Associated Press
February 01, 2012 AT 12:00 PM EST

Poland’s 1996 Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska, whose simple words and playful verse plucked threads of irony and empathy out of life, has died. She was 88.

The Nobel award committee’s citation called her the “Mozart of poetry,” a woman who mixed the elegance of language with “the fury of Beethoven” and tackled serious subjects with humor. While she was arguably the most popular poet in Poland, most of the world had not heard of the shy, soft-spoken Szymborska before she won the Nobel prize.

She has been called both deeply political and playful, a poet who used humor in unforeseen ways. Her verse, seemingly simple, was subtle, deep and often hauntingly beautiful. She used simple objects and detailed observation to reflect on larger truths, often using everyday images — an onion, a cat wandering in an empty apartment, an old fan in a museum — to reflect on grand topics such as love, death and passing time.

Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said on Twitter that her death was an “irreparable loss to Poland’s culture.”

Her poetry was wildly popular with her Polish readers, who snapped up each new volume upon release. Polish rock singer Kora turned her poem “Nothing Twice” into a popular song. The tune was a 1994 hit in Poland, leading Poles to sing: “nothing can ever happen twice/in consequence, the sorry fact is/that we arrive here improvised/and leave without the chance to practice.”

She published her last book, “Here,” in 2008.

After arriving in Stockholm to receive her Nobel, reporters at the airport asked Szymborska about the first poem she ever wrote.

She replied with modesty and humor familiar to her readers.

“It’s hard to say what the first one was about because I started very early to write poems. I was about 4 years old,” she said. “Of course they were clumsy and ridiculous. But when one poem was right, my father took it and gave me some money to buy chocolates.

“So I can say I started living by my poetry when I was 4.”

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