The Ghost of Shakespeare: Collected Essays 9781644694725

This first edition of the collected critical prose of Anna Frajlich, scholar of Polish literature and culture and award-

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The Ghost of Shakespeare: Collected Essays

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E s s a y s

Polish Studies Series Editor: Halina Filipowicz, University of Wisconsin, Madison Editorial Board: Robert Frost, University of Aberdeen Christopher Garbowski, Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin Elwira Grossman, University of Glasgow Irena Grudzińska Gross, Princeton University; Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw Beth Holmgren, Duke University Andrzej Karcz, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw Joanna Michlic, University College London Ryszard Nycz, Jagiellonian University, Kraków; Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw Neal Pease, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Ursula Phillips, University College London Bozena Shallcross, University of Chicago Keely Stauter-Halsted, University of Illinois, Chicago Oscar Swan, University of Pittsburgh Kris Van Heuckelom, University of Leuven


E s s a y s

Anna Frajlich

Edited and with an Afterword by Ronald Meyer

Boston 2020

Studies of the Harriman Institute Columbia University The Harriman Institute, Columbia University, sponsors the Studies of the Harriman Institute in the belief that their publication contributes to scholarly research and public understanding. In this way the Institute, while not necessarily endorsing their conclusions, is pleased to make available the results of some of the research conducted under its auspices.

In memory of my parents, Amalia and Psachie Frajlich

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Frajlich, Anna, author. | Meyer, Ronald, editor, writer of afterword. Title: The ghost of Shakespeare : collected essays / Anna Frajlich ; edited and with an afterword by Ronald Meyer. Description: Boston : Academic Studies Press, 2020. | Series: Polish studies | Includes bibliographical references. Identifiers: LCCN 2020030050 (print) | LCCN 2020030051 (ebook) | ISBN 9781644694718 (hardback) | ISBN 9781644694725 (adobe pdf) | ISBN 9781644694732 (epub) Subjects: LCSH: Polish literature--20th century--History and criticism. | Russian poetry--Roman influences. | Frajlich, Anna. | Authors, Polish--20th century-- Biography. Classification: LCC PG7051 .F66 2020 (print) | LCC PG7051 (ebook) | DDC 891.8/509007--dc23

LC record available at LC ebook record available at Copyright © 2020 Academic Studies Press All rights reserved. ISBN 9781644694718 hardback ISBN 9781644694725 ebook PDF ISBN 9781644694732 ePub Cover art by Janusz Kapusta. Book design by Kryon Publishing Services (P) Ltd. Published by Academic Studies Press 1577 Beacon St. Brookline, MA 02446, USA [email protected]




Part One —On Poetry


1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

Czesław Miłosz: The Ambivalent Landscape of Return He Also Knew How to Be Gracious (Czesław Miłosz) From Common Servant to Lot’s Wife (Wisława Szymborska) Intellect Imbued with Clarity, Grace, and Humor Notes on Wisława Szymborska The Ghost of Shakespeare in the Poetry of Wisława Szymborska The Last Time We Saw Her . . . (Wisława Szymborska) Apollo and Marsyas: A Tribute to Zbigniew Herbert Poet of the Seventh Climate: Recurrent Images in the Poetry of Bronisław Przyłuski A Canon of His Own (Vasyl Makhno) Must Poetry Be Absolutely Modern?

Part Two—On Polish Prose

11. 12. 13. 14.

Two Unknown Soldiers ( Józef Wittlin) Bruno Schulz: Mythmaker and Legend The Lifelong Passion of Jerzy Ficowski Jealousy, Sex, and Character: Michał Choromański and Otto Weininger 15. Narrative Strategies: The Case of Andrzej Bobkowski 16. Henryk Grynberg: His Quest for Artistic and Non-Artistic Truth 17. Finding the Way between Globalization and Decentralization: Polish Literature after 1989

2 13 26 33 41 55 58 69 84 90 97

98 108 118 123 133 143 158

Part Three—On Russian Symbolism

18. Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov 19. The Contradictions of the Northern Pilgrim: Dmitry Merezhkovsky 20. The Quest for Pax Romana as a Quest for Peace of Mind: Vasily Komarovsky 21. The Scepter of the Far East and the Crown of the Third Rome: The Russo-Japanese War in the Mirror of Russian Poetry Part Four—On Writing and Exile

22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28.

My Native Realm My “Unprocessed” Holocaust March Began in June: My “Processed” Trauma The Price of Integrity Cultural Diversity in the Workplace Writing Polish in America Identity and Difference: The Power of Language

Afterword Departures, Returns and Memory in the Collected Essays of Anna Frajlich Bibliography Selected Honors and Publications Index



194 203 220 235

236 245 250 260 265 268 274 279 283 287 289



ver since I was a young girl I have been fascinated by Polish literature. I started to write poems when I was in grade school, and when I was in high school my first poems appeared in the Polish-language edition of the Jewish newspaper in Warsaw. Soon afterward, my poems were also published in Szczecin, where my family lived after World War II, and occasionally in Poznań. I received my first poetry award when I was still in high school. It was the time of the “Thaw” and many new artistic clubs were being formed in our city. I was invited to a club that had been organized by artists and poets. A young painter had cleared out his cellar and built a small podium from where we would read our work. My father donated a coal heater, and eventually our meetings and activities became quite well known, and the city radio station ran a program about us. Because I was still a high-school student, I had to be home before curfew, and could not walk in the evenings alone, so every night one of the poets would walk me home. Initially, I did not tell anyone about my literary attempts when I was at Warsaw University. A few years later a couple of my closer friends shared my secret and I was invited to join the group Forum Poetów (Poets’ Forum), which functioned under the umbrella of Warsaw’s well-known Klub Hybrydy. Soon the political turmoil of 1968 was upon us and we were pressured by the virulent anti-Semitic campaign to emigrate. To the very end, my poet friends remained loyal and dedicated to me, they came to see me off at the station, even though they knew they might be photographed by the security services. And my poems appeared in the club’s publication after my departure. Since my name was unknown to the censorship, they slipped by unnoticed. I still meet some of these friends on my visits to Warsaw. In Poland I graduated with a master’s degree in philology from Warsaw University, after which I attended Professor Janina Kulczycka-Saloni’s postgraduate seminar and worked a few years as a journalist and editor at a magazine for the blind. When I was forced to leave my homeland in 1969, one of the causes of my exilic trauma was the fear that I would never be able to resume working in my field of expertise, the field that I loved. Graduate study in New York University’s Slavic Department, where I defended my dissertation in Russian literature, significantly broadened my perspective on literature and literary research, and consequently opened up for me the possibility of teaching Polish language and literature at an American university, in my case the Department of Slavic Languages at Columbia University.


Preface Zoya Yurieff, my adviser at NYU, inspired me and opened up for me opportunities of which I could not even dream. She had read my poems in the major Polish émigré magazine based in London, and at our first chance encounter she told me that my place was in the university, that I should apply to graduate school, and she would write me a letter of recommendation. Years later, after I had finished my graduate coursework, she came up with the idea for the topic of my dissertation. Knowing that I had spent seven months in Rome waiting for my visa to the United States, she suggested that I examine the Roman theme in Russian Symbolist poetry. During the process of working on my dissertation I had the opportunity to publish two chapters in collections in honor of my mentor Zoya Yurieff and Wojciech Skalmowski, Professor at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium). My essay “The Scepter of the Far East and the Crown of the Third Rome in the Mirror of Russian Poetry” is a byproduct of my dissertation. More than a decade after defending my dissertation, I responded to the call of Hebrew University to participate in the international conference, “The Memory and Significance of the Russo-Japanese War from the Centennial Perspective” (2004). I realized that many of the symbols and metaphors I had come across in my research served as covert means of expressing the postwar national trauma. I reexamined the material from that focus and presented it at the conference. It was subsequently published in the volume of conference proceedings.1 My dissertation was published as The Legacy of Ancient Rome in the Russian Silver Age (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007). My friend, mentor, and Columbia colleague, Professor Robert Maguire, introduced me to Ronald Meyer, editor at the Harriman Institute, and encouraged him to edit my immigrant’s English and publish the book in Studies of the Harriman Institute. For the last two decades all my texts in English have been edited by Dr. Meyer. Attending conferences and conventions inspired me to organize panels and conferences on Polish literature at the university or Polish scholarly associations in New York. In these initiatives I could always count on the support of Professors Robert Maguire and Robert Belknap, both of whom had knowledge and appreciation of Polish literature and culture. The 1996 conference dedicated to the legacy of the prominent Polish writer Józef Wittlin was one such event. Both eminent professors not only shared their expertise, but they also agreed to participate. In my essay for this conference I compared two novels written over quite a large span of time, the first by Józef Wittlin and the second by Albert Camus. Both novels concern the tragic experiences of young men who fought in the First World War. I immediately recognized that these two young men, one born in Ukraine and the other in Algeria, represented the tragic generation of unknown soldiers. That same year I was asked to prepare an event for the Manhattan Theater Club, dedicated to the poetry of Wisława Szymborska, who had been shortlisted for the Nobel Prize, which she received later that year. Preparations for that evening occasioned my 1

Rethinking the Russo-Japanese War, 1904–5. Centennial Perspectives, ed. Rotem Kowner (Folkestone: Global Oriental, 2007), 232–44.

Preface deeper interest in Szymborska’s poetry and my personal contact with the poet and our friendship. My study of Szymborska’s poetry resulted in another comparative text, “The Ghost of Shakespeare,” which examines the significance of Shakespearean icons in twentieth-century literature. A close reading of Choromański’s novel Jealousy and Medicine inspired me to examine the model for this novel of jealousy, and I realized that the ghost of Othello hovers over Choromański’s work as well. Even though I never specialized in comparative literature, I have always been attracted to the comparative aspect of literary analysis. I find that approach appealing and useful both in teaching language and literature, and when writing about literature. Investigating the interplay between the structures of literary texts became one of my fascinations. As George Steiner has written, “From their inception, literary studies and the arts of interpretation have been comparative.”2 In this collection the reader will find this approach or method in my essays “Two Unknown Soldiers,” “Jealousy, Sex and Character: Michał Choromański and Otto Weininger,” “The Ghost of Shakespeare in Szymborska,” and, to a lesser extent, in some others as well. Most of the essays in this collection were researched and written as a response to a call for papers: a scholarly conference, the International Biennial of Poetry in Liége, or the meetings of the International PEN Centre for Writers in Exile, of which I was a board member and later acting president. In addition, there are sketches about literary figures, some of whom I have had the honor to known personally, for example, Czesław Miłosz, Wisława Szymborska, Jerzy Ficowski, Bronisław Przyłuski, and Vasyl Makhno. The book ends with a selection from my autobiographical writings. Each of these texts demanded a different approach, and a different level of academic or literary discourse. They were all written, however, with my profound engagement and a desire to make my own contribution to the subject at hand. I am deeply indebted to my friend Ronald Meyer for his encouragement, help and editorship; to Academic Studies Press for so graciously taking on this project; and to the Harriman Institute, Columbia University, for its sponsorship of the publication. —Anna Frajlich


George Steiner, "What Is Comparative Literature," in his No Passion Spent (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 144.



Czesław Miłosz: The Ambivalent Landscape of Return


n 1951, when Czesław Miłosz, then the first secretary at the Paris Embassy of the People’s Republic of Poland, asked the French government for political asylum, my generation was just starting primary school. For us, Miłosz’s step meant that we would not find his poems in our textbooks alongside the poems of other contemporary writers, nor would his essays appear in the literary magazines. The poet himself at that time considered his step suicide, which fact he stated in the manifesto published in the Parisbased émigré monthly Kultura, his only publisher during the decades of his exile. In the mid-1960s, in order to read one of Miłosz’s books for my master’s thesis at Warsaw University, I had to obtain written permission from my advisor to gain access to this book, which had been placed in the National Library’s prohibita. To this day I remember my long trips by streetcar to the library, located quite a distance from the university. The university library did not even own the book in question. The Nobel Prize awarded to Miłosz in 1980 forced the powers-that-be in Poland to acknowledge his existence. Poetry readings and book exhibits were organized. Having left Poland ten years earlier as a political refugee, I asked a friend what constituted such an exhibit? “Mainly anthologies opened to the pages where his poems or translations were printed,” was the reply. Today Miłosz is a major figure on the international literary map. He resides half of each year in Kraków, Poland, and the other half in Berkeley, California, his domicile since 1960. Nineteen years after his Nobel award, there is not a single topic concerning his literary and/or philosophic writings that has not been examined, retold in interviews, analyzed in master’s theses and doctoral dissertations, or illustrated with photographs, maps, and indexes. “I am a rotary prophet, I disappear and come back,” Miłosz said during the interview for Radio Free Europe which I conducted with him following his receipt of the

Czesław Miłosz: The Ambivalent Landscape of Return Nobel Prize. At the time, he was not at all eager to grant this interview, for Radio Free Europe, like almost everyone else, from left to right, had given him the cold shoulder thirty years earlier. Nevertheless, he granted the interview. He seemed to have dropped the grudge against his colleagues in Poland, who had branded him a traitor after he, faced with the unrelenting Stalinization of Polish literature, chose exile. Now he had returned. Return, among such other major topoi as journeying and exile, has permeated his writing throughout. Not everyone recognizes return as a valid topos of Miłosz’s poetry. Bogdana Carpenter, in her excellent essay “Czesław Miłosz and Zbigniew Herbert: The Poet of Exile and the Poet of Return,”1 associates Miłosz only with the theme of exile and not of return. Until the political changes of 1989, with the world roughly divided into two parts, the communist realm and the free world, return was mainly, if not exclusively, associated with political choices, and the political choice was considered a moral one; some viewed as heroic the act of exile, some the act of return. The strategies of return and nonreturn concerned this set of choices. Miłosz’s political act prevented him from returning and spared or denied him the anguish associated with such decision-making. Nevertheless, the topic of return has always been present in Miłosz’s poetry, an awareness of its ambivalence notwithstanding, reinforced by the fact that on occasion he felt as if, as he expressed in a poem written in Berkeley in 1963, “I have never left you, my city.” From the point of view of its symbolism “the return home, or the return to the material home or to the motherland or birthplace, is symbolic of death, not in the sense of total destruction but of reintegration of the spirit into the Spirit.”2 At the same time, the return as an opposite state of navigating—namely, transcending—is a “mystic idea analogous to the mystery of the ‘fall’ of the soul into the material plane of existence (by the process of involution) and to the necessity of its returning to the starting point, a mystery which has been expounded by Platonic idealism and by Plotinus in particular. This law of the returning soul corresponds to the belief in the concept of a ‘closed’ universe (like that of the Eternal Return) or the conception of all phenomena as a cyclic organization.”3 In a book-length interview conducted by Aleksander Fiut, Miłosz says: “There were various returns of mine to Wilna even before 1939.”4 It was then that his meditation on the topic began. The strong resolution to return expressed in the poem “Hymn” (1935)—“I, a faithful son of earth, shall return to the black earth”5—coincided with the equally strong premonition of nonreturn expressed in the poem “In My Native Land,” written in Warsaw in 1937, which begins: “In my homeland to which I will not return.”6 1 2 3 4 5 6

Bogdana Carpenter, “Czesław Miłosz i Zbigniew Herbert: Poeta wygnania i poeta powrotu,” in Literatura polska na obczyźnie: Prace Kongresu Kultury Polskiej, ed. Józef Bujnowski (London: Kongres Kultury Polskiej na Obczyźnie, 1985), 176–92. J. E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, tr. Jack Sage (New York: Philosophical Library, 1962), 261. Ibid., 281. Aleksander Fiut, Czesława Miłosza autoportret przekorny (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1994), 276. Czesław Miłosz, “Hymn,” tr. by the author, in his Collected Poems (New York: Ecco, 1988), 13. Czesław Miłosz, Utwory poetyckie / Poems (Ann Arbor: Michigan Slavic Publications, 1988), 41. The translation here is my own.



Part One

On Poetry

At that time Miłosz, dismissed from his position at the radio station in Wilno (Vilnius) for his political views, eventually accepted a position at the more liberal Warsaw Radio. He considered this transfer, caused by the growing tension in the political climate of the thirties, his first exile. Miłosz has spent much of his life after World War II abroad, first in diplomatic service, then as an exile. Unable to return physically, the poet carried out many imaginary returns which fulfilled the function of a real return, that of a spiritual renewal. In the early thirties Miłosz translated several poems by the English metaphysical poet Thomas Traherne, among them “The Return.” In the introduction to a 1986 collection of his translations, he offers an explanation: “The question: whence here the English metaphysical poet of the seventeenth century, Thomas Traherne? The answer: unknown until then in France, he found the translator there. Cahiers du Sud, perhaps the best French literary magazine, published in Marseilles in two languages, and at that time I already possessed some elementary English.”7 The poetry of Traherne, discovered only at the turn of this century, is being placed, with some occasional reservations, alongside other metaphysical poets such as Herbert, Crashaw, Vaughan, and Donne. In his conversations with Ewa Czarnecka and Aleksander Fiut, Miłosz underlines the significance of this encounter, and later acknowledges his indebtedness to Traherne, especially to the latter’s “Poems of Felicity” as the inspiration for his wartime poem “The World.”8 In his book of essays Ogród nauk (The Garden of Knowledge, 1979) Miłosz dedicated an entire essay to his encounter with Traherne’s poetry. “The Return,” one of the two opening poems in the cycle “Poems of Felicity,” introduces several topics pertinent to the entire cycle, among them a sense of the infant’s mystical harmony with God and nature,9 the repetition of spherical imagery,10 innocent clarity and the belief that the “celestial store” within the memory can be recovered.11 The poem “represents the meditation on a state of childhood in order to find the true original nature of man and the world.”12 This is possible because of the intuition of childhood and the attribution to the newborn of the mystical experience of

Czesław Miłosz, Mowa wiązana (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1986), 5. (The thirties, according to Miłosz, marked the beginning of attraction toward things English, thus replacing to an extent French as the predominant Western cultural model.) 8 Cf. Czesław Miłosz, Ogród nauk [The Garden of Knowledge] (Paris, 1979), 39–44; Ewa Czarnecka and Aleksander Fiut, Conversations with Czesław Miłosz, tr. Richard Lourie (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987), 127. 9 Franz K. Wohrer, Thomas Traherne: The Growth of a Mystic Mind (Salzburg: University of Salzburg, 1982), 101. 10 Stanley Stewart, The Expanded Voice: The Art of Thomas Traherne (San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1970), 159, 166. 11 Louis L. Martz, The Paradise Within: Studies in Vaughan, Traherne, and Milton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964); 12 Richard Jordan, The Temple of Eternity: Thomas Traherne’s Philosophy of Time (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1972). 7

Czesław Miłosz: The Ambivalent Landscape of Return his adulthood. Therefore, “the perfect life” is seen as “a circular journey from childhood to childhood.”13 To infancy, O Lord, again I come, That I my manhood may improve: My early tutor is the womb; I still my cradle love. ‘Tis strange that I should wisest be, When least I could an Error see.

Beautifully translated in a contemporary Polish idiom, “The Return” may have set the pattern for some of Miłosz’s own “returns” written during the following decades, as he confronted his comings and goings, both real and imaginary, his actual returns to his native Lithuania from his sojourns to Warsaw and Paris, his long exile, and his trips back in the nineties when he was eventually able to visit freely the provinces of his childhood. Throughout Miłosz’s entire creative life, the desire to return, the fear of not being able to do so, the confrontation of his soothing native landscape, and the painful landscape of exile account for the immense tension and depth of his poetry. The first cycle of poems in which Miłosz conscientiously employed Traherne’s ideal of return is “The World,” written in 1943. After having given testimony to one of the most cruel spectacles the world has ever seen—the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto—in his poem “Campo dei Fiori,” Miłosz succumbs to his desire to recreate the universe in its intact form, to learn from the “womb,” from the world that has given him life and wisdom. It is not only the naive worldview that he venerates at history’s darkest hour, but also the functionality of seeing in a somewhat Trahernean mode, through “spheric perspective.” His world is flat, and everything could be seen at once. As Aleksander Fiut points out: “The word see takes on further meanings. For Miłosz it refers not only to ordinary perception or intense imagining of past events but also to the ability to penetrate beneath the surface of phenomena in order to reach the meaning that is veiled to the uninitiated eye.”14 In one poem Miłosz writes about the traveler who upon his return wants “To see, purely and simply, without name, / Without expectations, fears, or hopes, / At the edge where there is no I or not-I.”15 Miłosz’s own first poem titled “The Return,” written in 1935 in Paris and published in his wartime collection Ocalenie (Rescue, 1945), projects the “visionaryimaginative landscape typical of Miłosz’s poetry until 1943” and uses the “vocabulary 13 Allison J. Sherrington, Mystical Symbolism in the Poetry of Thomas Traherne (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1970), 70–72. 14 Aleksander Fiut, The Eternal Moment: The Poetry of Czesław Miłosz, tr. Theodosia S. Robertson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 5. Cf. also the significance of the eye (7) and the fact that, as always, “the poet is groping for the strong expressiveness of the image” (10). 15 Czesław Miłosz, “This Only,” tr. Czesław Miłosz and Robert Hass, in Collected Poems, 450.



Part One

On Poetry

of catastrophic imagery.”16 If one were to apply the interesting classification offered in Tony Tanner’s book Scenes of Nature, Signs of Men,17 there is a definite prevalence of signs over scenes. In his book Tanner examines the differences in perception of landscape in the European and American poetic traditions. The European landscape, according to Tanner, offers to onlookers both scenes of nature and immediately recognizable signs of man—that is, the cultural tradition. These differences account for the reciprocal relation between poet and landscape in European literature and the one-sided relation in American poetry, where the poet faces a vast space and encounters difficulty in attaching himself to it; hence the loneliness and soliloquial character of his poetry. “The Return,” excluded by Miłosz from his latest selection, is densely symbolic. The friends are supposed to meet at the great river, but the encounter is disrupted by an undisclosed imminent danger. (The great river in Miłosz’s poem at which the unspecified friends are supposed to meet initiates one of the most powerful recurrent images in Miłosz’s verse.)18 It is, rather, an unconsummated confrontation. The return becomes a “nonreturn,” the golden tables are to be covered with the mourning shroud, the assembled friends are to await the destruction of Nineveh. Later, Miłosz’s premonition of nonreturn finds its expression in a poem written in 1937 in Warsaw, titled “In My Homeland.” The poet evokes the image of a vast forest lake, shallow and dark, full of sharpedged weeds. This evocation, associated with the impossibility of return, contains both splendor and his great fear. Miłosz extracts all the potential from this powerful image, impressing upon the reader the full range of the symbol of the lake in its destructive and fatalistic sense, as well as in its revelatory and cleansing aspect. The image of the lake in Polish literature is very closely associated with Lithuania, ever since the greatest Polish Romantic poet, Adam Mickiewicz, a native of Lithuania, introduced the aquatic landscape into Polish poetry at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Later, in his collection Facing the River, Miłosz will refer to a naiad from Mickiewicz’s ballad “I Love It.”19 In New York in 1946, while working at the Polish Consulate, Miłosz wrote the eight-part poem “Child of Europe,” where the image of the lake in its revelatory function again is associated with the grim prospect of return: “Do not gaze into the pools [lakes] of the past / Their corroded surface will mirror / A face different from the one you expected.”20 The lake will return in numerous poems, including the “Elegy to

16 Fiut, The Eternal Moment, 11, 30. 17 Tonny Tanner, Scenes of Nature, Signs of Man (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). I wish to thank Professor Robert A. Maguire for recommending this book to me. 18 Cf. the titles of Miłosz’s poems that include the word river, among them “Rivers,” “Slow River,” and “Rivers Grow Small.” In his collection Facing the River, in the poem “Capri,” Miłosz writes: “I bless you, rivers, I pronounce your names in the way my mother pronounced them, with respect and yet tenderly” (Czesław Miłosz, Facing the River, tr. by the author and Robert Hass [New York: Ecco, 1995], 10). Cf. also the title of Miłosz’s novel The Issa Valley, which refers to the Issa River. 19 Miłosz, Facing the River, 19. 20 Miłosz, Collected Poems, 88.

Czesław Miłosz: The Ambivalent Landscape of Return N.N.,” written decades later (in 1963), with its shattering realization that “One cannot step twice into the same lake.”21 With the passing of time, the imaginary travels to his homeland became Miłosz’s primary mission. Entire cycles of poems such as “From the Rising of the Sun,” “Provinces,” and “City Without a Name,” and essay collections such as Beginning with My Streets and Native Realm, among others, are dedicated to the evocation of manors, estates, places, streets, nooks, and corners—or, to quote Tony Tanner, “the scenes of nature and the signs of man.” Miłosz made use of old German military maps to ensure accuracy and quoted from old Lithuanian encyclopedias as well as from the memoirs of his countrymen. He never tired of naming, locating, and explaining the geographic, historical, and social parameters of a small community from the country of his childhood and youth.22 The poet claims that he inherited this passion from his kinsman, the prominent French poet Oscar Miłosz, but his sense of mission also sprang from the belief that he was the only one capable of preserving them—that is, returning them to their rightful place forever. “Who is going to reproach me for lack of precision, who would recognize the places or the people? My power is absolute, everything there belongs to one man now, who once, a student from Wilno, arrived there in a dogcart.”23 This sense of obligation is expressed over and over again. Many of Miłosz’s poetic cycles, such as “City Without a Name,” “Bobo’s Metamorphosis,” and “From the Rising of the Sun,” are full of such cryptic and overt confessions: “I attend to matters I have been charged with in the provinces,” he says in “The Unveiling.”24 The back of the dustjacket of Conversations with Czesław Miłosz reproduces a sketch made by the poet of the Manor of Szetejnie, where Miłosz was born and where all the components of this estate were carefully planned and cultivated for generations. The reader will find in many texts information about the structure of that house, its functionality organized according to the newest agricultural guides. Asked in 1980 about the purpose of inserting such mundane topographic details into his poems, Miłosz explained this as his defense against the homelessness that is an affliction of our age.25 His fear was justified by his own exile and distance, but even more so by the fact that under the devastating Soviet economy, Lithuania was bound to lose its landscape and have its signs of culture and history deliberately obliterated: “Our heritage will be

21 Ibid., 239. 22 This aspect of Miłosz’s poetry received extensive examination in two works published in Polish: Beata Tarnowska, Geografia poetycka w powojennej twórczości Czesława Miłosza (Olsztyn: Wyższa Szkoła Pedagogiczna, 1996); and Wojciech Ligęza, Jerozolima i Babilon: Miasta poetów emigracyjnych (Kraków: Baran i Suszczyński, 1998.) 23 Czesław Miłosz, “The Wormwood Star,” tr. Robert Hass and Renata Gorczynski, in his The Separate Notebooks (New York: Ecco, 1984), 79. 24 Czesław Miłosz, Collected Poems, 252. 25 Anna Frajlich, “Nobody Chooses Loneliness,” in Czesław Miłosz: Conversations, ed. Cynthia Haven ( Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006), 12–23; reprinted in this volume.



Part One

On Poetry

handed to unknown people. / Will they respect the hives, nasturtiums by the porch, / Carefully weeded patches, the slanting apple trees?,”26 asks the poet. Several years after the publication of that dustjacket sketch, Miłosz had an opportunity to assess the losses: the house, the park, the amenities, the old trees, even the deep river and lake were gone. In his writings one may find certain elements that America shares with Miłosz’s Lithuania: its late coming to civilization, its pockets of undisturbed nature, the fact that both countries’ high culture was the product of colonization,27 the resistance of centralization by singular communities in both countries. Generation after generation we lived against the State Which would not overcome us either with threat or punishment. Till a perfect State appeared on the earth. The State is perfect if it takes away From every man his name, sex, dress, and manner, And carries them at dawn, insane with fear, Where, no one knows, to steppes, deserts, So that its power is revealed.28

These facts, however, set apart the East European from the American experience; hence the untranslatable alienation. In 1949 Miłosz’s “anthropological meditation”29 prompted him to state, “We have had our home founded in history,” which we find at the end of the seminal poem “A Legend.”30 It is a defensive strategy; having lost his home in space, he builds one in time, and eventually finds his native land in his “mother tongue.”31 Possessing a “home in history” deepens the sense of loneliness and alienation of a European in America. Not only the signless vastness of America’s landscape, but also the States’ lack of history affected him, as it affected many European writers before him. In many of his poems, notes, and essays, Miłosz emphasizes again and again his predilection for the Belle Époque. Every scrap of memory, every regional and even trivial anecdote preserved from that time is of tremendous value to him. He, the poet associated with the trend once called a second vanguard, does not shy away from this old-fashioned, somewhat pathetic period. Sometimes he questions this strong longing himself. Only when we realize that the Belle Époque, the era when he was born and 26 Czesław Miłosz, “Far Away,” tr. by the author and Robert Hass, in his Provinces (New York: Ecco, 1991), 49. 27 In addition, Miłosz liked to use the English-versus-Scottish relation to explain his complex situation as a native of Lithuania who finds his home in the Polish language and its literature. 28 Miłosz, Provinces, 52. 29 Fiut, The Eternal Moment, 2. 30 Miłosz, Collected Poems, 102. 31 Ibid., 216.

Czesław Miłosz: The Ambivalent Landscape of Return his parents were young, gave birth to a twentieth century which twice lost its innocence in worldwide wars, do we fully understand this need to go back to that “tutor womb” of time. Here Miłosz’s effort could be compared to that of Albert Camus (much admired by Miłosz), who also possessed a strong need to return to the “womb” in his final, unfinished book, The First Man. The theme of the return must be seen in the context of exile. And the greatest affliction of exile is loneliness; so, understandably, loneliness is a recurrent topic in Miłosz’s poetry, perhaps most vividly expressed in “A Magic Mountain,” but also represented by the image of drinking to the mirror, which we find in several poems and letters, for example: “I toasted mirrors weepily / And learned my own stupidity,”32 and “too much drinking to the mirror.”33 Loneliness, more or less a natural condition for an American poet, is very taxing for the European writer, who usually inhabits a literary environment marked by the constant exchange of ideas. With time, Miłosz accepted his loneliness and appreciated its blessing. “Loneliness is a curse, nobody chooses loneliness,” he said in his interview for Radio Free Europe, “but without it I would not have done what I have done.” These factors affected the way Miłosz viewed the American landscape, which is his mindscape as well. Volumes have been written about Miłosz’s landscape of exile. Critics point to the fact that it is often barren, virtually a wasteland, and either lacks signs altogether or consists of blurred signs:34 “Grayish clay, dried-up creek beds, / Hills the color of straw, and the rocks assembled / Like Jurassic reptiles,”35 and “Nothing here, except the winds of the planet raising dust from the eroded rock.”36 Whereas his native landscape flourishes even after “they had been growing during all the years since they had been cut.” This is a consummate example of the recovery of Trahernean “celestial store.” The trees transcend their devastation; this is why his “dream of return” is “multicolored, joyous,” and the poet “was able to fly.” At the center of the myth of return is the place to which one needs to return. As was the case with Odysseus, for Miłosz the house is the center of identity: “Once again I return to excessive orchards and only the echo seeks me in that house on the hill under a hundred-year-old hazel tree.”37 The topic of the house recurs in a later poem: “When Tomas brought the news that the house I was born in no longer exists, / Neither the lane nor the park sloping to the river, nothing, / I had a dream of return.”38 32 Miłosz, “City without a Name,” in The Separate Notebooks, 167. 33 Miłosz, “I Sleep a Lot,” in Collected Poems, 177. 34 According to Aleksander Fiut, “the dryness, emptiness, and deadness of the California landscape take on additional meaning, becoming signs of an earthly hell, perhaps the Land of Ulro” (The Eternal Moment, 57). 35 Miłosz, The Separate Notebooks, 25. 36 Ibid., 43. 37 Miłosz, “With Trumpets and Zithers,” in Collected Poems, 197. 38 Miłosz, “The Wormwood Star,” The Separate Notebooks, 70.



Part One

On Poetry

Almost as if his yearning for apokatastasis39 was granted fulfillment, Miłosz was able to visit his native provinces on more than one occasion. During his subsequent return in 1997, the poet, to his great joy, came upon the hazel tree that is endowed with the protective qualities of an absent house in the poem he addressed to it.40 The tree, known so intimately from his childhood, did not participate in the poet’s “biography,” which, as opposed to life, he calls “an invention.” Only tangible things are endowed with real existence, the rest are imponderabilia. The tree still has the potential to offer him support, for he may carve a cane out of one of its branches. In his “postscriptum” to this poem Miłosz states that he returns by “the nonexistent road.” Interestingly, the poet indicated two places where the poem was composed: Szetejnie in Lithuania and the Napa Valley in California. This definitely attests to the ambivalence of return, and to the fact that Miłosz’s navigating is still in process. This ambivalence is reinforced by the fact that Miłosz’s is not only a double passage, but rather, if one were to use a mathematical metaphor, a squared one. He must conquer time as well as space. Perhaps that explains his reference to a “nonexistent road.” The sensualist and nature lover in Miłosz certainly do not leave him indifferent to the wonders of the world that he encounters on his innumerable sojourns. In spite of the incompatibilities of the two experienced landscapes, he reluctantly accepted his plight and created very vivid, if painful, American nature scenes: “True, when the manzanita is in bloom / and the bay is clear on spring mornings / I think reluctantly of the house between the lakes / and of nets drawn in beneath the Lithuanian sky.”41 However, even if accepted and perceived, this landscape does not nourish, it does not quench his thirst. Hence the constant need to return to his native landscape and cityscape, which always communicate some spiritual, literary, or cultural sign to the gazing poet. As Tanner emphasizes, the European poet, in general, enjoys a reciprocal relationship with nature, something that is alien to the tradition of American poetry and apparently difficult to attain in the face of such vast spaces. The signs, even if they exist, are blurred. There is one more difficulty: if in Europe civilization or history facilitates communication with the landscape, in America the signs of civilization prevent such a union, for it (civilization) brings about a different kind of bareness. In one of his early letters from America, written before his exile, Miłosz describes his situation in the States as that of a mouse trying to nest in an aluminum pot.42 Thus, one of the most trivial signs of civilization, the aluminum pot, stands in the way of sensual contact with the landscape.

39 “Yet I belong to those who believe in apokatastasis / That word promises reverse movement.” From Czeslaw Miłosz, Bells in Winter, tr. by the author and Lillian Vallee (New York: Ecco, 1978), 68. 40 Czesław Miłosz, “Do leszczyny” [To the Hazel Tree], Kwartalnik Artystyczny 2, no. 18 (1998). 41 Miłosz, “Elegy for N.N.,” in Collected Poems, 239. 42 Czesław Miłosz, Zaraz po wojnie: Korespondencja z pisarzami 1945–1950 (Kraków: Znak, 1998), 378.

Czesław Miłosz: The Ambivalent Landscape of Return According to Tanner, the American landscape or landscapes are not easy to form a connection with, even for the American poet. Whitman’s poem “A Noiseless Patient Spider” attests to this difficulty. Tanner elaborates on the spider image in American poetry; for him the spider represents both creativity (symbolized by the spinning) and heroic effort, as the creature attempts to attach itself to reality. Miłosz also finds a spider, but in a bathtub. This spider stands no chance of attaching itself to anything. The thread with which he landed stuck to the bottom of the bathtub And he desperately tries to walk on the glossy white But not one of his thrashing legs gets a hold On the surface so unlike anything in Nature. … My house has two bathrooms. I leave the spider In an unused tub and go back to my work Which consists in building diminutive boats More wieldy and speedy that those in our childhood, Good for sailing beyond the borderline of time. Next day I see my spider: Dead, rolled into a black dot in the glittering white.43

This image, so very different from and even contradictory to the spiders of the American poetic tradition, speaks for itself and brings to mind the image of the mouse in a pot. Yet if an American landscape is negatively affected by the ax of industrialization, in Lithuania, as the poet will painfully learn, it is the ax of destruction, a destruction that has no aim beyond itself: “I noticed that one part of the boulder was hacked away, / somebody had tried to smash the stone with a hammer, so that / not even that trace might remain.”44 Thus to Nineveh, in his first poem of return, this is Carthage. Miłosz comes from the landscape of exile to find his landscape exiled from his “native realm.” Szetejnie, the shining model of harmony, is hardly recognizable; it exists only in his first Trahernean mystical poem, “The World,” and on the dustjacket of Conversations with Czesław Miłosz. The nourishing qualities of life vanished beneath the ax of history, but the signs that man left behind are not those of civilization. Civilization, however, is not what the poet seeks in his returns, he seeks the nonexistent answers to the eternal question: “He to whom the pitiless truth of existence is suddenly unveiled, cannot but ask: How can it be?” In this “Return,”45 written several decades after his first translation of Traherne’s identically titled poem and his own first “Return,” he does not forget the spiritual meaning of the return: “And yet I will not repudiate you, unlucky youngster, / nor dismiss the reasons for your sufferings as foolish.” Like Traherne, the poet dismisses “the fattened wisdom of adults” in his quest for “a changeless garden on the other side of time.” 43 Miłosz, “Spider,” in Provinces, 45. 44 Miłosz, “In Szetejnie,” Facing the River, 65. 45 Miłosz, Provinces, 59–60.



Part One

On Poetry

In the slim volume titled Facing the River, Miłosz includes the cycle “Lithuania after Fifty-Two Years.” Of all the friends who were supposed to meet at the bank of the river, in his first poem of return it is he alone who now keeps the appointment. The return cannot be realized because it is a return to a time that has passed; it is an impossibility. In many poems he had already stressed that everyone else is absent. Here, as in his exile years in America, he is alone. Only he can assess the gains and losses. The landscape of return is no less painful than the landscape of exile; perhaps the return is, after all, “unattainable.” But even if he does not find long-remembered scenes of nature and signs of man, the poet finds himself, in one poem, in “A Meadow.” In a Trahernean sense, this poem marks his ultimate return; this is where the poet finds his prelapsarian world intact: “Grasses and flowers grew there familiar in my childhood. / With halfclosed eyelids I absorb luminescence. / And the scent garnered me, all knowing ceased. / Suddenly I felt I was disappearing and weeping with joy.”46

46 Miłosz, “A Meadow,” in Facing the River, 21.


He Also Knew How to Be Gracious (Czesław Miłosz)


hile trying to recall my first encounter with Czesław Miłosz, I realized that the best way would be to go to my library at home to find all the books he had inscribed to me. The earliest ones are two Polish books published in France by Instytut Literacki, Miłosz’s most dedicated—and for many decades only—émigré publisher. It is with these editions of Miasto bez imienia (City without a Name) and Człowiek wśród skorpionów (Man among Scorpions) that I approached the poet in the Guggenheim Museum on October 17, 1978, where his reading in New York was held. This was, coincidentally, just the day after the first Polish pope had been elected in Rome. After the reading, I caught up with Miłosz on his way out of the auditorium and thanked him for writing Man among Scorpions, the philosophical biography of Stanisław Brzozowski (1878–1911), whom Miłosz in his book The History of Polish Literature calls “one of the most original Polish thinkers of the twentieth century,”1 also writing: “The complexity of his brilliant mind was such and his evolution so rapid that it is extremely difficult to follow all the transformations of that man.” Brzozowski’s brilliant mind and equally tragic life probably lay at the core of Miłosz’s attraction to the writer. Miłosz, a bit taken aback at first by my approaching him with this particular book from 1962, suddenly stopped and asked, “Who are you?” I introduced myself, and when I handed him his books to sign, he wrote in Polish, “Annie Frajlich-Zając na wieczorze 17.X.78 w New Yorku b. przyjaźnie Czesław Miłosz” (To Anna Frajlich-Zajac [my full hyphenated name] on the poetry evening 10.17.78 in New York with very friendly regards); on the second book, he repeated my full name and “very friendly.” To me, the words indicated that he recognized my name from publications and was predisposed in a friendly way to what I had written. At that time, I already had one book of poetry to my name, and even though I was associated with a different émigré magazine, he had probably heard of me.


Czesław Miłosz, The History of Polish Literature (New York: Macmillan, 1969), 280.


