and strive for a more peaceful and just world.

The Poem

In her poem “The Terrorist, He Watches,” Wisława Szymborska explores the complex psychology of a terrorist. The poem is written in the second person, addressing the terrorist directly and inviting the reader to empathize with his perspective. The language is stark and direct, with short, declarative sentences that convey a sense of urgency and tension. Through the use of vivid imagery and metaphor, Szymborska creates a portrait of a man who is both deeply human and deeply flawed. The poem raises important questions about the nature of violence, the role of ideology in shaping human behavior, and the limits of empathy and understanding. Overall, “The Terrorist, He Watches” is a powerful and thought-provoking work that challenges readers to confront the complexities of the human experience.

The Author

Wisława Szymborska was a Polish poet and essayist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. She was known for her ability to capture the complexities of the human experience in her writing. In her poem “The Terrorist, He Watches,” Szymborska explores the theme of surveillance and the impact it has on both the watcher and the watched. Through her use of vivid imagery and powerful language, she invites readers to consider the implications of living in a world where privacy is increasingly scarce. As an author, Szymborska’s work continues to resonate with readers around the world, reminding us of the importance of empathy and understanding in a world that often seems divided.

The Historical Context

The historical context of Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches” is crucial to understanding its significance. The poem was written in 1987, during the height of the Cold War and the era of state-sponsored terrorism. The world was still reeling from the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182, which killed 329 people, and the 1986 bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Berlin, which killed three people and injured over 200. These events, along with countless others, had created a climate of fear and suspicion, and had led to increased security measures and surveillance.

Szymborska’s poem speaks to this climate of fear and suspicion, and to the ways in which it can lead to a loss of freedom and a loss of humanity. The poem’s narrator is a terrorist who watches his victim from afar, and who revels in the power he holds over her. But as the poem progresses, it becomes clear that the terrorist is also a victim of his own fear and paranoia. He is trapped in a cycle of violence and hatred, and he is unable to see the humanity in his victim or in himself.

By placing the poem in its historical context, we can see how it speaks to larger issues of terrorism, surveillance, and the erosion of civil liberties. We can also see how it speaks to the human condition, and to the ways in which fear and hatred can consume us if we are not careful. In this way, “The Terrorist, He Watches” is not just a poem about a specific moment in history, but a timeless meditation on the nature of violence and the importance of empathy and understanding.

The Literary Devices Used

Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches” is a masterful work of poetry that employs a variety of literary devices to convey its message. One of the most prominent devices used in the poem is imagery. Szymborska uses vivid and evocative descriptions to create a sense of tension and unease throughout the poem. For example, she describes the terrorist as “a spider in the web” and “a snake in the grass,” both of which are powerful and unsettling images that suggest danger and deceit.

Another important device used in the poem is irony. Szymborska employs irony to highlight the absurdity of terrorism and the way it distorts reality. For example, she notes that the terrorist “watches the world through the sights of his gun” and “sees everything as a target,” which is a stark contrast to the way most people view the world.

Finally, Szymborska uses repetition to great effect in the poem. The repeated phrase “he watches” serves to emphasize the terrorist’s constant vigilance and the sense of paranoia that pervades the poem. Additionally, the repetition of certain words and phrases throughout the poem creates a sense of rhythm and momentum that propels the reader forward.

Overall, the literary devices used in “The Terrorist, He Watches” are integral to the poem’s success. Through the use of imagery, irony, and repetition, Szymborska creates a powerful and thought-provoking work that forces the reader to confront the realities of terrorism and its impact on society.

The Theme of Terrorism

The theme of terrorism is a prevalent issue in today’s society, and it is one that Wisława Szymborska addresses in her poem “The Terrorist, He Watches.” The poem explores the mindset of a terrorist and the impact of their actions on innocent individuals. Szymborska’s use of language and imagery highlights the senseless violence and destruction caused by terrorism. Through her poem, she challenges readers to consider the root causes of terrorism and the importance of finding peaceful solutions to conflicts. The theme of terrorism is a complex and multifaceted issue, and Szymborska’s poem offers a thought-provoking perspective on this important topic.

The Role of the Observer

The role of the observer is crucial in Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches.” The poem explores the perspective of a terrorist who is watching his victim, waiting for the right moment to strike. However, it is not just the terrorist who is observing; the speaker of the poem is also watching, and their observations are intertwined.

