She was also known for her ability to shift perspective, demonstrated in her oft-cited "Cat in the Empty Apartment," which looks at death from the viewpoint of a cat that has lost its master:
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here,
but nothing is the same.
Nothing has been moved,
but there's more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit.
Although Szymborska, who was once described by Milosz as a "reverse-confessional" poet, was writing about death from a distance, the subtext of "Cat" was highly personal. A friend told The Times it was spurred by the death of a longtime companion with whom she shared the animal.
Szymborska was married twice. Her first marriage, to poet Adam Wlodek, ended in divorce. Her second husband, Kornel Filipowicz, died in the early 1990s. She had no children.
Born in the small west Polish town of Bnin on July 2, 1923, she moved to Krakow when she was 8. Her father gave her pocket money every time she wrote a poem. "You could say I started making my living as a poet from the age of 5," she told the Washington Post in 1998. "He didn't notice that sometimes I gave him the same poem twice."
She lived through tremendous upheavals, including the German occupation in 1939 and the Soviet invasion and repression that followed. In 1945, when she entered Krakow's Jagiellonian University, she joined a circle of writers and published her first poem.
By 1949 she completed her first collection, but it paid insufficient tribute to the ideals of the postwar Communist regime and was rejected. Her next collection, "That's What We Live For," was deemed more politically correct — one critic described it as "agitation-propaganda in a chamber-music manner" — and was published in 1952.
Szymborska later renounced her early poems, calling the social-realist style she had adopted "a mistake of my youth." A shift in her political thinking was apparent by 1957 when her third volume, "Calling Out to Yeti," was published. In one of its poems she compared Josef Stalin to the Abominable Snowman.
She reportedly resigned from the Polish Socialist Party in 1966. She worked as a critic for a literary magazine for almost 30 years. In the 1980s she joined an underground magazine and became active in the Solidarity movement that helped topple the Communist government.
"My life as a citizen of this country has changed dramatically since Solidarity," she told The Times in 1996, "but my life as a poet has not."
She published a collection every six or seven years, writing by hand in a modest apartment with a view of a parking lot. Though rarely seen on the streets of Krakow, she had a tight circle of friends and wrote them letters in limericks, a form that she delighted in. Her personal secretary, Michal Rusinek, told Polish television this week that she was composing poems until she died.
From her "Poems New and Collected" (2000):
when it comes you'll be dreaming
that you don't need to breathe;
that breathless silence is
the music of the dark
and it's part of the rhythm
to vanish like a spark.