Part One

On Poetry

The book that I had thanked him for writing was the first book of Miłosz’s that I had ever held in my hands. This was when I was still in Poland, writing my master’s thesis on Brzozowski at Warsaw University. Miłosz’s name was on the index of censorship. To read this book, I had to travel halfway across the city to the National Library (where the book was held in the restricted collection), clutching the letter of my professor, Janina Kulczycka-Saloni, which stated that this book was necessary for my research. No wonder it was one of the first books I purchased in New York. At the Guggenheim reading, I saw Renata Gorczyńska, a friend from my Warsaw University class, and at the time editor at the Polish Daily News. As I learned later, this was her first meeting with Miłosz as well; she had approached him a few hours earlier with the idea of a book-length interview, which she published in 1983 under the pen name Ewa Czarnecka as “Podróżny świata” (World Traveler).2 Although Aleksander Fiut’s conversation with Miłosz was the first book to break the silence on the poet in Poland, Gorczyńska’s book fulfilled this role in the world of Polish exiles. Controversy surrounding Miłosz’s name played on both sides of the Iron Curtain: on the one hand, in Poland, until 1980, he was on the index of censorship; on the other hand, the Polish political émigré community could not forgive him his initial postwar role with the Communist regime, which he represented as a diplomat in the United States and France. Both Renata Gorczyńska and Aleksander Fiut started to work on their conversations much earlier, but it was the Nobel Prize that eased these books into existence.3 From 1976 to 1980, I was a part-time graduate student in New York University’s Slavic department and a freelance cultural correspondent for Radio Free Europe (RFE) in New York. One of my articles, published in the émigré Polish Daily News, in Polish and in English translation, concerned Miłosz’s Neustadt award, the so-called little Nobel Prize. I knew that the Polish Daily News had made sure that Miłosz received a copy, and when I met him personally for the second time, on October 12, 1979, at the national convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, held in New Haven, Connecticut, Miłosz signed his Land of Ulro (the Polish edition) for me, again with the “very friendly regards” inscription, using only the first part of my last name (Frajlich), my pen name, again indicating thusly that he was familiar with my publications. The 1979 convention was truly exceptional as far as the participation of Polish-American intellectuals—as well as American Slavists specializing in Polish culture—was concerned. In one little room, you could see Czesław Miłosz chatting with Jan Kott, the author of the renowned Shakespeare Our Contemporary and a professor at Stony Brook University; Harvard University professor Wiktor Weintraub; Ohio State University professor Jerzy Krzyżanowski; New York Graduate Center professor and expert on the Polish avant-garde Daniel Gerould; and, of the younger generation, Julia Przyboś, a French literature professor at Hunter College and the daughter 2 3

Renata Gorczynski, Podróżny świata: rozmowy z Czesławem Miłoszem: Komentarze (New York: Bicentennial Publishing Corporation, 1983). Both books were later published in English, as Czarnecka and Fiut, Conversations with Czesław Miłosz.

He Also Knew How to Be Gracious (Czesław Miłosz) of avant-garde Polish poet Julian Przyboś. Lively intellectual exchanges concerning Polish poetry, theater, and cultural politics took place at several sessions, especially two meetings on the theater of Witold Gombrowicz and Sławomir Mrożek. We, the audience, were happy to hear from people who personally knew them both. Kott said at a certain point, “Forty-four years ago I used to spend hours with Gombrowicz in the Warsaw cafés and now comes the moment of reflection.” On the session dedicated to Mrożek, whose plays were being staged at the time by many experimental and professional American theaters, Miłosz pointed to the functioning of certain stereotypes, among them the typical accepted wisdom about the “decline of the West,” going back to Oswald Spengler’s once-famous book of the same title. Along with scholars and writers known in the American Slavic world, there were many young American and Polish scholars who had caught the bug of Polish literature. Miłosz had organized a conference session dedicated to the four-hundredth anniversary of Stefan Batory University in Vilnius, of which he was an alumnus. He approached this topic in a truly original way by inviting alumni of different ethnic backgrounds: Professor Irena Sławińska of Poland, a noted theoretician and theorist of theater who represented the largest student population (that is, Polish), discussed the rich theoretical and critical tradition of that university; Professor Arcadius Kahan, of the University of Chicago, a noted twentieth-century economic historian, represented the Jewish students of Vilnius; and Vitaut Tumash of the Belarusian Institute of Arts and Sciences in the United States represented the Belarusian students. Kahan and Tumash emphasized that, for Jewish and Belarusian youths, the university was a center of intellectual and cultural life. They both agreed, however, that the polonizing policy of the university did not admit the parity of different cultures, and for Jews or Belarusians, enrollment meant acceptance of the gentile model of culture. The university was founded in 1579 and named after its founder, King Stefan Batory. Being an alumnus of Vilnius University (the alma mater of the greatest Polish poet, Adam Mickiewicz) remained forever in Miłosz’s writings a matter of great sentiment and pride. After World War II, when, based on the Roosevelt-Stalin agreement, Lithuania became a Soviet republic, the university became a Soviet institution with Russian compulsory language and Communist rule. Lithuanian poet and scholar Tomas Venclova, a Yale University professor, who had then only recently arrived in the United States, spoke about the situation of the university under the Soviet regime. It is necessary to add here that twentieth-century Polish literature is determined by history; hence, the terms “war,” “interwar,” and “before the war” always relate to those two global conflicts affecting Poland’s fate. The history of the university, said Venclova, reflected conflicts of many nationalities; after 1944, university politics were directed toward sovietization and the total leveling of differences and individualities. The discussion at the seminar was very vivid and full of controversies. Some expressed disappointment that instead of talking about the university’s scholarly achievements, the talk was about mutual animosities. I expected that, Miłosz told the group, but we wanted the regrets and bitterness to find their expression at the moment when neither Vilnius nor the university existed in its former shape or character.



Part One

On Poetry

I was impressed by Miłosz’s creative and courageous approach. While I listened, I reflected on how a poet of such stature took time away from his writing to fulfill his professorial obligations. His peers in Poland did not have to attend to such duties. In the evening, Miłosz’s reading gathered his devoted admirers. Almost exactly a year later, Czesław Miłosz was awarded the Nobel Prize. The news electrified the worldwide Polish community, including Poland, of course, where his name was still on the index of censorship. I still keep the copy of the congratulatory mailgram I sent to him on October 9, 1980. In the aftermath of the Nobel, I conducted a telephone RFE interview with Jan Kott, who had known Miłosz since before World War II. Kott reminisced about Miłosz’s visit to Warsaw University in the 1930s; all his peers considered Miłosz the leading poet of their generation. Kott ended his very emotional interview, in which he compared Miłosz’s Nobel to the election of the Polish pope, by quoting a poem by Miłosz, written in 1934. The poem, permeated by dark symbolism that is untranslatable into English, expresses the grim catastrophic anxiety of that generation with the passage: “Fame will pass you by.” The message of Kott’s interview was that Miłosz in his life overcame that dark self-prophecy. Miłosz was very touched by Kott’s interview, which was subsequently printed in a literary supplement to the Polish Daily News.4 On October 24, 1980, I met Miłosz in Toronto, Canada, at an international scholarly conference on Polishness. The conference was dedicated to the topic of national identity in such fields as literature, sociology, and political science. The conference was scheduled long before he was awarded the prize, but his entrance was greeted with a standing ovation, as if a celebration of his victory, which indeed it was. He seemed very gracious. One of the participants was his former student Louis Iribarne, a professor of Slavic literature and translator of several Polish masterpieces by Gombrowicz, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Bruno Schulz, and, of course, Miłosz. Also, two Polish scholars and poets, Bogdan Czaykowski and Florian Śmieja, were on the same panel with Miłosz, discussing how the drama of the Polish diaspora finds its reflection in the literature of exile. They were poets of the group Kontynenty, who as young children were forcibly removed from Poland during the war by either the Russians or the Germans. After the war, they all studied in England and, rather than join the older generation of émigré writers, established their own group and practiced their own modern poetics. In 1950, only this little group of Poles in London welcomed Miłosz when he defected to the West. Like every other society, the Polish community may look like a monolithic whole, but this is only to an outsider. Actually, its composition was always quite complex. The core of the Polish-American community goes back to the nineteenth century and was mainly rural in origin—an immigration in search of “bread,” very much like the Irish immigration of that time. Quite oblivious to high culture, they retained their ethnic identity based mainly on folk culture. Another wave of Polish immigration was represented by postwar émigrés, largely educated people and World War II veterans who 4

Anna Frajlich, Jan Kott, “O Miłoszu: Z prof. Janem Kottem rozmawia Anna Frajlich,” Tydzień Polski, November 8–9, 1980, 3.

He Also Knew How to Be Gracious (Czesław Miłosz) were deported or imprisoned after the Soviet attack on Poland in September 1939, many with experience of the gulag in their backgrounds. Their biographies determined their strong anti-Communist stand and their great animosity toward Miłosz, who in the late forties had represented the Polish government as a cultural attaché in the Polish consulate in New York and in the Polish embassy in Washington, D.C. To a large degree, RFE represented that portion of the Polish political émigré community. When Miłosz defected to the West, he was in quite a desperate situation for many years. During this period, he received an offer from RFE to address his colleagues behind the Iron Curtain—which he found humiliating. He therefore did not want to hear about giving an interview to that organization. Trying to entice him to forget the past, they had asked me to convey their congratulations in Toronto during the conference on Polishness. Their dealings toward me were also quite offensive; even though I had been their cultural correspondent for many years, they had offered the interview to a newly arrived intern from Poland, who apparently had written his Master’s thesis on Miłosz. In the meantime, overwhelmed with his status as Nobel Prize laureate, Miłosz asked Renata Gorczyńska, who was already working on Conversations with Miłosz in New York, to come to his home in Berkeley as an assistant. Renata finally persuaded Miłosz to give an interview to RFE, arguing that because he had given an interview to Trybuna Ludu, the Communist Party daily in Poland, he should give one to the independent Polish radio, RFE. Miłosz consented under the condition that I would conduct the interview, which took place on November 8 in Miłosz’s home on Grizzly Peak in Berkeley. It was an honor for me, a certain vindication as far as RFE’s treatment of my services, and again an indication that he valued my published work, both poetic and journalistic.5 It was my first trip to California. This was an America totally different from the one I knew. The marina, numerous cafes with cappuccino, and even the abundance of flowers reminded me of Italy.6 I arrived in Berkeley a day early, to be best prepared. I rewrote my questions a few times in longhand (there were no laptops at that time, so in my hotel room I used pad and pen)—the result of a couple of weeks of intensive reading. I went to the flower shop to buy a bouquet of red roses and blue cornflowers, and I got into a taxi at the appointed hour with a big, old-fashioned standing microphone, which I had brought from RFE. Seeing the magical view of the San Francisco Bay from Miłosz’s house, I could not believe my eyes. The view from Grizzly Peak Boulevard was breathtaking, and I was happy to see for myself the landscape that inspired the great poet. Miłosz met me by the fence gate and led me to a small room situated over his garage. Even now when I listen to the interview, I hear the heavy microphone rubbing against the desk blotter as we shoved it back and forth. The interview lasted almost an hour and went quite smoothly, despite my nervousness. At the very beginning, 5 6

Anna Frajlich, “Nobody Chooses Loneliness,” in Czesław Miłosz: Conversations, ed. Cynthia Haven,12–23. At that time in New York, you could find cappuccino only in Little Italy and cut flowers hardly anywhere.



Part One

On Poetry

Miłosz strongly emphasized that he had never cooperated with RFE and that listeners in Poland should distinguish between various émigré institutions. He was wise to stress that he supported RFE as an American taxpayer but that this was all. At that point, I had to assure him that even though he was not an RFE author, we informed people overseas about his successes. Later, Miłosz invited me to his house proper to meet his sick wife, to whom he presented the bouquet. Miłosz’s first wife, Janina, mostly bedridden at that time, was very unhappy about the fact that he had agreed to do the interview. She could not forget and forgive the RFE’s attitude toward Miłosz in the fifties. Neither could Miłosz, who at the beginning of the interview took a stand distancing himself from this medium. Miłosz’s wife said that the Nobel Prize was the worst thing that had ever happened to them. As I mentioned, their life had been a nightmare in the fifties. She was still in the United States, pregnant with a second child, when Miłosz, then in Paris and under the pressure of being sent back to Poland, asked for political asylum. At a certain point, someone informed on Miłosz to the US State Department, saying he was a Communist spy, which prevented him from getting an entry visa to the United States. Miłosz’s wife totally depended on the help of Miłosz’s true supporters, mainly admirers of his poetry. In such a scenario, getting a political offer from RFE instead of the literary one was adding insult to injury. That was the background for Janina’s irritation and Miłosz’s reluctance to deal with Radio Free Europe. We were both exhausted by the interview, and Miłosz offered me a glass of Scotch, which I readily accepted even though I had never had Scotch before. Later, after arriving by taxi at the hotel, I went straight to the bar, for the first time in my life alone, and had another glass of the same to relieve the tension and to celebrate the completion of the task. The following day I had dinner with Renata and her husband, Andrzej, visiting from New York. The interview, some fifty minutes long, was broadcast to Poland four times. RFE was so pleased that they interviewed me about my trip to Berkeley and my conversation with Miłosz. Soon after that interview, I quit my freelance relationship with RFE. Seeing that their attitude toward me was mainly exploitative, I decided to concentrate on my doctoral dissertation. The experience of the interview, of course, placed my social contact with Miłosz on a different level, and whenever we met he always found a few minutes to greet me and to talk. I remember in particular another conference at Yale University, organized by Professor Aleksander Schenker, which proved to be an interesting gathering in the early eighties, the years of martial law in Poland. Kott invited me to join him at a lunch with Jan Nowak Jeziorański, the very first and famous director of RFE in Munich, the same person who had extended the offensive offer to Miłosz some thirty years earlier. After the sessions, I invited Kott and Czesław Miłosz for ice cream. Miłosz actually liked the idea of talking over ice cream; he made sure that it was okay that I wanted to pay for it. He was both chivalric and concerned about my having sufficient funds for my return ticket to New York. During our talk, I mentioned an article by a prominent poet and scholar, hostile in its tone toward the interwar cult Polish poet Julian Tuwim. “Why did he do it?” I asked, in reference to the article’s author.

He Also Knew How to Be Gracious (Czesław Miłosz) “He is from Poznań.” “No sense of humor.” While I remember this exchange, I don’t remember who said what. Years later, at the end of his life, already in Poland, Miłosz wrote a preface to the new edition of Tuwim’s Ball at the Opera, perhaps knowing that his text would establish the standard interpretation. This act casts a very important light on his character. Like everybody else, Miłosz had his idiosyncrasies, but he would rather control the damage than cause an injury by defaming the memory of the older poets with whom he might have differed in poetics or politics. Although in his American years he lived and worked in Berkeley, California, Czesław Miłosz visited New York on many occasions. His first address in New York, in April 1946, was 342 West 71st Street; he and his wife resided in a small room and were looking for something better. In his letter to a friend, Miłosz complained of racketeering in the apartment market in New York. Later he often stayed in hotels there—his favorite, it seems, was the Wales Hotel on Madison Avenue. He even had an apartment in New York City for a short period of time in the eighties, so he did not have to stay in a hotel while coming for readings or meetings. Miłosz read his poems in many prominent New York institutions, including repeated appearances at the Guggenheim Museum in the seventies and eighties, and also at the Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y, University Hall, Center for the Arts, Barnes and Noble bookstores, and many other venues. I attended all of his many New York readings. At each of these events, he was received enthusiastically, the halls were filled, and sometimes people were seated in the adjacent rooms with video screens provided. There were two readings organized by the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America, one of which was a fundraising event for the institute with a one-hundred-dollar donation. I see on the invitation from April 23, 1988, that my name was also included in the honorary committee. It was an emotional meeting for us all—obviously, Miłosz’s Polish readers and admirers were excited about another Pole being a Nobel laureate. I see myself in two photos talking to Miłosz, laughing. I don’t remember what the conversation was about, but I remember him saying to me in amazement, “Not long ago I was known only as Herbert’s translator.”7 Indeed, Miłosz did a lot to introduce and popularize the work of Herbert and other poets in the United States by publishing anthologies and translating them. He seemed to enjoy his status of renowned poet—not merely a scholar, not merely an interpreter of someone else’s poems, not to be recognized as a middle-man of letters but as a man of letters himself. Even though many knew Miłosz from his Captive Mind, he wanted to be seen as a poet first, not a political writer. I was and am aware that there are people who resent many sides of Miłosz. Some resented even his writings. In Poland, his erstwhile friends attacked him cruelly after he defected to the West; in the West, most Poles attacked him equally cruelly for his former associations. With the passing of time, he forgave most if not all of them. I am among those who see that in very trying circumstances (and sometimes very hostile scrutiny on both sides of Polish border), he did an incredible amount of 7

See Zbigniew Herbert, Selected Poems, tr. Czesław Miłosz and Peter Dale Scott, with an introduction by A. Alvarez (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1968).



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On Poetry

work for himself, for Polish culture, and for other people simultaneously. There are many Polish writers who would never have come into existence in the English-speaking world—among them Aleksander Wat and Anna Swir—were it not for Miłosz casting his light on them. He hoped so much for Swir to catch the reading public’s attention that he persuaded her to shorten her last name from Świrszczyńska to Swir. There are many works that he wrote or edited, not because they would bring him financial reward or public recognition but because he knew that nobody else would or could bear witness to this or that particular problem. As a poet and intellectual in exile, in France and the United States, he strove to represent the best of Polish high culture. He made an enormous effort to show what is significant about the Polish contribution to universal values and culture. He did this by teaching, by translating his fellow writers—even when his former friends back in Poland denounced him—and by publishing Polish literature in the original and in translation and writing about it. He chose exile with a very heavy heart. He even said once that it is better to be locked up with a smart and enlightened person than to be free among simpletons. He believed at the beginning that by choosing exile he was committing spiritual suicide as a poet. The simpleminded communism of American and Western European intellectuals in the fifties held no appeal for him, and the simpleminded anticommunism of the Polish diaspora was equally unacceptable. He was also repelled by the anti-intellectual attitudes of Polonia of that time. “Polonia” was then a term defining the Polish economic immigrants who came to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, preserving their ethnic identity but totally alienated from Polish high culture. He did more to promote Polish culture in America than most institutions. He understood the importance of cultural interaction, and he translated both into Polish and from Polish. He is praised for introducing English and American poets and thinkers into the Polish intellectual canon. He educated a generation of translators and scholars, for example, Richard Lourie, Louis Iribarne, Lillian Vallee, and many others. For years, the only institution to support him was the Paris-based monthly Kultura, whose founder, Jerzy Giedroyc, was for decades his only publisher. It was the home of Kultura, near Paris, where Miłosz actually found refuge immediately after asking for asylum in France, and for some time his Kultura friends would not let him walk alone in Paris, for Communist security forces were known to kidnap political refugees. One has to remember that in Poland, his books were on the index of censorship until his Nobel Prize—that is, thirty years, at least two generations. In his novels, books of essays, and anthologies of various texts, he always made every effort to present the reality, or his view of reality, in its complexity. Reading his books is never easy, never soothing, but always fascinating. In May 1984, the Committee for International Poetry and the Writer’s Voice organized a bilingual reading and discussion with Czesław Miłosz, Stanisław Barańczak, Tymoteusz Karpowicz, Henryk Grynberg, Richard Lourie, Renata Gorczyńska, and me at YMCA West in New York City. Renata did not attend the event. I heard rumors that Miłosz was not happy about participating with this pack of lesser-known poets, but he nevertheless attended. I stood near the entrance, and he greeted me more cordially than ever. Perhaps it was

He Also Knew How to Be Gracious (Czesław Miłosz) then that he inscribed for me the Polish edition of his Unattainable Earth, which was published that same year. This is the inscription I cherish the most, because it contains only our two names: “[To] Anna Frajlich—Czesław Miłosz” (in Polish there is not even a preposition, only the two names). Some people resented his record of nonappearances: the fact that he would commit himself, but then at the last minute fail to come. Sometimes this was for acceptable reasons—his first wife was very sick for many years— and sometimes it was simply because he had changed his mind. I remember two such events that affected me personally. On October 6, 1993, the Kościuszko Foundation opened an exhibit of a series of paintings by Chet Kalm, inspired by Miłosz’s poetry. It was a two-part event: first an elegant lunch for a smaller group and later a public reading. During lunch, the news came that Miłosz had become very sick upon his arrival in New York and could not attend the lunch. His appearance at the reading was uncertain. Joseph Gore, the president of the Kościuszko Foundation, alerted me that if Miłosz didn’t come, they would ask me to do the reading in Polish, with Chet Kalm reading the translations. And that is what happened. Little did I know that I had the same doctor as Miłosz. At my next visit to the doctor’s office, he, knowing that I teach Polish at Columbia, said, “Do you know that a few days ago Czesław Miłosz sat on that very chair?” “I know, he had a urinary tract infection,” I replied. “And how do you know that?” the doctor asked in stunned disbelief. In early 1995, I started planning a big international conference dedicated to the work of Józef Wittlin (1896–1976), a formidable Polish writer who spent his postwar years as an émigré in New York City. I knew that Miłosz respected Wittlin enormously for his novel The Salt of the Earth and for his poetry. In his Treatise on Poetry, Miłosz wrote, “There Wittlin still puts a spoonful of soup / into a crusted mouth of human hunger.”8 I also knew that in the late forties, when Miłosz was working in the New York Polish consulate (and while some other political refugees in New York would smear Miłosz with the dirtiest of words), Wittlin’s apartment at 5400 Fieldstone Road was one of the very few émigré homes that welcomed Miłosz. Wittlin’s widow explained to me once that Józef Wittlin never rejected friends for political reasons. I asked Miłosz to participate and to give a talk about their mutual friend, Manfred Kridl, who was also Miłosz’s professor from the University of Vilnius and an important person in Miłosz’s early American endeavors. Miłosz wrote about him in several of his books. The conference was supposed to commemorate Wittlin’s contribution and at the same time to enliven Polish studies at Columbia. Miłosz agreed to participate, perhaps without ever really intending to come. Perhaps he saw it as a way to support my efforts. A few days before the September 1996 conference, Miłosz came up with his favored excuse that his wife didn’t want him to go (but that was a convenient, and apparently common, excuse), and he made a somewhat sarcastic remark that I expected him to stay at the dormitory. (I had made reservations for the participants at Columbia’s academic 8

Czesław Miłosz, A Treatise on Poetry, tr. by the author and Robert Hass (New York: Ecco, 2001), 23.



Part One

On Poetry

residence.) I tried to make him feel guilty, reminding him how I had to read his poems at the Kościuszko Foundation. “You know that I was really sick,” he said. Of course, I had to deal with that matter at the conference. On the opening night, I addressed the full hall at the Kościuszko Foundation: “Many people have asked me ‘Is Miłosz really coming?’ Last night I found out that he isn’t, but the conference’s major figure is Wittlin and he is with us.” A few people approached me later congratulating me on that concept. Miłosz was also known to enjoy a little intellectual provocation, to go against the grain of the politically correct or against the excessively patriotic stand. I personally enjoyed his provocations. I remember one or two. At the lavish and famous 48th International PEN Congress, organized in New York City by the chairman of the American PEN Center, Norman Mailer, the women writers staged a protest, claiming a disproportionately small representation on the panels. There was a moment when everyone had to leave the major conference hall and wait outside because of that protest. I used that opportunity to hunt down autographs from Mailer and Miłosz. When I approached them, they both thought I was after an interview and had a hidden microphone. Mailer relaxed when he learned that all I wanted was his signature on the book; Miłosz looked slightly disappointed. He asked me whether I knew that Jews thank God in their daily prayers that they were not created women. I knew about it from my father, a secular Jew. And I liked the fact that Miłosz was comfortable talking to me about it. I am aware that many subscribers to political correctness would squirm, but I was touched that he wanted to let me know how familiar he was with Judaism, thus adding one more dimension to our talks. Another example of his prankish provocation is of a different nature. I had an old photo of the Polish-Lithuanian logo, on which the colors on the emblem’s banner were reversed. I asked Miłosz what he thought of this, and he replied, genuinely perplexed: “And how should it be?” When I repeated this as a joke later to another Polish poet, he said sarcastically, “No wonder he doesn’t know,” implying that Miłosz was not a real patriot, because he did not know the colors of the national flag. In the early 1990s, Miłosz’s granddaughter, Erin, now a doctor of medicine and science, was my student, studying the Polish language. From that time until our last conversation, he liked to refer to her as my student. He was quite pleased that she took some Polish at Barnard College. (Many Barnard students attend Columbia courses and Columbia students, Barnard courses.) He also knew how to be gracious. In 1993, I was conducting a monthly column, “What Other People Read,” for the cultural supplement of the Polish Daily News. I asked several people, both celebrities and ordinary people, about their latest reading. I called Miłosz on the phone, attached the microphone to the telephone, and conducted the interview. Only when I put the receiver down did I realize that the microphone was off. I was devastated. “Call him back immediately,” said my husband. And I did. Miłosz was a bit annoyed, but he allowed me to call again the following day. And he repeated the entire interview. In the interview, the first book he mentioned was Jerzy Stempowski’s W dolinie Dniestru i inne eseje ukraińskie: Listy o Ukrainie (“In the Dniestr Valley” and Other Ukrainian Essays: Letters about Ukraine). “It is a fascinating book for

He Also Knew How to Be Gracious (Czesław Miłosz) me because Polish-Ukrainian relations are very important for us, but our understanding of Ukrainian matters is not sufficient,” he said. “Stempowski’s interest in Ukraine and Polish-Ukrainian relations parallels my interest in Polish-Lithuanian relations, about which I recently wrote a book, Szukanie ojczyzny [In Search of a Homeland].” The second book he mentioned was Polish-Jewish Literature in the Interwar Years, by Eugenia Prokop-Janiec.9 “Only when one reads this sort of book does one realize and remember how diverse Polish life in the interwar years was. There were magazines, books, and volumes of poetry that were considered Polish-Jewish literature because that’s what their authors wanted. Obviously, there was literature written by people of Jewish origin who considered themselves Poles, and there was a literature written by those who wanted to be Jews and considered Polish language as one of the diaspora’s languages.” For a third book, Miłosz picked Adam Lizakowski’s poetry volume entitled Współczesny prymitywizm (Modern Primitivism). Miłosz liked the fact that Lizakowski “realistically writes about America and Polonia.” Miłosz observed, “These are poems that could be considered very controversial, but because they are truly realistic, very often brutal, they are interesting.” I was grateful to him for repeating his interview, and I said, “You are an angel.” He sighed the untranslatable “prosze pani,” meaning something like “come on.” Another example of him being gracious is a more weighty matter. I remember a big ceremony for the Bruno Schulz Award, established in the early 1990s by Jerzy Kosiński, then president of the American PEN Center. The award was to be bestowed on another great Polish poet: Zbigniew Herbert. It was a great event—with Elizabeth Hardwick and Helen Vendler on the jury, if I remember rightly—and everybody who was anybody was in the audience. Initially, the condition of the relatively generous (ten thousand dollars, as I recall) award was that the awardee should be present at the ceremony. But Herbert could not come, and he was given the award anyway. The usual glass-of-wine reception followed. When I met Miłosz, I told him that Mrs. Halina Wittlin, the widow of Józef Wittlin, was in the audience. He immediately asked me to take him to her, and while they talked I brought them their two glasses of red wine. During our conversation, Miłosz told me that he had persuaded the award committee to give the award, despite Herbert’s absence. And he was visibly happy that they had complied, although his relationship with Herbert was at that time far from the initial cordiality. Again, I thought that was gracious. In 2003, when Miłosz was living permanently in Kraków, Poland, I wrote him a letter asking for intervention on behalf of Tymoteusz Karpowicz, the prominent Polish poet, who had been (for some time) a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Karpowicz (who died in June 2005) lived in Oak Park, Illinois, in what one might call dire straits. His wife was in an advanced stage of cancer, and he attended to her by himself, despite his amputated arm; they lived on meager resources. I was trying to alert the Polish authorities to the situation but couldn’t make any headway. I knew that even though Miłosz respected Karpowicz’s poetic achievements—he had published 9

Eugenia Prokop-Janiec, Polish-Jewish Literature in the Interwar Years, trans. Abe Shenitzer (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2003).



Part One

On Poetry

Karpowicz’s poems in the first edition of the Postwar Polish Poetry anthology—their relations were never cordial, on both sides. Nevertheless, I decided to write to Miłosz. A few weeks later, I received an e-mail from Miłosz’s secretary, asking for Karpowicz’s bank account number and other data. Upon receiving my letter, Miłosz had talked to the Polish Minister of Culture, who awarded Karpowicz with a long-overdue monetary prize for his contribution in promoting Polish culture in the United States. Karpowicz was an unusually proud person, but I remember how touched he was. He sent me a copy of his letter to Miłosz: Dear Sir Czesław, From the bottom of my Vilnian (still) heart, I thank you very much for speaking up for my legacy and “economic existence” to Minister Dąbrowski. Your remembrance and the financial support come at a dire human time. Many clouds above us are “still not jostled with the horse’s nostrils.” Neglecting everything else, continuously, I try—as much as I can—to lead out my Eurydice from Hades, myself staying up to my heart in Styx. I wish you, Sir, that your Norwidian horses have most effective nostrils. So there might be more and more clear sky above you. I embrace you most heartedly, Tymoteusz Karpowicz P.S. In your hands I place also my thanks to Ms. Anna Frajlich-Zajac for her part in remembering about Karpowicz.10

On one of Miłosz’s last visits to New York, we sent him flowers from Columbia University’s Polish Studies program. I asked my florist on First Avenue to make a European arrangement, and Miłosz (as well as his second wife, Carol, and his granddaughter, Erin) liked it a lot. He was staying at the Wales Hotel on Madison Avenue and had a reading at Barnes and Noble near Union Square. Miłosz had his poems printed boldface in a big font, a gimmick I use now for reading my lectures. He had a great following; there were so many people that the bookstore limited autographs to three per person. Some people seeing me with only one book asked me to have two signed for them. I told them, “He will sign my name before I warn him”; they said they didn’t care. And that’s what happened—he signed their books with my name, and they were happy to have them. I visited Miłosz four times at his home. The first was for my interview with him in 1980. Eleven years later, in December 1991, while attending a meeting in San Francisco, I visited Miłosz again. I let him know in advance that I was coming, and after arriving, I called to set the time. It was a late Sunday morning; Carol told me that he was in church. Later that day, Miłosz explained to me exactly how I should travel by train from San Francisco to Berkeley, and he waited for me at the station with his car. Carol was out shopping, and Miłosz treated me to a vodka, with his special recipe, herring 10 Quotation from Cyprian Kamil Norwid, “Święty—pokój” [Holy—Peace], in his Pisma wybrane, comp. and ed. Juliusz W. Gomulicki, vol. 1: Wiersze (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1960), 496.

He Also Knew How to Be Gracious (Czesław Miłosz) marinated in mustard with onion and lemon. When I offered to help, he said that during his first wife’s long illness he had learned to do everything by himself. Again, it was a very pleasant evening. We talked about Columbia’s Polish Studies program, some mutual acquaintances, nothing of consequence. Carol came with a newly purchased coat, of which Miłosz approved enthusiastically. Perhaps the vodka was somewhat responsible for his enthusiasm. But he seemed to be happy. Later Carol drove me to the station. The next time I visited Miłosz in Kraków, Poland, in 2003, where I went to promote my new book with my husband. Miłosz and Carol greeted us in their new apartment; I saw only the living room, but it was in one of those prewar Kraków buildings with an elegant staircase, big windows, and so forth. I asked him to autograph his book for my friends. We talked about his forthcoming trip to New York for Erin’s wedding. I mentioned my essay about him, written for the special issue of World Literature Today: “Czesław Miłosz: The Ambivalent Landscape of Return.” We complimented him on the apartment. “It is still not completely furnished,” he remarked. When we visited him two years later, Carol had already died in the hospital in California, where she was rushed with her devastating cancer. Miłosz, at age ninety-four, had some hearing problems in one ear and walked with a cane, but he was still very active—publishing, writing, editing. He told us that he was afraid of living too long. I think he was afraid to outlive his physical and mental abilities. While talking to him, I suddenly realized that it was actually from Kraków that he had left Poland as a diplomat, and later an exile. And I said, “You returned to the same town you left from.” “Yes, but only after fifty years,” he replied, with a true note of sadness in his voice. And I recalled what he had told me in his 1980 interview: nobody chooses loneliness.



From Common Servant to Lot’s Wife (Wisława Szymborska)


rom time to time the question has been raised as to whether Szymborska’s poetry is women’s poetry. Opinions have been voiced that it is not women’s poetry in the traditional sense in that her emotional confessions are reserved, her tone is more one of amazement, irony or self-irony. She is not interested in pronouncing manifestoes or programmatic statements. Some feminist critics—and they are not alone—have said that her poetry is not sufficiently sensual, that it is too intellectual. What seems to be a fault in the eyes of some is seen as a virtue by those who stress her universality. When I first met Wisława Szymborska some years ago, I mentioned the new anthology of Polish women’s poetry being prepared in the United States by scholar and translator Regina Grol. Szymborska asked me in response: “Pani Anno, do you like to appear in women’s poetry anthologies?” To which I dared voice the opinion that is not entirely my invention, but one that I have adopted: namely, in order to create, all writers must have the feminine sensitivity that makes him an artist, and at the same time he or she must possess the masculine strength and resolution to keep writing. And I was very happy to see that she accepted what I said. On the topic of Szymborska’s place in women’s poetry Czesław Miłosz has said, “To some extent Szymborska is a poet of feminine sensibility, to a much smaller degree than, for example, Świrszczyńska, but a number of Szymborska’s poems refer to a woman’s experience of love, though it is done in a very measured way. I would say that she is on the other side of the barrier that once divided so-called women’s poetry from poetry written by men.”1


Radość czytania Szymborskiej. Wybór tekstów krytycznych, ed. Stanisław Balbus and Dorota Wojda (Kraków: Znak, 1996), 35.

From Common Servant to Lot’s Wife (Wisława Szymborska) The leading Polish authority on feminist theory, Grażyna Borkowska, writes: “Szymborska’s poetic proposition is astounding. It constitutes a consistent critique of universalistic, abstract thinking imposed by the restrictive ‘patriarchal’ canon. In this sense she is close to deconstructive practices and to feminism. However, no one formula—be it deconstructivist or feminist—can exhaust her abundance.”2 The attentive reader, however, will know how to find her under the mask or assumed role. In the poem “In Praise of My Sister” we recognize the reverse self-portrait. In my sister’s desk there are no old poems nor any new ones in her handbag. And when my sister invites me to dinner, I know she has no intention of reading me poems.3

The fact that Szymborska is not fond of appearing in women’s poetry anthologies does not mean that she shies away from the subject of woman. There are poems in every book that clearly address this issue, for example: “A Moment in Troy,” “The Women in Rubens,” “Monologue for Cassandra,” “Piéta,” “Vietnam,” “Autotomy,” “Lot’s Wife,” “In Praise of My Sister,” “Portrait of a Woman.” The poet has commented on the topic: “If someone should regard my poems as ‘women’s poetry,’ I won’t despair over it. I don’t consider it a drama that I am a woman.”4 Nevertheless, her female personae are determined by the same laws that rule her entire macrocosm, and that is determined to an extent by her own biography, her unique perspective. Szymborska finds her inspiration in philosophy, but this is a philosophy confronted by life. As she stated in her speech at the University of Poznań: Almost all poetry, and mine in particular, draws its strength from not entirely crystal-clear springs; from life’s mistakes, from knowledge gathered chaotically, and from good intentions with which hell is paved as well. The poet cannot serve as an example to anyone, because the best that he can offer are his poems, and they cannot be imitated, and the rest of the poet’s life is far from being exemplary.

The first two poems that I will talk about come from her first post-1956 book, the one that made Szymborska’s name among a group of poets who had their so-called second debut during the post-Thaw period.

2 3 4

Grażyna Borkowska, “Szymborska eks-centryczna,” in Balbus and Wojda, Radość czytania Szymborskiej, 153. Wisława Szymborska, “In Praise of My Sister,” in Poems New and Collected, tr. Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh (New York: Harcourt, 1998), 159. “Gdy ktoś zaliczy moje wiersze do ‘poezji kobiecej’, nie ubolewam nad tym specjalnie. Nie przeżywam dramatu z tego powodu, że jestem kobietą.” From an interview with Krystyna Nastulanka, quoted in Anna Węgrzyniakowa, Nie ma rozpusty większej niż myślenie (Katowice: Towarzystwo Zachęty Kultury, 1996), 132.



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On Poetry

“Hania” (Susanna5 in translation), from “Wołanie do Yeti” (Calling Out to Yeti), 1957. It is interesting that communism did away with the male servant, but did not hesitate to keep female servants. The heroine of this poem is one such servant. Somewhat in the tradition of the great positivist female writers, Szymborska makes her heroine an unattractive, old, poor, religious servant. The old servant is a victim of her religious piety; the irony is directed at the exploitation of the poor’s religious feelings by the Church. Even though the poem is written in quite a traditional manner, the poet already makes use of the device that will become her signature strategy: she unravels the beautiful metaphor of the “eye of a needle” by saying that “Hanna” is so thin, she can get lost in the enormously vast eye of the needle. Another device that she will develop over the years consists of linking a descriptive passage or line with the inner voice of the heroine, who talks in a simple language about her fear of the devil. Wojciech Ligęza points out that linguistic games are fed by colloquial idioms, the language of newspapers, and biblical phrases.6 But it is Szymborska’s poetic brilliance that allows her to create out of such meager tools an atmosphere of abysmal, unredeemable loneliness, an existential loneliness. In her book A Large Number (Wielka liczba) published twenty years later, Szymborska returns to the topic of an old woman’s loneliness. In the poem “Hermitage” she describes throngs of people visiting a happy “pink-cheeked” monk in his hermitage, taking pictures and enjoying the trip. Meanwhile a tight-lipped old lady from Bydgoszcz whom no one visits but the meter reader is writing in the guestbook: “God be praised for letting me see a genuine hermit before I die”7

I see some similarities in these two depictions of two lonely women.

“Minuta ciszy po Ludwice Wawrzyńskiej” (Minute of Silence for Ludwika Wawrzyńska), in the volume “Wołanie do Yeti” (Calling Out to Yeti) My generation still remembers Ludwika Wawrzyńska, a teacher who saved three children from a burning building and paid the ultimate price for her heroic deed. Szymborska’s “Minute of Silence” still leans toward the traditional, or at least the realist canon, but even here we find a new approach to the subject of the heroic deed. 5 6


Agnieszka Kreczmar, The Sarmatian Review 28, no. 3 (September 2008). Wojciech Ligęza, O poezji Wisławy Szymborskiej (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackiej, 2001), 141. According to Ligęza, in “Hania” the poet reformulates the warnings for the rich and concludes that the “eye of a needle” should be enormous for the poor. Note the typical triadic repetition in the description of a person by objects—demonstration—look. Szymborska, Poems New and Collected, 160.

From Common Servant to Lot’s Wife (Wisława Szymborska) Heroism is an answer to a challenge. The poem tells us that Wawrzyńska most probably had many mundane little plans for that very day. In the second part of the poem the poet invents an imaginary confrontation; would she with all her sophistication be capable of such sacrifice—and she ends the poem by stating that we can vouch for ourselves only to the extent to which we have proven ourselves.

“Cień”8 (Shadow) from “Sól” (Salt), 1962. For many years, “Shadow,”9 a subtle love lyric, was my favorite poem. Early works often reveal a writer’s obsessions and fascinations. This poem investigates the discrepancy between gesture and meaning, between essence and form, act and perception, the dichotomy of what is obvious and what is not, visible and invisible. The shadow is a jester, an acrobatic double that displays a pathetic and dramatic behavior, while the subject of the poem withholds her gestures and reaction. This is what jesters do—they exaggerate and amplify every gesture. When the queen rises from the chair, the jester hits the ceiling, and at the railroad station at the moment of farewell it is the shadow that jumps on the rails, committing an ironic suicide. The double is a carrier of the exaggerated but also of a covert meaning, something that needs to be expressed but is not. Such doubles lurk in many of Szymborska’s poems. Perhaps something in the way of Mikhail Bakhtin’s pronouncement on polyphony might be applicable to many of her poems.