The observer’s role in the poem is to provide a sense of detachment and objectivity. They are not directly involved in the action, but rather are watching from a distance. This allows them to see things that the characters involved may not be able to see. For example, the observer notes the “fleeting expressions” on the victim’s face, which the terrorist may not be able to see from his vantage point.

At the same time, the observer’s role is not purely objective. They are also interpreting what they see and making judgments about the situation. For example, the observer notes that the victim is “unaware of the danger,” which implies that the terrorist is a threat. The observer’s interpretation of the situation is important because it shapes how the reader understands the poem.

Overall, the role of the observer in “The Terrorist, He Watches” is to provide a perspective that is both objective and interpretive. They are able to see things that the characters involved may not be able to see, but they are also making judgments about the situation. This adds complexity to the poem and allows the reader to engage with it on multiple levels.

The Significance of the Title

The title of Wisława Szymborska’s poem, “The Terrorist, He Watches,” is significant in several ways. Firstly, it immediately sets the tone for the poem, suggesting that the speaker is being observed by someone who is potentially dangerous. This creates a sense of tension and unease that permeates the entire piece.

Additionally, the use of the word “terrorist” is significant in that it immediately conjures up images of violence and fear. This is particularly relevant given the current political climate, where acts of terrorism have become all too common. By using this loaded term, Szymborska is able to tap into the collective anxiety that many people feel about the threat of terrorism.

Finally, the fact that the terrorist is watching suggests a power dynamic in which the speaker is vulnerable and exposed. This is reinforced by the repeated use of the pronoun “he,” which emphasizes the gendered nature of this dynamic. Overall, the title of the poem serves as a powerful entry point into the themes and ideas that Szymborska explores throughout the piece.

The Use of Irony

Irony is a literary device that is often used to convey a message in a subtle and indirect manner. In Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches,” irony is used to highlight the absurdity of terrorism and the futility of violence. The poem is written from the perspective of a terrorist who is watching the world from a distance, and it is filled with ironic statements that reveal the contradictions and paradoxes of his actions. For example, the terrorist claims that he is fighting for a noble cause, but he is also aware that his actions are causing harm to innocent people. This irony serves to underscore the senselessness of terrorism and the tragic consequences that it can have. Overall, the use of irony in “The Terrorist, He Watches” is a powerful tool that helps to convey the poem’s message in a way that is both thought-provoking and emotionally resonant.

The Criticism of Violence

The use of violence as a means of achieving political or ideological goals has been a controversial issue throughout history. While some argue that violence is necessary in certain situations, others believe that it only perpetuates a cycle of violence and does more harm than good. Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches” explores the mindset of a terrorist and the justification they use for their violent actions. However, the poem has also faced criticism for its portrayal of violence and its potential to glorify it. Critics argue that by giving a voice to the terrorist, the poem may inadvertently validate their actions and perpetuate the idea that violence is an acceptable means of achieving one’s goals. As such, it is important to examine the role of violence in society and the potential consequences of its use.

The Message of the Poem

The message of Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches” is a powerful commentary on the nature of terrorism and its impact on society. Through the use of vivid imagery and a haunting tone, Szymborska explores the psychological and emotional toll that terrorism can have on both the victims and the perpetrators. The poem also raises important questions about the root causes of terrorism and the role that individuals and governments can play in preventing it. Ultimately, “The Terrorist, He Watches” serves as a poignant reminder of the devastating consequences of violence and the urgent need for peace and understanding in our world.

The Relevance Today

Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches” may have been written in the 1980s, but its relevance today cannot be denied. In a world where terrorism continues to be a major threat, the poem’s message about the dangers of extremism and the need for empathy and understanding is more important than ever. The poem’s portrayal of the terrorist as a human being with fears, doubts, and vulnerabilities challenges the simplistic and dehumanizing narratives that often dominate discussions about terrorism. It reminds us that behind every act of violence, there are complex social, political, and psychological factors that need to be understood and addressed if we are to prevent future attacks. Moreover, the poem’s call for empathy and dialogue is a powerful antidote to the divisive and polarizing rhetoric that often fuels extremism and terrorism. In a world where walls are being built and borders are being closed, Szymborska’s poem reminds us of the importance of building bridges and finding common ground. Ultimately, “The Terrorist, He Watches” is a powerful reminder that poetry can be a force for social and political change, and that the insights and wisdom of great poets can continue to inspire and guide us long after they are gone.

The Impact on Society

Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches” has a profound impact on society by shedding light on the complex nature of terrorism and its effects on both the victims and the perpetrators. The poem explores the psychological state of a terrorist who is constantly watching and waiting for the right moment to strike. It also highlights the fear and anxiety that the victims of terrorism experience, as well as the lasting trauma that can result from such attacks.