“Reszta” (The Rest) from “Sól” (Salt) “The rest is silence,” says Hamlet. Szymborska, who often quotes Shakespeare directly or indirectly, adheres to a similar dichotomy. But she attempts to define what this “rest” is. She does it in a beautiful poem entitled “The Rest.” Oh, may Denmark forgive you, my dear, and me too: I’ll die with wings, I’ll live on with practical claws. Non omnis moriar of love.10

Being aware that our access to Ophelia is only through the actress playing the part, the poet shows us the actress offstage in her dressing room, where she takes off her costume and washes off the make-up with Ophelia’s despair. This practical act of the actress reminds us that she (and each one of us) does possess both wings symbolizing the ethereal part of our nature, and the claws representing our practical earthly nature. Wings may lead to a demise (as they did for Icarus), while the claws assure our physical

8 Cf. Ligęza, O poezji Wisławy Szymborskiej, 338. 9 Poems New and Collected, 33. 10 Poems New and Collected, 34.



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survival. Also, being a daughter of Polonius, Ophelia must have acquired some of his characteristics. The true nature of the character is revealed on and off the stage.11 The poet also tries to define the “rest-being-silence” reality, in the unforgettable poem “Autotomy,” dedicated to the memory of another poet—Halina Poświatowska: On one shore death, on the other life. Here despair, there hope. If a scale exists, the balance does not tip. If there is a justice, here it is. To die as much as necessary, without going too far. To grow back as much as needed, from the remnant that survives.12

“Chwila w Troi” (The Moment in Troy) from “Sól” (Salt)13 The dressing room, this time a metaphoric one, is the stage for a grand transformation. This time ordinary, innocent, unattractive little girls from Troy are transformed into beautiful Helens, for whom the siege is staged and war is waged. Our potential is undefined and undefinable. Each situation can turn out either way. Betrayed once by ideology, Szymborska warns the reader against any sort of ideological or programmatic outlook on life. The innocent girls turn into cynical manipulative women. Transformation from girl to woman returns in the poem “Śmiech” (Laughter), from Sto pociech (A Million Laughs, 1967). How much does the adult woman owe the little girl she once was? Where is the dividing line and what is it? In the poem “Ścięcie” (Beheading),14 she assures us that gender is not a marker of moral value, and that the ethical barrier does not run along gender lines. The poet depicts both Maria Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor, one in a red shift or chemise that is lowcut, and the other in a white dress buttoned up to her chin. I might note that the two translations of the poem stress different aspects: Kryński/Maguire: A difference in dress—yes, let’s be sure of that. Barańczak/Cavanagh: The difference in dress—yes, this we know for sure. 11 Ligęza, O poezji Wisławy Szymborskiej, 219. In the chapter “Dialog with Texts of Culture” and particularly in the subsection “The Art of Theater, The Theater of Life,” the critic concentrates on the techniques typical of Szymborska’s treatment of the Shakespearean text, such as transgressing the frame of the drama, transforming the template of comedy, writing a new epilog to Hamlet, as in the poem about Ophelia, “The Rest.” Ligęza points out that “the text of Shakespeare is most privileged in Szymborska’s dialog with cultural texts.” 12 Wisława Szymborska, Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts. Seventy Poems by Wisława Szymborska, tr. and intr. Magnus Kryński and Robert Maguire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 136–37. 13 Ibid., 165, 218, 312. 14 Szymborska, Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts, 82–83; Poems New and Collected, 87.

From Common Servant to Lot’s Wife (Wisława Szymborska)

"Żona Lota" (Lot's Wife) from "Wielka Liczba" (A Large Number), 1976 Szymborska’s lyrical persona very often identifies with a mythical or historical person, and this identification allows her to examine this myth or historical fact from the inside. Sometimes to the existing apocrypha the poet adds her own—something that happens in the poem “Lot’s Wife” (1976).15 Usually one sees Lot’s wife as a stony figure, and she is associated with one emotion, one quality. Szymborska shows us Lot’s wife minutes before she is turned into a pillar of salt. She gives us a very subtle psychological portrait of a woman of whom we know nothing, not even her name. And this is an ironic revenge, revenge for the fact that Lot’s wife is not being seen as a person, but only as Lot’s wife, and only at the moment when destruction befalls her. Szymborska endows her with an individual voice, she suggests that this was a woman experiencing a whole range of emotions, from the very sublime to the very trivial. And this is how she helps us to relate to this person, and to ourselves as well. In this poem I see something of a feminist statement, a revolt against being defined.16

“Pietà” from “Sto pociech” (A Million Laughs) Many of Szymborska’s poems express amazement at the multiple forms of life and the phenomena that surround us; she is very much against reducing life to one image, to freezing one’s life in one defining characteristic, even in such an image as the Pietà. In her poem, the mother of an executed hero is made to play the Pietà’s role over and over again for the tourists with their cameras. When at the end of the poem the narrator and the reader leave the room and meet other tourists in the hall, we look at this exploitation almost as if it were pornography. But this does not mean that her world is morally ambivalent; the poet simply revolts against imposing on living beings one definition, one view. It is a premise of existential philosophy. The juxtaposition of such a depiction may also be true as we can see in the poem “Vietnam,” where she portrays a Vietnamese mother, who in her misery and distress has grown utterly indifferent to everything except her role of mother. One might risk hazarding the supposition that Szymborska’s universe is contained between a template and a version, and it applies to her “women” poems as well. In “Rubens’ Women”17 we read that the given aesthetics arbitrarily picks hefty women over small flat ones; the small flat women are given a golden background in the thirteenth century, and a silver screen in the twentieth. In “Portrait of a Woman”18 we are 15 Szymborska, Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts, 158–61, Poems New and Collected, 149. 16 See also Clare Cavanagh’s analysis of the treatment of Lot’s wife by Akhmatova and Szymborska in her Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010). 17 Szymborska, Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts, 50–51; Poems New and Collected, 47; People on a Bridge (London: Forest Books, 1990), 13. 18 Szymborska, Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts, 176–77; People on a Bridge, 14.



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asked to choose which version we want to see; and in the poem about Isadora Duncan19 we are told that our singular glance, our singular depiction is but a “false testimony.” Szymborska does not want us to define her “women,” and she does not want to be defined by them as a “women’s poet.” November 21, 2008

19 “Frozen Motion,” tr. Barańczak and Cavanagh, in Poems New and Collected, 135.


Intellect Imbued with Clarity, Grace, and Humor Notes on Wisława Szymborska

Inspiration, whatever it is, is born from the incessant “I don’t know.” Wisława Szymorska in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech


t the time of the official announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature for Wisława Szymborska in October of 1996, the poet was in a writers’ retreat in the mountain resort of Zakopane, not far from Kraków, the place of her permanent residence. She was there for the very mundane reason that the radiators in her two-room apartment were not working. It was reported that when the telephone rang in Zakopane, the representatives of the Swedish Academy heard a firm response from someone at the pension: “Ms. Szymborska is having her lunch and is not to be disturbed.” Only later did the news sink in. Her literary friends arrived from Kraków and the dining room was turned into an ad hoc press center. This sudden attention of the press and media prompted Szymborska to issue a statement that was published by a press agency, in which the poet, a very modest and private person, said: “During the last few days, since the news of the prize, I have answered hundreds of questions, have given many statements, and many short and long interviews. And because my vocal cords were not programmed by nature for this kind of work, I write this in hope that at least for some time I will be given the chance to rest. “I know that at least two other great Polish poets,” she continued in her public statement, “deserved this prize as well. This is why I prefer to think about the recognition of my writing as a tribute for all of contemporary Polish poetry, which apparently has something important to say to the world of readers.” This Nobel Prize for Polish poetry, the second in sixteen years, caused many people to realize that there must be something special in that branch of Polish letters. Indeed, ever since the time of Jan Kochanowski, the great Polish Renaissance poet


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of the sixteenth century, poetry has been one of Poland’s primary natural resources and treasures. Something that has not escaped the attention of many poetry lovers in Western Europe and the United States. Nevertheless, the award to Szymborska caught many by surprise. Even the Polish publishers participating in the Frankfurt Book Fair were not prepared. Visitors to the book fair could not find a single copy of Szymborska’s poetry on display.1 Since then, the Nobel for Szymborska has triggered something of a small industry: several books on her poetry have been published, some consisting of selections of previously published reviews and essays, some entirely new; as a result, all of her 224 poems have been analyzed, compared, and described, with unprecedented enthusiasm, diligence and expertise. The latest selection of her poetry remains on the bestseller list. Her readings are available on audio, along with unauthorized pirate editions of her books. For the first time her collages, previously known only to friends, are being exhibited, and her portrait placed first at the Polish national competition of press photography. Nobel fever is not just a Polish phenomenon, however. Even in the United States, the new laureates, often relatively unknown to the general reader, begin to pop up in catalogs and on the web and appear in anthologies. The delight is widespread, but as often happens, not absolutely unanimous; there were those who were disappointed that the prize did not go to Zbigniew Herbert or Tadeusz Różewicz, two other prominent poets of this unusually gifted generation of Polish poets. One may speculate that if any single quality tipped the scales in Szymborska’s favor in this contest, it may have been her sense of humor. Some time ago in a poll conducted by Polityka, the Warsaw weekly, the poem titled “The Joy of Writing” received the unofficial title of the most beautiful poem written in the Polish language after World War II. And in the same poll its author, Wisława Szymborska, placed second in the “poets’ poet” category. It is no surprise that she received such a high rating in the poll because while she is often considered a “poets’ poet,” she is a readers’ poet as well. Long before critics gave her proper attention, readers sought out her poems in magazines and bought her books. Long before critics determined Szymborska’s place on the scale from the very avant-garde to the quite traditional, readers knew that she strikes a perfect balance between the two. And who were these readers? It is safe to say that it was the postwar generation that fell in love with Szymborska’s poetry. Wisława Szymborska emerged as a poetic voice in 1957, when my peers and I were liberating ourselves from reading blatant propaganda poetry, which coincided with the time when the generation of poets born in the 1920s were liberating themselves from the official poetics that had been imposed on them, assumed by them, or both. Szymborska’s generation of poets is regarded as having made a “late debut,” or a double debut. They often disowned the politically compromised poems they had 1

She received many Polish and international literary awards, among them the prestigious New York Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation Award, called the Polish Nobel, and the Herder Award bestowed by the University of Vienna.

Intellect Imbued with Clarity, Grace, and Humor written under the dictate of socialist realist aesthetics. In the years 1952–66 Wisława Szymborska was a member of the Polish Communist Party. She commented on those years and her decision in an interview with scholar and literary critic, Wojciech Ligęza. In answer to Ligęza’s question, “What part did poetry play in the Stalinist linguistic aberration?,” the poet responded: A significant part, unfortunately. Poetry was much more suitable than prose for the promotion of ideology. Uncomplicated intellectually, and linguistically, it was meant to evoke emotions rather than reasoning. Such were my poems in the first two books. My convictions at that time were deep and sincere, but that statement does not exonerate me of guilt toward those, whom my poems, perhaps, influenced in some way.2

Fortunately, our generation does not remember those early poems. I distinctly remember the layout of the page where I read my first poem by Szymborska. Two years ago, when I met her personally for the first time, I quoted that poem, “Lesson,” to her to prove my long-standing admiration. The poem begins with the words: Who? What?—King Alexander. With whom? With what? With the sword cuts whom what? The Gordian knot. To whose mind did it come? No one’s.

The poem was already very Szymborskian, full of relevant and irrelevant questions, which the poet never ceased to ask, full of uncertainties, which she never ceased to express, full of subtle humor, which never betrays her. She never tires of the awareness of the multitude of levels on which life plays its drama. She apologizes to sleepless people in terminals for her own sleep at five in the morning, having already dedicated the entire poem to her own sleeplessness at four in the morning. Ironic like a “diamond in a false setting,” she makes us see all the implications of every single act or object at every single moment of its past, present and future. Very often she poses an intricate question, for example, how the world fares beyond our perception. Does it exist at all if not measured by our measure, our sense of proportion, our values? Or perhaps we are some sort of experiment watched over by an unknown laboratory wizard? She questions things directly or indirectly by juxtaposing polar statements. In the poem “Séance,” “joy is radiant and deceptive”; in another poem her “marks of distinction are rupture and despair”—for Szymborska everything exists between necessity and happenstance. She most often shows us the surface, making things talk to us by their appearance, while making us aware that this is only the surface, that the abyss lurks just beneath 2

Quoted in Węgrzyniakowa, Nie ma rozpusty większej niż myślenie, 134.



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us. By questioning everything she puts everything into motion. Everything moves in every direction and in every reality. Chronologically it moves throughout evolution; something that started as a “complex crystal,” several stops further in the evolutionary journey becomes a “Brueghel monkey,” a human being, or the ultimate being: Thomas Mann, “a mammal . . . his hand wondrously quilled with a fountain pen.” As much as she is amazed by God’s creation, I do not know another poet who can better express the absentminded amazement we witness in the poem “Birthday,” where she is even more amazed by human creativity. In her poem “Notes from a Nonexistent Himalayan Expedition,” she calls out to Yeti, the alleged snow-person, and in her effort to persuade him to join the human race, she argues: “Yeti, we’ve got Shakespeare here. / Yeti, we play solitaire / and violin.” 3 Incidentally, this poem attracted the attention of the US media, and controversy, now, forty years after its publication. A reporter for the New York Times, in search of easy political associations, drew a parallel between Yeti the Snowman and Stalin.4 Stanisław Barańczak scolded this simplistic interpretation, and he was right to do so. More recently, another writer called Yeti a metaphor for Stalinism, which is still too simplistic to do justice to the poem that accommodates various interpretations, including political ones. The humanoid Snowman represents anyone obsessed with a single idea to the point of denying the complexity of life. It is someone who chooses the cold and cruel glacier of utopia, be it Stalinism, or . . . political correctness. The poet favors the side of human existence, imperfect perhaps, but not devoid of beauty, warmth, arts, and poetry. Intellectual distance and anxiety always accompany Szymborska’s “joy of writing”; hers is a tough tenderness, something the critic Joanna Clark calls “Polish existentialism.” The reception of Wisława Szymborska in the English-speaking world already has its own history. Czesław Miłosz included only one of her poems in the 1965 first edition of his Postwar Polish Poetry,5 and eight in the third edition published almost two decades later. Now her poems grace every English-language anthology of Polish poetry. More recently, a selection of Szymborska’s poetry, published by Harcourt Brace and translated by Stanisław Barańczak, the prominent writer, critic and professor at Harvard University, and Clare Cavanagh of the University of Wisconsin—was awarded the American PEN Center and Book-of-the Month Club Prize. In addition, we have the second edition of the very first collection of Szymborska’s poetry in English, Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts, translated by the well-known team comprised of Magnus J. Kryński and Robert A. Maguire (Princeton University Press, 1981). This unique book is illustrated with Szymborska’s collages, which have been never published in Poland. It is especially interesting to consider how her linguistic inventions function like her collages. 3 4 5

Szymborska, Poems New and Collected, 18. Jane Perlez, “Polish Poet, Observer of Daily Life, Wins Nobel,” New York Times, October 4, 1996. Czesław Miłosz, Postwar Polish Poetry (New York: Doubleday, 1965).

Intellect Imbued with Clarity, Grace, and Humor In England, the poet and scholar Adam Czerniawski produced a slim volume of her work in translation, entitled People on a Bridge. As the recent, very American, controversy reported by the New York Times over the two different renditions of the poem entitled “Some Like Poetry” (published in the New Yorker) and “Some People Like Poetry” (published in the New Republic) indicates, a new generation of translators is appearing on the arena. Wisława Szymborska had been on the Nobel Prize candidate list for some time. In early 1996 the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York held a tribute to Szymborska. When I found out that I was to have the honor of narrating the “Tribute to Wisława Szymborska,” I wrote to her asking if there was anything she would like to say to the American audience. In response, she sent me the manuscript of her acceptance speech at Poznań University, where she was awarded an honorary doctorate in the spring of 1995. In that speech she expresses her regrets that people no longer enjoy poetry the old-fashioned way—by reading it. She is not very impressed by the audiovisual techniques employed in reading poetry. She writes: “Reflexive poetry, the poetry whose raison d’être is to commune with the reader, must retain its identity, immune to any technical permutation.” Admirers of Szymborska recall the milestones, the poems that were a revelation at the time of their appearance and remained a prism through which we look at that which we cannot grasp. Among them, “Conversation with a Stone,” a poem of loneliness, alienation, of the impenetrability of inanimate matter, the impossibility to permeate. In that poetic confrontation of être en soi (being in itself) with être pour soi (being for itself),6 Szymborska invents an additional sense, the sense of participation, of taking part. She invents it only to tell us that we lack it, and that we can never acquire it. Her frequent device is the principle of double negation, reversing the situation. She changes Descartes’s “I think therefore I am” into “I live therefore I err.” She unravels in front of us every possible complication of human fate, constantly exposed to the pressures of biology on one side and history on the other. In other poems she shows her fascination with museums and galleries, where objects, frozen in their inaction, are witnesses to nonexistence, and recall a time outlived. The People on a Bridge and The End and the Beginning examine the captivating problem of time and our perception of it. Critics reviewing Wisława Szymborska’s The End and the Beginning pointed to the fact that if the beginning and the end is a closed formula, its opposite, “the end and the beginning” is an open one. It implies continuity, it is less pessimistic. For all her skepticism, there was always a place for hope, for some guarded optimism, in Szymborska’s poetry. The titles of three of her poems begin with the words “In praise of . . .,” which would indicate that she accepts life, accepts it as it is. Therefore, she does accept the negative, for example, the fact that her sister does not write poetry, in other words, she accepts self-deprecation. The attentive reader, however, will know how to find her under a mask, or under an assumed role, and will recognized the reverse self-portrait in “In Praise of My Sister.” In her Nobel lecture, 6

Cf. Aneta Wiatr, Syzyf poezji w piekle współczesności rzecz o Wisławie Szymborskiej (Warszawa: Kram, 1996), 49.



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Szymborska stated that she would try to instill some optimism in Ecclesiastes, given the chance to meet. Always intrigued by the wrong side of the tapestry, she is preoccupied with things that never happened, poems that were never written, or, if written, were left untitled. Unlike many poets, Szymborska is fascinated with numbers, large numbers, wrong numbers, or a number called Pi. There is one thing, however, which Szymborska does not question, where she does not recognize ambivalence; namely, the sacrosanctity of human life. In one of her early poems, not reprinted in the newer selections, she asks: “What actually did the biblical Isaac do [to deserve to be led to slaughter]? Did he steal pencils? Did he frighten away chickens? Cheat at school?” She revolts against the arbitrary decision to sentence anyone to death. Even if this is God’s decision. No matter how intricate, playful, and sophisticated her verses would become, this subject always received the most decisive, clear-cut treatment. She without doubt recognizes the banality of evil, but there is also something else, the randomness of it all. Perhaps the ultimate expression of this can be found in her “The Terrorist, He’s Watching” or “Written in a Hotel.” It was merely coincidence that when the question of dropping the atomic bomb was decided, a person who admired Kyoto’s striking architecture was present at the table. In another poem she points out to us how readily our statistics dismiss human life. In statistics, 1001 victims remain a thousand. In many of her poems one may wonder about the stance of the lyric persona, how lost it seems to be in its philosophical or anthropological searches, but in poems about the Holocaust, about Vietnam, and about terrorism, if her voice trembles it is only because her moral stand is unfaltering. In the poem “Still,” she writes about Jews being taken to the death camp during World War II, in the poem “Vietnam” she writes about a Vietnamese mother who, in her misery and distress, grew indifferent to everything except to the fact that she was a mother. For many years “Shadow,” a subtle love lyric, was my favorite poem: “My shadow is a fool whose feelings / are often hurt by his routine.”7 Early works often reveal a writer’s obsessions and fascinations. This poem is about the discrepancy between a gesture and its meaning, between the essence and the form, the act and the perception. The shadow is an acrobatic double that assumes the pathetic, dramatic behavior, while the subject of the poem withholds her gestures and reaction, and finally it is the shadow that jumps on the rails, commits ironic suicide. Szymborska denies the obvious division, for example, the “sky and earth” dichotomy for her is not a proper way of considering “this whole.” She even questions the division of male and female. From time to time the question has been raised as to whether Szymborska’s poetry is women’s poetry. Opinions have been voiced that it is not women’s poetry in the traditional sense. Her emotional confessions are reserved, her tone is more one of irony or self-irony. Some new feminist critics and others have said that her poetry is not 7

Szymborska, Poems New and Collected, 33.

Intellect Imbued with Clarity, Grace, and Humor sensuous enough, that it is too intellectual, or even too rhetorical. What seems to be a fault in the eyes of some is a virtue in the eyes of others, who stress her universality. The fact that she is not fond of appearing in the women’s poetry anthologies, does not mean that she shies away from the subject of being a woman. Every one of her collections have poems addressing this issue, to name just a few: “A Moment in Troy,” “The Women of Rubens,” “Born of Woman,” “Monologue for Cassandra,” “Pietà,” “Vietnam,” “Autotomy,” “Lot’s Wife,” “In Praise of My Sister,” “Portrait of a Woman.” Born in 1923 near Poznań, she moved to Kraków at the age of eight, where she has lived ever since. Szymborska was sixteen when the Second World War broke out, and twenty-one when it ended. Living and studying in Kraków she has seen it all—terror, the extermination of the Jews, hunger, hopelessness. She published her first poem in 1945, and had her first collection ready in 1948. By that time a strict ideological code had been imposed on writers. Her two volumes published in the early fifties were to a great extent in compliance with the propaganda demands and for this reason we rarely see these poems reprinted. In 1957 the book Calling Out to Yeti indicated her new, distinct, independent voice. Her poetry is an intellectual poetry, but it is intellect imbued with clarity, grace, and humor. That is why Leibnitzian monads may become fish and stones in her poems, and hurt like people. She finds her inspiration in philosophy, but this is a philosophy confronted by life. Her last volume, The End and the Beginning (1993), elegiac in tone, presents the lyric of quiet conversation, of which death is a main persona. Reviewing this new book, critic Janusz Drzewucki writes: If the beginning and the end is a closed formula, its opposite, “the end and the beginning’ is an open one. It implies continuation, that anything may happen here. It is less pessimistic than we would presume from reading the title. This is how we live unaware of our beginning and without an inkling of our end. We live in between.8

More than ever the poet is a lyrical subject. The star poem in this collection is “Cat in an Empty Apartment,” where the impossibility of accepting the death of a beloved person is shown from the cat’s perspective. This strategy creates a unique lyrical aura, preventing the confession of grief, and at the same time creating an abysmal sense of loss, because the cat will never comprehend the absence of his master, thus grief will be perpetual. “Almost all poetry,” said Wisława Szymborska in her speech at the University of Poznań, “and mine in particular, draws its strength from not entirely crystal-clear springs; from life’s mistakes, from knowledge gathered chaotically, and from good intentions with which hell is paved, as well. The poet cannot serve as an example to


Janusz Drzewucki, “Gdzieś obok, poza wszystkim,” Twórczość 12 (December 1993): 103–110.



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anyone, because the best that he can offer are his poems, and they cannot be imitated, and the rest of the poet’s life is far from being exemplary.” And she ended her speech by expressing the hope “that the future will also hold a place for the people who like to contemplate.” To contemplate poetry. 1997


The Ghost of Shakespeare in the Poetry of Wisława Szymborska


he back cover of the 2003 edition of Wisława Szymborska’s Light Rhymes for Big Kids sports a fabricated quotation placed there by the poet: “Szymborska? Don’t know her.—William Shakespeare.”1 She was right, Shakespeare did not know Szymborska, but his ghost visited her on more than one occasion. While I was studying this phenomenon, I came across Simon Schama’s New Yorker essay “Rembrandt’s Ghost. Picasso Looks Back.” The author concludes his illuminating article about Picasso taking inspiration in Rembrandt’s art with the words: “Timelessness is not always an empty cliché; . . . it is full of sustaining truth.”2 This is more or less what I am after, I want to see how much of the “sustaining truth” in the poems Szymborska wrote during the difficult times of the late 1950s—a period that literary critics still view with mixed sentiments3—can be traced to Shakespeare’s timelessness. The topic of Shakespearean motifs in Polish poetry of that period has huge potential. Once the official adoption of the aesthetics of socialist realism was renounced, poets turned almost en masse to the images of Shakespeare and Bruegel. “The Ghost of Bruegel in Polish Poetry after 1956” would certainly be another fruitful topic. Szymborska’s “The Rest” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are among two of her most often-quoted Shakespearean poems. In the latter poem the poet does what she does best—she rearranges the props. In her acceptance speech for the 1 2 3

Wisława Szymborska, Rymowanki dla dużych dzieci [Light Rhymes for Big Kids] (Kraków: Wydawnictwo a5, 2003). Simon Schama, “Rembrandt’s Ghost,” The New Yorker, March 26, 2007, 36. See, for example, Janusz Sławiński, “Rzut oka na ewolucje poezji polskiej w latach 1956– 1980,” in his Teksty i teksty (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo PEN, 1990), 97–128. (The essay was written in 1984.)


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Goethe Prize, she admitted “the props are not meaningless.”4 Thus she replaces the forest of Athens with that of Arden, which is the forest in the play As You Like It and Shakespeare’s native forest as well. Of all the lovers in this comedy, Szymborska chooses Pyramus and Thisbe, whose story in itself is a mockery of Shakespeare’s most romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, thereby underscoring her distance from the topic of love. In Szymborska’s version of this mise-en-abyme, Shakespeare’s Lion is superfluous. Thisbe’s coat is not stained with blood, but is plain and simply radioactive, and one does not need the moon for it is the forest that shines instead. Szymborska’s use of Shakespearean motifs has been receiving considerable scholarly attention for some time now. In his monograph On the Poetry of Wisława Szymborska. The World in the State of Proofreading,5 Wojciech Ligęza points out that “the text of Shakespeare is most privileged in Szymborska’s dialog with cultural texts.”6 Among the techniques typical of Szymborska’s treatment of the Shakespearean text, he enumerates transgressing the frame of the drama, transforming the template of comedy, and writing a new epilogue for Hamlet, as in “The Rest,” a poem about Ophelia. He underscores that “the liberty and grace in Szymborska’s poetry serve an anti-mythological persuasion. Again and again, we decode epistemological and metaphysical modifications.”7 In “Family Album” the poet states: No one in my family has ever died of love. What happened, happened, but nothing myth-inspiring. Romeos of consumption? Juliets of diphtheria? Some have even achieved decrepitude.8

It is quite the opposite with the life of Shakespeare, which is myth-inspiring, and even a myth in itself. Here is how Szymborska deals with this myth in her poem “Certainty,” which opens with a quotation from act 3, scene 3 of A Winter’s Tale: “Thou art certain, then, our ship hath touch’d upon the deserts of Bohemia?” “Aye, my lord, I’m certain.” This is from Shakespeare who, I'm certain, was none other. A few facts, some data, a portrait almost from his lifetime . . . To claim this is too little?

4 5 6 7 8

Wisława Szymborska, “I Value Doubt” (Speech on acceptance of the Goethe Prize), tr. William Brand, Dekada Literacka, special issue (October 1997): 3. Wojciech Ligęza, O poezji Wisławy Szymborskiej: świat w stanie korekty (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2001). [All translations in the text, unless noted otherwise, are by A.F.] Ibid., 219. See also the chapter “Dialog with Texts of Culture,” in particular the subsection “Art of the Theater, Theater of Life.” Ibid., 85. Szymborska, Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts, 63.

The Ghost of Shakespeare in the Poetry of Wisława Szymborska To wait for proof, which the Great Sea's already snatched and cast ashore on the Bohemias of this world?9

Ligęza makes the following comment on these lines: “The contradictory data about Shakespeare’s life are joined to unassertive certainty in the text of the drama.”10 So much for our “certainty” in the face of the number of books challenging Shakespeare’s identity. “The rest is silence,” says Hamlet. Szymborska adheres to a similar dichotomy. But she attempts to define what this “rest” is in the beautiful poem entitled “The Rest,” from her fourth book Salt (1962): Her mad songs over, Ophelia darts out, anxious to check offstage whether her dress is still not too crumpled whether her blond tresses frame her face as they should. Since real life’s laws require facts, she, Polonius’s true daughter, carefully washes black despair out of her eyebrows, and is not above counting the leaves she’s combed out of her hair. Oh, may Denmark forgive you, my dear, and me too: I’ll die with wings, I’ll live on with practical claws. Non omnis moriar of love. 11

By way of acknowledging that our access to Ophelia is solely through the actress playing the part, the poet shows us the actress offstage in her dressing room, where she takes off her costume and washes off her despair along with her make-up. This practical and mundane act on the part of the actress reminds us that she (and each and every one of us) possesses both things: wings, symbolizing the ethereal part of our nature, and the claws that represent our practical earthly nature. Wings may lead to our demise (as they did for Icarus), while the claws assure our physical survival. She deconstructs the typical perception of Ophelia, thus reminding us that as Polonius’s daughter, she was bound to inherit some traits from him as well. The true nature of the character is revealed on stage and off. This is how the poet teaches us to be wary of stereotypes. In her book Wisława Szymborska, Anna Legeżyńska gives another reading of this same poem: “the antinomy of theater and life interests Szymborska not as a conflict of fiction and truth, but as a relation between the model (scenario) and the effort to overcome the limitation of human nature (performance).”12 In his interpretation of 9 10 11 12

Ibid, 138–39. Ligęza, O poezji Wisławy Szymborskiej, 219. Szymborska, Poems, New and Collected, 34. Anna Legeżyńska, Wisława Szymborska (Poznań: Rebis, 1996), 113.



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this poem, Ligęza writes: “Szymborska added an epilogue to Hamlet in the manner of the postmodern theater, which shatters the illusion of the stage.”13 Another scholar who has recognized the need to look more deeply into Szymborska’s Shakespearean motifs is Tadeusz Nyczek, who writes in his book 22 x Szymborska: But there is a certain tradition about which somehow not much is being said, and to put it frankly, almost not at all in connection to that creative output: Shakespeare. Earlier when I was writing about some of her poems I tried to place them directly in front of the Shakespearean mirror, because I am convinced that every serious literature that wants to speak about the Essence of the World somehow, somewhere has to meet up with Shakespeare. Szymborska also met him, and more than once. One of the deepest discoveries of Shakespeare–that the world is theater and the theater is the world—I find at times at the bottom, and at times on the surface of Szymborska’s poetry. And it is not because many poems resemble micro-dramas written into parts, with action, a leading theme, prologue, climax and denouement. I don’t have in mind Shakespeare studies of such banality and shallowness. It is a matter of something that becomes a question about truth and the play in the life order as theater, and theater as life.14

Nyczek ascribes this role by implication even to poems that do not have an obvious link to Shakespearean texts, for example, “I Devise the World” from the volume Calling Out to Yeti, which he associates with Gonzalo’s monolog from the second act of The Tempest. He sees Shakespeare’s fingerprints even on such poems as “Conversation with a Stone” and “Theater Impressions.”15 In his essay “The Sixth Act. On Szymborska’s Poem ‘Theater Impressions,’” PerArne Bodin examines the theater as “a recurring theme in Szymborska’s poetry. He comments on the topos of theater as life and the reverse of life as theater, as well as the border between theater and reality in the poem “The Rest.” In his conclusion Bodin writes: Reality is not at all put in question in these poems; on the contrary, the tragedy to some extent is disavowed by the inclusion of everyday reality in the artistic context of the play. The sixth act or the post-performance time after the end of Hamlet is the meeting place between literature and reality, and it is in this meeting place that the poetry of Szymborska takes place; this border area is often reflected upon in the poetry of Szymborska.16 13 14 15 16

Ligęza, O poezji Wisławy Szymborskiej, 222. Tadeusz Nyczek, 22 x Szymborska (Poznań: Wydawnictwo a5, 1997), 112–13. Both poems appear in Poems New and Collected, 62, 114. Per-Arne Bodin, “The Sixth Act. On Szymborska’s Poem ‘Theater Impressions,’” in Wisława Szymborska. A Stockholm Conference. May 23–24, 2003, ed. Leonard Neuger and Rikard Wennerholm (Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets historie och antikvitets akademien, 2006), 82–90.

The Ghost of Shakespeare in the Poetry of Wisława Szymborska What interests me in particular is the intertextual relation between Szymborska’s poems and Jan Kott’s essays on Shakespeare, since they both underwent a transformation in their thinking, as did many writers who had been seduced by ideology during the Stalinist era after World War II and later felt the need to cleanse themselves. Reviewing Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human for the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani states in her article, “Why Shakespeare Resonates in the Modern Age,” that Bloom’s book echoes the pioneering work of the Polish critic Jan Kott, whose famous 1964 book Shakespeare Our Contemporary illuminated the modernity of the Bard. Mr. Kott . . . demonstrated how Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories anticipated the violence and cruelty of twentieth-century history—and more particularly Eastern Europe’s suffering at the hands of Hitler and Stalin. . . .17

Each generation approaches and incorporates Shakespeare in its own way. His ghost hovers over the writings of many. “Each period creates its own Fortinbras,”18 writes James F. Schlatter in his examination of interwar Polish theater. The generation that came to prominence after the 1956 anti-Communist revolt in Poznań created its own Fortinbras as well. The most prominent is the “Elegy of Fortinbras” by Zbigniew Herbert, Szymborska’s eminent contemporary, who represented a somewhat different poetic, political and philosophical stand. Beginning in 1956, many writers in Poland, and the Communist bloc as a whole, sought the opportunity to free themselves from the confines of ideology, to break away from the monoculture of the Stalinist years. For example, Jan Kott, Tadeusz Różewicz, Wiktor Woroszylski, and Wisława Szymborska, to name only a few from a much longer list. At the same time, other writers who had been banned for their lack of ideological zeal were finally given the opportunity to publish their work in the mid-fifties, for example, Zbigniew Herbert and Miron Białoszewski. In her interesting book Shakespeare in the Worlds of Communism and Socialism, Irena Makaryk writes: “Stalin’s death in 1953 initiated the ‘Thaw’ in literary policy and sparked Hamlet fever. The pusillanimous Hamlet now became a ‘titan of conscience’ and the brother-in-arms in the battle against residual Stalinism.”19 The Kraków production of Hamlet on September 30, 1956, marked the turning point for Polish intellectual circles. Jan Kott’s reviews and essays, which eventually made him a world-famous authority on Shakespeare, played a pivotal role in the process of self-examination on the part of intellectuals, who subsequently confessed their blindness that had been 17 Michiko Kakutani, “Why Shakespeare Resonates in the Modern Age,” New York Times, March 18, 1999, E1, 11. 18 James F. Schlatter, “The Face of Fortinbras. Images of Power in Polish Theater between the Wars,” in Poland between the Wars. 1918–1939, ed. Timothy Wiles (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1989), 232–244. 19 Irena R. Makaryk and Joseph G. Price (eds.), Shakespeare in the Worlds of Communism and Socialism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 117.



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caused by ideological intoxication and fear. Krystyna Kujawińska-Courtney quotes a Polish critic, from 1960, who wrote: “Contemporary dramatists can sleep soundly as long as Shakespeare does their job.”20 The political scenario in 1956 was Shakespearean in itself: in February, the 20th Congress of the Russian Communist Party with Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech and its revelations about Stalin’s “cult of personality”; in June, the revolt of Polish workers in Poznań; in September the production of Hamlet, followed by the Hungarian Uprising and the celebrated Polish October that set in motion major political changes. Kott writes: At the end of September 1956, not quite six months after my meeting with Lukács and three months after the Poznań massacre, I went to Kraków to see the new production of Hamlet. Shakespeare, Our Contemporary had its beginnings in that Polish version of Elsinore, where “Denmark is a prison” and “walls have ears” but people don’t. The title of my review was “Hamlet after the Twentieth Congress.”21

Needless to say, Szymborska who lived in Kraków most probably saw the same production and experienced the excitement surrounding it. That same month, Krystyna Skuszanka, the legendary Polish director, staged Measure for Measure in a nearby theater, also in Kraków. In her essay about this production, Krystyna KujawińskaCourtney writes that it was recognized as “political morality-in-the-making” and that “people from all over Poland came to see it.”22 References to Shakespeare became a code for discussing tyranny in the face of the still rigid censorship. Kott writes: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” was the first chord of Hamlet’s new meaning, and then the dead sound of the words “Denmark’s a prison” repeated three times. Finally, the magnificent churchyard scene, with the gravediggers’ dialogue rid of metaphysics, brutal and unequivocal. Gravediggers know for whom they dig graves. “The gallows is built stronger than the church, they say.”23

I propose to show how certain images that Szymborska borrows from Hamlet in her poem “Rehabilitation” express her regret at her own ideological blindness that resulted in an indifference to political injustice. Szymborska has received considerable critical attention since her third volume, Calling Out to Yeti (1957), which marked her second,

20 Krystyna Kujawińska-Courtney, “Krystyna Skuszanka’s Shakespeare of Political Allusions and Metaphors in Communist Poland,” in Makryk and Price, Shakespeare in the Worlds of Communism and Socialism, 230. 21 Jan Kott, Still Alive. An Autobiographical Essay, trans. Jadwiga Kosicka (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 204. 22 Kujawińska-Courtney, “Krystyna Skuszanka’s Shakespeare of Political Allusions,” 230. 23 Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary, trans. Boleslaw Taborski (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1966), 59.

The Ghost of Shakespeare in the Poetry of Wisława Szymborska mature debut. Following the publication of Szymborska’s Selected Poetry24 in 2000, I published my analysis of “Rehabilitation” in a London-based Polish paper,25 placing it in the context of Jan Kott’s famous exegesis. More than a generation older than Szymborska, and already known as an accomplished critic, editor, and translator, Kott was associated with the well-known Marxist periodical Kuźnica,26 the trendsetter for Polish literary life during the late 1940s and early 50s; in the mid-fifties the journal started to send another message, which was absorbed and assimilated by many writers. Moreover, in the late 1940s both Kott and Szymborska published in the same Kraków magazine.27 Kott renounced his Communist Party membership two years after he began his Shakespeare studies. Kott reads Shakespeare as the drama of power called the Grand Mechanism. Szymborska’s poem “Rehabilitation” is an excellent example of this transformation. After the war, many of the major talented writers subscribed to what they believed at that time to be a progressive idea, Communism, only to renounce this ideology in the mid-fifties. Artur Sandauer points to the fact that unlike many of her peers “Szymborska was able to infer a more general philosophical and aesthetic conclusion,” while others “were sunk in the immediate goals.”28 In the 1950s, Kott’s most famous work, mandatory reading in fact, was his Szkoła klasyków (School of Classics). Already in its third edition in 1955, the work consisted of essays on Defoe, Swift, Prevost, Sainte-Beuve, Dickens, Flaubert, all endorsed as a template of realism in literature. It is not accidental that in two of her poems, written more or less at the same time, the names of Swift and Anatole France are mentioned in a quite personal confession, not at all characteristic of Szymborska. As a young impressionable poet, she had responded to the intellectual program of Kuźnica or at least was not indifferent to it. Szymborska’s two earlier books were written in accordance with the poetics of Socialist Realism. Though a quite important poem, “Rehabilitation” is not often quoted or studied. The poem, however, was important to me personally when I first read it in 1957, because of its mysterious and ominous undertone. It was not often included in later collections and I have not found an English translation. In English “rehabilitation” is often used as a medical term, but in Poland at the time it signified the restoration of a person’s good name to political prisoners who had been falsely accused and persecuted under the Stalinist regime, both the adversaries of the system and the Communists who had been persecuted in the so-called show trials. Szymborska’s poem sends me 24 Wisława Szymborska, Wiersze wybrane (Kraków: Wydawnictwo a5, 2000). 25 “‘Rehabilitacja’ Syzyfa. O wierszu Wisławy Szymborskiej,” Środa Literacka / Dziennik Polski, November 15, 2000, 4–5; reprinted in Arkusz 10 (October 2002): 6. 26 See Zbigniew Żabicki, “Kuźnica” i jej program literacki (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1966). 27 See Jacek Łukasiewicz, “Wiersz wewnątrz gazety” in Edward Balcerzan et al., Szymborska. Szkice (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo “Open,” 1996), 12–33. 28 Artur Sandauer, Pogodzona z historią. Rzecz o Wisławie Szymborskiej in Pisma zebrane, vol. 1 (Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1985), 401.



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back to these conversations about this or that person being “rehabilitated.” On April 20, 1956, some 35,000 political prisoners were released from prison, and 200 who had been killed were rehabilitated. That was only the beginning of the rehabilitation process.29 The prominent poet Tadeusz Różewicz has a well-known poem with a similar title: “Posthumous Rehabilitation” (Rehabilitacja pośmiertna). Major images that underlie Szymborska’s poem can be traced to Hamlet, which Boris Pasternak, himself a translator of the play, called the drama “of obligation and self-denial.”30 In the hour of her obligation, Szymborska turned to Shakespeare. In her famous dispute with Yeti, the lyrical I says: “Yeti, we have Shakespeare.” “We” meaning civilization, she beckons Yeti back, reassuring him that humanity is capable of things other than crime: Yeti, it’s not just crimes that are possible down here. Yeti, not every word is a sentence of death.31

A statement like this in 1957 meant just that, we are capable of “rehabilitation.” The lyrical persona in “Rehabilitation” summons the dead even though she does not believe in an afterlife (“I know that who died, died thoroughly”). This ominous image and other images of “Rehabilitation” echo Horatio’s words in act 1, scene 1: “The dead rise from their graves.” The skull found by the gravedigger in the churchyard in Hamlet is that of Yorick, the king’s jester. (For Laurence Sterne, who liked to assume this name for himself in his Sentimental Journey, Yorick represents Everyman.) In the drama, it is Hamlet who addresses Yorick’s skull: “Where be your gibes now?” While in “Rehabilitation” Yorick and the lyrical I form two sides of the same person. The royal jester may also be a poet, a thinker. In the poem entitled “Shadow” Szymborska writes: “My shadow is like a royal jester.”32 The identification with two entities allows the poet an inner dialogue: as a poet she identifies with the king’s jester, with Everyman; as a person ignorant of a perpetrated killing—with Hamlet, who feels obliged to avenge the memory of his father. The poet faces the same obligation, but her questions are different, she questions her own blind trust in the system, her innocence, her ignorance, her reliance on the unproven truth, and her jakoś-to-będzie—a synonym for a typically Polish laissez-faire attitude.

29 See Marta Fik, Kultura polska po Jałcie (London: Polonia, 1989), 284, 290, 335. 30 Boris L. Pasternak, I Remember; Sketch for an Autobiography, tr., preface, and notes by David Magarshack, with an essay on translating Shakespeare, tr. Manya Harari (New York: Pantheon, 1959), 131. 31 Szymborska, Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts, 27. 32 Wisława Szymborska, “Cień” [Shadow], in Wiersze wybrane, 69. This translation by Anna Frajlich. See also the translation by Barańczak and Cavanagh, in Poems, New and Collected, 33.

The Ghost of Shakespeare in the Poetry of Wisława Szymborska It’s time to take one’s own head into one’s hands saying: Poor Yorick, where is your ignorance where is your blind trust, your innocence?33

The whole idea of the necessity to revenge the harm done to someone who cannot defend himself is also taken from Hamlet. Our power over the dead requires caution and justice, and this course was not followed. Artur Sandauer writes that Szymborska’s aim “is not self-justification but self-accusation.”34 The poet confesses that she believed in appearances and the false witnesses, she assumed the victims were guilty because they had been punished: Guilt: I trusted that they were traitors, not worthy of names, Punishment: If the weed scoffs of their unknown graves and ravens mock them and blizzards sneer But these were, dear Yorick, the false witnesses.35

The most important piece of knowledge to come from this grim history lesson is that the human memory of the dead, as the poet says, is an “unstable currency” (chwiejna waluta): Not a day goes by without denying someone their eternity.36

The present tense of this statement warns us that what has happened can happen again. We read further on: Our power over the dead Requires the precise scale And requires that the court is not held at night And that the judge is not without the cloth.37

It is crucial that the scale is not tipped by ideology, that the court is not underhanded, and that the judge fulfills his duties. The Ghost of Hamlet’s father and the victims of the purges rise from the dead to awaken the conscience of the people. The 33 Compare the original poem: “Czas własną głowę w ręce brać / mówiąc jej: Biedny Jorik, gdzież twoja niewiedza, / gdzież twoja ślepa ufność, gdzież twoja niewinność.” [This and all subsequent translations of this poem by A.F.] 34 Sandauer, Pogodzona z historią, 401. 35 Compare the original poem: “Wina: Wierzyłam, że zdradzili, że nie warci imion, / Kara: Skoro chwast się natrząsa z ich nieznanych mogił / I kruki przedrzeźniają i śnieżyce szydzą / a to byli, Joriku, fałszywi świadkowie.” 36 Compare the original: “Nie ma dnia / By ktoś wieczności swej nie tracił.” 37 Compare the original: “Ta nasza nad zmarłymi moc / wymaga nierozchwianej wagi / i żeby sąd nie sądził w noc / I żeby sędzia nie był nagi.”



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poet admits her own guilt, the betrayal of the ethos of an intellectual (clerk), and her own inability to settle the score. We read in the poem: Where is my power over words? The words fell to the bottom of the tear Words, words, unsuitable to resurrect people Description as dead as the photo taken with a flash I cannot awake them even for half a breath I, Sisyphus ascribed to the inferno of poetry..38

The bitter phrase “words, words” also echoes Hamlet, who when asked what he is reading, replies: “words, words, words.” It is in this poem that Szymborska calls herself “Sisyphus ascribed to the inferno of poetry.” Facing the lowest point, from which Sisyphus has to roll his rock, the poet accepts the plight, to which, in her own words, she is “ascribed.” Although this metaphor was often repeated and used by critics, the poem itself was passed over in many critical texts. The rock that the poet rolls back represents the poetic credibility that she needs to rebuild. The following stanza reads: The earth is in rage—it is they who are the earth itself, they rise lump after lump, handful by handful, they come out of concealment, come back to their names, to the memory of nation, to wreaths and the applause.39

This refers indirectly to the phrase from Hamlet: “foul deeds will rise / Though all earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes” (1.3.258–59). The poem ends with the vision of the dead who revenge themselves by shattering the peace of mind of the guilty and of the passive witnesses of the crime. Again, the present tense indicates that the drama of the rehabilitation cannot be relegated to the past. The drama rolls on as does the rock that Sisyphus must push upwards. In his book on Szymborska, published in 2001, Wojciech Ligęza examines this poem along similar lines: Merciless contemplation over the blindness makes use of the situation from Hamlet’s monolog; the author’s head recalls the skull of Yorick, because now the sympathy for the murdered is in vain, powerless to change anything; the solemn funerals of Stalin’s victims are nothing but ceremonies performed by jesters. Szymborska’s well38 Compare the original: “Gdzież moja władza nad słowami? / Słowa opadły na dno łzy, / Słowa słowa niezdatne do wskrzeszenia ludzi, / Opis martwy jak zdjęcie przy błysku magnezji. / Nawet na pół oddechu nie umiem ich zbudzić / Ja, Syzyf przypisany do piekła poezji.” 39 Compare the original: “Ziemia wre—a to oni, którzy są już ziemią, / wstają grudka po grudce, garstka obok garstki, / wychodzą z przemilczenia, wracają do imion, / do pamięci narodu, do wieńców i braw.”

The Ghost of Shakespeare in the Poetry of Wisława Szymborska aimed grotesque spares nobody, including the speaker. The feeling of responsibility breaks up the suspicious psychological homeostasis. One should pay attention to the reversal of roles. It is the dead who show the ability to unmask.40

The sister poem of “Rehabilitation” is “Pogrzeb” (Funeral I)41 or as it was first published “Pogrzeb Rajka” (Rajek’s Funeral). Ligęza gives an interesting description and interpretation of the poem: “In ‘Rajek’s Funeral’ we have the aura of a Shakespearean sneer. Here the assassins become mourners.”42 George Gomori, poet, translator and renowned Slavist, reprinted this poem in his anthologies published on the thirtieth and fortieth anniversaries of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. In his letter to me, Gomori explains the background of this poem: Laszlo Rajek was an old-time Communist fighting in Spain and later imprisoned in France. During the Second World War he was in Hungary, very active in the anti-fascist underground, he was caught and almost lost his life but was spared, because of his brother, a prominent fascist. After the war he held a pivotal position in the Communist government until his show trial as “Titoist traitor” and “Western agent” in 1949. He was hanged; and rehabilitated in 1956 after Stalin’s death. The funeral, the second funeral of Rajek, held on October 6, was a “dress rehearsal” for the Hungarian Uprising, which started three weeks later.43

Gomori was there, taking part in the uprising. Here are excerpts of the poem “Funeral” in the translation of Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh: His skull, dug up from clay, rests in a marble tomb; sleep tight, medals, on pillows: now it’s got lots of room, that skull dug up from clay. they read off index cards: a) he has been/will be missed, b) go, band, play the march, c) too bad he can’t see this. They read off index cards. Nation, be thankful now for blessing you possess: a being born just once 40 41 42 43

Ligęza, O poezji Wisławy Szymborskiej, 77–79. Szymborska, Poems, New and Collected, 13–14. Ibid., 78. Email communication with the author.



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has two graves nonetheless. Nation be thankful now.

And the poem ends: Still full of blood and hopes the people turn away, not knowing that bell ropes, like human hair, turn gray. Still full of blood and hopes.44

The first line of this poem “His skull, dug up from clay” (Czaszkę z gliny wyjęli) sends the reader to the same scene in Hamlet, and the entire poem in an ironic tone recaptures the grim ritual of the exhumation. This seldom anthologized poem deserves to be read and reread. In the first few lines Szymborska brilliantly alludes both to Hamlet and Norwid’s poem “What Have You Done to Athens, Socrates . . .” (Coś ty Atenom zrobił Sokratesie . . .). The word “clay” (glina) refers to the lines: “For clay unto clay seeps unceasing, / While opposing bodies are nailed together / Later … or sooner.”45 Cyprian Kamil Norwid—the nineteenth-century poet most revered by Szymborska— wrote this particular poem exactly one hundred years earlier in 1856, after the death of Adam Mickiewicz; it is a poem about the irony of posthumous “rehabilitation,” about having more than one grave.46 In the same volume Calling Out to Yeti, there is a poem that contains what might be considered an unattributed Shakespearean inspiration. I am referring to the famous poem “Four in the morning.” Although it has been endlessly quoted, analyzed, and described, it is presented here yet again to show how it is related to Shakespeare’s “ghost”: The hour from night to day. The hour from side to side. The hour for those past thirty. The hour swept clean to the crowing of cocks The hour when earth betrays us The hour when wind blows from extinguished stars. The hour of and-what-if-nothing-remains-after-us. The hollow hour. Blank, empty. The very pit of all other hours. 44 Szymborska, Poems New and Collected, 13–14. 45 Cyprian Kamil Norwid, Poems, tr. Danuta Borchardt (New York: Archipelago Books, 2011), 104–5. 46 In this bitter ironic masterpiece, Norwid accuses humanity of not being able to recognize their greatest people. Therefore, Socrates, Dante, Columbus, Kościuszko, and Mickiewicz do not receive a proper burial the first time.

The Ghost of Shakespeare in the Poetry of Wisława Szymborska No one feels good at four in the morning. If ants feel good at four in the morning —three cheers for the ants. And let five o’clock come if we’re to go on living.47

In “The Kings,” the first essay in Kott’s Shakespeare our Contemporary, which was published in book form in 1961 in Poland, and in English translation three years later in the United States, we read: It is four AM. For the first time in tragedy Shakespeare gives the exact time. It is significant that this should be four AM. It is the hour between night and dawn; the hour when decisions in high places have been taken, when what has to be done has been done. But it is also the hour when one could still save oneself by leaving one’s home. The last hour in which freedom of choice is still possible. . . . Like Homer’s hero, they [Shakespeare’s characters] eat, sleep and fidget about on their uncomfortable beds. Shakespeare’s genius shows itself also in the way he depicts the events occurring at four A.M. Who has not been awakened in this way at four A.M. at least once in his life?48

An oft-repeated joke in the 1950s went like this: Switzerland is a happy country, because when people hear a knock at the door at dawn, they know it is the milkman delivering milk. Szymborska’s “Four in the Morning” appeared on June 16, 1957, on the first page of the twenty-fourth issue of Życie Literackie, the major literary weekly published in Kraków. Jan Kott’s essay appeared on pages 5–8 of the forty-third issue of Przegląd kulturalny, the major Warsaw weekly in October of the same year.49 It is Kott’s text that evokes the thought that perhaps the ghost of Shakespeare hovers over Szymborska’s “Four in the Morning” as well. I tried hard to find documentation to legitimize my placement of this poem in the Shakespearean realm. What exactly was it that made them both think about four in the morning at the same time? Born in 1923, Szymborska was twenty when she heard the rambling trains taking Jews to the death camps, of which we read in her poem “Jeszcze” (Still)50; she was thirty when Stalin died, and thirty-three in 1956. In his autobiography published in exile in 1990, Kott writes about his narrow escapes during the war and a few instances after the war when people around him were devoured by the Grand Mechanism. Jan Kott and Wisława Szymborska, together with the generations they represented, knew sleepless nights caused by terror and by guilt. As Stephen Greenblatt remarks in one of his essays: “There are books now that profess to derive principles of governance from Shakespeare’s works, but sleeplessness, 47 Szymborska, Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts, 31. 48 Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary (New York: Doubleday, 1966), 22. 49 The first edition of Kott’s book, published in 1961, was entitled simply Szkice o Szekspirze (Sketches about Shakespeare); the essay “Kings” in the magazine is assigned the headline “Szekspir współczesny” (Shakespeare Our Contemporary). 50 Wisława Szymborska, “Jeszcze,” in Wiersze wybrane, 47.



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is one of the only principles that he consistently depicts.”51 And I would add another quotation, this time by Adam Gopnik, who writes: “Shakespeare’s continuing appeal to liberal societies, despite his feudal setting, lies in his ability to create characters who intend no harm and end up covered with blood.”52 Tadeusz Różewicz ends his poem “Posthumous Rehabilitation” (Rehabilitacja pośmiertna”) with the words: The dead are taking stock of the living the dead will not rehabilitate us.53

Thirty years later, in 1986, Szymborska wrote the poem, “Children of Our Age,” referring precisely to her time and the people of her generation. The poem begins with the words: We are children of our age. it’s a political age.

And later she writes: Apolitical poems are also political, and above us shines a moon no longer purely lunar. To be or not to be, that is the question. And though it troubles the digestion it’s a question, as always, of politics.54

The ghost of Shakespeare hovered over Szymborska’s generation; his spirit helped her and her contemporaries come to terms with their political age.

51 Stephen Greenblatt, “Shakespeare and the Uses of Power,” New York Review of Books, April 12, 2007, 77. 52 Adam Gopnik, “Angels and Ages. Lincoln’s Legacy in Language,” The New Yorker, May 28, 2007, 37. 53 Tadeusz Różewicz, Poezje wybrane (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1991), 55. Compare the original text: “Umarli liczą żywych / umarli nas nie zrehabilitują.” 54 Szymborska, Poems New and Collected, 200.


The Last Time We Saw Her . . . (Wisława Szymborska)


talked with Wisława Szymborska for the last time over the phone on November 22, 2011. I would surely have forgotten the date if it were not for Skype, which keeps a precise record. I listened to the outgoing recording of Michał Rusinek, her secretary, or “First Secretary” as she called him, and as soon as I began recording my message on the answering machine, Szymborska picked up the phone. After a quick greeting, she said she had to go, because an ambulance was coming; I believe she called it an “R,” using the old twentieth-century term, but I can’t be sure on that point. She told me what had happened, but I’ve since forgotten. I even heard the ring of her buzzer, at which point we said our goodbyes. The matter about which I was calling was rather absurd. The previous May we had been over to her place for dinner. For years, whenever we visited Kraków, she would invite us for dinner, always with some interesting company. This time it was the Fiuts, the Krynickis, and the Ligęzas. It was an exceptionally merry evening; Wisława served us herself, leaving the men the task of uncorking the wine. During one such endeavor the corkscrew broke, and they were forced to somehow get the cork out without it. So when we got back to Warsaw, my husband and I bought a corkscrew, wrapped it in bubble wrap and sent it to Kraków. In the second half of November the corkscrew arrived in New York with the note “Return to Sender. Unclaimed.” That was the reason for my call. And that was our last conversation. I first read a poem by Wisława Szymborska when I was still in school, no doubt after the 1956 thaw, probably in Życie Literackie—the poem was “Lekcja” (The Lesson). The first time I saw her was when I was studying at the university in Warsaw. Our methodology teacher had arranged for the poet to read her work at the House of Literature. I still remember her sitting at the table reading her poems, including the one about the


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“cut-rate sneakers.”1 I naturally did not dare even to approach her, though I knew a few of her poems, including “Reszta” (The Rest) and “Cień” (Shadow) by heart. In early 1996, I managed for the first time to work up the courage to write to her from New York. The Manhattan Theatre Club, knowing that she was on the short list for the Nobel Prize, proposed that I prepare an evening of Szymborska’s poetry, including narration to be read by me with the poems. A few months later, I received a moving letter, dated April 20, 1996: Dear, Sweet Pani Anna! Thank you for this program and especially for your narration, which moved me enormously. . . . Instead of writing your own poems, you devote your energy to other people’s. But at the same time, you have demonstrated that my poems are not “other” to you, and for that reason I feel overjoyed, like the recipient of the most lavish present imaginable. I have one question, though: when did Polityka publish an accolade of “The Joy of Writing”?—I knew nothing of this and only learned about it from you.

The letter ends with a warm invitation, “because our next meeting shouldn’t be by chance, should it?” A few months later Wisława Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize. I knew that a time of intense activity for her would follow, and it did. We were guests in Wisława’s home for the first time three years later. It was an unforgettable evening: the other guests were fascinating, the food served by the poet herself was tasty, and we had the traditional Szymborska raffle, conversations and laughter. The guests included Dorota Terakowska, her husband Maciej Szumowski, Stanisław Balbus, Leszek Szaruga. Wisława suggested she and I switch to the informal form of address, “ty,” and told my husband she would follow suit with him the next time we met. When the next time came, she was surprised to still be on formal terms with him; she opened the cognac we’d brought, and we finalized the matter. Even before that, I had begun to receive her magnificent, sparkling collages at Christmas time. From then on, Wisława always found time for us when we came to Kraków. She attended my readings, a fact which elicited some amazement, since she was known for rarely being seen at such events. We now would mostly meet at her place, but then go out for lunch in a restaurant. She never let anybody treat her; instead, she would treat the two of us and a few other people as well. I tried to talk Wisława into coming to the United States, where numerous institutions were interested in hosting her. In response I received a gentle refusal: “Aniu . . . do you really see me doing all that traveling? . . . I would be like a one-legged woman in the States, mute, since I don’t know the language. I would live in a state of constant stress, starting before the trip, then during and after. So even though you are there, and a few other kind souls, I’m not coming” (February 3, 2005).


The poem is “Trema” [Stage Fright], published in English in Szymborska’s Poems New and Collected. [Tr.]

The Last Time We Saw Her . . . (Wisława Szymborska) Two years later: “I still haven’t even gotten around to thanking you for the French book—how do you feel about the translation? And at the same time you’ve sent me a new surprise—your students’ essays about my Grandpa … Good God, could my dear old Granddad ever have imagined that he was going to be read by American college students? And by such gifted readers to boot? Life is truly strange, but of course you know that” (April 4, 2007). Even in these fragments, we see Wisława Szymborska precisely as she was in life—direct, down-to-earth, immensely witty, thoughtful and warm, with an undeniably strong personality. In one of the miniature letters that she mostly wrote on the back of her famous collages, she noted: “Sometimes I think the absurd is the most essential ingredient in reality” (October 24, 2003). That belief comes across in many of her poems as well. The last time we saw her was in May. She was cheerful, elegant, serving every course herself; she placed me next to her and ordered me to do something I was passionately fond of doing, so: I talked. This time, for some reason, we didn’t take any pictures. In the drawer of my desk I have a mirror that I won in the famous Szymborska raffle that night, and on my shelf, in its sealed envelope, lies the corkscrew. Translated by Timothy D. Williams



Apollo and Marsyas: A Tribute to Zbigniew Herbert


bigniew Herbert’s poetry takes us into a world of deep moral concern, but not by means of abstract discourse. He instills these concerns in the reader with very concrete images, probing metaphors, and by balancing on the high-wire of irony—an irony which, as one critic noted, seldom slips into sarcasm. In one of his last radio interviews, Herbert talks about the matters that were most important for him: the relation between ethics and aesthetics, and how beauty and love of beauty can be an expression of goodness, of moral rightness. Herbert was first introduced to the reader in the United States by Czesław Miłosz, and then for many years was translated by the team of John and Bogdana Carpenter,1 who translated most of Herbert’s poems and essays. The critical literature in English about Herbert contains quite a few interesting works, including Stanisław Barańczak’s A Fugitive from Utopia,2 which for all intents and purposes became the canonical text on Herbert. In addition, I would suggest a few more texts in English. First, the chapter “Under Pressure” in A. Alvarez’s Where Did It All Go Right?3 I should mention here that Alvarez wrote the preface to Herbert’s very first book published in English in 1968, the Selected Poems, translated by Czesław Miłosz and Peter Dale Scott. I will recommend two more texts published in English: Czesław Prokopczyk’s “Zbigniew Herbert’s

1 2 3

Zbigniew Herbert, Selected Poems (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977). Stanisław Barańczak, A Fugitive from Utopia: The Poetry of Zbigniew Herbert (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987). A. Alvarez, “Under Pressure,” in Where Did it All Go Right? (New York: William Morrow, 1999), 212–31.

A Tribute to Zbigniew Herbert Poetry and Its Explication through Antinomies”4 and Bogdana Carpenter’s “Zbigniew Herbert in English: From the Translator’s Workshop.”5 Zbigniew Herbert was well known and admired by American poetry lovers and critics. His obituary in the New York Times on July 29, 1998, ran for three-quarters of a page and included three poems. (In the New York Times the importance of the individual directly relates to the length of the obituary.) In 1993, reviewing the first American edition of Mr. Cogito, critic Stephen Dobyns writes: “In a just world Mr. Herbert would have received the Nobel Prize long ago.” Well, the world is not just but that does not mean that those who receive the Nobel prize are responsible for it. In addition, Herbert received numerous prestigious awards in the United States and Europe: Kościelski Foundation (1964); Jurzykowski Foundation (1965); two Austrian awards: N. Lenau (1965) and Herder (1973); Wiadomości (1991); and the PEN/Bruno Schulz Prize, established by Jerzy Kosiński, president of American PEN Center at the time.

*** A few words about the role of the poet and poetry in different political and economic systems. In a free-market system, which is, unfortunately, a very commercialized system at the same time, poetry is revered in rather closed circles and does not play a big role in the life of society as a whole. Things are different under totalitarianism, where rulers expect poetry to deliver justification of the system. Under communism, the poet was called the “engineer of human souls,” but the moment he declines to play that role, the poet becomes an object of negative interest, which may in extreme circumstances turn out as it did with Mandelstam in the Soviet Union. Or, the poet’s life might be turned into a petty hell. Constant annoyance, censorship, spying, denied the right to publish, to have a decent apartment, passport, and many, many other things. The generation to which Herbert belonged, born in the early 1920s, witnessed the worst in their most formative years. You must remember that they were young when Poland was occupied by Germany and Russia. And endured the unimaginable: genocide, dangerous conspiracy, death, bombing, hunger. You name it. Herbert shared with his generation the disappointment with ideologies, literature, religion and law that failed to defend people from evil and suffering. This is not to imply that they all experienced these horrors at the same time. There were writers who accepted the leftist agenda, believing that it would bring about a better way of life after what they had seen before and during the war. And there were those who did not accept the communist system from the very beginning, Herbert among them. Hence the situation of “writing for the drawer,” that is, unable to publish. 4 5

Czesław Prokopczyk, “Zbigniew Herbert’s Poetry and Its Explication through Antinomies,” Polish Review 32, no. 1 (1987): 71–84. Bogdana Carpenter, “Zbigniew Herbert in English: From the Translator’s Workshop,” Polish Review 47, no. 1 (2002): 27–34



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This generation very severely renounced the myth of technical progress, the myth so dear to prewar avant-garde poetry. There are similarities between Herbert's aesthetics, and that of Różewicz, Białoszewski, Karpowicz, and Szymborska. Tadeusz Różewicz tried to build a new poetic language, avoiding ornamentation and metaphorization; Miron Białoszewski escaped to the periphery of life, to deformed reality and people. In his quest for the truth, Tymoteusz Karpowicz found inefficacy of language in naming things and phenomena. Wisława Szymborska in her dispute with the model of modern culture sets the sensitive, thinking man against the human automaton. Herbert’s formal quest was in many ways considered to be close to that of Szymborska,6 but with a much wider scope.

*** Zbigniew Herbert was born October 29, 1924, in Lwów (now Lviv). During the war he studied Polish literature in the clandestine university of Jan Kazimierz in Lwów. After the war he moved to Kraków in 1944, and then to Sopot in 1948. The following year he moved to Toruń, where he studied law and economy at the Business Academy in Kraków, and the Jagiellonian University, and was a student at the Kraków Academy of Art. He graduated from the Department of Law and Economics of the Mikołaj Kopernik University in Toruń (1949). He also audited courses on philosophy in several universities; the philosopher Henryk Elzenberg influenced him the most. At that time, the late forties and fifties, Herbert worked at odd jobs, mainly as an economist; because of his resistance to the ideology he could not make his living as a writer. In the years 1950–53 and 1956–61 he was linked to the Catholic Tygodnik Powszechny; in the years 1965–68 to the monthly Poezja. Beginning in 1956 he travelled extensively: Austria, France, Germany, Greece. In 1970 he taught at California State College in Los Angeles. In the years 1971–76 he lived in Warsaw; in 1976–80 abroad. By the end of 1955 the Kraków literary weekly Życie Literackie (then famous and later infamous) organized the collective debut of several poets: Miron Białoszewski, Stanisław Czycz, Bohdan Drozdowski, Jerzy Harasymowicz, and Zbigniew Herbert. Each of them was introduced by an established poet and critic, Białoszewski by Sandauer, Drozdowski by Przyboś, Harasymowicz by Jastrun, Herbert by Błoński. A month earlier Twórczość (the most prominent and trend-setting literary monthly) organized a similar presentation. If not Herbert’s actual debut, it was a significant one. I say not actual, because Mariusz Zawodniak established that the poet did publish about forty poems in the years 1950–55, twenty of which were published together in an almanac in 1954.7 6 7

Stanisław Burkot, Spotkania z poezją współczesną (Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne, 1977), 117–37. Mariusz Zawodniak, “Niezłomność czy kompromis? Wokół ‘Szuflady’ Zbigniewa Herberta.” [Inflexibility or Compromise. On Zbigniew Herbert’s “Drawer”], Pamiętnik Literacki 84, no. 2 (1993): 107–18.

A Tribute to Zbigniew Herbert The year 1956 ushered in big political changes, putting an end to the terror. It was the period of the so-called “Thaw,” named after Ilya Ehrenburg’s novel. That same year the thirty-two-year-old poet published his first book, Struna światła (Chord of Light), which placed him among the top poets, and his second book, Hermes, pies i gwiazda (Hermes, Dog, and Star), published a year later, cemented his position. Jerzy Kwiatkowski, who made one of the first assessments of the poetic stage of 1956–59,8 writes that Herbert was the most prominent poet of the Różewicz school. Kazimierz Wyka, however, pointed to a few more poetic progenitors; in addition to Różewicz, he mentions Przyboś, Miłosz, Jastrun, and—adds Kwiatkowski—Baczyński. Przyboś merely symbolized the general sponsorship of avant-garde poetics. Herbert’s book was characterized from the beginning as a synthesis of the dark tone of Polish poetry, a tone in which tragic heroism is balanced by discreet means of expression, and moral passion by philosophical skepticism. From Różewicz’s canon it differs in the way Herbert combines the metrical system with the tonic system. Other differences concern the fact that his poetry is alien to the philosophical themes linked to behaviorism,9 and possesses strong allegoric and metaphoric leanings. The second collection assured the critics that Herbert was not going to fall into the traps of conventionalism, and/or derivativeness. Critics particularly admired such poems as “U wrót doliny” (At the Gate of the Valley), “Pan od przyrody” (Biology Teacher), “Ornamentatorzy” (Ornament Makers), “Bajka ruska” (A Russian Tale). In his poem “Ornamentatorzy,” he condemns the practices of social realism, calling these poets ornamentors and decorators. With each new book, Herbert expanded the scale of his poetic sensitivity, embracing both the tragic and bitter irony. He employs sophisticated intellectual, gentlemanly sarcasm. Alongside sarcasm, we find gentle irony, a joke, pastiche (satirical intention, parody). The poetics of fable and parable—the story is developed just far enough to reinforce the moral. Especially in his poetic prose, where Herbert’s individualism is expressed most forcefully with the unusual beauty of the images and his ability to translate philosophical language into poetic language. Kwiatkowski believed that through the poetics of parable and fable Herbert breaks out of the classical armor. In the beginning, critics did not hold out too much hope for Herbert and the adjective “classical” was by no means a compliment. Critics argued that the poetics of classical provenance, or avant-garde poetics, may once again fall into ideological servitude. The example of Przyboś, Różewicz and others supported this argument. It was believed that only spontaneous poetry, based solely on the imagination, could escape being captive (as opposed to the “cold,” “dry” poetry of intellectual discourse). 8 9

Jerzy Kwiatkowski, “Młoda poezja polska,” in his Klucze do wyobraźni (Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1964), 69–94. Initiated by John B. Watson, behaviorism is a doctrine holding that the proper concern of psychology is an objective evidence of behavior, and that consciousness and mind cannot be meaningfully defined or studied. It underlines minimal differences between psychology and physiology (Steinbeck, Caldwell).



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Herbert’s “Kołatka” (Knocker)10 was a response to the myth of the superiority of the imagination.11 He implies that the poets of imagination are bound to repeat the stereotypes, since they are tourists in the countries devoid of anxiety; only the unguarded gardens of the moralist contain some sort of difficult yet interesting truth. Herbert returns to the problem of the imagination in the poem “Pan Cogito i wyobraźnia” (Mr. Cogito and the Imagination),12 where he writes: Pan Cogito nigdy nie ufał sztuczkom wyobraźni fortepian na szczycie Alp grał mu fałszywe koncerty nie cenił labiryntów sfinks napawał go odrazą mieszkał w domu bez piwnic luster i dialektyki. Mr. Cogito never trusted tricks of the imagination the piano at the top of the Alps played false concerts for him he didn’t appreciate the labyrinths Sphinx filled him with loathing he lived in a house with no basement without mirrors or dialectics.

The arrangement in the volume usually brings about the dialog between the poems, organizing the tension between the ideas. In 1972 Kwiatkowski wrote that Herbert’s poetry can be defined by three qualities: measure, harmony, balance. Balance between revelation and communication, construction and emotion, significance of the problems and the strength of the esthetic impact. But his principle of balance does not have anything to do with the compromise, 10 Zbigniew Herbert, Wybór wierszy (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1983); “A Knocker,” in Selected Poems, 44. 11 Edward Balcerzan, “Przygody ogólne. Przygoda czwarta: wyobraźnia poety,” in his Przygody człowieka książkowego (Warszawa: PEN, 1990), 64ff. 12 Zbigniew Herbert, Raport z oblężonego miasta, 22–23; Report from the Besieged City, tr. John Carpenter and Bogdana Carpenter (New York: The Ecco Press, 1986), 17.

A Tribute to Zbigniew Herbert or a lesson of the practical common sense. His poems are based on the principles of gradation, contrast, and climax, but he does not avoid the poem’s emotional plane. Herbert attempts to examine the other side of civilizational progress, its negative, horror-inciting side. The critic Stanisław Burkot believes that this explains why the motif of return is so prominent in his poetry: “Powrót prokonsula” (The Return of the Proconsul), “Powrót pana Cogito” (Mr. Cogito—the Return). I personally would ascribe the motif of return to a very strong fear and/or dislike of emigration. We know that Herbert spent many years abroad but never emigrated officially. If you look at such poems as “Przypowieść o emigrantach rosyjskich” (Parable of the Russian Émigrés) from his second book, and “Chodasiewicz” from Rovigo, one senses, perhaps, a mysterious fear, as well as a certain distance and disapproval. Herbert was critical of extreme literary experiments, which he considered boring (the theater of absurd, New Wave novels, Dadaism, and so forth)—he uses the word “pubertal.” He defends art, tradition, and ties with the past against the dehumanizing effect of the contemporary. In all his books he proclaims the return to the values created by culture. His is the poetry of culture and in order to perceive it one must fully understand his allusions to Greek mythology, the Judeo-Christian tradition, philosophy, and history. One cannot understand Herbert’s poetry without the context. There is a constant tension between the past and the present in his poems. He compares and evaluates, and most of the time the comparison is not optimistic. The poem “Dlaczego klasycy” (Why the Classics), from the collection Napis,13 brings forth just such a comparison of past and present; how Thucydides in defeat preserved dignity and simplicity. Herbert’s formula of simplicity, paradoxically, presents another difficulty in understanding his poetry. On the philosophical level, simplicity is equated with internal order, the ability to control one’s passion. On the aesthetic level, it signifies a return to measures and norms, abandoning expressionism. On the linguistic level (lexical and stylistic)–avoiding neologisms and dialects. Instead of the contemporary idiom, he utilizes discreet (subtle) archaization, often ironically juxtaposed with the scientific terminology: puszcze elektryczne (electric primeval forest), biała laska astronautów (astronauts’ white cane), or projekt kanalizacji (sewage system project), a sewer project in the context of Hamlet. Introducing a discreet humor and subtle irony, the poet engages the reader in an intellectual game. The contrast, however, does not serve the emotional end, the oppositions do not form open arrangements, they are subordinated to the law of the parallel, the principle of symmetry; hence they fully express Herbert’s classicism, but do not constitute a stylization on classicism. In “U wrót doliny” (At the Gate of the Valley) and “Sprawozdanie z raju” (Report from Paradise) mythical reality is juxtaposed with the historical reality of the twentieth century. The images of the end of the world are informed by the images of World War II and concentration camps. Catastrophic, biblical vision is filled with the twentiethcentury images of horror.

13 Zbigniew Herbert, Napis (Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1969), 146.



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On Poetry

Herbert introduces a sort of a narrator in his poems, a quasi reporter, who sides with the powers but shares the fate of those who are being judged. The modern version of such myths exposes our indifference toward suffering, and our attempt to justify the violence. It exposes the inconsistency of values. At the same time, the narrator avoids explicit identification of what event he is talking about, and the reader may read a certain situation into the poem. This is the poetry of indirect lyrical statement, the conscious breaking of the identity between the speaking subject and the author. It allows the author to go deeper into a situation, for example, if the narrator is a conformist and the author is not. This is the origin of the persona of Pan Cogito (Mr. Cogito). The principle of the reversed signs and values known from the classic poetics further complicates the text. The irony fulfills similar function. Behind these masks however the authentic compassion and understanding of the human weaknesses is hidden. And these emotions determine the character of Herbert’s specific classicism. He is not looking for the ideal esthetic models in the past. Fortynbras juxtaposes kryształowe pojęcia (crystal notions) and glina ludzka (human clay), and Herbert takes the side of the clay. For both Różewicz and Herbert the war played a decisive role in shaping the sensitivity of modern man. The old ideals (like Mona Lisa) are alien to him. Beauty—not suffering—should be the object of art. Matters that preoccupy Herbert include the relation between ethics and aesthetics; how beauty and the love of beauty can be an expression of goodness, of moral rightness. Naturally, the relation of ethics and aesthetics can be reversed. Although in classical philosophy for many ages “beauty” was identified with “goodness,” Herbert illustrates that ethics and aesthetics can go their separate ways. The best example of this is his poem “Apollo and Marsyas.” Marsyas, a satyr or silenus, was one of the companions of Dionysus; he challenged Apollo to a music contest and was flayed afterward as punishment. This punishment became a motif of many classical paintings, the most prominent among them by Caravaggio.14 The poem, constructed with great precision, shows the cruelty of Apollo. Three long fragments describing this cruelty are interrupted by a two-line stanza: “wstrząsany dreszczem obrzydzenia / Apollo czyści swój instrument” (Shaken by a shudder of disgust / Apollo is cleaning his instrument). With each line, Herbert underscores the fact that Apollo possesses only the aesthetic instinct, not the ethical one. The sight is repulsive to him and he cleans his “instrument,” but he does not stop the torture. The poet shows that Marsyas’s cry of pain is more powerful than the classical beauty of Apollo’s art. The truth of the human suffering is more precious than cold art. At the time, one might have drawn a comparison with the Nazis, who were so cruel despite their appreciation of art. For Herbert’s generation and also for the younger one the war was a very vivid frame of reference; but of course the poem has its universal 14 One may associate this poem with the turpistic trend represented by Stanisław Grochowiak, and to a certain extent by Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz. But the function of this horror scene is different.

A Tribute to Zbigniew Herbert message, totally independent of its historical context. Indirect descriptions of the war experience can be found in many of Herbert’s poems. Disintegration of the modern culture determines the disintegration of man, who lacks moral imperative. Hence, Herbert demands precision and reserve from modern culture. In his Fugitve from Utopia, Stanisław Barańczak detects two major oppositions, heritage and disinheritance, and he examines how they manifest themselves on several levels of poetic expression: key words, spatial and temporal categories, ethical and aesthetical categories, and literary characters. He presents Herbert’s “antithetic imagery” as exile from Arcadia and flight from Utopia. Every such confrontation functions on several levels simultaneously: images, notions, associations. He also investigates various “modes of irony.” Other critics have shown that by introducing a discreet humor and subtle irony, the poet engages the reader in his intellectual game. In 1972, critic Jerzy Kwiatkowski wrote that Herbert’s poetry can be defined by three qualities: measure, harmony, balance. The balance between revelation and communication, construction and emotion, significance of the problems and the strength of the aesthetic impact. But his principle of balance does not have anything to do with compromise, or giving a didactic lesson on practical common sense. In his construction, he uses age-old principles: gradation, contrast, and climax. He does not avoid the emotional plan of the poem, although as a classically oriented poet, one might expect that he would. In “Apollo and Marsyas,” Herbert tries to examine the other side of civilizational progress—its negative, horror-inciting side. His is the poetry of culture, and in order to perceive it fully one must be conversant with his allusions to Greek mythology, the Judeo-Christian tradition, philosophy, history, Hamlet. Without knowledge of these sources, one cannot understand Herbert’s poetry. There is a constant exchange between the past and the present in his poems. He compares and evaluates, and for the most part the comparison is not optimistic. Before the publication of Pan Cogito in 1974 Herbert was considered by a number of critics, including such names as Jerzy Kwiatkowski, Jan Błoński, Jacek Łukasiewicz, Ryszard Przybylski, to be a poet of culture and Mediterranean myth. The political context of his poems was very subtle and critics disgusted with the political context of literature in general commented only on the artistic levels of his poetry. Pan Cogito (1974) and Raport z oblężonego miasta (Report from the Besieged City, 1983), published in Paris during martial law in Poland, dramatically changed the critical perception of Herbert’s poetry. The poet of culture was instantly recognized as a poet of moral imperative and the heroic ethic. Pan Cogito is a persona with two faces, in some poems he is a simpleton treated not only with sympathy, but also with distance. In some poems he is introduced in the third person, in some he is the lyrical I, the lyrical persona. Sometimes he expresses the author’s thoughts, and sometimes the author distances himself from this fictitious man. Naturally, his is a telling name. It sends the reader to Descartes’s philosophical formula cogito ergo sum, and the formula of constant doubt (dubito ergo sum)—thinking in order to examine. Every Pan Cogito poem is a miniature treatise, mainly on matters of ethics. (Two American poets in Oregon founded a literary quarterly named after Mr. Cogito, which regularly publishes translations of East European poetry.)