Furthermore, the poem raises important questions about the root causes of terrorism and the role that society plays in perpetuating it. It challenges us to examine our own biases and prejudices, and to consider the ways in which our actions and beliefs may contribute to the cycle of violence.

Overall, “The Terrorist, He Watches” serves as a powerful reminder of the devastating impact that terrorism can have on individuals and communities. It encourages us to approach this complex issue with empathy and understanding, and to work towards creating a more peaceful and just world for all.

The Analysis of the Language

In Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches,” the language used is both simple and complex. The simplicity of the language is evident in the short, concise sentences that make up the poem. However, the complexity lies in the layers of meaning that are hidden within those sentences.

The poem is written in the third person, which creates a sense of detachment from the subject matter. This detachment is further emphasized by the use of the word “he” to refer to the terrorist. The use of the third person also allows the reader to view the situation from a more objective perspective, which is important when dealing with such a sensitive topic.

The language used in the poem is also very visual. The use of imagery helps to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. For example, the line “he watches the world like a hawk” creates a clear image of the terrorist surveying his surroundings with a keen eye. The use of similes and metaphors throughout the poem also adds to the visual nature of the language.

Another interesting aspect of the language used in the poem is the use of repetition. The phrase “he watches” is repeated several times throughout the poem, which creates a sense of unease and tension. The repetition also emphasizes the obsessive nature of the terrorist’s surveillance.

Overall, the language used in “The Terrorist, He Watches” is both simple and complex, visual and repetitive. These elements work together to create a powerful and thought-provoking poem that forces the reader to confront the uncomfortable reality of terrorism.

The Imagery Used

In Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches,” the imagery used is both vivid and haunting. The poem begins with the image of a terrorist watching a city from afar, his eyes fixed on the people below. The city is described as “a toy town,” emphasizing the terrorist’s detachment from the reality of the lives he is about to destroy. As the poem progresses, the imagery becomes more violent and disturbing, with references to “the sound of a bomb exploding” and “the smell of burning flesh.” The use of sensory details makes the poem all the more powerful, forcing the reader to confront the horror of terrorism in a visceral way. Overall, the imagery used in “The Terrorist, He Watches” serves to underscore the poem’s central message about the senselessness and brutality of violence.

The Tone of the Poem

The tone of Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches” is one of detachment and irony. The speaker describes the terrorist’s actions in a matter-of-fact way, almost as if they are observing a scientific experiment. This detachment serves to highlight the absurdity and senselessness of the terrorist’s actions. The use of irony also adds to the tone, as the speaker notes the terrorist’s “noble” intentions while simultaneously describing the harm and destruction he causes. Overall, the tone of the poem serves to critique and condemn terrorism while also highlighting the complexities and contradictions of human nature.

The Symbolism of the Objects

In Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches,” the objects mentioned throughout the poem hold significant symbolism. The “watch” that the terrorist wears represents his constant surveillance and control over his surroundings. The “gun” he carries symbolizes his power and ability to inflict harm. The “window” he looks out of represents his detachment from the world and his isolation in his mission. These objects not only add to the imagery of the poem but also provide insight into the mindset of the terrorist and the destructive nature of his actions. The symbolism of these objects highlights the danger and fear that terrorism brings to society.

The Comparison to Other Works

In comparison to other works of literature that deal with the theme of terrorism, Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches” stands out for its unique perspective. While many works focus on the actions and motivations of the terrorists themselves, Szymborska’s poem instead focuses on the bystanders who witness the events unfold. This shift in perspective allows for a deeper exploration of the psychological impact of terrorism on those who are not directly involved. Additionally, Szymborska’s use of language and imagery creates a haunting and visceral portrayal of the fear and uncertainty that accompanies acts of terror. Overall, “The Terrorist, He Watches” offers a thought-provoking and nuanced examination of a complex and timely issue.

The Interpretation of the Ending

The ending of Wisława Szymborska’s poem “The Terrorist, He Watches” leaves readers with a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty. The final lines, “He watches, he would like to go home, but he can’t, he’s got a job to do,” suggest that the terrorist is torn between his desire for a normal life and his commitment to his cause. Some readers may interpret this as a commentary on the complex motivations of terrorists, while others may see it as a critique of the societal factors that drive individuals to extremism. Ultimately, the interpretation of the ending will depend on the reader’s own perspective and experiences.