Part One

On Poetry

The publication of the poems that eventually were collected in Raport z oblężonego miasta forced critics and readers to reexamine Herbert’s earlier poetry, and to read more into his parables and the historical accouterment. Suddenly, his poems became not only an apology for lost values and lost battles, but they became another call, a call for a new battle. He becomes a new Tyrtaeus. Naturally, the title is symbolic, and the poems have the same form of a parable as they had previously, but suddenly the congruence of these parables with contemporary life makes the message clearer to everyone. The prominent writer Gustaw Herling Grudziński drew a brief but telling comparison between Herbert and Cavafy. He called Herbert’s poetry an ironic and desperate observation of the brutal and insane leaps of history. Underneath is a great love for the city, an ideal image of social life. The sense of history is deep and organic in Herbert’s poetry.15 Herbert’s next book, Elegia na odejście (Elegy on the Departure), published in Paris in 1990, introduced a new tonality in his poetry. If Raport z oblężonego miasta included a certain program, Elegia contains a certain moral reckoning, every moral estimate is clearly pessimistic, since we all are guilty. The killing of Cain was also a crime. Elegia is a summation of life and by the same token a quest for innocence. This innocence is absent from nature, as the author declares in the poem “Dzbanecznik” (Pitcherplant), and it is absent from human fate, as is evident in such poems as “Małe serce” (A Small Heart) and “Barabasz.” Pocisk, który wystrzeliłem w czasie wielkiej wojny obiegł kulę ziemską i trafił mnie w plecy. the bullet that I shot at the time of the great war made a circle around the globe and struck me in the back.

and further: pragnąłem powrócić do zatoki dzieciństwa do kraju niewinności I longed to return to the bay of childhood to the land of innocence

and further: nic nikomu nie będzie darowane. (“Małe serce”) 15 Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, Kultura (September 1993): 16.

A Tribute to Zbigniew Herbert nothing will be forgiven to anyone.16 (“A Small Heart”)

We know already that this is the generation infected with death. The question whether there is a chance (prospect) of cleansing is very interestingly discussed in Herbert’s “Domysły na temat Barabasza” (Speculations on the Subject of Barabbas), where we read: Albo założył warsztat garncarski I ręce skalane zbrodnią czyści w glinie stworzenia Or he opened a pottery workshop And cleans hands soiled by crimes in the clay of creation.17

This poem touches on another philosophical question: Is there such a thing as free choice? The lyrical persona is one of the crowd, the one who cries “Free Barabbas,” and then says: “Had I cried otherwise, it would have changed nothing.” In other words, the individual is responsible even in a collective deed. But many of the topics in Elegia continue the concerns of Raport, among them the problem of guilt and cleansing. The title poem shows us a “garden of things.” Time passes, but we do not see the passing of time, only the passing of things. In the poem “Przemiany Liwiusza” (Transformations of Livy) the criteria are different before losing one’s innocence, and our identification is different. With the new generation it changes, the former hero is viewed as a perpetrator. In this poem the poet removes himself from the umbrella of Pax Romana, which as a state of mind eliminates moral anxiety. Some believe that this was directed against kresomania, the nostalgia for the Eastern territory. Rovigo, one of Herbert’s last books, is considered his saddest. Jacek Łukasiewicz writes that it is sad because it shows the “boundaries of classical and heroic auto creation, it expresses incurable nostalgia of this world, and it shows the helplessness of the poet in the face of the dangers of this world.”18 In several poems in this volume Herbert returns to traditional meter, among them the poem “Wilki,” considered by Herling Grudziński (and myself) to be one of the most tragic and pure poems; Grudziński adds that it is perhaps more tragic and pure than Miłosz’s “W Warszawie” (In Warsaw). The image of the city as such in every aspect of that topic appears over and over in Herbert’s poetry. In his last volume named after the Italian city Rovigo the title poem is testimony to that motif, and this town

16 Z. Herbert, Elegy for the Departure, tr. John and Bogdana Carpenter (Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press, 1999), 96–97. 17 Ibid., 116. 18 Jacek Łukasiewicz, “Rovigo miejsce postoju,” in his Rytm, czyli powinność: szkice o książkach i ludziach po roku 1980 (Wrocław: TPPW, 1993), 152–57.



Part One

On Poetry

becomes a metaphor of life itself. Rovigo is testimony to Herbert’s greatness, or perhaps it is from that station in Rovigo that we look at Herbert’s greatness. The two books that followed, Epilog to a Storm and the collection 89 Poems, were apparently selected by Herbert as his most important creations, his legacy. I know that some of those present here expect me to discuss the relations between Miłosz and Herbert, relations that started as friendship and ultimately ended in conflict, to say the least. To the extent that when Herbert died, Miłosz felt obliged to comment publicly and to write that before Herbert’s death they discussed their differences over the telephone, and came to some sort of mutual consolation, says a great deal. I, however, have nothing to say on this matter, merely to point out the significance of Miłosz’s statement. This matter, like many others, is neither simple nor straightforward. Instead, I would like to return to one of Herbert’s poems, “Do Apollina,” where we read: bohaterowie nie wrócili z wypraw nie było bohaterów ocaleli niegodni heroes did not return from the expedition there were no heroes the unworthy survived19

And there are no heroes. October 20, 2005 Lecture at Columbia University

19 Zbigniew Herbert, The Collected Poems, tr. Alissa Valles (New York: Harpers Collins Publishers, 2007), 15.


Poet of the Seventh Climate: Recurrent Images in the Poetry of Bronisław Przyłuski


he Polish poet Bronisław Przyłuski, in exile since the Second World War, died in April 1980 in London. During his years in exile, Przyłuski added nine collections of poems, numerous plays, and translations to his prewar output of Badyle (FlowerStalks, 1932) and Dalekie łąki (Distant Meadows, 1935). In their commemorative pieces on Przyłuski, Stanisław Baliński, and Józef Łobodowski expressed the conviction that his work would be made available to the reading public in Poland after his death.1 It is something one has grown accustomed to accept, that for an émigré poet’s work to come alive, the poet must first be dead. In July 1981, a handful of Przyłuski’s poems, taken from Obrona mgieł (A Defence of Mists) appeared in the Polish periodical, Przekrój,2 accompanied by the following editorial note: There is only one Polish literature, regardless of where and when it came into being. For many years this fact was left unacknowledged and artificial divisions were made. Unfortunately, this division into two, or even three literatures, if one takes underground literature into account, has become reality again. The divisions themselves are interesting for, whereas readers in Poland would undoubtedly be very excited by a volume of Przyłuski’s poems, the readers and critics in exile often treat his verse with indifference.

1 2

Stanisław Baliński, “Bronisław Przyłuski,” Dziennik Polski (London), April 30, 1980; Józef Łobodowski, Wiadomości (London), July 27/August 3, 1980, 3. Bronisław Przyłuski, Obrona mgieł [A Defense of Mists] (London: Veritas, 1949); “Bronisław Przyłuski,” Przekrój (Kraków), July 5, 1981, 8.


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On Poetry

The poet’s death, obeying the same laws of cruel irony, has added several extended commemorative articles to the critical bibliography. Przyłuski’s poetic portrait can be reconstructed from these articles, as well as earlier ones. In the book Polish Literature in Exile 1940–1960,3 Mieczysław Giergielewicz drew attention to the pantheistic understanding of nature expressed by Przyłuski’s lyric voice: Out of Przyłuski’s poetry there emerges an interconnected vision of the world in which poetry and nature feed off the same juices and are subject to identical, equally mysterious laws. .  .  . That is why Przyłuski’s nostalgic verses are free of conventionality: one can sense the smell of the earth which the poet trod with his own feet and with which he has maintained insoluble, organic links.4

A more extended description can be found in Jan Bielatowicz’s Literatura na emigracji (Literature in Exile), where Bielatowicz writes about Przyłuski: In the 1930s, in Poland, he was a member of the Prom (Ferry) poetic group, but his poems were published in Ateneum, Skamander, Zet, and Okolica poetów as well . . . And yet . . . Przyłuski’s works have not found the response they deserve. To begin with, this is because, despite all temptation, in essence his poetry remains firmly within the sphere of traditional poetics; and it is also due to the fact that Przyłuski is probably the quietest, least ostentatious, and most modest poet. It would be hard to find anyone less mindful of his own work, anyone more sensitive or more uncertain about the value of his extraordinary achievements. The majority of contemporary poets, and those of the avant-garde in particular, are known less for their work than for their accompanying commentaries, polemics, and programmatic manifestoes. This self-trumpeting is quite foreign to Przyłuski’s nature: he is unable and has no wish to act as his own interpreter.”5

In Szkice o literaturze emigracyjej (Sketches on Émigré Literature),6 Maria Danilewicz Zielińska calls Przyłuski “a poet who is difficult to categorize since he relinquishes the search for forms in favor of conveying only his own vision of the world.” In the fall of 1973, Alicja Lisiecka published an article in Wiadomości (London) with the significant title “Poeta szczęśliwy” (The Happy Poet): One could say that Bronisław Przyłuski has lived and is living his life in the color of hope. That is how he himself puts it in one of his poems. This hope was not 3 4 5 6

Tymon Terlecki (ed.), Literatura polska na obczyźnie, 1940-1960 [Polish Literature in Exile, 1940–1960] (London: Związek Pisarzy Polskich na Obczyźnie, 1964). Mieczysław Giergielewicz, “Twórczość poetycka,” in Terlecki, Literatura polska na obczyźnie, 1940–1960, 111. Jan Bielatowicz, Literatura na emigracji [Literature in Exile] (London: Polska Fundacja Kulturalna, 1970), 209–11. Maria Danielewicz Zielińska, Szkice o literaturze emigracyjnej [Sketches on Émigré Literature] (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1979), 304.

Recurrent Images in the Poetry of Bronisław Przyłuski something he learned from the models of his youth—Leśmian and Rilke—but rather something he found in the English poets Hopkins and Donne. In his earliest work there is only one, quite un-Young Poland impoverished beggar, one St. Francis in bloodstained habit who presaged the later, rich, highly philosophical trend in Przyłuski’s lyric verse.7

A few years later the same author’s rather different assessment unleashed a stormy discussion about Przyłuski’s work. In her Kto jest “księciem poetów”? (Who is the Prince of Poets?), published in 1979, Lisiecka, with her characteristic lack of deference, writes: “Bronisław Przyłuski, about whom I have written more fully elsewhere, has now submerged himself completely in ‘folksy’ nativity plays and occasional verse to grace the front pages of special issues.”8 It did not take long for the polemical responses to appear. The most characteristic in tone was that of Father Bonifacy Miązek’s article “Brzydki pamflet na Alicję Lisieckę i jej ‘Księcia’” (A Nasty Pamphlet on Alicja Lisiecka and Her Prince): Bronisław Przyłuski is a great and important poet. He writes little, preserving a sense of distance, and re-evaluates the heritage of tradition . . . His poems, intertwined with nature, with images constructed with a sensual and tactile exactness, find their voice most often in a casual, rhythmic structure. It is a lyric poetry which mirrors the conflicts of our age, which speaks of the loneliness of man in foreign landscapes, and even more often than that, of the eternal human drama which takes us along in the Heraclitean river.9

Przyłuski died within a year of this and so it is not surprising that even Józef Łobodowski’s obituary article is suffused with polemical heat. Łobodowski, who had known Przyłuski even before the war, considers Obrona mgieł, published in 1949, to be “not only Przyłuski’s greatest achievement, but also one of the most splendid volumes of Polish poetry—not only in exile, but anywhere—to be published in the last half century.” In conclusion, Łobodowski writes: At his best, the authentic Przyłuski was a contemporary poet, though not a “modern” poet as defined by “experimenting” scribblers. He was a poet with a deep love of nature and folk tales, who united vivid metaphors with melodious words, formal discipline with a free imagination, mature reflection with a bitter, assessment of human fate, albeit free from any hint of despair.10 Alicja Lisiecka, “Poeta szczęśliwy” [The Happy Poet], Wiadomości (London), no. 1432, September 9, 1973, 1. 8 Lisiecka, Kto jest “księciem poetów”? [Who is the Prince of Poets?] (London: Poets’ and Painters’ Press, 1979), 13. 9 X. Bonifacy Miązek, “Brzydki pamflet na Alicję Lisiecką i jej ‘Księcia’” [A Nasty Pamphlet on Alicja Lisiecka and her Prince], Wiadomości, no. 1780, May 11, 1980, 3, 4. 10 Łobodowski, Wiadomości, 3.




Part One

On Poetry

Contrary to what was being written about Przyłuski outside Poland, Father Janusz Pasierb, in an article published in Tygodnik Powszechny in 1981, was of the opinion that “the link with Rilke, despite all the differences of form, is probably the strongest because it concerns the poetic method of both writers.” According to Father Pasierb, the religious nature of the poet’s lyrical verse stems from a sense of thanksgiving which permeates everything he wrote. “Bronisław Przyłuski, a man whose life was far from easy, was a poet of gratitude for life and nonverbal humility before the Almighty.”11 Przyłuski’s lyric poetry still awaits a detailed critical analysis, as well as the publication of an extensive selection of his poems, not to mention the publication of his poems and plays in Poland. The poet’s work, as well as the poet himself, deserve it. His experiences were such as to be able to serve as a symbol of many myths known only too well in Polish literary history, but they were also sufficiently different to avoid duplicating any of them. The most obvious myth, of course, is that of the soldier-poet, the poet-in-exile, the émigré; but Przyłuski was too subtle a writer to exploit his experiences explicitly in his verse. He was born on February 9, 1905, in Siemierz (Tomaszów Lubelski district), the son of an agronomist. In 1923, after graduating from the Cadet Corps in Lwów, he went to the artillery officers’ school in Toruń. Between 1925 and 1932 he was an officer on active duty in Poznań. It was in this period that he became a founding member of the Prom poetic group, and a contributor to the monthly of the same name. Badyle, his first collection of verse, was also the first book publication of the Poets’ Club in 1931. In the following years Przyłuski was to be found back in Toruń, where he was a lecturer at the artillery officers’ school. His second volume of verse was published there in 1935, and in the same year he was transferred to Białystok as a battery commander. He was a captain at the outbreak of the war. He was awarded the Virtuti Militari Cross for his part in the Battle of Domanowo. Captured by the Germans after the Battle of Kock, he spent the rest of the war years in a prisoner-of-war camp in Murnau. As Jan Bielatowicz writes: We are still waiting for a study, or even a detailed account, of the six years spent by the flower of the Polish intelligentsia and the officer class behind the barbed wire of this camp near the Alps. Murnau, as well as the other oflags, were to the Poles great retreats where, apart from the eccentricities and the psychological deviations, a rich crop of numerous ideas came forth. The camp allowed the prisoners to look closely and critically at the past and the national myths. Nor has anyone done a study of the literary and intellectual works which were begun in Murnau. It is probable that Przyłuski’s best poems were created in this camp.12

It was in Murnau that his “passion for the theater” (in Maria Danilewicz Zielińska's words) was aroused, and it was there that he wrote his mystery play Hiob ( Job), and 11 Ks. Janusz St. Pasierb, “Bronisław Przyłuski, poeta,” Tygodnik Powszechny (Kraków), no. 1698, August 9, 1981. 12 Jan Bielatowcz, Literatura na emigracji, 210.

Recurrent Images in the Poetry of Bronisław Przyłuski Pastorałka Małoszowska (The Małoszow Nativity Play) and conceived the idea of his later dramatic work, Czas pojednany (Time Reconciled).13 A vital influence on this interest in drama was the friendship he struck up in the camp with Leon Schiller. On his release from Murnau, Przyłuski joined the Second Corps on the Italian front and from there, along with the rest of the Polish soldiers, he went to England where he was demobbed in 1947. The postwar years proved a harsh ordeal for the officer-poet. To survive he had to take on various laboring jobs; he also worked as an actor. Then he worked for eight years as a social therapist in the psychiatric hospital at Mabledon, near London. It required great spiritual strength and a strong affirmation of life to remain unbowed by such circumstances, and yet it is in this period that Przyłuski published most of his work: apart from Obrona mgieł (1949), mentioned above, Kultura (Paris) published his “Poemat nielogiczny” (The Illogical Poem), and between 1951 and 1957 he added Pastorałka Małoszowska, Akord (Chord), Kukiełki Bożenarodzeniowe (Christmas Puppets), Strofy o malarstwie (Stanzas about Painting), and Uprosiłem ciemności (I Requested the Darkness) to his output. 14 It is worth noting that during the twelve years he spent working for Radio Free Europe (1958–1970), Przyłuski published only one collection of poems: Listy z pustego domu (Letters from an Empty House).15 Apropos Bielatowicz’s remark quoted above, it is tempting to note that it would be useful to have a study of the effect that working for Radio Free Europe has had on those émigré writers who made their living writing radio programs. Three years after retiring and returning to London from Munich, Przyłuski published a selection of poems: Wiersze (Poems).16 In 1977 came a beautiful tribute to Rilke in Przyłuski’s translation of Song about the Love and Death of Ensign Christopher Rilke,17 and in the same year the poet was awarded the Alfred Jurzykowski Prize, the most prestigious Polish literary prize granted outside Poland. All this creativity and literary work was taking place in a foreign country and in conditions where the writer not only could not make a living from his writing, but also frequently had to contribute to the cost of the publication of his works. 13 Bronisław Przyłuski, Hiob [ Job] (London: Veritas, forthcoming); Pastorałka Małoszowska [The Małoszow Nativity Play] (London: Veritas, 1951); Czas pojednany [Time Reconciled] (London: Veritas, forthcoming). 14 Idem, “Poemat nielogiczny” [The Illogical Poem], Kultura (Paris) ( July/August 1949), 132–55; Akord [Chord] (London: Poets’ and Painters’ Press, 1951); Kukiełki Bożenarodzeniowe [Christmas Puppets], unpublished; Uprosiłem ciemności [I Requested the Darkness] (London: White Eagle Press, 1957); Strofy o malarstwie [Stanzas about Painting] (London: Oficyna Stanisław Gliwa, 1953). 15 Listy z pustego domu [Letters from an Empty House] (London: Oficyna Stanisław Gliwa, 1964). 16 Bronisław Przyłuski, Wiersze [Poems] (London: White Eagle Press, Ltd., 1973). Unless stated otherwise, all quotations are taken from this text. 17 Rainer Marie Rilke, Pieśn o milości i śmierci Korneta Krzysztofa Rilke [Song about the Love and Death of Ensign Christopher Rilke], tr. into Polish by Bronisław Przyłuski (London: Polska Fundacja Kulturalna, 1977).



Part One

On Poetry

Any survey, or attempt, at an analysis of the components which contribute to the make-up of his work is best begun by a discussion of Przyłuski’s own reflections on his craft. These are most extensively set out in “Poemat nielogiczny,” published in 1949 by Kultura. It is a verse essay that contains the poet’s profession of faith, the principles of his ars poetica, his views on art, on language, and on the role of the poet generally, including some terse sketches of other poets. Contrary to the title, “Poemat nielogiczy” is essentially constructed as a quite logical exposition, without becoming any the less poetic for that. The point of the title is to contrast poetry with logic, philosophy and the other spheres of the humanities which rely on discourse. For, whereas in those areas the chief unit of communication is the sentence, Przyłuski sees the word to be poetry’s chief strength, even ascribing to it a creative function: “A name can kill or cure, / even the name that’s given to a thing.”18 The function of the word in poetry, its magical properties, the creative potential contained within it—all this found its fullest expression in the exquisite section on the word “mother.” Although Przyłuski’s view on this was to evolve in the course of the years that were to follow, he did not concede the supremacy of the word to the sentence. He conceded it to silence. In “Do Muzy” (To the Muse), published in Uprosiłem ciemności in 1957, he would say: “Our Father who art—above the word.”19 And a later poem, “Przekleństwo mowie” (A Curse on Speech), is an unequivocal expression of skepticism: “There is not strength enough in the breast / to utter the word wind with its own / transparent name.”20 When discussing the idea of poetic language that is presented in “Poemat nielogiczny,” one should mention the celebrated conflict between Skamander21 and the avantgarde which raged in the interwar years and whose subject was the role of the word and sentence in poetry. Looking at Przyłuski’s views in the light of that earlier debate, it is clear that his poetry is closer to that of the Skamander poets. “Write in words not sentences,”22 is what he recommends. Even so, as early as 1949 he remarked on, and emphasized, a key difference between the poetics of the Skamander and his own later verse. The main determining difference between the two was to be found in the construction of climax: “This is the denouement, the classic / Skamandritic, heroic denouement / when the poem’s almost entire point was / to make the denouement take wing,”23 he writes and continues his distinction by saying: “Today though the denouement spills over / the whole of the poem / from its very source a waterway flowing down to the bay’s oval / and there the verse’s bitterness / that roars from the start / drowns in the theme.”24 18 “Imię zabije i uleczy / nawet i imię dane rzeczy.” Przyłuski, “Poemat nielogiczny,” 140. 19 “Ojcze nasz, który jesteś—nad słowem.” Przyłuski, Wiersze [Poems], 112. 20 “Nie starczy sił w piersiach / Żeby wymówić wiatr jego własnym / Przeźroczystym imieniem.” Ibid., 193. 21 Jadwiga Sawicka, “Filozofia słowa” Juliana Tuwima (Wrocław: Ossolineum, 1974), 185. 22 “A pisz słowami, nie zdaniami. . . .” Przyłuski, “Poemat Nielogiczny,” 136. 23 “To jest pointa, ta klasyczna, / ta skamandrycka, heroiczna. Gdzie prawie cały wiersz był po to, / żeby pointą załopotać.” Ibid.,153. 24 “Lecz dziś pointa się rozpływa / na cały wiersz. / Dzisiaj pointą, rzeką spławną, / toczą się strofy, płyną słowa, / od źródeł, po zatoki owal, / gdzie wiersz w goryczy, jakby w wątku / tonie, szumiący od początku.” Ibid., 154.

Recurrent Images in the Poetry of Bronisław Przyłuski An insouciant critic once stuck the label “post-Skamander” on Przyłuski; at a time when Skamander itself was a dirty word, “post-Skamander” was nothing short of an insult. But, as in nature, very little is lost in literature: trends come and go. In addition, there is a false premise underlining all such hasty labelling according to which the entire map of interwar poetry is divided into two camps: the Skamander and the avant-garde, whereas in fact it takes up a good half-page of any textbook of the history of Polish literature to list all the poetic groups which came into being and published their works and manifestoes in this period in places as far-flung as Poznań, Warsaw, Kraków, Lublin, Lwów, and Wilno. Poznań, where Przyłuski published his first volume, was in the sphere of influence of German Expressionism. Being in New York and having no access to source material, it is difficult to trace what influence it had directly on Przyłuski’s work. It does seem likely, however, that his fascination with Leśmian dates to this time and those connections. It was a very deep fascination as witness very Leśmian-like verses in Przyłuski’s earliest poetry, for example “Bukowy pniak” (Beech Stump),25 as well as later works like “Pieśń goliatowa” (A Goliath Song). In “Cisza” (Silence) we come across verses like: “Skołatany pośród gór / Falą wietrznych dyszeń / Umyśliłem taki bór / A w nim taką ciszę.”34 The same poem contains these lines: “Pokołtunić wypary pełgające gnuśnie”26 and “Mech—co nigdy nie konał od łechtliwych muśnięć”27 Przyłuski was aware that he was inclined to adopt Leśmian’s lyrical tone, as witness the tribute he paid his mentor in “Poemat nielogiczny.” But by then he could say that the direct influence had been overcome and, in recalling its existence earlier, he adds: “How does he fare there as something other than he has been here.”28 In finding his own poetic voice Przyłuski did not, however, reject those elements of Leśmian’s work that he admired. The ways in which he joined the love and death motives in his work, his drawing on folk legends and dialect forms are clear evidence of his closeness to Leśmian’s manner. Furthermore, Przyłuski’s views on the word are very close to those of Leśmian and his idea of the contrast between the notional (pojęciowe) and liberated (wyzwolone) word. In addition, there is the aspect of the qualities of the poetic word, its power of enchantment, which is so important also to Leśmian. Moreover, in stark contrast to the Skamander poets, neither Przyłuski nor Leśmian have any urban motives in their poetry, and there are no descriptions of crowds. Przyłuski’s reflections on the craft of writing have stood the test of time on two counts: the consistency of his own views over the years as well as the critical methods that are applied today. It is worth comparing excerpts from “Poemat nielogiczny” 25 Bronisław Przyłuski, Badyle [Flower-Stalks] (Poznań: Prom, 1932), 34; idem, Wiersze [Poems], 128. “Battered amongst the hills / By a wave of windy sighs /1 dreamed up such a wood / And in it just such a silence.” English translations by Jacek Laskowski. 26 “To tangle the vapors that crawl along slothful.” Ibid. 27 “Moss—which never die from a ticklish sweep past.” Ibid. 28 “Jak mu jest tam, czym innym, / niż mu się tu było?” Przyłuski, “Poemat nielogiczny,” 152. See also Przyłuski, “O poezji,” Wiadomości, no. 1791/1792, July 27/August 3, 1980, 3. Further quotations from the interview are based on this text.



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with an interview the poet gave in 1978, but which was published only posthumously: “It seems to me that the creative impulse, regardless of what kind, is a kind of hurt, a wound.”30 In “Poemat nielogiczny,” Przyłuski had written: “There is in poetry a kind of wound.”29 In the interview, in answer to a question about the nature of poetry, he quoted Rilke’s definition: Poems aren’t dreams, they’re experiences . . . One has to experience many things, see many things and get to know them thoroughly. But that’s not all: one also has to forget everything one has experienced and have the patience to wait until it returns.” Thirty years earlier, in the “Poemat,” Przyłuski had written: “The theme is a reflection of an experience / that’s forgotten but waiting / patiently and suddenly in trembling revealed / in a creative phrase / This repeated echo of dreams / by now transformed to stigmata / the poet will seep in a stream of words / through his flesh as through a prism.30

“In a lyric poem one theme is love / the other is death”31 he writes in “Poemat,” while in the interview he provides this amplification: “By the word miłość [“love”] I understand all that is contained in the English words ‘love’ and ‘charity’, and by the word śmierć [“death”] anything that has to do with transience.” “Poemat nielogiczny” deserves a precise analytic study: the problems addressed in it have not only not become dated, but have definitely become even more pertinent today. They include such matters as the building of metaphors, the role of myth, the echo of myth in the etymology of words and in folk customs, the multi-layered function of images, the analogy of a child’s perception of the world with that of the poet, the relationship between dreams and memories, and between sleep and death. It is my wish here to present an outline of Przyłuski’s lyric poetry by looking at certain recurring images and word clusters that seem to play a key role in his work. My analysis is not of the statistical variety, based on word-frequency calculations of key- or theme-words. Rather, it is a series of reflections that have occurred to me during frequent rereading of the texts, the method of underlining recommended by Kazimierz Wyka in “Słowa-klucze” (Key Words).32 Like many other poets, Przyłuski begins his creative pilgrimage by freeing himself from the restrictions with which tradition confronts him. Hence the presence in his early pieces of images dealing with cutting, breaking, and destroying. This is true of the stylized folk poems, for example, “Bukowy pniak,” “Młocka” (Threshing),33 “Oberek” 29 “Jest w tej poezji jakaś rana.” Przyłuski, “Poemat nielogiczny,” 143. 30 “Temat odbicie doświadczenia / zapomnianego i w czekaniu cierpliwym, nagle w drżeniu / objawionego twórczym zdaniem. / To wielokrotne echo snów / już przemienionych krwią w charyzmat/poeta sączy strugą słów / przez swoje ciało jak przez pryzmat.” Ibid., 147. 31 “W lirycznym wierszu jeden motyw / to miłość, / drugi motyw / śmierć.” Ibid., 37. 32 Kazimierz Wyka, “Słowa-klucze” [Key Words], in his O potrzebie historii literatury (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1959), 198–234. 33 Przyłuski, Wiersze, 8.

Recurrent Images in the Poetry of Bronisław Przyłuski (Oberek),34 as well as those with historical and mythological themes, for example, “Rycerze Filipa Czarnego” (The Knights of Philip the Black).35 The poet himself comments on this: “Enough—today I am smashing the convex mirror / I’m destroying its treacherous roundness with my hard fist.”36 But the most characteristic, and most interesting, example of the destruction theme is “Klipa” (Tipcat): We have lost our ball somewhere / our bats are withering / we have nothing to chase, we have nothing to hit / our ball’s fallen under the house / let’s go—let’s knock the house down / We’re pulling the roof and the rafters down / we’re breaking it up with our hands / we’re tearing the concrete to tatters—we’re led by the skipper / in the cellars where moldy plants rot / at last under the rubble / we find our ball.”37

In this poem with its erotic symbolism, the theme of youthful rebellion is joined with the image of the house. According to Gaston Bachelard, the motif of the house is the most important poetically speaking and he devotes two chapters to it in his The Poetics of Space.38 He writes of the importance that the image of the house has by illustrating the contrast between the attic, or garret, and the cellar along the vertical plane: the upper stories of the house symbolize the rational and intellectual aspects of our lives, while the cellar represents our subconscious. Descent as an attempt to fathom our psyche, penetration into our subconscious, is discussed by Maria Podraza Kwiatkowska in Symbolizm i symbolika w poezji Młodej Polski (Symbolism and Symbols in the Poetry of Young Poland).39 In “Klipa,” however, this is not just a matter of descent; it is also a rebellion, destruction. The poem represents a culmination or, to use Wyka’s words, a keystone in the associational chain linking the themes of destruction, dismantling, and liberation. At the same time, this poem begins a new recurring theme: that of the house. It is worth noting that Przyłuski’s later houses (according to Bachelard, very powerful images of the family home) have no cellar. Here is one of many examples: “Our mean little house became so revived / so stately amidst the mallows / that the white chimney strode through the clouds / was it a chimney or not—almost a stake. There was white light in all the windows / and a noisy ball in the rooms / And at the door

34 Idem, Badyle, 37. 35 Idem, Wiersze, 41. 36 “Dosyć—dzisiaj rozbijam wypukłe zwierciadło / rozwalam twardą pięścią ułudną kolistość.” Ibid., 18. 37 “Klipa nam gdzieś / zginęła / palanty nam więdną / nie mamy za czym ganiać, nie mamy w co walić / klipa wpadła pod ten dom. / Jazda—dom rozwalić. / Zrywamy dach i krokwie / łamiemy rękami / beton rwiemy na strzępy- przewodzi nam szyper / w piwnicy gdzie murszeje zapleśniała okwieć / nareszcie pod gruzami / znajdujemy klipę.” Przyłuski, Wiersze, 14. 38 Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, tr. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969). 39 Maria Podraza Kwiatkowska, Symbolizm i symbolika w poezji Młodej Polski [Symbolism and Symbol in the Poetry of Young Poland] (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1994).



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to the porch there was a crush and a crowd.”40 The culmination of the house theme can be found in the last collection of poems, significantly entitled Listy z pustego domu (Letters from an Empty House). And here again, out of the associational clusters, out of the emotional charge of the words themselves, there emerges a picture not only consciously drawn by the poet, but also the so-called “interverbal space” in which, as Wyka says, “are expressed the creative imagination’s real tendencies and the writer’s moral convictions.”41 In this volume, published in 1964, Przyłuski encapsulates the experiences of contemporary man, a man “who / has seen with his own eyes / the atoms of uranium disintegrate / and the atoms of concrete and the atoms of immortal bodies . . .”42 Two house images draw one’s attention in this collection: the first—“I don’t remember looking at my house / because when you live beneath your own roof / walls are just brick walls / the threshold’s just a beam at the foot of the door / and windows are squares of glass”43—comes in “Modlitwa” (Prayer). This poem begins with the following lines: “I have learned a prayer and a few disjointed words / and I repeat only those words / ‘In our house live strangers.’”44 This uprooting, to which Simone Weil devoted an entire book and about which Czesław Miłosz writes constantly, is contemporary man’s crushing burden. “The abyss is our new motherland,”45 writes Przyłuski in one of his poems, and he gives his most perceptive and shattering description of loss and disintegration in his “Wiersz bez rymów” (Poem without Rhymes). His meditations on the contemporary world lead him to the reflection that traditional verse is unsuitable for the description of such phenomena as the break-up of the home, the family, and the atom. Hence such titles as “Wiersz bez rymów,” “Przekleństwo mowie” (A Curse on Speech), “O prawdziwym zwątpieniu” (About Real Doubt), and such phrases as “Speech is a murmur—a buzzing merely.”46 In some way this is characteristic of Przyłuski; the motif of man’s loss and alienation finds its fullest expression in the poem “Dla kogo? Czyli rzecz o nowym lęku” (For Whom? Or, About a New Fear): “For whom would Lucretius write today / His treatise De rerum natura / explaining the theories of Democritus of Abdera and Epicurus of Samos / using poetic method / that is to say most simply I . . . I that is to say so that words / which are the grains of 40 “Nasz lichy dom tak się odrodził, / Taki dostojny wyrósł z malw. / Że biały komin w chmurach brodził, / Komin, nie komin, prawie pal. / / We wszystkich oknach białe światło, / A w pokoikach huczny bal. / Przy drzwiach od ganku ścisk i natłok. . . .” Przyłuski, “Sen,” in Wiersze, 37. 41 Wyka, “Słowa-klucze,” 216. 42 “. . . który / na własne oczy widział / jak rozpadają się uranu / i atomy betonu / i atomy ciał nieśmiertelnych. .  .  .” Przyłuski, “Dla kogo? Czyli rzecz o nowym lęku” [For Whom? Or, About a New Fear], in Wiersze, 232. 43 “. . . I nie pamiętam żebym patrzył na dom. / Bo gdy się mieszka pod własnym dachem / Ściany są murem tylko / Próg belką u dołu drzwi / I okna szklanymi kwadratami.” Ibid., 210. 44 “Nauczyłem się modlitwy i kilku słów luźnych / I tylko te słowa powtarzam: / W naszym domu mieszkają obcy.” Ibid. 45 “Przepaść to nasza nowa ojczyzna.” Przyłuski, “Ojczyzna” [Fatherland], in Wiersze, 180. 46 “Mowa—szelest; brzęczenie tylko.” Przyłuski, “Klamra” [Accolade], in Wiersze, 172.

Recurrent Images in the Poetry of Bronisław Przyłuski speech / with crystals of meaning / would pierce the darkness of superstition / and smother fear / that comes to life in Silurian bogs.”47 Here, too, we find the final development of the house image: after the disintegration of “atoms of uranium, concrete, and immortal bodies,” “in the town / where only a small mission hut / has survived built / from the rubble / by a few slit-eyed Franciscan friars / and Father Maximilian Kolbe of Zduńska Wola.”48 In Bachelard’s classification, “the hut appears to be the tap-root of the function of inhabiting.”49 To sum up the development of this motif through Przyłuski’s work, we get the chain stretching from the complete house-as-symbol brought crashing down by the impatient hands of the boys, through the house sanctified by memories of childhood, all the way down to the fragile missionaries’ hut, the only one which survives the explosion of the atom bomb. Another motif that runs through Przyłuski’s work with great dynamism is the image of the horse. It is a theme with a rich literary tradition. In his Dictionary of Symbols, Juan Eduardo Cirlot makes the point that the symbolism of the horse is very complex and not at all clearly defined. “It can symbolize the cosmic forces that surge out . . . the blind forces of primigenial chaos. . . . In the biopsychological plane . . . the horse stands for intense desires and instincts . . . The animal was also dedicated to Mars, and the sudden appearance of a horse was thought to be an omen of war.” The horse was also endowed with certain powers of divination and, according to Jung, it is connected with intuitive understanding. And, of course, “on account of his fleetness, the horse can also signify the wind and sea-foam, as well as fire and light.”50 The horse appears in Przyłuski’s very first collection of poems. In “Konkurs hipiczny” (The Equestrian Tournament) he writes: “United, fused together we hurry over hurdles / with the power of terse muscles we’re fired into the air / tight, springing breath fills our lungs, / we cover the fences / we swallow space. 51 This theme of the physical unity of rider and horse, and the motif of speed, develops new meanings and extends its stylistic field as Przyłuski’s poetry develops. In the next poem treating this subject, “Konie” (Horses), the poet and the animal are shown to be antithetical, separated from each other by feelings of distrust, and yet united by the mysteriousness of the 47 “Dla kogo pisałby dziś Lukrecjusz / rozprawę ‘De Rerum Natura’ / wykładając teorię Demokryta z Abdery / i Epikura z Samos / metodą poetycka / czyli najprościej . . . / to znaczy tak żeby słowa / ziarna mowy / kryształami znaczeń / przebijały ciemność zabobonu / i tłumiły lęk / zrodzony nocą w Sylurskich bagnach. . . .” Przyłuski, “Dla kogo? Czyli rzecz o nowym lęku,” 231. 48 “W mieście / gdzie ocalała jedynie tylko / chałupka misyjna / zbudowana z odpadków / przez kilku skośnookich franciszkańskich braciszków / i Ojca Maksymiliana Kolbego ze Zduńskiej Woli.” Ibid. 49 Bachelard, Poetics of Space, 31. 50 J. E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, tr. Jack Sage (New York: Philosophical Library, 1962), 144–145. 51 “Zespoleni, zrośnięci mkniemy po barierach / potęgą suchych ścięgien strzelamy w powietrze, / zwarty, sprężysty oddech płuca nam rozpiera, / pokrywamy przeszkody, połykamy przestrzeń.” Przyłuski, Wiersze, 22.



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On Poetry

unknown: “round nocturnal matters they wheel / the horses driven to the brook / their heavy four-legged gallop / muffled by the damp meadow’s grass / they whinny with ears laid back / as if I were creeping wolf-like from the wood / as if over the soft clover / to the horses on night pasture in the field / it was rapacious fate which no-one can evade / chasing them ghost-like from the copse.” 52 Night pasture is the subject of another poem, “Ozimina i konie” (Winter Crop and Horses), which appears in the last collection of poems. Przyłuski develops an interest in the freezing of motion so that it becomes symbolic of speed. As early as his first collection of poems, he writes, in “Rycerze Filipa Czarnego”: “And on the rubble in bronze the rapacious statues / in honor of wind-legged and faithful horses.” 53 Many years later, in “Wzory” (Elgin Marbles), he returned to the theme: “Yet if you were to stand on the tips of dreams / you will not stop the stone horses / the bridles were made by a saddler inspired / the horseshoes—a blacksmith inspired.”54 Przyłuski defined the nature of sculpture through oxymoron: “The gods have left quite a trace: / wind turned to stone.”55 This convergence of two themes—the horse and sculpture—achieved its most perfect example in one of the poet’s greatest pieces, “Pomnik” (Monument).56 The dynamics of this image have a double, or even triple, dimension. First, there is the real movement of rider and horse; then there is the historical and mythic dimension dealing with the whole story of taming a wild horse and fusing it in full harmony with its rider. And all this is capped by an even greater degree of harmony—the harmony of art. Nor does the poem’s ambiguity end there: the multilayered movement, emanating from the depths of the steppes and the profound backdrop of history, is frozen into an eternal metaphor of movement. In the last verse, we are given one more inversion: doves flying above the statue. Above the bronze representation of war fly the living symbols of peace and gentleness. The richness of the poem’s images cannot be discussed in isolation from the construction of the poem itself. It is made up of eight sestets containing a preponderance of nine-syllable lines (32), with four syllables accented. The rhyme scheme is abc-cba, and in the first two verses the rhymes of the first and last lines intertwine. The majority of the rhymes are feminine: full, precise and not-so-precise rhymes, like odwaga/szpagat, sobolach/polach, Kantar/kantat, stępem/sępim; there are also assonances, such as kłębek/ścięgien, orlej/historii, pomnik/końmi. The moments of heightened tension are emphasized by the use of masculine rhymes: Łuk/nóg, las/miast, żył/sił, wpław/praw. 52 “. . . dokoła nocnych spraw kołują / konie spędzone nad ruczajem. / Ciężki ich galop z czterech nóg / wilgotna miedza trawą głuszy, / parskają, potuliły uszy, / jakbym się wilkiem z lasu wlókł. / Jakby po miękkiej koniczynie / do nocujących w polu koni / z głuchego boru duchem gonił / drapieżny los, co nie ominie.” Ibid., 52. 53 “A na gruzach w spiż pomniki drapieżne, / Wiernym koniom wiatronogim na chwałę.” Ibid., 41. 54 “Lecz choćbyś stanął na czubkach snu, / koni kamiennych nie wstrzymasz. / Uzdy natchniony rymarz—/ kopyta natchniony kowal kuł.” Ibid., 102. 55 “Z bogów został nie byle ślad:/skamieniały wiatr.” Ibid., 102. 56 Ibid., 122.

Recurrent Images in the Poetry of Bronisław Przyłuski The first two lines bring together a metaphor and a metonymy: “Na stepie lęgnie się odwaga w ścierpniętej skórze nad skroniami.”57 Equally sumptuous are other semantic transpositions: “Legenda zapleciona w grzywy / bieli pianami łuki strzemion. . . .”58 Instrumentation gives the sensation of beating hooves on the steppe perfectly by the use of such words as szpagat, tęgie, ścięgien, wygięte, kłębek, stępem, and so on. We come across sound clusters which would delight the formalists, the structuralists, and the linguistic poets, as well. “Ciepła posoka ciekła z boków” and “rzemień zmiął tęgie struny ścięgien” are two examples of the true virtuosity with which Przyłuski had mastered his craft. One of Przyłuski’s most beautiful poems, “Opowieść arabska” (An Arabian Tale), is a poetic version of the account given by the Arabian explorer, Ibrahim Ibn Jacob, of his visit to Poland in the tenth century. This stylization of a foreigner’s description gives the poet an opportunity to show a picture of Poland as if he were seeing it for the first time himself, and so that the separate parts do not even make up a coherent entity: “In breaths of cold summer / the rye flows to a sea of mosses / at the north of the seventh climate / on the frontier of enchanted words.”59 Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols mentions a division of the earth into seven climatic spheres. The symbolism around the number “seven” is quite extensive and it is something that Przyłuski often uses. The Poland of “Opowieść arabska” is a land that is found beyond the Polish language’s proverbial seven rivers and seven hills, and this fairytale quality is emphasized by other topographic details, such as “on the frontier of enchanted words.” 60 After this introduction come several panoramic frames including the beautiful “a grouse tore down not the silence but a pall / and flew away more beautiful than a peacock.” 61 To underline the foreignness of the land he is describing, the poet groups together a number of questions: “Who will come to grips with all this / who’ll remember if it’s barley or hops / who’s to know if you should sweeten or sour it / who’ll understand if it’s to be ordered or cut down? / If it’s burning then you know—don’t put it out: / even add something living to the flames.”62 And, in the last verse, Przyłuski writes: “One other thing I know that the people of this land / when they set out to the neighboring sea / never in their lives return to their homes / only die of those seas and the heat.” 63 The poem, which starts with a description of the climate, ends with a characterization of its inhabitants. And we know that, in literature, climate most often symbolizes man’s mental state. If Poland is the land of the seventh climate, then Przyłuski is its poet. 57 “On the steppe courage stretches itself out in numb skin over the temples.” Ibid. 58 “Legends braided in manes make the stirrups’ arches white with foam.” Ibid. 59 “Oddechami zimnego lata/płynie żyto do morza z mchów / na północy siódmego klimatu, / na granicy zaklętych słów.” Ibid., 93. 60 “. . . na granicy zaklętych słów.” Ibid. 61 “. . . rozdarł cietrzew—nie ciszę ale całun, / i odfrunął piękniejszy niż paw.” Ibid. 62 “Kto tu dojdzie z tym wszystkim do ładu, / kto spamięta, czy jęczmień czy chmiel. / Kto to wie, czy zasłodzić czy zakwasić, / kto zrozumie, czy zamówić czy ściąć? / Jak się pali— wiadomo, że nie gasić: / coś żywego jeszcze w ogień pchnąć.” Ibid. 63 “Jeszcze wiem, że ludzie z tego kraju, / kiedy ruszą za morze okalające, / nigdy w życiu do domu nie wracają, / tylko giną od tych mórz i z gorąca.” Ibid.



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On Poetry

Climate is created by the four elements: water, earth, fire, and air. It has been acknowledged that an analysis of key words, or theme words (words which recur most frequently), can lead us to recognize which of those elements is most specific to a writer and fascinates him the most. With Przyłuski that element is earth. And a brief look at the semantic and stylistic fields shows us that earth is not seen metaphorically or abstractly, but is a tangible, physical earth, comprised of clay, sand, loam and silt, a fact noted by some of the critics mentioned above. In “Ziemia” (Earth), Przyłuski writes: “Just outside the cold clay / slippery on top / that’s how earth begins / both distant and near / . . . /In the clay are dug-out trenches / a roof of turf hangs down / and human carts are carrying / sand for clay, and for sand there’s clay.”64 And in “Wiatr” (Wind) there is a definition of sand: “Sand, a granite flour / ground by the mill of eternity / pulverized, dry, barren / a bed for white bones.”65 In “Nurt” (Current) “in the fall behind the ploughs you can see the earth from below.”66 in “Poemat nielogiczny” “Just look—I’ve come to miss the sticky loam of Hrubieszów,”67 and in “Wieczór w marszu” (Evening in March, 1939): “our very own sand.”68 According to the definitions given by Cirlot, earth as an element can be joined with water. Both are material elements and are contrasted to the other two elements, which are symbolic of metaphysical qualities. But in Przyłuski’s poetry, the impossible is achieved: the tangible earth, the sand, mud, and clay all combine with the elements of the air, fire, and mist, and thereby create images which while preserving the full and authentic weight of physical objects, are filled with metaphysical wonder, anxiety and fear. This is done by way of an associational series which is worth examining closely: “It is emptiness which is turning blue / while earth is grey sand / The only thing that really happens / is the transparency in dreams.”69 Thus, in contrast to the very concrete image of the earth, reality is ascribed only to “transparency in dreams.” The third and final stanza reiterates this: “It’s only for the intangible happenings / for the mists coming in off the moon / that farmers sow every year / And then the wheat rises.”70 The poem “Ziemia,” quoted earlier, ends with the words: “But down our way lips that grow cold say / that this is the kind of earth there’ll be in Paradise.”71 This joining 64 “Zaraz za progiem glina, / Zimna, po wierzchu śliska, / Ziemia tak się zaczyna/ i daleka i bliska. / . . . W glinie kopne wąwozy—/ z darniny wisi dach / i wożą ludzkie wozy / piach na glinę, a glinę na piach.” Przyłuski, Wiersze, 75. 65 “Piach, mąka granitowa/mielona młynem wieczności / sypka, sucha, jałowa / łoże dla białych kości.” Ibid., 127. 66 “. . . za pługami jesienią ziemię widać od spodu.” Ibid., 78. 67 “Patrzcie—zatęskniłem / za hrubieszowskim lepkim iłem.” Przyłuski, “Poemat nielogiczny,” 153. 68 “. . . piach rodzony.” Przyłuski, Wiersze, 68. 69 “To pustka tak błękitnieje / a ziemia to szary piach. / Jedno tylko, co się naprawdę dzieje / to przeźroczystość w snach.” “Obrona mgieł” [In Defense of Fogs], ibid., 60. 70 “Tylko dla chybotliwych zdarzeń, / dla mgieł wiejących od księżyca,/co roku sieją gospodarze./A potem wschodzi pszenica.” Ibid. 71 “Ale u nas się mówi stygnącymi wargami, / że taka ziemia będzie w raju.” Ibid., 75.

Recurrent Images in the Poetry of Bronisław Przyłuski together of an image of Paradise, usually associated with light, beautiful, and clear elements, with that of the clay and sand-filled carts is extraordinarily moving and, at the same time, draws a stylistic field that is typical of the poet. The earth is elevated to an even higher metaphysical plane in “Opowieść arabska.” Sand, dust, and ashes combine to give in the last, culminating word an image, emphasized by the rhyme and the stress, of a burnt offering, that most metaphysical of elements, fire, brought to the fore: “For after all sand’s almost not like earth anymore / but like dust blown aside by a winnower / dust from under the wheels interchanged with ashes / a mixed and reconciled holocaust.”72 Here again sand and earth appear once as interchangeable phenomena, and once as antithetical qualities. In “Epitafium dla Wierzyńskiego” (Epitaph for Wierzyński), a poet who was equally drawn to the earth, there are two turns of phrase where heaven and earth are combined: “Though of earth, a lover of the heavens,” and “the new earth will change to heaven.”73 And one final example of a complete merging of elements which do not combine together: in “Odpowiedź” (Answer), Przyłuski writes: “When you’re made of mud and miracle / then you want to rustle in nature.”74 It is the wind that rustles, or at least in conventional language it does, not clay. And it must not be forgotten that this rustling clay is nothing other than a thinking reed. In The Poetics of Space, Bachelard compares the word to a house. “Common sense lives on the ground floor, always ready to engage in ‘foreign commerce,’ on the same level as the others, as the passers-by who are never dreamers. To go upstairs in the word ‘house’ is to withdraw, step by step; while to go down to the cellar is to dream, it is losing oneself in the distant corridors of obscure etymology, looking for treasures that cannot be found in words. To mount and descend in the words themselves—this is a poet’s life. To mount too high or descend too low, is allowed in the case of poets, who bring earth and sky together.75 Between love and death, between clay and miracle, extends the region of the poetry of “the seventh climate”—a poetry which still awaits its audience. Translated by Jacek Laskowski

72 “No bo piach to już tak jak nie ziemia / a jak pył odwiany na wialni/ kurz spod kół z popiołami na przemian / pomieszane, pogodzone całopalnie.” Ibid., 94. 73 “Chociaż z ziemi, kochanek niebiosów / . . . / Nowa ziemia w niebo się odmieni.” Ibid., 227. 74 “Gdy się jest z błota i cudu, / to się chce szumieć w przyrodzie.” Ibid, 144. 75 Bachelard, Poetics of Space, 147.



A Canon of His Own (Vasyl Makhno)


asyl Makhno, the Ukrainian essayist, poet and translator, who has lived in New York for many years, undoubtedly represents a singular phenomenon in contemporary literature of the region that until quite recently was generally referred to as Eastern Europe. This phenomenon is comprised of various elements: on the personal level, his biography and talent; on the more general level, the sweeping changes in politics and culture. Born in Chortkiv in 1964, at a time when a popular Polish rhymed saying admonished: “We survived the Swedes and we’ll survive the Soviets,” which seemed little more than a mildly comforting joke, Makhno grew up in an atmosphere where the political constraints felt by recent generations had begun to loosen, particularly in Poland, but with reverberations in Ukraine as well. Makhno, author of seven collections of poetry, belongs to the generation that he calls the “Generation of the 90s,” some of whose work he himself once compiled and published in an anthology. He is also a literary scholar who has worked at the University of Ternopil, as well as Jagiellonian University in Kraków. And those experiences have no doubt shaped the unique perspective that we sense when reading his work. It is the perspective of a person open to possibilities and challenges: in life, in poetry, and in intellectual matters. A person for whom that which is “other” or “otherwise” is not a source of anxiety, but of curiosity and a desire to go deeper: Sanok and New York, poets’ clubs and the amusement park at Coney Island— all these things are manifestations of life—two sides of the same priceless coin. Vasyl Makhno’s achievement has, to a considerable degree, been assimilated by Polish literature; his poetry collections (Wanderers and 38 Poems about New York and Other Things) have been translated and published by renowned publishing houses, and the press covers his public appearances and prints reviews of his work and interviews with him. He has been greeted with every possible honor in various poetic circles, translated into English, German, Lithuanian, Romanian and all Slavic languages. His presence is also felt in Polish culture through his poetic friendships, as demonstrated

A Canon of His Own (Vasyl Makhno) by the poetic letters addressed to him by such poets as Bohdan Zadura and Janusz Szuber, as well as his many translations of Polish poetry, including books by Zbigniew Herbert and Janusz Szuber, and many works of Miłosz, Zadura and others. Makhno underscores the importance of these intimate connections in his line “I tightened the string of light1 on the Ukrainian violin.” His poetry, rooted in his native literature, joins together the idioms of the avantgarde and the classical. It speaks, however, to the reader not via links to one school or another, but directly—and that is its greatest strength. Beginning with the first line of his poem dedicated to Petr Moroz, Makhno raises a challenge to the canon. “A Ukrainian poet / must write rhymed poetry / well, to hell with you . . .” Here and there he mentions the names of Taras Shevchenko and Lesya Ukrainka, as well as some other, lesser-known Ukrainian poets, but Makhno is very conscious and bold in his desire to establish, without renouncing his at times bitter and painful past, a canon of his own, to free himself from commas and periods. His poetic school is comprised of the most famous names in anthologies of world poetry, including “Eliot—banker of the waste land.” With this baggage, Makhno pluckily sets out on his poetic conquest of New York. His poetry absorbs contemporary civilization, with all its impenetrable paradoxicality, so that his metaphors are often based on oxymoron: triangular circles; elliptical rectangles; seeds of sand. In rejecting the traditional canon of Ukrainian poetry, Makhno issues a challenge to pretty nearly the whole world. He stands in the lists of world poetry as an equal among equals. What dazzle most are: the sweep of the phrasing, the richness of the images, the communicative power of the language together with its magic. These are dense poems, out of which bubbles forth a portrait of the chaos of Manhattan. Makhno somehow manages to tame that elemental disorder with his poetry. At the same time, the dynamism of his metaphors frequently astonishes the reader. A rich imagination, feeding on equally rich erudition, calls forward history, prehistory, and myth. The unusual picture Makhno’s poems form of New York and contemporary civilization are his own singular “New York text.” Singular, because defined by his own situation, which is unconventional in that he is not a political émigré, as was until recently common for poets from his country, from Poland, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The popular saying has it that your point of view depends on where you sit, and this is also true in literature. Vasyl Makhno does not idealize American civilization, nor does he demonize it. He approaches it without the complexes so typical of new arrivals from Eastern Europe, who often seek to display their superiority at any price. Nor is this the fascination of a tourist, but that of a man who knows that he has plenty of time to gorge himself on New York, as he gorged himself in childhood on the raspberries growing in a neighboring forest. Makhno tries to spot all of the elements that combine to form that unusual aura that characterizes the New World, every part of its richness and variety. His gaze is


The phrase “string of light” is a reference to the title of Herbert’s 1956 poetic debut. [Tr.]



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On Poetry

rapacious, but not the least bit aggressive. It is the gaze of a free man who is open to an open culture, with all of its consequences. His images are expressive, and in many places masterful; he has an extraordinary talent for joining lyricism with narrative, so that we experience his poems on many levels. The poem usually begins with a situation, what we might call an establishing shot in cinematic terms, and suddenly a rupture ensues, a metaphysical leap. But in this leap, the poet does not leave the reader on the other side; he spirits us away with him, together with the poem. The poem “Cornelia Street Café” begins with the words: Elżbieta Czyżewska with her heels ripped open the white screen of the ’60s.

It is a metaphor for art, for creation, and Makhno’s poems rip open the image of New York in just the same way, allowing us to see what is hidden deeper, or higher—in Harlem, Coney Island, or at the Starbucks on the corner. His imagination joins concepts and images and juggles them. He brings together a firm rootedness in his own culture and a flawless ear for the voices of other cultures. These are the kinds of matters only true poetry can hear and express. After his arrival in the States, Makhno very quickly took this country’s, and above all this city’s measure, with spectacular results; his poems on America sound a new, powerful chord in his poetry. Because he came here of his own volition, the pain of exile is largely unknown to Makhno. And yet, and yet he understands the vacillations of the “prodigal son” returning home. For all his poetic virtuosity, Makhno’s poems are intimately accessible to the reader. They tell stories of wandering through Manhattan, of his childhood in Ukraine, of the pain of identity. Over the course of a few years, New York has become fused together with Makhno’s poetry in a singular way. In that poetry, there is no conflict, no lamentation or rending of garments. There are conscious choices and there is conscious bearing of their consequences. And since he is a first-rate poet, his utterance is marked by its power as much as by its beauty. In this remarkable urban epic, among the objects he himself has fixed his eyes on, Makhno continually discovers new signs of what simultaneously fascinates and horrifies him: continuity and transience, chance and some kind of higher, inevitable logic behind that chance. Another persistent theme is the confrontation between the elements of nature and culture. Perhaps the strongest expression of this confrontation is the poem about the famous avant-garde theater “La MaMa”; here the theater is not the respectable temple of art, but passion, seeking to quench its nearly animal hunger: La MaMa—a young she-wolf with red nipples amid the shaggy rugged wool you have the fragrance of a new mother’s fresh milk

Another poem, “Jazz Variation,” is written with similar passion and in a similar tone. In these poems, a fusion occurs between high culture, advanced civilization, and

A Canon of His Own (Vasyl Makhno) a lower, animal element; thus, we find here “vixens, she-wolves, dogs, mice” with “a physiological need to excrete something.” A similar motif pervades Makhno’s essays, where a saxophone player’s solo is presented within the categories of erotica: “he took turns on the saxophone and trumpet, his indecently swollen lips resembled a woman’s sex organs and his exercising with the saxophone’s neck—like shots from a porno film. . . .” The high and low also come together in the metaphysical sphere, where we see “metaphysical vixens,” but the drive to write is itself in equal parts metaphysical and animal. Thus the dried-up corpses of ants on a page in a book merge with the letters, the mouse’s uncontrollable need to excrete with the uncontrollable need to write. Poetry is “addiction to the word,” “waiting for words to bring words.” And almost every image is filled with the New York crowd of “Zen Buddhists / Tibetan monks / and pacifists.” Makhno likes to develop and refine each metaphor; in the poem “Having a Coffee at Starbucks,” we read: well, look at that, it’s the 12th apostle of the year—December sitting at the last supper you set out from a bag the paltry fruits of your days to entertain the 12 apostles

This poem, in which the forty-year-old poet sums up his life over a coffee in lower Manhattan, observing two Mexican workers cutting rocks with a saw, ends with the words: “a heavy stone / a light life.” “A light life” is another of Makhno’s oxymorons. We become convinced of that when we read the poems about his Ukrainian origins: “A Photograph of the Year 1969,” “To Dot the I’s in the Matter of My Name,” “SS Brandenburg 1913.” Though Makhno does not want to write rhymed poetry, as some of his critics expect of him, Ukraine does not disappear from his poems. Quite the reverse: it forces its way, bringing its sense of tragedy, both general and particular, into the New York poems. Makhno’s favorite painter is Hieronymus Bosch; I would even go so far as to assert that Makhno’s poetic images, with their panoramic and fantastic elements, have a kind of Boschean perspective, and he undoubtedly shares the painter’s feral claws that tear open the audience’s wounds. One of the most profound and far-reaching themes of Makhno’s poetry is poetry itself, art and its creators. “On Apollinaire,” “Yehuda Amichai,” “A New York Postcard for Bohdan Zadura,” “Cornelia Street Café,” “At an Evening with Andrei Voznesensky,” “Federico Garcia Lorca,” and “The Castrati” are poems about the price that creative work demands. Not for nothing is there a recurrent motif of blood and ink, familiar from literature, but here deployed with heightened expressive force: “dry ink—the black blood of the computer—” And in another place: Some wrote with a pen —others cut their veins—and dipped it in blood thickened by booze and drugs



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Vasyl Makhno, whose poetic achievement has assured him an indisputable place in Ukrainian (and, thanks to Bohdan Zadura’s translations, Polish) poetry, is not one of those. Makhno’s essays, for the most part, deal with the metaphorical theme of borders. Metaphorical because there is no Ukrainian-American border; it is even difficult to speak of a European-American border. That would require throwing an enormous bridge across, certainly one bigger than the Brooklyn Bridge, one of Makhno’s poetic obsessions. But, in fact, throwing such a bridge across to Europe, to Eastern Europe, to Chortkiv, seems to be a peculiar mission of his. Whether embodied by American authors visiting Gertrude Stein’s salon in France, Gombrowicz in Argentina, Pound in Italy, or Lorca and Singer in New York, the dynamic between genius loci and the traveler, usually a writer, from another part of the world, holds a powerful fascination for Makhno. That tension is precisely the bridge he seeks, the taut tightrope of perception thrown across the Great Unknown. Yet the key to Makhno’s essays is Chortkiv, both his birthplace and the focus of the most important essay included here. The poet himself calls it the “bread of memory.” He returns to that site of memory in New York, where he chances to meet some former residents of Chortkiv, looking at photographs on the Internet and taking the mental measure of twentieth-century history, “its tragedies, ethnic conflicts, the myths and stereotypes about Jews among Ukrainians and Poles, Ukrainians against Poles, Poles against Ukrainians, Jews against Ukrainians and Poles. The division that endured in the collective memory of generations of both nationalities was religious, social, and ethnic, with no particular desire on either side to get to know one another. Each side bore resentment and considered its own arguments to be supreme, which is why in Chortkiv, which like other Galician cities was multiethnic and multicultural until 1939, the spheres of those multiple cultures did not always intersect.” I suppose that the need to overcome that centuries-old inertia is, in fact, the driving force not only of Makhno’s writing, but of his life. This poet likes to travel and he certainly knows how; from each journey he brings back a compact, dynamic, illuminating text. The language of his essays is as imagistic as his poems. A text about India shimmers with color and startles with vivid scents and contrasts. Another, about a trip from Budapest to Ljubljana via Austria, seethes with the dramaturgy of a film script. The poet and his wife, traveling without Austrian visas, at a certain moment face the prospect of being put on a train back to Budapest. While Makhno is plunged in daydreams of his right to Austrian citizenship, being the great-grandson of subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he is saved from being kicked off the train by “an ordinary New York driver’s license, . . . which I took my time about getting in New York, waiting almost two years.” Why did he take so long? We find the answer to that in the poem “Automobile Erotica”: this journey across the land of your body really requires of me neither driver’s license nor knowledge of the rules of the road

A Canon of His Own (Vasyl Makhno) Makhno’s journeys in other countries are marked by his flawless grasp of the “rules of the road,” impressive erudition and deep philosophical reflection. Wandering through Romania and setting about fathoming its paradoxes, Makhno writes: Modern history in this part of Europe once again began with the death of the old, hackneyed falseness: cycles of constant dying and regeneration became something so habitual and inevitable for most residents of Europe that their periodicity seemed almost planned and provided for.

A seasoned essayist, he tries to guide the reader on a tour through the complexities of Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine, and artistic works that fascinate him, in which he is particularly drawn to the kind of bipolarity we find in Gombrowicz, Apollinaire, and Singer. Otherness, exile, life in the diaspora. When I am asked once more what it means to be a Ukrainian writer in America, I immediately have a desire to ask in response: well, what does it mean to be a Ukrainian poet in Ukraine? America at least is indifferent to what language you are a poet in and doesn’t require any testimonials from you.

The book closes with two plays. Here, Makhno transposes into stage drama the same tensions that are the central preoccupations of his poems and essays. Coney Island, with its ocean shore and final stop on the subway line, previously described in a poem and an essay, becomes the last station stop in the life of a homeless émigré from Ukraine. We should keep in mind that Brooklyn and émigré homelessness have served as inspiration to another arrival from Eastern Europe—the playwright Janusz Głowacki. The final play, “Beach/Bitch Generation,” appears to be an excursion into the realm of the absurd, the landscape most receptive to the chisel of a poet’s imagination, one where each stranger wanders on his own account. Preface to Dubno koło Leżajska. Wiersze i eseje (Dubno near Leżajsk. Essays and Poems) by Vasyl Makhno, translated into Polish by Bohdan Zadura Translated by Timothy D. Williams



Must Poetry Be Absolutely Modern?


y perspective is somewhat atypical. When I left Poland in 1969 with the so-called Jewish exodus, I did not have a book to my name. As a graduate of Polish philology, an avid reader, and an aspiring writer, I followed the Polish poetry scene from a distance. I published my first four books in exile, and only after the political transformation was I able to publish my subsequent books in Poland. My generation’s literary education was based on the more or less traditional curriculum, and for quite some time we were mainly fed poetry that followed the model of socialist realism, the reigning ideology of the time. Historically, Poland since the Middle Ages had shared with Europe its major trends in poetry. As Czesław Miłosz observes in his The Witness of Poetry, “the mark of the common style binds contemporaneous poets writing in various languages, which may be explained by an elusive osmosis and not necessarily by direct borrowings.”1 And as another Polish poet, Józef Wittlin, writes: “Almost every nation takes pride in its own poetes maudits, its own Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Hart Crane.”2 The poetic experience of these and other poets turned out to be equally inspiring and instructive for Polish poets of the younger generation, as Walt Whitman was a bit later. Polish political history—partitioned between three empires for over a century, the brutal German occupation, followed by Soviet domination—burdened literature with additional concerns. Hence throughout most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Polish poets were forced to assume additional missions, and quite often they made use of whatever techniques they had at their disposal to serve their cause. Despite this tragic and violent history, Polish poetry remained vibrant even during the most difficult times. 1 2

Czeslaw Miłosz, The Witness of Poetry (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 10. “The Splendor and the Squalor of Exile,” tr. Rulka Langer, in Explorations in Freedom: Prose, Narrative, and Poetry from Kultura, ed. Leopold Tyrmand (New York: Free Press, 1970), 5.

Must Poetry Be Absolutely Modern? After Poland regained its independence in 1918, writers could direct their energy toward literature alone, they did not have to be prophets, leaders, or fighters. The language of the new generation of poets was spontaneous and colloquial; the syntax— simplified. The roots of contemporary trends and schools had been planted. Typical features of Polish futurist poetry were dynamic movements, the exploitation of the kinetic elements. Other trends blossomed, for example, Expressionism and Dadaism. The most prominent representatives of the prewar first avant-garde—Tadeusz Peiper and Julian Przyboś—were consequently nicknamed the grandfathers of the linguistic school. They proclaimed with the utmost optimism their unlimited trust in the inner possibilities of language. The so-called second avant-garde, represented by Miłosz and his peers, named the catastrophists for their very negative view, favored talking about “parole” rather than poetry, preferring image over metaphor. World War II and the Stalinist regime imposed a freeze on most modernistic attempts. That is why we consider 1956 to mark the rebirth of the school of modern Polish poetry. The new generation needed to make a radical break with the past; the strongly negative tradition created a sort of a springboard. The lyrical code of the time relied on amalgamation, in which the total unreal rendering is combined with a taste for intellectual allusion. The poets accumulated images, situations, associations, and symbols, and they threw away the key to the simile. The generation of Miron Białoszewski and Tymoteusz Karpowicz, nicknamed the fathers of the linguistic school, was driven by a fundamental distrust toward language, detectable already in Różewicz’s poetry.3 Różewicz, called a poet of ruins, believed that it was impossible to write traditional poetry after World War II. The poetry of Wisława Szymborska and Zbigniew Herbert “brought the distilled, moral self-examination, skeptic and ironic.”4 Even though Czesław Miłosz had been in exile since 1950, and his writing was on the index of censorship, the poetic world was quite aware of the continuing poetic tension between him and Przyboś. Edward Balcerzan read the dynamics of the two poets in different ways, distinguishing the motion of signs in Miłosz and the motion of meanings in Przyboś. Naturally the latter was placed higher in his scale. He considered Miłosz’s poetry to be a form of stylization, and stylization always makes something seem older and conventional.5 Jan Błoński viewed poets such as Baczyński, Różewicz, Borowski, Białoszewski, Szymborska, and Herbert as generational peers, who gave different answers to same questions, to the experience of nihilism and the general crisis of the same ideals. After 1956, Polish poetry evolved fairly evenly, absorbing new trends, and during the political opposition struggles of the 1960s and 70s made use of linguistic templates to deconstruct the language of propaganda and ideology. The names of Stanisław Barańczak, Krzysztof Karasek, Adam Zagajewski, Ryszard Krynicki, and others were 3 4 5

Jan Błoński, Odmarsz (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1978), 182–83. Cf. Andrzej Lam, Głosy z ubocza, reprint in Błoński, Odmarsz, 229. Cf. Edward Balcerzan, Polaryzacje sztuki poetyckiej, reprint in Błoński, Odmarsz, 216.



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recognized as the leading poets of the New Wave. Every new generation brought its own understanding of “modernity.” Hence the question of “modernity” has been addressed with remarkable regularity. In 1937 the innovative Polish poet Bolesław Leśmian, whose work inspired a few generations of modern poets, writes: Actually, one should analyze historically and psychologically this intricate, periodic phenomenon that is called modernity in art and literature. What is it composed of, what are its content and gestures? Perhaps solely gestures? Perhaps it might turn out that the tone and posture of this modernity are always the same, regardless of the time in which they predominate? Does modernity suffice as an impulse and a source? Isn’t it something that just passed a minute ago, or something that is passing right now?6

T. S. Eliot’s essay “Reflections on Verse Libre,” which preceded Leśmian’s statement on modernity by twenty years, similarly focuses on the protean nature of art: When a theory of art passes it is usually found that a groat’s worth of art has been bought with a million of advertisement. The theory that sold the wares may be quite false, or it may be confused and incapable of elucidation, or it may never have existed. A mythical revolution will have taken place and produced a few works of art which perhaps would be even better if still less of the revolutionary theories clung to them. In modern society such revolutions are almost inevitable.7

The new modern and postmodern trends in poetry are accompanied by perhaps even more modern and postmodern literary, critical and theoretical discussions. Critics try to sort out and label every new turn. The interesting young Polish poet and critic Robert Mielhorski recently stated in his book Strategies and Myths of Modernity: “The modern poet is one who concerns himself with the vital tendencies of his time.”8 In his analysis of modern and postmodern strategies, Mielhorski includes such phenomena as widely understood sponsors of poetry. For example, during the infatuation with Marxism many poets who débuted as modernists, futurists, cubists, and avant-gardists renounced those strategies to become socialist realists. They created quite traditional verse, believing that they were poets who concerned themselves with the vital tendencies of their time and that they were modern. Sometimes striving for modernity may have ulterior, non-poetic motivations. I will cite another quotation from Miłosz: “Just

6 7 8

B. Leśmian, “Z rozmyślań o poezji,” in his Szkice literackie, comp. and ed. J. Trznadel (Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1959), 79 [Tr. A.F.] T. S. Eliot, To Criticize the Critic, and Other Writings (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965), 184. Robert Mielhorski, Strategies and Myths of Modernity (Toruń: Dom Wydawniczy DUET, 2008), 38, note 27.

Must Poetry Be Absolutely Modern? as the opinions of poets often are in disagreement with what issues from their pens, so rhetoric often passes for poetry and is its temporary substitute.”9 The prominent Polish poet, scholar and theoretician, Edward Balcerzan, author of many critical assessments of poetry, replied the following when I asked him about his assessment of contemporary poetry: To your question about the credible interpretation of contemporary Polish poetry, I have to answer in the negative: I don’t know of any such synthesis, there are too many discrepancies of styles and poetic schools, far too many generational games, the postmodern novelties confused too many heads, which now favor the selfportrait of the critic over the effort to describe the situation of literature. We do not have one poetry, we have several of them. I do not participate in it, it is hard for me to write about writers younger than myself. There is some generational blockade. 10

In 1972, the same author did attempt a synthesis of modern poetry, of which he was a part as poet and critic, in his book Through Signs. The Borders of Autonomy of the Art of Poetry. Based on Polish Contemporary Poetry: The system of theoretical generalizations reveals its senses in the confrontation of the two realities: the past, closed, eras the new era open for the artistic innovations. The reality of every day tests and verifies theoretical models. Revises their universality from the base, from the fundamental questions: What is literature? What is poetry? But, let me add, any such period will also be closed, and what remains is the universal, authentic value, not experimentation alone.11

We all know Paul Valéry’s famous remark that poetry is “language within a language.” A generation later, the Polish poet Józef Wittlin wrote that “every truly original writer is an alien in his own land.”12 In 1998, Kenneth Koch, the poet and teacher of poetry at Columbia University, published his essay “The Language of Poetry” in the New York Review of Books. Let me quote from his opening statement: “Poetry is often regarded as a mystery, and in some respects it is one. No one is quite sure where poetry comes from, no one is quite sure exactly what it is, and no one knows really, how anyone is able to write it.”13 9 Miłosz, The Witness of Poetry, 16–17. 10 Edward Balcerzan, personal e-mail. 11 Edward Balcerzan, Przez znaki; granice autonomii sztuki poetyckiej na materiale polskiej poezji współczesnej [Through Signs. The Borders of Autonomy of the Art of Poetry. Based on Polish Contemporary Poetry] (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1972), 15. 12 Józef Wittlin “The Splendor and the Squalor of Exile,” in Tyrmand, Explorations in Freedom: Prose, Narrative, and Poetry from Kultura, 5. 13 Kenneth Koch, “The Language of Poetry,” New York Review of Books, May 14, 1998, 44–48.



Part One

On Poetry

I am quoting these voices of poets representing different generations—and languages—to support my view that it is not modernity that defines poetry, but something much deeper, more magical, and authentic. It can be modern, postmodern, or removed from any concept of modernity. Quite often we criticize, or dismiss, poems and poets of the past for over-stylization and mannerism, but the very modern or postmodern poetry is not free of these sins. We should not only ask if a given poem is a modern poem, but also whether this modern poem is a real poem. Mere technicality, no matter how modern, stiffens into artificiality. Striving toward modernity should not be the end in itself, or at least not the beginning. The poem should arise from something greater than merely the desire to comply. In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke gives some vital advice: “A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity”; and the creative individual “must always remain unconscious, unsuspecting of his best virtues.”14 And to his wife he wrote: “Everyone must find in his work the center of his life and thence be able to grow out radially as far as may be.”15 The question of whether poetry has to be modern is not that relevant to me. Poetry must answer the poet’s authentic need and it must address the reader’s authentic need. For me Rilke’s statement about the wound speaks louder than many modern and postmodern manifestos. Perhaps because exile provided me with a terrible wound and a unique perspective on my own experience. There is an entire spectrum of poems that not only move me, but also satisfy my deep existential and intellectual needs, whether it is a sixteenth-century Polish Renaissance poem by Jan Kochanowski, a nineteenthcentury Romantic lyric by Lermontov, or quite modern poems by such Polish poets as Różewicz, Karpowicz and Białoszewski. Not to mention the world-famous Polish poets—Herbert, Miłosz, and Szymborska. In his poem “Wiedza” (Knowledge), Różewicz writes: “the world will not come to an end / poetry will drag itself /on / towards Arcady / or the opposite way.”16 I do admire Zbigniew Herbert’s very modern poetry, and yet his quite structured (rhymed and rhythmical) poem “Guziki” (Buttons) at every reading gives me the traumatic shock that it is intended to produce. I need poetry to sustain me. If the poem is authentic, if it possesses some sort of intrinsic magnetic power it moves me more than the mere manifestation of modernity. On many occasions I have started to read a modern poem in The New Yorker or The New York Review of Books and find that I cannot read it to the end. Often I am bored, or I am reminded of the saying that yesterday’s shock is today’s bore. But sometimes today’s shock is a bore from the start. Years ago I cut out James Fenton’s poem “Hintertof,” which opens with the words “Stay near to me” and I taped it to the wall over my desk. I needed this poem “to stay

14 Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, tr. M. D. Herter (New York: Norton, 1962), 20, 31. 15 Ibid., 99. 16 Tadeusz Różewicz, “Knowledge,” tr. Adam Czerniawski, in his They Came to See A Poet, vol. 3 (London: Anvil Press Poetry, 2011), 174.

Must Poetry Be Absolutely Modern? near me.” I needed to admire the mastery with which this very contemporary poet uses traditional strategies. Years later, when James Fenton visited Columbia University, I asked him to sign that yellowed piece of paper and I framed it. Rereading this poem is one of my guilty pleasures: Stay near to me, stay true to me, I’ll stay As near, as true to you as heart could pray. Heart never hoped that one might be Half of the things you are to me— The dawn, the fire, the rainbow and the day.

October 2012



Two Unknown Soldiers (Józef Wittlin)


ózef Wittlin’s The Salt of the Earth (1935), the Polish epic vision of World War I, has attracted no less attention than other works that reflect this war, for example, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Schweik, and Henri Barbusse’s  Under Fire. One more work may be added to this list, Albert Camus’ last and unfinished book, The First Man, which critics have called “a pilgrimage to his past and to his private world,”1 “his search for his father, and, more expansively, his childhood,” a “metaphysical quest to learn some illuminating truth about his father,”2 and “Camus’ own quest for identity.”3 When the English translation of The First Man appeared, I immediately sensed its affinity with Wittlin’s text. The two things in Camus’ novel that struck me the most in this respect were the significance the author assigned to the theme of World War I and the preoccupation, bordering on obsession, with the notion of the “unknown.” Justification for this comparison is inherent in the very persona of Piotr Niewiadomski, whom Józef Wittlin considered a representative of a certain class. Moreover, Wittlin saw his own book as “testimony to the war as seen, experienced, and suffered by simple soldiers.”4 And if Wittlin found in Gandhi an embodiment of a new Franciscan idea, I see Henry Cormery as a literary counterpart to Piotr Niewiadomski.5 Across the battle lines of World War I, two men, equally “unknown,” as seen by two great writers.  It is remarkable that Camus, who took part in the resistance movement during World War II and who was involved in the bitter philosophical conflict over the Cold 1 2 3 4 5

Victor Brombert, “Boyhood’s Dark Fire,” New York Times Book Review, August 27, 1995. Will Blythe, “The Return of a Lone Stranger,” Esquire (August 1995). Elizabeth Hawes, “Sunlight and Silence,” The Nation, October 2, 1995.  Józef Wittlin, “Józef Wittlin o sobie,” in Eseje rozproszone, ed. Paweł Kądziela (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Książkowe Twój STYL, 1995), 181. Cf. interview with Józef Wittlin in Eseje rozproszone.

Two Unknown Soldiers (Józef Wittlin) War and the liberation war of Algeria, felt it necessary in his mature years to return to the topic connected with his own origins, and the origins of the twentieth century— World War I. And now, at the close of the century, we are given a book that brings home once again the senselessness of the horrific slaughter with which this century began. In his “Postcriptum to Salt of the Earth after 35 Years,” Wittlin writes: “Time, instead of distancing us from the war of 1914-1918, now automatically brought it closer to us.” Camus may have experienced a similar perception during the writing of The First Man. “Camus’ deep loyalty to the worlds of high art and simple human existence,” writes one critic, “may be sensed in almost everything he wrote, but nowhere more poignantly than in The First Man.”6 Even accidental congruencies are telling: both writers served apprenticeships in the theater, and both shared a great affinity for Mozart.7 Their first published novels brought instant fame to both authors. Camus’ first novelistic attempt, A Happy Death, was written before The Stranger and published posthumously, while Wittlin’s incomplete sequel to his renowned Salt of the Earth was entitled A Healthy Death. The titles of both books draw upon religious imagery. Sól ziemi (Salt of the Earth) comes from the Gospel (Matthew 5:13); The First Man is not a literal quotation but it is a Biblical conjecture or notion as well. Both books were meant to be the first parts of an epic trilogy. Even the differences appear to be reversed analogies. Salt of the Earth was instantly translated into many languages, earned Wittlin an international reputation, and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize. It remained Wittlin’s only novel. Camus’ The First Man, called by one critic “a vital example of a writer’s craft,”8 is the posthumous work of a Nobel laureate, the author of several novels and other works. Finally, both books in question are unfinished, each in its own way. Camus’ for obvious reasons—the manuscript was found in the wreckage of the car in which the author died in an accident in 1960. The First Man, Camus’ last and unfinished novel, would perhaps have been the Nobel laureate’s masterpiece, his last testament. Wittlin’s first and only novel, which the writer considered the first part of a trilogy, is a masterpiece and apparently his testament. Some believed that Wittlin could not finish his grand project because the experience of another war and exile stood in his way. One could say that life prevented Wittlin from finishing his first great fiction, and death prevented Camus from finishing his last. Both writers shared the habit of endlessly revising their manuscripts, and both suffered from writer’s block. Both Wittlin and Camus studied the newspapers very closely for factual material. And they both abhorred capital punishment. In his unpublished notes, Wittlin writes that it is inhumane because a man cannot impose on another something that he himself has never experienced. Anyone who has read The Stranger and The Plague remembers Camus’ compelling and powerful protest against capital punishment. 6 7 8

Robert Royal, “The Other Camus,” Wilson Quarterly (Autumn 1995). In his essay “The Artist and His Time” Camus mentions “divine liberty so apparent in the work of Mozart.” A. Camus,  Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (New York, Vintage Books, 1995), 250. Publishers Weekly, July 17, 1995.



Part Two

On Polish Prose

Both writers stripped the war of its ideological trappings and portrayed it as institutionalized killing. They strongly emphasized the unresolvable conflict between the humanitarian and the patriotic points of view. Rising above “patriotic” themes, Wittlin’s novel is unique in Polish literature and is endowed with a universal message. Thirty-five years later, Wittlin coined a special term for our murderous civilization, calling it “the cadaver civilization.” Similarly unorthodox from the “patriotic” point of view is Camus’ argument in his last novel. In the chapter “Notes and Sketches” we read: “When my father was called to the colors, he had never seen France. He saw it and was killed. (What a modest family like mine has given to France.)”9 There are other parallels as well. When The First Man appeared, many critics expressed their astonishment that Albert Camus was not ashamed to expose his humble roots. “What is less known, and what alters our overall view of Camus,” wrote one reviewer, “is the emphasis he gives to the aliterate, basically ahistorical silence of the people from whom he sprang. It is one of Camus’ admirable qualities that his family, which knew nothing of civilizations, history, or wars other than their immediate effects on family members, never caused him shame or self-doubt.”10 In one of Wittlin’s texts we read this confession: “An authentic writer does not try violently to pull up his roots and transplant them to foreign soil. Such an operation would place him in danger of being charged with pretentiousness, if not ridicule.”11 Both writers were preoccupied with the theme of exile, and both wrote on this theme with passion. Both seemed destined to be exiles. Camus was a Frenchman, born in Algeria, and later a French Algerian in France. Because of his convictions he was alienated to a great degree from the society he was part of, “as silent,” writes one critic, “as if he were in exile.”12 In Camus’ Plague the frequency of the word “exile” is second only to the word “plague”; in The First Man the eyes of the horses brought from France “were those of exiles” (FM, 47). A scholar writing about Camus’ “Exile and the Kingdom” pointed to the “polarity emphasized in the title.”13 A very similar polarity is to be found in the title of Wittlin’s essay “The Splendor and Squalor of Exile.” For Józef Wittlin, a Jew in Poland, a fervent Catholic by choice, who never denied his Jewish roots, exile was a condition even before it had become his fate. In his letter to Zofia Starowiejska-Morstinowa, written just before Christmas of 1928, Wittlin writes: “It is better to be a guest in a foreign country than in one’s own.”14 Let’s take a closer look at the unknown heroes of the two unfinished novels written by men who were born and died as exiles. 9 10 11 12 13 14

Albert Camus, The First Man, tr. David Hapgood (New York: Vintage, 1996), 291. All notes to this edition will be marked FM and given in the text in parentheses. Royal, “The Other Camus.” Translation of “Pre-Exiled Affidavit” (unpublished). Elizabeth Howes, “Sunlight and Silence,” The Nation, October 2, 1995, 358–60. Judith D. Suther, ed., Essays on Camus’s Exile and the Kingdom (Oxford, MS: University of Mississippi, 1980), 15. “Właściwie ta bezdomność wygnała mnie z kraju, uważam bowiem, że lepiej być gościem na obczyźnie, niż u siebie w kraju” (December 22, 1928). This letter was published in Tygodnik Powszechny 9, March 3, 1996.

Two Unknown Soldiers (Józef Wittlin) Henri Cormery, the father of the main protagonist in The First Man, was an Alsatian in Algeria, “an emigrant, child of emigrants,” an orphan who only in his adult years learned how to read and write, “hardened to fatigue, closemouthed, but easygoing and fair-minded” (FM, 64). An able man who, given the opportunity, learned everything about wine. Killed at the moment when he was for the first time on his way to gain a better life for himself and his family. His powerful protest against the random cruelty that he witnessed in the earlier war attests to his integrity. Piotr Niewiadomski resembles Cormery in many ways. Orphaned early, with a Polish father whom he never knew, hard-working, hoping for promotion at his railroad job, but unhappy when he got it for the wrong reason, he also is called to arms when his somewhat stabilized situation at last promises some moments of inner peace. War breaks out in August. It comes at harvest time, breaking the natural cycle, harvesting men instead of crops. Both draftees have already passed their service years and are called to arms in the second round of mobilization. Henry Cormery, born in 1885, is younger than Piotr Niewiadomski, born in 1873. Piotr Niewiadomski stands at the swearing-in ceremony on August 25, before the fall of Lvov on September 3, 1914; Henry Cormery has been mortally wounded at the first battle of the Marne that ended on September 11. He dies of these wounds a month later, on October 11. There are many parallel images in the two books. The constable comes in Śniatyń County in Eastern Europe, just as he comes in Algeria, to notify both men of their mobilization: “Mysterious orders had arrived,” writes Camus, “brought out into the bush by a sweating, weary constable, and they had to leave the farm where they were just getting ready to harvest the grapes” (FM, 68). In the Salt of the Earth we read: “Over the whole world gendarmes were spoiling people’s appetites.”15 The news about the war is perceived by those that are affected as a dark night. For Henry’s wife and Jacques’s mother, whose perception is central to this line of the plot of The First Man, “Into the night of the world she could not imagine, and the history she did not know, a still darker night had just come” (FM, 68). In The Salt of the Earth Piotr “turned his back on the sky, the earth, and the falling night” (Salt, 68). In The First Man the parish priest Monsieur le Curé comes to the station in Bône for the draftees’ departure; in Salt of the Earth the parish priest does not come.  The Biblical image of locusts invading the area, topoi of plague and annihilation, is elaborated in one book and allegorized in the other. In The First Man: “The war was there, like an evil cloud thick with dark menace, but you could not keep it from invading the sky, no more than you could stop the locusts or the devastating storms that would swoop down on the high plains of Algeria” (FM, 68). In The Salt of the Earth: “At dawn man swarmed in every town like a cloud of locusts” (Salt, 22). The scorching heat accompanies the draft in both novels. It is natural because of the season, yet this natural phenomenon is assigned an additional function, it dehumanizes: “men are abominable, especially under a ferocious sun”—says the old doctor in The First Man (FM, 191). 15 Joseph Wittlin, The Salt of the Earth, tr. Pauline De Chary (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1970), 69. Henceforth citations to this translation will be marked as Salt and will be given in the text in parentheses following the quotation.



Part Two

On Polish Prose

The theme of playing down the severity of the conflict is emphasized in both books. In The Salt of the Earth the constable reassures Piotr that the war will be over before Christmas. “He said ‘before Christmas’; but he was really convinced that the war would be over in a month” (FM, 66). The theme of a swift end to the war returns time and again. In The First Man Lucie reminisces: “He would come back soon, that was what everyone was saying. . . .” Even the major task that each narrator sets for himself is similar. Józef Wittlin ends the “Prologue” of Salt of the Earth with the unforgettable canto: Unknown is the man who first lost his life in this war. Unknown is the man who slew him. Unknown is the man who fell last in this war. My word shall raise him from the earth in which he lies [my emphasis] and for this he will forgive me. Unknown is the Unknown Soldier.

The narrator of The First Man, prompted by the same impulse, creates the image of his father. After visiting his father’s grave, which for him is the grave of an “unknown man,” unknown to him, he exhumes his image, by and large, from the scant memories of his illiterate and partially deaf mother. Certain parts of the narration are told from her point of view, and because she made her son visit the grave she is the initiator of the process. In The First Man Camus applies a device representative of pacifist literature to narrate the story from his mother's naive point of view. At the same time, we know that Camus’ novel is to a great degree autobiographical, so it is not entirely a mystification, not merely a strategy. Wittlin’s protagonist is also illiterate. Showing the world through the unique perception of simple, uneducated people allows the writer a terrific opportunity to use the effect (device) of defamiliarization. But it also creates the opportunity to show the images through a clear lens, untarnished by propaganda cliché. These minds are more open to images than to abstraction, which makes these two voices poetic. In his commentary, Wittlin calls Piotr a poet. Asked by the stationmaster to hang the imperial war proclamation, Piotr Niewiadomski pastes them upside down, because for the first time he is dealing with posters without pictures. But his mistake, like any mistake, is also indicative of a deeper phenomenon—war is an abstraction, and it turns everything upside down. When Jacques’s mother receives the envelope with the notification of her husband’s death she does not open it, because she cannot read; she lies on her bed “for many hours, silent and without tears, squeezing the envelope in her pocket and staring into the dark at the misfortune she did not understand” (FM, 72). Piotr handles his draft summons the same way. “The blue paper lay in Peter’s motionless hands, like a pictured saint clasped between the stiff fingers of the dead. And suddenly he grew frightened of the paper which he could not understand” (Salt, 66). Camus’ book argues that, despite the fact that Henry Cormery is buried in a marked grave that is cared for, he remains “unknown” to his family, son, and wife.

Two Unknown Soldiers (Józef Wittlin) Soldiers dying in their young, formative years are even unknown to themselves. He is one more Peter Unknown—Piotr Niewiadomski. What in Salt of the Earth is assigned to one character, in The First Man is distributed among three. “First man as a self-made man without a father”16 is like Niewiadomski-Unknown, nameless in a mass of many. In Camus’ book the son and the father lead rootless and traditionless lives and are each a “first man.” Piotr also thinks of himself as a “first man,” however in a slightly different context. While waiting to be examined by the commission, he reflects on nakedness: “And suddenly Piotr Niewiadomski was ashamed of his nakedness, even as Adam was ashamed after he had eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Salt, 78). Nakedness, symbolizing vulnerability, is a not unimportant characteristic of a “first man.” The very notion underlying both titles is tightly connected to the earth. The name of the first man (Adam) derives from the word signifying earth. About the “salt of the earth” we read in Smith’s Bible Dictionary: “In addition to the uses of salt already specified, the inferior sorts were applied as a manure to the soil, or to hasten the decomposition of dung.” Smith also makes use of the Gospel verse: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing, but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Matthew 5:13). This quotation serves as a motto to Wittlin’s novel. In The First Man Camus writes about men that “were destroyed in droves, and began to fertilize a narrow stretch of land?” (FM, 70). In both novels the link with the soil, the earth, rather than a country, is underscored in many ways. “Living blood reservoirs had to be examined before their contents were tapped. Therefore, physicians listened to their murmur, placed their ears against the sons of the earth, as though they were the earth itself ” (Salt, 96), writes Wittlin. Another, broader unifying theme is the mythologem of an orphaned child,17 often presented in the myth where “the child-god is usually an abandoned foundling.”18 This motif, present in both books, seems to be connected to the theme of the “unknown soldier.” Piotr Niewiadomski, a legitimate child, grew up without a father. His distant ancestor, however, must have been the son of the unknown, hence the last name Niewiadomski, corresponding with the “unknown soldier,” and leading to the broader assumption about man’s end and beginning. There is another fatherless child in this novel—the illegitimate child of Piotr's sister. Piotr loves his nephew, and when the latter dies, it is as if he were orphaned for a second time. He himself is sterile and cannot have children. Finally, Piotr’s lover Magda is an orphan. They are all “first men” to themselves. Even Dr. Jellinek, a rather unsympathetic figure, reminisces about his dead father (Salt, 90). In the highly autobiographical The First Man, the theme of the orphan is equally significant. Jacques Cormery’s father was orphaned and exploited by his siblings. What 16 Brombert, “Boyhood’s Dark Fire,” 28. 17 Accidentally or not, I found it in the book that once belonged to Wittlin and was given to me by his family. 18 C. G. Jung and C. Kerényi, Essays on a Science of Mythology (New York: Pantheon Books, 1949), 38ff.



Part Two

On Polish Prose

little we know about him, or perhaps precisely because we know so little about him, renders this theme proportionally critical. His son is orphaned by his death, and it is at this juncture where the theme of orphan and the theme of being unknown meet. In mythology an orphaned child often becomes a savior—an unknown soldier is also a savior because he gives his life for others. In The First Man Jacques considers himself and his poor fatherless friend Pierre, with whom he plays on the grounds of the Home for Disabled Veterans, “children in short, unknown to and ignorant of God” (FM, 209). In school, while listening to the story of World War I, “he never made any but a theoretical connection with the father he never knew” (FM, 147). These are the thoughts that come upon him when he thinks of the “father, whom he had never seen, whose very height he had never seen.” Similarly, Piotr, who inherited his name and a sheepskin coat from his father, “had never known his father” (Salt, 35). And later, when contemplating his sex act, Piotr recognizes the unknown father in his most natural instincts: “To some extent, he was unconsciously fulfilling the duty laid on him as a heritage by his unknown Polish father—Niewiadomski” (Salt, 144). Jacques Cormery, “unable to reconstruct his father’s identity,”19 finds his father in himself as well, and his mother tells him that he looks like his father. But he also finds his father’s legacy in his own physical revulsion from violence. On his search for traces of his father’s past, Jacques thinks about the French immigrants’ arrival to Algeria: “to them it was the end of the world, between the deserted sky and the dangerous land.” In this still unedited manuscript we find an asterisk after the word “land” and in the footnote the word “unknown.” As if the author considered “unknown” the synonym of “dangerous.” In the Salt of the Earth the indignity of being “unknown” is also brought by the war upon the land itself. For security reasons Piotr is told to take the signboard off the station building. “To rob the station of its signboard was just the same as robbing a man of his name. […] The duty assigned to him by the stationmaster shook Piotr’s belief in the whole system of the universe. […] All that remained was a lonely little building beside the tracks, without a name, without a head, without a soul” (Salt, 134, 137). The notion that a name is the reflection of a soul goes back to the ancient Egyptians.20 Piotr dislikes anonymity and namelessness. While carrying freight at the station, he “hated […], the anonymous weight, more than he hated those to whom it belonged” (Salt, 165). When he reflects on his childhood, we read: “In the Śniatyń district illnesses were nameless. Nameless, they attack man—nameless they passed” (Salt, 226). The theme of “the unknown” is equally painful to Jacques Cormery: “Yes, how they died! How they were still dying! In silence and away from everything, as his father had died in an incomprehensible tragedy far from his native land, after a life without a single free choice—from the orphanage to the hospital, the inevitable marriage along the way, a life that grew around him, in spite of him, until the war killed and buried him; from then and forever unknown to his people and his son, he too was returned to that 19 Blythe, “The Return of the Lone Stranger.” 20 Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols.

Two Unknown Soldiers (Józef Wittlin) immense oblivion that was the ultimate homeland of the man of his people, the final destination of a life that began without roots?” (FM, 194). And further on that same page: “There was a mystery about that man, a mystery he had wanted to penetrate. But after all there was only the mystery of poverty that creates beings without names and without a past, that sends them into the vast throng of the nameless dead?” (FM, 194). In the Salt of the Earth Magda wakes up crying from a nightmare and Piotr realized for the first time the orphan’s misery, and his own, and the misery of all his generation” (Salt, 146). Camus examines the problem from all sides. In the following pages we find “silence of anonymity,” “the country without name,” the wish to escape and then “craving darkness and anonymity,” “eternal anonymity,” “illegible slabs in the cemetery” (FM, 195–96). Even before entering the cemetery, “The traveler stopped in front of one of these shops to watch a bright-looking child in a corner who was doing his homework on a marble slab that had yet to be inscribed” (FM, 23). It is an image of immense symbolism. Yearning to be “known,” to shed this abysmal anonymity, is not alien to Piotr. He is overwhelmed by the thought that the Emperor might have personally sent him the draft order: “So the Emperor knows me? He wants me, and so he writes to me and calls me ‘Herr.’ ‘Herr Piotr Niewiadomski’” (Salt, 67–68). Later, when his name is entered into the register, Piotr again contemplates the fact that this name will go to the Emperor. But we know that even if it does, he will still be just an “unknown” because that is what his name signifies. “Another variation on the [orphan] theme is when the mother shares the child’s abandonment and solitude,’ writes Kerényi.21 In both novels this theme is differently distributed but elaborated with equal tenderness, and poverty does not impoverish the mother-son relationship. In the Salt of the Earth it is the mother of Piotr, the unknown soldier, in The First Man it is the wife of a fallen soldier, the mother of the main protagonist. In both books the mother figure is the epitome of motherhood, and at the same time her image is exceptionally particular, artistically complete, emotionally charged. If we can imagine that texts can converse with each other, a dialogue certainly exists between these two. In The First Man Camus makes the now famous statement: “Remembrance of things past is just for the rich. For the poor it only marks faint traces along the path to death” (FM, 80). Nevertheless, poor Piotr Niewiadomski experiences a very Proustian sensation while eating his first bowl of soup at the army base. He recalled how his mother, during the deadly sickness, brought him back to life by feeding him soup. The scene, permeated with intense lyricism, corresponds with many mother-related moments in The First Man. Interestingly enough, critics noticed that in this book for the first time Camus’ cadence is longer, and the sentences are “a bit Proustian.”22

21 Jung and Kerényi, Essays on a Science of Mythology, 40. 22 Adele King, ““Le premiere homme: Camus’s Unfinished Novel,”  World Literature Today (Winter 1995):, 83.



Part Two

On Polish Prose

We know that in Wittlin’s own mythology “offering soup” has a redeeming function. Czesław Miłosz mythologized it further in his famous A Treatise on Poetry, where he writes: “Wittlin puts a spoonful of soup into the grizzled mouth of human hunger.”23 Another aspect of the mother theme is the topic of the motherland, similarly treated in both novels. In each book protagonists are both confused about the motherland-fatherland notion, and totally alienated from it. Piotr Niewiadomski of ToporyCzernielica is called to defend the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is a total abstraction to him, as is France for Cormery, who died in the Battle of the Marne. Piotr, loyal to the imperial railroad, is totally confused about what his other loyalties should be; he is lost in the labyrinth of nations, kingdoms, and other units of Austria-Hungary. In his “Short Commentary to the Salt of the Earth,” Wittlin writes: “Certainly, had Piotr Niewiadomski had an ability to use in his thinking common metaphors, he would call Austria his mother, like many patriots of this or other countries. We know, however, that Piotr in his spiritual life had no use for clichéd metaphors. In general, he created his own metaphor and possessed his own mythology. Therefore the motherland for him was not even a stepmother.”24 Camus deals with this topic on many levels, and on each of these levels he makes the reader realize the bitter truth—for his protagonists France is also not even a stepmother. It is this country that sends them all to death, “dressed in smart shining colors, straw hats on their heads, red-and-blue targets you could see for hundreds of meters…” (FM, 70). Jacques’s friend Didier says to him: “Your father died for our country.” But to Jacques this “our” is not inclusive as far as he is concerned, because he has no attic full of letters and portraits of ancestors, he does not call Joan d’Arc by her first name (FM, 209). The state of not knowing is characteristic of the exile.25 Jacques’ mother does not know what their country is. She is relieved to hear it is France, but she has to be told that. This knowledge comes to her from outside. Yet, they are very attached to their immediate geographic region, the so-called small motherland, even though there is always an obstacle that prevents total identification. Piotr is of mixed nationalities, Henry and his wife are immigrants, Jacques is the child of mixed immigrant parents. Like Wittlin’s protagonists, the young Jacques of The First Man sees himself totally outside the patriotic theme, regardless of the fact that his friend, his teacher, and even the government, sees him as privileged, or rather as deserving privilege, because his father died for the country.

23 Czesław Miłosz, A Treatise on Poetry, tr. the author and Robert Hass (New York: The Ecco Press, 2001), 23. 24 “Mały komentarz do Soli ziemi,” Wiadomości Literackie ( June 1936). 25 For Wittlin one of the most annoying things associated with exile was the state of being “unknown.” In his essay “The Splendor and Squalor of Exile” he bitterly mentions the necessity of spelling his name, a name once known well to the reading public. In one of his letters to Manfred Kridl he expresses resentment that students of Polish literature at the university misspelled his name on the invitation to a literary event.

Two Unknown Soldiers (Józef Wittlin) In a literary sense, the protagonists of both books share common origins. In his “Postscript to the Salt of the Earth Wittlin writes: “Piotr Niewiadomski as a fictional persona revealed himself to me in Paris only a few years after the war. […] I saw him in Paris in 1928 on the shining asphalt of the Place de la Concorde…” Perhaps one of the reasons for that mysterious appearance of Piotr in Paris is the fact that France was the first country to raise the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and in this sense it is the fatherland to all unknown soldiers. Perhaps the greatest gap between these two people is their anticipation of finding spiritual comfort in the face of death. In the interview quoted earlier, Wittlin expressed his conviction that it is to those poor and simple people to whom Jesus, St. Francis and Gandhi come. Piotr Niewiadomski’s worldview is also built on essentially religious premises. The protagonist created by Camus lives and dies in a greater void, although critics did notice Camus’ change of attitude toward the Judeo-Christian interpretation of the human condition.26 In the last section of The First Man, “Notes and Sketches,” we read: “His mother is Christ.” We know that Henry Cormery was a consciously moral person, and perhaps in that respect lonelier than Piotr Niewiadomski. Both Piotr Niewiadomski and Henry Cormery, represent a “first man,” an “unknown soldier,” an unknown exile in an unknown land and nameless reality. And, in the end, each becomes “the salt of the earth.” 2001

26 Cf. English Showalter, Jr.  Exiles and Strangers: A Reading of Camus’ “Exile and the Kingdom” (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1984).



Bruno Schulz: Mythmaker and Legend


runo Schulz’s extraordinary contribution to both Polish and world literature has been celebrated with growing international recognition since he was discovered by the Warsaw literati in 1933—nearly seventy years ago. November 19, 2002, marks the sixtieth anniversary of his death in the provincial, predominantly Jewish town of Drohobycz, where he was born and lived almost every day of his life. It was a death that might be characterized by the extreme irony which defined the victim’s fearful fictional vision—at the hands of an SS officer quartered in the town as the region was being “cleansed” of its tens of thousands of Jews. Schulz’s death was most certainly tragic; he was a victim of the Holocaust, a Jew killed by a deliberate executioner during what John Updike described as “a minor massacre in the Jewish ghetto of Drohobycz.”1 Ironically, his death, at least in part, was the result of the rivalry between two Nazis: Felix Landau, a Gestapo officer who valued Schulz’s artistic talent and sought to protect him—if only to exploit his ability to draw and paint—and Karl Günther, the SS man who retaliated by firing two shots into Schulz’s head after Landau killed a Jew Günther had chosen to befriend, the town dentist. Though he managed occasional trips to Warsaw and to Lwów, which at that time was an important center of Polish cultural life, and once, timidly, to Paris, where he hoped to exhibit his graphic art, Drohobycz was the only place on earth where Bruno Schulz could write. A small provincial town suddenly touched by the demon of twentieth-century capitalism, Drohobycz was for him both a curse and a blessing. A curse, because he was trapped there by his work as a teacher of drawing and crafts in the classical high school, and by the necessity to support his mother, sister and cousin. His inability to break these ties presumably hastened his death, because efforts were made by Zofia Nałkowska, his friend and a prominent novelist, to secure so-called “Aryan papers” and money for his rescue.


John Updike, “The Visionary of Drohobych,” New York Times, October 30, 1988.

Bruno Schulz: Mythmaker and Legend There is speculation on the matter of whether Schulz really wanted to leave Drohobycz. Artur Sandauer, the prominent critic and promoter of Schulz’s work, implied that in his masochism Schulz “instinctively consented to his death” by not leaving the town sooner.2 Many are offended by this “pseudo-psychoanalytic” interpretation of the events. Drohobycz was also Schulz’s blessing. This small town in the Galician province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, returned to Poland in 1918, was his greatest and strongest inspiration. It lives in all its amplitude in his fiction just as his stories live within the alleyways, gardens, and houses of the town. In his review published in 1989 in The New Republic, Stanisław Barańczak had this to say about the relationship between Shulz’s work and life: “What made Bruno Schulz Bruno Schulz was precisely the life he had to bear. Had he not been burdened with his provinciality, his Jewishness, his poverty, his inferiority complex, his swarms of other miseries, he would have been a happier man, and a more prolific writer. But probably he would not have been a great writer, and certainly not the unique writer we admire.” And Barańczak adds: “The writer we know was the result not only of the life he had to bear, but also of the way he challenged and resisted this life. The way he fought back.”3 During the last thirty years, Schulz’s renown has increased dramatically. Not only has his popularity and the critical assessment of his art increased, but the available body of his work has expanded. This growth we owe to the lifelong dedication of Jerzy Ficowski, the prominent poet and essayist, who shortly after the war started the search for every scrap of paper with Schulz’s writing or drawing. It is solely through Ficowski’s accomplishment that we can read Schulz’s letters and see his drawings and graphics. But despite the fact that Schulz’s works are now accessible in major European languages, there is still room for further searches and research. Even Ficowski himself, who holds in his hands the keys to the Schulzian sources, today expresses the hope of finding the author’s lost manuscript of the already legendary lost book, entitled Messiah. Perhaps there is still hope that more of his graphic works will also surface. There is even a chance that a photograph of Bruno Schulz exists in the files of the United States Department of Immigration and Naturalization, since it was confiscated from one of his friends while entering the States during the war. Much remains to be done in the way of academic research. Some dissertations and books have appeared in Poland and abroad. Recently several studies have appeared in the United States: The Polish Review published “Bruno Schulz and Comedy” by Theodosia S. Robertson and “Apology of Tandeta” by Andreas Schönle.4 Joanna 2 3 4

Artur Sandauer, “Rzeczywistość zdegradowana” (1957), in his Pisma zebrane (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1985), vol. 1, 578. Stanisław Barańczak, “The Faces of Mastery,” New Republic, January 2, 1989. Theodosia S. Robertson, “Bruno Schulz and Comedy,” Polish Review 36, no. 2 (1991): 119– 26; Andreas Schönle, “‘Cinammon Shops’ by Bruno Schulz: The Apology of ‘Tandeta,’” Polish Reivew 36, no. 2 (1991):177–41.



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Rostropowicz-Clark deals with Schulz’s “Jewishness” in her dissertation Jews and Judaism in Polish Romantic Literature.5 The war and Schulz’s tragic death undoubtedly casts a specific shade on our perception of his persona, as it does for different reasons on our perception of Kafka. And, as we can see, the legend of Schulz encourages many fantasies. But if we want to do justice to his literature, we have to remember that it was not his death that secured Schulz’s place in literature, but two small volumes of prose: Cinnamon Shops, published in 1934, and Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass, published in 1937. Schulz became an instant success immediately upon his debut in Polish literary journals. It is worth visualizing that situation: a teacher in a provincial school, a Jew, is awarded the Golden Laurel of the Polish Literary Academy. It gave him prominence, but no money. In fact, as Schulz complained in a letter to a colleague, it cost him because after receiving it he had to travel more often to Warsaw. Moreover, the publication of Cinnamon Shops was underwritten by his brother. Czesław Milosz remembers that in the late 1930s, “Schulz’s name was surrounded by a special, magical aura.” He also adds “that it is usually a certain feeling for an artist’s exceptional stature that announces his future fame.”6

The Triumvirate of Polish Modernist Literature The work of Bruno Schulz, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, and Witold Gombrowicz transformed Polish traditional literature into “modern prose.” One may ask: what is modern prose? Roman Jakobson defined two types of prose: in eighteenth-century prose, the first passer-by the protagonist meets is someone needed for the plot; in nineteenth-century prose, the first passer-by was irrelevant for the development of the plot, only the second one mattered. One may add that in modern prose the protagonist never meets the character relevant for the plot, because the plot itself is irrelevant. All Schulz needed was language, myth and his own tormenting complexes. In his own comments entitled “On the philosophical meaning of reality in Cinnamon Shops,” Schulz writes, “The matter that makes up this reality is in a state of perpetual fermentation, germination, potential life. There are no dead, hard, limited objects. Everything spreads beyond its own boundaries, remains for a moment in a given shape, only to abandon it at the first opportunity.” The processes of fermentation and germination, which fascinated him more than anything, he found in various degrees in his own town. After the discovery of oil in nearby Borysławiec, twentieth-century capitalism grasped the small town and he added to the old and familiar Cinnamon Shop the new, cheap, and at the same time devouring Street of Crocodiles. This accounts for the polarization of Schulz’s world, where traditional honesty in the trades was replaced by modern corruption. A similar polarization rules Schulz’s vision of man and woman, and the values attached to those worlds. 5 6

Joanna Rostropowicz-Clark, “Jews and Judaism in Polish Romantic Literature” (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1990). Czesław Miłosz, “A Few Words on Bruno Schulz,” New Republic, January 2, 1989, 30.

Bruno Schulz: Mythmaker and Legend “These parallel contrasts,” writes Sandauer, “between man and woman, traditional and modern, Good and Evil would be quite banal, if not for the masochism, which reverses the values, makes it ambiguous, and causes the hated evil to become the object of adoration.”7 Since literature is language, the true greatness of Schulz’s literature revealed itself through language, which, as Schulz writes in his essay, “The Mythologizing of Reality,” he considered to be “man’s metaphysical organ.”8 In that same essay he writes that “the word in its common usage today is only a fragment, a remnant of some former all-embracing integral mythology.”9 One of Schulz’s most often quoted pronouncements on art is the essay about himself, commissioned by Witkiewicz: “The role of art is to be a probe sunk into the nameless. The artist is an apparatus for registering processes in that deep stratum where value is formed.” And further: “In a work of art the umbilical cord linking it with the totality of our concerns has not yet been severed, the blood of the mystery still circulates; the ends of the blood vessels vanish into the surrounding night and return from it full of dark fluid.”10 His favored Polish poet Bołeslaw Leśmian would probably subscribe to these words. Schulz, a writer of fermentation, of creative, demiurgic myths, was able to internalize in his prose precisely that process of creation, germination and decay. He revived the old myths and replayed them in Drohobycz’s streets and marketplaces, in the old attics packed with empty bottles, forgotten rooms of old houses, and the backyards full of garbage, overgrown with weeds that were nothing short of a rain forest. He contributed a unique quality to the development of Polish prose, something that is an autonomous, creative force and decisive power. The “three most daring Polish experimenters,” Witkiewicz, Gombrowicz, and Schulz, became close friends and literary peers. Not only practitioners but theoreticians as well, their pronouncements are worthy of study. Witkiewicz shared Schulz’s devotion to the fine arts. In September 1939, upon news of the Soviet invasion, Witkiewicz committed suicide. Upon hearing about the outbreak of World War II, Gombrowicz chose self-exile in Argentina. Schulz, as we know, was killed in 1942. Only Gombrowicz was able to fulfill his literary and philosophical mission. Czesław Miłosz warns us not to position Schulz on the backdrop of the literature that has developed in the last sixty years: “It seems to me, however, that he represents a vanguard, an often prophetic spirit of Central European art prior to World War II, a war that brought about the murder perpetrated by Europe on itself. . . . My guess is that the best way to read these writers is to recognize the specificity of their intellectual A. Sandauer, “Wprowadzenie Schulza” (II), in his Pisma zebrane (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1985), 369. Original in French, Preuves (May 1960). 8 Bruno Schulz, “The Mythologizing of Reality,” in Letters and Drawing of Bruno Schulz, ed. Jerzy Ficowski, tr. Walter Arndt with Victoria Nelson (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 116. 9 Ibid., 115. 10 Bruno Schulz, “An Essay for S. I. Witkiewicz,” in Letters and Drawings of Bruno Schulz, ed. J. Ficowski (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 112-13. 7



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and artistic contribution, instead of attempting to integrate them into recent trends or fashions. Considered in that manner, Bruno Schulz reveals his uniqueness, his sense of a direction that could be taken by him only, that has not been taken, in fact, by anyone else.”11 However, John Updike calls Schulz, “a bold and profound literary theorist, whose program has a postmodern ring to it.”12 Not too many facts of Schulz’s life are known to us, and most of what is known we owe to Jerzy Ficowski’s findings as presented in his biographical portrait, Regions of the Great Heresy.13 Bruno Schulz was born on July 12, 1892, in Drohobycz, into the family of a respected textile merchant, Jakub Schulz. The family was Jewish, but fully assimilated. Galician Jews were usually not only fluent in Polish and German, but they were also well-read in Polish and German literature. In his review of Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass, Isaac Bashevis Singer writes that Schulz did not speak Yiddish, like most Jews in his town and throughout Poland, but Polish and also German. Yet “his father Jacob owned a dry-goods store, and it is hard to believe that he did not know Yiddish.” 14 Some call him an autodidact, but we know that he studied architecture for two years at Lwów Polytechnic, and spent a short time studying in Vienna. Artur Sandauer maintains that Schulz actually studied at Vienna’s Fine Art Academy for two years.15 Several factors prevented him from continuing his higher education, including poor health, World War I, his father’s illness and death, and the loss of the family home. Years of unemployment, loneliness, growing up, and fervent reading followed. His earliest drawings probably date to this period. In the early twenties, Schulz exhibited his works in group and individual exhibitions in Lwów, Vilnius, and Warsaw—at times in very prestigious exhibition halls like Warsaw’s Zachęta Gallery or Lwów’s Association of Friends of the Fine Arts. In 1924, Schulz started to teach drawing and crafts in a high school. Since he did not have a diploma or teaching certificate, he had to pass the exam of the commission of the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts, which granted credentials to those art teachers found qualified. He passed that exam in the spring of 1926. For eight years he did not participate in any serious exhibition. Jerzy Ficowski suggests that because of the personal and erotic nature of the drawings, Schulz did not want to antagonize the conservative educational circles. He exhibited again in 1930, and after his brilliant literary debut in 1935. The origin of his writing and the story of his debut is also fascinating. Two very interesting women had their share in these happenings. The first was Debora Vogel, 11 Miłosz, “A Few Words about Bruno Schulz,” 31. 12 Updike, “The Visionary of Drohobych,” New York Times, October 30, 1988, 3. 13 Jerzy Ficowski, Regions of the Great Heresy, tr. Theodosia Robertson (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003). 14 Isaac Bashevis Singer, “A Polish Franz Kafka,” New York Times Book Review, July 9, 1978, 1. 15 Artur Sandauer, “Rzeczywistość zdegradowana,” in Bruno Schulz, Proza (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1973), 18.

Bruno Schulz: Mythmaker and Legend a doctor of philosophy, an avant-garde poet and novelist who wrote in Yiddish and Polish. Schulz met Vogel in 1930 at Stanisław Witkiewicz’s house in Zakopane—a mountain resort in southern Poland. His letters to her, with her encouragement, would later become his stories. The original letters have all vanished. Another extraordinary story is connected with his debut. Polish interwar literary life was as competitive as any other. Schulz had his manuscript ready for three years, and only through a chain of women friends did he find his way to the famous and influential novelist Zofia Nałkowska. Anecdote has it that Schulz waited at Nałkowska’s friend’s apartment while she read the manuscript. Before his departure to Drohobycz he heard the longed-for verdict. The publication of Sklepy Cynamonowe (The Cinnamon Shops), the book that in its American edition is called The Street of Crocodiles, would change his life. It is worth stressing that by today’s standard Nałkowska was a traditional novelist, yet she was able to recognize Schulz’s genius and gave him her strong support, An affair with Nałkowska resulted, and was followed by a four-year, ultimately broken engagement to Józefina Szelińska. The affair with Zofia Nałkowska is documented in her published Diaries. As for the engagement, Jerzy Ficowski, keeping his promise, never revealed Szelińska’s name, but it was published in a small book by one of Schulz’s acquaintances, and in the book Letters and Drawings of Bruno Schulz we find acknowledgment of that source.16 I am mentioning this just to stress the fact that despite the fact that sixty years mark such a round anniversary, there are still people who were, and are touched, not only by the legend but by the person. Many vital documents were destroyed even before the war. Schulz’s correspondence with his friend Władysław Riff, with whom he exchanged his early literary attempts, was burned by the overzealous administration of the sanatorium where Riff died from tuberculosis. After the appearance of his first book, Schulz bound one of the copies with brown silk, decorated it with his own illustration and presented it to Nałkowska. Her secretary and a lover, Bogusław Kuczyński, burned the book out of envy. He was most probably jealous of Schulz’s talent. (Kuczyński lived in New York in the 1960s and 70s.) The rest of the papers’ annihilation was accomplished by war. The letters to Nałkowska were burned during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, while those to Józefina Szelińska burned, as we might put it, “accidentally.” The letters to Debora Vogel vanished with the addressee and her entire family. It is indeed a miracle that Jerzy Ficowski was able to collect an entire book of letters, which appeared in 1975 in Poland, and in 1989 published in the United States by Harper and Row as Letters and Drawings of Bruno Schulz, with Selected Prose. Ficowski considers Schulz’s letters his actual and spiritual autobiography; others call the letters his self-portrait. This year brings the publication of two long-awaited books which will bring Schulz’s persona closer to the American reader: Jerzy Ficowski’s Regions of the Great Heresy. Bruno Schulz, A Biographical Portrait, which I have already mentioned, and 16 Letters and Drawings of Bruno Schulz, ed. Jerzy Ficowski (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 58, footnote to Schulz’s letter to Zofia Nycz about Józefina Szelińska; Schulz’s fiancée’s name was disclosed in Regina Silberner’s Strzępy wspomnień [Shreds of Memory] (London: Oficyna Poetów i Malarzy, 1984).



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Henryk Grynberg’s Drohobycz, Drohobycz.17 Both books were developed for publication by the Jewish Heritage Project’s International Initiative in the Literature of the Holocaust and give us the closest access to Schulz’s life, world and death, beyond his own writings.

Schulz and Kafka: An Inevitable Comparison There is a tendency to link Schulz’s prose to that of Franz Kafka; almost every critic or scholar who deals with Schulz’s prose feels obligated to comment on the relationship. In 1978, Isaac Bashevis Singer takes an extreme position in his review of Schulz’s Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass, “A Polish Franz Kafka.”18 During a symposium held at the Kosciuszko Foundation, Harold Segel examined some aspects of this link, extending it even further to the writing of Danilo Kiš, who was perhaps the only contemporary writer who admits to Bruno Schulz’s influence. The commonly heard arguments in favor of Kafka’s influence on Schulz point to Schulz’s fluency in German, his stay in Vienna, as well as the fact that Schulz was the first to translate, with his fiancée, The Trial into Polish and wrote a very insightful afterword for that edition. His interpretation of Kafka’s novel is worth reading not only because it is brilliant, but because it is one of those interpretations not colored by later historical developments. Artur Sandauer formulated his opinion on the Schulz-Kafka relationship in his 1959 article for Lettres Nouvelles: Indeed, they both are Jews and come from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they both combine the biblical tradition with that of German culture, they both transcend from reality into myth. They even use some common devices and the change of Schulz’s Father is reminiscent of the metamorphosis of Gregor Samsa. There is, however, one basic difference: Kafka’s world is bound to goodness, while Schulz’s succumbs to a fascination with evil. The former is the ascetic, the latter sensualist.19

Sandauer emphasizes that Schulz yields precedence to the force of Kafka’s composition, but surpasses him with the force of his images. In her preface to the Complete Fiction of Bruno Schulz, Celina Wieniewska, Schulz’s first translator into English, advises the reader to exercise skepticism toward derivation theories. She points to the fact that allegedly, “Schulz first read The Trial when the book was sent to him to review after the publication of Cinnamon Shops. What is undoubtedly true is that the atmosphere of both Kafka’s and Schulz’s life in their respective provinces was not dissimilar.”

17 Henryk Grynberg, Drohobycz, Drohobycz, tr. Alicia Nitecki, ed. Theodosia Roberston (London: Penguin, 2002). 18 Isaac Bashevis Singer, “A Polish Franz Kafka,” 1. 19 Artur Sandauer, “Présentation de Bruno Schulz I,” Lettres Nouvelles, July 8, 1959.

Bruno Schulz: Mythmaker and Legend The crowning argument in favor of the similarities between the two writers is the theme of the metamorphosis of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, and Schulz’s father into a cockroach. However, the analogy is superficial, argues Jerzy Jarzębski: Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis is a realization of his inferiority complex, whereas the father’s transformation in Cinnamon Shops derives from his passion as an explorer; some of his experiments are triggered by his positive emotions, others by negative ones. Similarities notwithstanding, both writers differ in the decisive element of literature: language. Miłosz describes this difference as follows: “Exuberance, the luxury of his baroque prose, differentiates Schulz from the ascetic Kafka, and brings him close to being untranslatable.” At the same time Miłosz stresses: “His feeling of decay is no less strong than Kafka’s.” Rilke and Thomas Mann are two other German writers Schulz admired; Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers was his favorite book, and in Cinnamon Shops even a less scholarly reader can trace some affinities. It is also worth remembering that the topic of transformation of nineteenth-century capitalism into the twentieth-century variety, and the fall of the family, reflect the subject of Buddenbrooks. Schulz once wrote a tale in German and sent it to Thomas Mann. Despite repeated efforts, this manuscript and his letters to Mann have not been found in Mann’s archives. Other names are mentioned as Schulz’s more direct or distant inspirations, but with a writer of such uniqueness and force, one has to approach the problem of influence very cautiously. As a young literary novice, Sandauer met Schulz before the war, and visited him several times. In 1942, a letter he had sent to Schulz was returned, bearing the designation: “Addressee unknown.” He knew what that meant. At the same time, sixty years ago, a second writer’s fascination with Schulz began: Jerzy Ficowski, who would become renowned as a poet and historian, read Cinnamon Shops at the age of eighteen: “When I experienced in 1942 the incomparable emotion which accompanies a first reading of Schulz’s works, it turned out to be the last year of his life.”20 He never learned whether the letter he wrote expressing his admiration ever reached Schulz. Since 1947 he has never betrayed his cause. He has gathered, edited, and published whatever he could find, and has written several books of essays concerning Schulz and his legend. During the Stalinist, or so-called socialist-realist period in Poland, Schulz’s name was absolutely taboo, and his first book was not republished until 1957, with Sandauer’s long essay: “Reality Degraded.”21 To this day, along with Ficowski’s Regions of Great Heresy, these are the major interpretative statements on Schulz’s narrative art. However, during the last thirty years interest in Schulz has greatly increased among younger scholars of various schools and methodologies, for example, Jerzy Jarzębski, Czesław Karkowski, Theodosia Robertson, and others. 20 Jerzy Ficowski, Regions of the Great Heresy: Bruno Schulz, A Biographical Portrait, tr. Theodosia Robertson (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), 25. 21 Bruno Schulz, Proza (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1957). The same publishing house reprinted this volume in 1973. This later edition contains Sandauer’s essay “Rzeczywistość zdegradowana,” 6–35.



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Joanna Rostropowizc-Clark, who may be credited for persuading Philip Roth to publish The Street of Crocodiles in the Penguin series, claims that only Schulz’s “problematic” Jewishness, or his alleged guilt of betrayal, have found its reflection in critical assessments, while the more significant topic of the influence of esoteric Judaism remains to be fully explored. Since then the works of Jan Błonski and Władysław Panas of Poland, and of Szalom Lindenbaum of Israel have made major explorations into Schulz and his relationship to esoteric Judaism. Our perception of Schulz depends on the interplay of three aspects: his literary work, his graphic work, and his life. They all reflect on one another, but they are autonomous parts of a multi-talented artist’s life. Literature comes first, and it is because of his literature that we pay greater attention to his art than we would otherwise. But chronologically it was the art that came first. It was in that medium that Schulz tried to express all that he so uniquely expressed in his prose: his masochism, Satanism, fetishism, Drohobycz, his complexes, and every other wound. As an admirer of Rilke, he could certainly appreciate the necessity of being wounded. When his graphic art is discussed, a few possible influences are mentioned: Goya, Brueghel, Cranach, Dürer, and such demonologists of the nineteenth century as Rops, Munch, or Beardsley. Some critics appreciated his art on its own merits. Stanisław Witkiewicz, a painter himself, admired Schulz as an artist without reservation. In the introduction to his 1935 interview with Schulz, Witkiewicz writes: “In my opinion, Schulz is a new star of the first magnitude.” Some sets of The Book of Idolatry made by cliché-verre technique were sold in limited editions. A few anecdotes concerning that part of his activities, which add both tragic and ironic components to his biography, might be mentioned. When Schulz employed the help of some young friends and relatives in producing copies of his graphics, he told them that he was making the illustrations for the novel Venus in Furs by von Sacher-Masoch. When Drohobycz was under Soviet occupation, Schulz was commissioned to paint a big portrait of Stalin; under the German occupation, he painted murals in the children’s room of his Gestapo protector, Landau. Sixty years later, upon their discovery, these murals became the subject of an international dispute in which many made largely uninformed pronouncements. In chapter 13, the final one in his Regions of the Great Heresy, Jerzy Ficowski presents a comprehensive view on the matter. Now his Book of Idolatry has appeared in Poland, France, and the United States.22 Anyone who would like to examine these drawings and prints more scrupulously should be satisfied by any of these editions. The American edition contains two commendable essays, one by Jerzy Ficowski and the other by Ewa Kuryluk, an art critic and artist of the younger generation. What is most interesting, at least to this reader, is that when Schulz started to write, he stopped expressing himself in art and started treating his art more as illustration. Ficowski points out that in an age when cubism and other -isms were blossoming in Europe, Schulz was slightly behind. Nevertheless, he was consistent, which indicates

22 Bruno Schulz, The Book of Idolatry (Warszawa: Interpress, 1988).

Bruno Schulz: Mythmaker and Legend that he was not interested in giving way to trends. Therefore, one may be surprised by Ewa Kuryluk’s conclusion: The art of Bruno Schulz is an example of how the anachronism of yesterday can become the avant-garde of tomorrow. .  .  . To grasp the complexity of twentieth-century humanity, I recommend complementing the well-known facade of modern art, an absolute of abstraction, with the ignored backstage: the grotesque realism of Bruno Schulz whose escape into the past has ended in the future.23

In 1938, after his rather troubled visit to Paris, Schulz wrote to a friend that he had given up all his dreams and illusions about having an “international career.”24 Now, sixty years after his death, he is not only an internationally recognized author, but a legend. And what is a legend? In his own words: “legend is the organ by which greatness is apprehended: it is the human spirit’s reaction to greatness. The nature of greatness expresses itself in huge antinomies, contradictions, paradoxes. But we sense they carry a minus sign only from the perspective of reason. From another, unknown perspective, these contradictions resolve themselves into the highest unanimity, suitability, and affirmation.”25 Let us aspire to pursue Schulz’s own perspective while looking at his life and work. 2002

23 Ewa Kuryluk, “The Caterpillar Car, or Bruno Schulz’s Drive into the Future of the Past,” in The Drawings of Bruno Schulz, ed. Jerzy Ficowski (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1990), 31–43; this quotation, page 43. 24 Schulz, Letters and Drawings of Bruno Schulz, 188. 25 Ibid., 59.



The Lifelong Passion of Jerzy Ficowski


he celebration of Schulz’s Year in Poland and other countries also marks the fiftieth anniversary of the efforts of his great admirer and devotee, Jerzy Ficowski, who located, collected, preserved and published a significant amount of Schulz’s letters and drawings, as well as some manuscripts. There may have been a double claim concerning the discovery of one or two items, but there is no doubt that all of us who are so deeply moved by Schulz’s letters and fascinated by his drawing, are indebted to Jerzy Ficowski. He is the major force behind numerous editions of correspondence and albums, which allow us to see in a more extensive context the author of The Cinnamon Shops. Certainly there were others who made substantial contributions. The critic and essayist Artur Sandauer, author of the major theoretical work on Schulz’s prose, was also the first to introduce him to the West. Allan Kosko and Celina Wieniewska were his first dedicated and successful translators. Schulz found many admirers among the scholars of the postwar generation, for example, Jan Błoński and Jerzy Jarzębski of Jagiellonian University. The last thirty years have witnessed a growing fascination with Schulz; a number of scholars and even fiction writers have contributed to the field. But Jerzy Ficowski will always have a unique place in Schulz scholarship. We are indebted to him not only for numerous miraculous findings, but also the entire reconstruction of Bruno Schulz’s biography, not to mention countless pieces of information about the vanished world of prewar Drohobycz. Ficowski’s lifelong passion is well known and recognized in Poland, and by Schulz’s adherents around the world. Last year he was named a coordinator of the centennial of Schulz’s birth in Poland on behalf of the Association of Polish Writers. His quest for material has not ended and recently in interviews, articles, and private letters, he has stated that he is on his way to the greatest discovery ever, the missing manuscript of Schulz’s Messiah. The aim of this new search are the recently accessible archives of the KGB. The stories that accompany Ficowski’s searches are full of unusual, at times mysterious, circumstances. This last one concerning the alleged existence of a packet

The Lifelong Passion of Jerzy Ficowski of Schulz’s manuscripts in the former secret security archives of the former Soviet Union is perhaps one of the most enigmatic. In 1987 Ficowski was contacted by Schulz’s cousin living in the United States, and in 1990 by the Swedish ambassador to Poland. Both men at different times were approached in regard to this finding. These two asked Ficowski to act as an expert, in each case the mysterious “someone” did not call when promised, and both people died before the case was resolved. Left in the dark, Ficowski published an article in Polityka, the leading Polish newspaper, entitled “Awaiting Messiah,”1 with the fascinating subtitle “Fatum nad Mesjaszem” (Fate over the Messiah). Ficowski characterizes his effort as that of a detective, whose work borders on neo-archeology. In his letter to me, dated January, 22, 1993, he mentioned two new letters he and Roman Loth had found and he paraphrased the saying of Mickiewicz scholar Stanisław Pigon, who upon finding a new letter by Mickiewicz, would remark “Mickiewicz is still writing”; Ficowski says: “Schulz is still writing.” Many people assisted Ficowski, but insisted on his preserving their anonymity; he suffered tremendously when an American publishing house declined to honor this chivalrous code in the case of the identity of Schulz’s fiancée. Jerzy Ficowski has always been passionately engaged in unusual activities. Since 1949 he has been a member of the English “Gypsy Lore Society.” He spent some years traveling with Polish Gypsies, learnt their language and customs, translated poems, created a Polish-Romany dictionary, and published books about Romany culture. Ficowski has translated into Polish the poetry of Garcia Lorca from Spanish, as well as Yiddish poetry, but perhaps his greatest work in this area is his translation of Itzhak Katzenelson’s poem The Song of the Murdered Jewish People. Above all, Ficowski is a poet, the author of fifteen books of poetry, and laureate of the Jurzykowski Award. Born in 1924, he became a soldier of the Polish Home Army at a very young age and participated in the Warsaw Uprising. After the fall of the Uprising he was incarcerated in a German camp. It was during World War II that eighteen-yearold Ficowski came upon Schulz’s book Sklepy cynamonowe (The Cinnamon Shops) and fell under its spell. His first and only letter to Schulz remained unanswered for obvious reasons, Schulz had been resettled to the ghetto and was killed soon afterward. Ficowski has remained faithful to his first enticement, he likes to say that as there are writers of one book, he is the reader of one book. He associates this experience with the beginning of his own writing, and considers Schulz’s prose his greatest inspiration. His passion runs very deep, as Ficowski considers himself a believer in Schulz, even in his private letters he refers to Schulz as Great Bruno, Prophet, and so forth. Naturally one has to interpret this in the context of Ficowski’s own definition of poetry, which for him is a “sacred practice” and he considers his readers to be his “co-believers.” It was still during the war, soon after Ficowski found out about Schulz’s death, that he came into possession of three letters by Schulz, and then he started to look for every scrap of paper with Schulz’s writing or drawing on it. 1

Jerzy Ficowski, “W oczekiwaniu na Mesjasza,” Polityka, no. 46, November 19, 1992; “Awaiting Messiah—Postscript,” in Regions of the Great Heresy, 155-62.



Part Two

On Polish Prose

In his book Okolice sklepów cynamonowych (In the Vicinity of the Cinnamon Shops)2 he mentions an anecdote that perhaps best illustrates his devotion to Schulz. One day Ficowski lost these three letters at Warsaw University and these letters were found, but he had to prove that he was the real owner of the letters. It was easy for him to prove that, he had read them so many times that he knew them by heart. The letters were returned to him. Immediately after the war he started to look for people who knew Schulz, who would know anything about anything. Through numerous queries and personal contacts he found many of Schulz’s pupils, who could share their memories. His most important goal was to find the lost manuscript that Schulz presumably deposited outside the ghetto. We have to realize in what circumstances Ficowski conducted his search— Drohobycz, the town where Schulz spent his entire life, was suddenly beyond the Polish border and under the very crude reality of the Stalinist regime. Almost all of Schulz’s friends had been killed, or forcibly resettled, their houses were looted either by retreating armies or common looters. Besides, none of the Soviet papers would accept author’s queries (personal advertisements) for publication. Already in the 40s he accumulated some of Schulz’s letters and memorabilia, some from as far away as Israel and the United States, where many Holocaust survivors emigrated after the war. Nevertheless, until 1948 all his and/or Artur Sandauer’s attempts to publish anything about Schulz met with a strong ban imposed by the socialist realists who wrote the cultural policy then. These may have been the same people who before the war met Schulz at Zofia Nałkowska’s parties, and the same ones who later would boast about these meetings in their memoirs. In 1948, six years after Schulz’s death, Ficowski managed to publish the reproduction of Schulz’s portrait by his close friend Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz with a one-sentence caption. Witkiewicz, as we know, was yet another forbidden name at the time. Six years later, in 1956, when the era of socialist realism came to an end, Ficowski published details of Schulz’s biography and then his letters. Ficowski is generally against literary interpretation, as he believes that in its process the blood is let out of the living organism of the literary work. But he understands that various interpretations are admissible. Nevertheless, he strongly objects to fantasizing when one is engaged in fact-finding. He does not consider himself a scholar, but he emphasizes that his search required impartiality, dedication to the truth, no fictionalization and no confabulation, of which he accuses some of his opponents. He concentrated on recreating the facts concerning Schulz’s family and his childhood, which are so nicely incorporated into his prose and drawings. As he states in one interview,3 “Today the majority of these people are no longer alive and I realize that thanks to my early decision and my perseverance I was able to reach these people; otherwise certain biographical details about this private Schulz, which don’t interest scholars, would disappear beyond recall, we would not even know the dates of his birth and death.” 2 3

Jerzy Ficowski, “Listy, które są, i listy, które były,” in his Okolice sklepów cynamonowych (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1986), 82. “Tropami mistrzów, Z Jerzym Ficowskim rozmawiają Tomasz Fiałkowski i Jerzy Illg,” Tygodnik Powszechny, February16, 1992, 6–7.

The Lifelong Passion of Jerzy Ficowski Many of these facts shed light on Schulz’s fiction. Thanks to Ficowski’s findings we can appreciate how close Schulz was to the process of transformation from the early capitalism of “cinnamon shops,” represented by his father’s business, to the more advanced era of the next generation, as Schulz’s older brother, brother-in-law, closest friend, and art sponsor were all involved in the oil business. On his trips to Drohobycz, Lwów, and Truskawiec, Ficowski photographed every house, street, and backyard that was remotely relevant to Schulz’s legend. Through numerous interviews and research Ficowski was able to identify the people populating Schulz’s drawings. He effectively exhumed them from the mass grave of anonymity. In many instances the drawings are the sole trace of these people’s existence. Warsaw, the place where most of Schulz’s literary friends lived before the war, was burnt to the ground after the Warsaw Uprising, and many priceless manuscripts shared the fate of the city. But here again, Schulz’s letters to Zofia Nałkowska, which survived the war, mysteriously disappeared after her death in the fifties, while his letters to Romana Halpern, who was killed by the Nazis, miraculously survived. These letters constitute the largest group in the collection. More than ten years elapsed from the first news of their survival, before Ficowski received the copies of these letters from Halpern’s surviving son. Ficowski had traced him from Warsaw to Germany, and then, years later, to the United States. There are two conflicting stories regarding these negotiations. It is interesting to see how stories engender stories. One certainly had to be a believer to continue, and indeed during this search miracles did happen. In 1981, suddenly Schulz’s sole surviving letter to Witkiewicz was found—forty-two years after the addressee’s death and thirty-nine after Schulz’s. Similarly remarkable is the appearance of the collection of drawings purchased recently by the Literary Museum: independently two packets reappeared after the death of the two depositaries, who had not come forward earlier, or were not aware that the papers were in their possession. The recent death of Schulz’s fiancée may also result in some new findings. Ficowski published Schulz’s letters in three books: as an appendix to Schulz’s prose in 1964, as a separate Book of Letters in 1975 and in Bruno Schulz—listy, fragmenty, wspomnienia o pisarzu (Letters, Fragments, and Reminiscences, 1984).4 A selection of “the finest epistolary texts” entitled “Listy odnalezione” (Letters Discovered [Recovered]) came out recently, as well as a selection of Schulz’s stories and essays Republika marzeń (The Republic of Dreams), both edited and annotated by Ficowski. Throughout his searches, when Ficowski could not buy the newly found Schulziana himself, he would persuade the owners to sell it to the Museum of Literature in Warsaw. The recent auction of the one and only discovered oil painting was a big story in Poland. Now this painting is part of a wonderful exhibit in the Museum of Literature, and it will come to the United States this year. There are some items that may still come to the public’s attention one day. Ficowski mentions an owner of a big collection who since the end of the war has been buying anything that appears on the Łódź art market. 4

Bruno Schulz, Księga listów, ed. Jerzy Ficowski (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1975); idem, Listy, fragmenty: Wspomnienia o pisarzu, ed. Jerzy Ficowski (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1984).



Part Two

On Polish Prose

Besides publishing and annotating Schulz’s manuscripts, Ficowski has written two books of his own about Schulz. The first one he titled, using Schulz’s phrase, The Regions of Great Heresy, in which he tries to look at Schulz’s prose through his life and at his life through his prose. It was not an easy task because Schulz’s mythical prose does not easily relate to reality, and the reality of life in Polish Drohobycz in the early twentieth century has become a myth in itself. I have already mentioned the other book, In the Vicinity of the Cinnamon Shops.5 Being a believer, Ficowski assumed as well the function of Schulz’s advocate, his sole defender. He defends Schulz’s memory from fictionalization and moreover from extensive psychologizing. Those who are familiar with the topic know that the late Artur Sandauer was Ficowski’s main target here. On two occasions, once in 1962, and then twenty years later, Sandauer came up with the theory that Schulz’s death was a form of a suicide. His first argument, later retracted, held that Schulz, a masochist, simply by cruising the streets on this fatal day, Black Thursday, November 19, 1942, was deliberately seeking his death. Sandauer’s second argument is that Schulz probably did not want to survive, that as a Jew, having “the nature of an ironic legalist,” he wanted to submit to the “law of the state” and he did it by being on the street, when the Gestapo killed every passer-by. Sandauer considers it a “psychoanalytic suicide.” Ficowski opposes this theory, and he defends Schulz’s memory by reconstructing this day almost hour by hour in his book In the Vicinity of the Cinnamon Shops. Not only is Ficowski’s quest still ongoing, but his advocating continues as well. Last year, the Polish literary monthly Twórczość published Janusz Rudnicki’s “Letters from Hamburg,” in which the author exercises a revisionist approach toward many aspects of Schulz’s writing and legend.6 Considering this to be slander, Ficowski once again stands by Schulz’s side. In his preface to Ficowski’s volume of poetry on the Holocaust Reading the Ashes, Zbigniew Herbert writes: “Poets who live in storm zones have a sense of responsibility for the collective destiny, and assume a duty of bearing witness to truth—and not only on the individual level. . . .”7 Ficowski assumed this responsibility fifty years ago and he has never deserted his post. 1993

5 6 7

The following publications by Ficowski appeared post-1993: Collected Works of Bruno Schulz, edited by Jerzy Ficowski (London: Picador, 1998) and the second edition of Schulz’s correspondence, Księga listów, ed. Jerzy Ficowski (Gdańsk: Słowo/obraz terytoria, 2002). Janusz Rudnicki, “Listy z Hamburga: Schulz—92,” Twórczość, 9 (1992): 79–100; and idem, “List z Hamburga. Schulz ’92. Postscriptum,” Twórczość, 10 (1993): 92–98. Zbigniew Herbert, “About My Friend,” in Jerzy Ficowski, A Reading of Ashes, tr. Keith Bosley with Krystyna Wandycz (London: The Menard Press, 1981).


Jealousy, Sex, and Character: Michał Choromański and Otto Weininger


hile rereading Choromański’s novel Zazdrość i medycyna (Jealousy and Medicine) for my course on interwar Polish bestsellers, I constantly had the feeling that there was more to its structure than met the eye, and more than has been written about in the criticism on this work. Choromański’s association with Russian literary circles— Symbolists, Acmeists, Imagists—and his fascination with linguistics and semantics no doubt influenced his acute awareness about structure. Andrzej Konkowski, author of a book on Choromański, maintains that there is “nothing in Choromański’s writing that does not have a covert meaning.”1 In her book on Choromański’s prose,2 Seweryna Wysłouch points out that literary games are a basic structural principle of Jealousy and Medicine. A critic from the younger generation, Janusz Termer,3 calls Choromański’s writing a “devilishly intelligent literary game.” These games permeate all layers of Choromański’s novels. Critics immediately recognized that Jealousy and Medicine is highly structured, but not everyone found this structure to be justified. Karol Irzykowski, one of the first reviewers, entitled his piece “Layer-Cake, Heap, or Composition?”4 In her recent book on the Polish interwar novel, Krystyna Jakowska writes that the oft-disputed

1 2 3 4

Andrzej Konkowski, Michał Choromański (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1980), 44. Seweryna Wysłouch, Proza Michała Choromańskiego (Wrocław: Zakł. Nar. im. Ossolińskich, 1977), 172. Janusz Termer, “Co z literaturą ‘choromaniaków?,’” Miesięcznik Literacki 8 (1971): 123. Karol Irzykowski, “Przekładaniec, kupa czy kompozycja?,” Pion 7 (1937).


Part Two

On Polish Prose

retrospective treatment of time creates the effect of sensation, and that these inversions dynamize and dramatize the action’s explication. 5 Many of the structural elements we find in Jealousy and Medicine were introduced in Choromański’s first, highly praised novel, Biali bracia (White Brothers), for example, the wind, marital infidelity, and the interaction between Jews and Poles. In that novel the plot itself replicates the protagonist’s chess game. In White Brothers Choromański invents certain magic rules, which he believes to be pertinent to human actions and fate, for example, his thesis about the correct and incorrect pace from which the individual cannot untangle himself, and which in turn determines the chain of events.”6 In Jealousy and Medicine we have the same phenomenon. Rebecca retains the correct pace throughout, while Widmar loses his proper stride when he meets Rebecca, and the doctor loses his eight minutes into the surgery. Even the difficulties to pinpoint what happened in those eight minutes are not incidental. Eight symbolizes the beyond, and the beyond is hardly knowable. Parallelism and juxtaposition, important structural devices in Choromański’s writing, are prominent in Jealousy and Medicine; Widmar breaks the unwritten contract with the person who was faithful to him in order to make a written contract with the person unable to be faithful to anyone. Very often parallelism is accompanied by reversal: the same people might be adversaries and mutual supporters at the same time. For example, non-brothers become brothers in the White Brothers, and the Gold brothers, related by blood, are potential rivals. Dr. Tamten and Widmar are linked in this way. At one point Rebecca says something stupid, and “the surgeon looked at Widmar with an embarrassment obviously shared by the other.”7 At another point Widmar assumes that they are linked by gender solidarity: “I demand it of you as, in certain circumstances, you understand, a man may demand it of another man!” To which Tamten answers: “I am not a man. . . . I am a doctor.”8 (His moral identity at this point derives from the Hippocratic oath, not gender.) Later Widmar “felt overwhelmed by shame with regard to the doctor. He had wronged a man who was not only not his enemy but with whom, basically, he could have had a perfect friendship.”9 The dualism pertains to natural phenomena as well; Zakopane itself, a fateful genius loci in all of Choromański’s prose, his Magic Mountain, maintains a double 5

6 7 8 9

Krystyna Jakowska, Międzywojenna powieść perswazyjna (Warsaw: PWN, 1992). She also reminds us of the simultaneity achieved by this technique. She calls this specific form of inversion the loop; there are three such loops in the novel. According to Jakowska, the author does not intend to justify this inversion; moreover, she underlines the fact that the composition of Jealousy and Medicine is non-teleological. I believe that it is teleological on the structural level. Cf.: “Great men are always more ‘superstitious’ than average man. .  .  . A man is himself important precisely in proportion that all things seem important to him.” Otto Weininger, Sex and Character, tr. from the sixth German edition (New York: AMS Press, 1975), 12. Michał Choromański, Jealousy and Medicine, tr. Eileen Arthuton-Barker (New York: New Directions, 1964), 22. Ibid., 42. Ibid., 45.

Michał Choromański and Otto Weininger nature/identity as well; while its climate brings about the cure for tuberculosis, its winds sow madness, and often bring suffering to those very same patients.10 The triangle is the prominent geometric figure in Choromański’s prose. In White Brothers a sui generis triangle exists among Grass, Bielicz, and Britis; in Jealousy and Medicine the obvious triangle includes Rebecca, Dr. Tamten, and Widmar, but there is another one that ties Widmar, Dubilanka, and Rebecca together; there are three doctors in the hospital, three people assist the surgeons at the operation. Naturally, it is not only the number three but also the dynamics that touch them all. In his Adultery in the Novel, Tony Tanner writes: “it is the unstable triangularity of adultery, rather than the static symmetry of marriage, that is the generative form of Western literature as we know it.”11 Polish literature does not have many adultery novels, since writers could not easily admit that matka Polka (the Polish mother) would have an affair. Most loose women in the Polish novel were loose to begin with, meaning unattached, see, Prus’s Lalka (The Doll). Jealousy and Medicine caricatures and shatters the tenets of the adultery novel from the inside; as Seweryna Wysłouch points out, we expect that something will happen more or less along the lines of Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary but nothing happens: the greater the emotional terror, the greater the disappointment. It might appear that after all this scrutiny there remains scarcely anything new to add to the critical literature on Jealousy and Medicine. However, when I posed the questions what literary scheme in particular informs Jealousy and Medicine, what void does this novel fill in Polish literature, and what stands behind the structure of the protagonists, I concluded that one structural aspect of this novel has been totally overlooked, and another deliberately underplayed by scholars and critics. Reflecting upon the title, I tried to think where does one look for the classic archetypal design of the jealousy plot? The answer, of course, is Othello, and this realization lead me to the proposition that the reverse reenactment of Othello is a major organizing principle of the novel’s plot. In Othello, the husband, incited by Iago and driven by destructive jealous passion, kills his beloved and innocent wife because of false accusations. He disregards her plea and assurances of innocence. In Jealousy and Medicine, Widmar, driven by destructive jealous passion, incited by the memoirs of his former lover Dubilanka and the allegations of Gold, who claims to have definite proof of Rebecca’s adultery, and with his fingers around her throat, believes her declaration of innocence. In the play Iago “sparks off this mental furnace”12 by telling the lies which Othello believes, while Dubilanka and Gold, some sort of composite Iago, are telling the truth which Widmar does not believe. Apart from his inborn villainy, Iago has several motives for his incitement: he suspects that Othello had an 10 Cf. “The dualism of the world is beyond comprehension: it is the plot of the story of man’s fall, the primal riddle.” Weininger, Sex and Character, as quoted in Allan Janik, Essays on Wittgenstein and Weininger (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1985), 70. 11 Tony Tanner, Adultery in the Novel. Contract and Transgression (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1979), 12. 12 Ibid., 51.



Part Two

On Polish Prose

affair with his wife, he wants to gain money, and he wants to avenge his thwarted ambition for being passed over for the promotion that went to Cassio. Dubilanka’s motive is relatively simple—jealousy and revenge.13 However, Gold’s motives are more complex than they might appear. He spies for money that he needs for his sick child, but unconsciously he is motivated by the suspicion that his own deceased wife had an affair with his brother. The tailor, at Widmar’s request, arranges the assault on Dr. Tamten, just as Iago arranges the assault on Cassio. Moreover, the manner in which the windstorm parallels the rage and passion is also very Shakespearean. Referring to the adultery topic in Othello and other plays by Shakespeare, Tanner writes: “language can create adultery when it does not in fact take place—its verbally evoked image working more powerfully on the speaker than any other countering evidence in the outside world.”14 The same could be said of both Widmar and Dr. Tamten, here language can “un-create” adultery. Another observation made by Tanner in reference to Othello helps us to understand the novel’s male protagonists as well. Tanner writes: “That it can take little to no time for strong emotions to reverse themselves into their opposite and that—frighteningly enough—the most reverent love can carry its obverse side, a ravenous will to mistrust and a readiness (or desire) to believe the worst. Our strongest feelings are not built on sand, but rather on their opposites.”15 Interestingly enough, a scene in Jealousy and Medicine seems to illustrate this same rule: . . . for an instant he wanted to take his wife by the neck and choke her until she confessed the whole truth. Just as quickly—a strange thing, perhaps it was the effect of the brandy—his jealousy was changed into violent sensual desire.16

References to Shakespeare appear sparingly in the critical literature on Choromański; nevertheless, his 1934 interview for Kuźnia młodych, indicates that the writer was always aware of Shakespeare as an eternal frame of reference.17 There are two scenes in the first edition, and one in the present edition that direct us to Othello, one scene imaginary, and the other about to happen, namely the scene of strangulation: He knew that he had taken the final step and that nothing could now hold him back from a tragic ending. He would have even looked with joy on that dear precious face drowned in a mortal flood of crimson.18

13 14 15 16 17

It has been pointed out that she projects her jealousy onto Widmar. Tanner, Adultery in the Novel. Contract and Transgression, 40. Ibid., 42. Choromański, Jealousy and Medicine, 95. Marek Sołtysik, Świadomość to kamień. Kartki z życia Michała Choromańskiego (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1989), 125. The interview, conducted on February 4, 1934, was published in Kuźnia młodych the following day. 18 Choromański, Jealousy and Medicine, 1.

Michał Choromański and Otto Weininger In the last scene, He grasped her convulsively with one hand; the other he slowly raised until his clutching fingers touched her lovely round neck. He felt the warmth of the skin, and in spite of himself his fingers began to close around it.19

What else could this be if not Othello in reverse, or even perverted. The final parallel between the two plots is provided by the handkerchief motif in Othello and the scarf in Choromański’s novel. Through convoluted intrigue Iago arranges that the white handkerchief, Othello’s gift to his wife, is found in Cassio’s quarters, or even worse, in the possession of Cassio’s lover. In Othello’s eyes this is the ultimate proof of Desdemona’s infidelity. The illusory evidence of crime in Othello20 is replaced by an obvious one in Jealousy and Medicine. Choromański changes the white, or predominantly white, handkerchief into a red scarf, with all the attendant symbolism. When Widmar sneaks into the doctor’s apartment to spy on Rebecca, he sees the scarf lying on the bed. In the last scene, when Rebecca returns home from her date with the doctor, she holds the scarf wrapped in paper under her arm. She does not even pretend. There is another woman in literature who, like Rebecca, had a red scarf and was killed by a jealous man like Desdemona—Carmen. 21 In the first chapter of the novel, when Widmar notices a woman in a red scarf walking down the street with a man, he suspects that this is his wife. “Like a bull exhausted and frenzied to the point of madness, he looked at the scarlet covering her head and neck. . . . Then the mist and darkness swallowed up everything and, instead of the beret and scarf, Widmar saw a splash of blood.”22 These three women form an interesting trio, the innocent Desdemona with her white handkerchief who dies because of her husband’s raging, unfounded jealousy; the flirtatious Carmen with a red scarf, who also dies, and Rebecca, whose red scarf and infidelity do not harm her in the least. But the structuring principle of Choromański’s heroine, beginning with the symbolism of her biblical name, Rebecca, is not a reversed Desdemona. In my opinion, Choromański created a highly theoretical model of a woman as concocted by Otto Weinigner, the theoretician of misogyny, whose immensely popular book, Sex and Character, had influenced a great number of Western thinkers, particularly writers, since its publication in 1903. This fact has been pointed out by several critics, but the extent of this influence has not yet been thoroughly analyzed. 19 Jealousy and Medicine, 215. 20 Cf. “The problem of ‘evidence’ in Shakespeare is a well-organized theme, particularly when the imagination seizes on the wrong kind of evidence, and will not be deflected or detached from the images and conviction it generates. . . . Thus it is in different ways, with Othello and the handkerchief, and his insistence on ‘ocular proof ’ when Desdemona’s honor is, precisely, ‘an essence that’s not seen.’” Tanner, Adultery in the Novel, 40. 21 Professor Marlene Barsoum drew my attention to Carmen’s red scarf. 22 Jealousy and Medicine, 12.



Part Two

On Polish Prose

Sex and Character was translated into Polish by Ostap Ortwin and published several times: in 1911, 1921, and 1926. Choromański admitted reading the book with interest. Years later in his Memoirs, the writer distances himself from this influence by making satirical comments. The narrator of Memoirs recalls his conversation with a chance acquaintance who talks about dream symbolism in a very trivial manner: “Have you ever read Freud?” I asked. “And who is that?” “He also explained dreams. But Freud was wrong in one respect. He treated man and woman equally. For him there was only one psychology, whereas in reality there are two different ones: that of men and that of women. Evidently he didn’t know Otto Weininger.” “And who is that?” “The author of Sex and Character, a twenty-four-year-old youth, perhaps a genius, who after writing a book against women ended his own life, because he found female qualities in himself.” I was speaking glibly and feeling intoxicated. “He tried to prove in his book that woman is a lower being, there were no women composers, for example. Nor pianists. There was no Paderewska, and no Madame Rubinstein! In general women are worthless.” 23

In Jealousy and Medicine it is Wilhelm von Fuchs who makes reference to Weininger. He also initiates the discussion about the deterioration of the relation between the sexes, of course, in a Weiningerean spirit. It is interesting that to another protagonist Fuchs looks like Chopin, whom Weininger sees as the only female musician in the entire history of humankind.24 Rebecca in Jealousy and Medicine so fully serves to illustrate Weininger’s thesis that one may challenge Krystyna Jakowska’s assertion that this is not a novel of persuasion.25 Let us begin our examination with the problem of lying. Weininger, who recently has enjoyed renewed scholarly interest, maintains that women are born liars. He writes: “It is evident that a being whose memory is very slight, and who can recall only in the most imperfect fashion what it [my emphasis] has said or done, or suffered, must lie easily if it has the gift of speech.”26 “. . . the imagination of women is composed of lies and errors. . . .”27 “A woman forgets, because she does not blame herself for an act of meanness, because she does not understand it, having no relation to the moral idea. It is not surprising that she is ready to lie.” In the novel, 23 Michał Choromański, Memuary (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1976), 33. 24 Weininger, Sex and Character, 67. Cf. the statement of W. H. Auden that Rilke was “the greatest Lesbian poet since Sappho,” in Robert Craft, Stravinsky: Chronicle of a Friendship, 1948–1971 (New York; Knopf, 1972), 256–58. 25 The form betrays the author’s intent of inculcating some point of view in the reader. 26 Weininger, Sex and Character, 145–46. 27 Ibid., 194.

Michał Choromański and Otto Weininger Rebecca forgets that the surgeon actually performed her oophorectomy, and as proof of her love and dedication, she says that she is risking pregnancy. At least Rebecca’s lies are justified by the fact that she has something to lie about, namely, her affair. Therefore, in order to illustrate the disposition of women to lie without conscious motivation, Choromański creates Anielka (Angela), a small Jewish girl, a woman in embryo, whom he makes lie notoriously, without any justification: “Angela gazed with interest at this scene, not knowing herself why she lied, but lying always afforded her great pleasure.”28 And in another place: “she was a sensible little woman, and everything, beginning with the premeditated lie, was already there in a latent state.”29 The motif of sterility plays a significant role in the novel, the function of which is not all that clear until one reads the chapter on “Motherhood and Prostitution” in Sex and Character, where we are told there that “the disposition for and inclination to prostitution is as organic in a woman as is the capacity for motherhood.”30 Widmar uses the word “prostitute” several times when he thinks of Rebecca, or other women.31 “. . . motherly women,” writes Weininger, “bear far more children, whilst the frivolous have few children, and prostitutes are practically sterile.”32 “Great men have always preferred women of the prostitute type. . . . Their choice falls on the sterile women, and if there is issue, it is unfit and soon dies out.”33 This is precisely Rebecca’s case, her body rejects the pregnancy to the degree that it is extra-uterine, that is, an ectopic pregnancy, the presumable “issue” is thrown on the floor during the surgery together with bits of her reproductive organs. She thus becomes that which Weininger considers she should be, that is, sterile, in order to better represent the “prostitute” phenomenon. It provides the novel with the extraordinarily sensational “medical” part of the plot, and fulfills the philosophical requirement, for—and here I quote Weininger—“the quality of the prostitute distinguishes the human female from the animal female”; “In all the animal kingdom . . . there are no true females that are sterile.”34 To emphasize this point, Choromański makes Rebecca and Widmar eat a poulard (a pullet sterilized to induce fattening) for dinner. Widmar violently objects to this kind of diet, and he immediately draws a comparison between the poulard and Rebecca. As a typical woman in Weininger’s thinking, Rebecca emanates eroticism, because as this philosopher believes, “Woman is sexually much more excitable (not more sensitive) physiologically than man. The woman is devoted wholly to sexual matters, that is to say, to the spheres of begetting and of reproduction.”35 In the novel we 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35

Choromański, Jealousy and Medicine, 24. Ibid., 27. Weininger, Sex and Character, 217 Choromański, Jealousy and Medicine, 31; cf. “every man he met was a traitor, and a corpse, every woman a fantastic flower and . . . a prostitute” (11); while reading the list of his wife’s lovers, he thinks: “Prostitute, a common prostitute” (31). Weininger, Sex and Character, 216. Ibid., 226–27. Ibid., 235. Ibid., 88.



Part Two

On Polish Prose

read: “Nobody would even have noticed her presence had not the eroticism emanating from her recalled her existence. This eroticism flowed through the room—sweetish, cloying, soothing—and it was impossible to resist it. Exactly like chloroform, thought the surgeon, anesthetized and somnolent.”36 In addition, the chameleon-like quality that characterizes Choromański’s protagonists may have been inspired by Weininger’s theory of character as such; Weininger believed that “at one moment one quality, at another moment another quality, comes into prominence”37 in a person. This phenomenon is prominent in White Brothers; in Jealousy and Medicine this quality is mainly characteristic of Jews and women because they lack “personality.”38 Actually, they lack more than personality, they lack soul. In his book on twentieth-century Polish literature, Włodzimierz Maciąg points to the fact that in this novel the substance of humanity seems to be rather in the soma than the psyche. “The mystery of Rebecca is written rather in her body than in her soul.”39 That is obvious because Rebecca does not have a soul. Is it because she was not given a soul by the author, or does she not possess one because she is a woman? Ostap Ortwin, a translator of Weininger and a very enthusiastic reviewer of Jealousy and Medicine, comes to the conclusion that Rebecca’s amorality originates from her soullessness.40 What is striking here is not the general, overall influence but the fact that Rebecca seems to be built according to the formula laid down by Weininger, not unlike the way Socialist Realist protagonists were constructed. The absolute female, we read in Sex and Character “is devoid not only of the logical rules, but also of the functions of making concepts and judgments which depend on them.”41 The doctor recalls that on that first evening Rebecca “brought out something utterly stupid, which made no sense whatever—one of those hopelessly banal paradoxes in which she delighted and beyond which her intelligence could not aspire. She had said something of this kind: “the hundred-percent man possesses the lowest percentage of virility.” Or: “A woman gives herself only to someone she doesn’t love.” 42 Rebecca’s low-cut dresses received attention from critics to the extent that the shape of the décolletage symbolizes a triangle. But Weininger took care of that topic as well:

36 Choromański, Jealousy and Medicine, 21. 37 Weininger, Sex and Character, 83. 38 John M. Hoberman, “Otto Weininger and the Critique of Jewish Masculinity,” in Jews and Gender. Responses to Otto Weininger, ed. Nancy A. Harrowitz and Barbara Hyams. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995), 141. 39 “Tajemniczość Rebeki jest raczej zapisana w jej organizmie niż w jej duszy.” Włodzimierz Maciąg, Nasz wiek XX. Przewodnie idee literatury polskiej (Warszawa: Zakład Nar. im. Ossolinskich, 1992), 126. 40 Ostap Ortwin, “Zazdrość i medycyna,” in Żywe fikcje: studia o prozie, poezji i krytyce, ed. Jadwiga Czachowska (Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1970), with an introduction by Michał Głowiński, 95–102. 41 Weininger, Sex and Character, 195. 42 Choromański, Jealousy and Medicine, 22.

Michał Choromański and Otto Weininger “Modesty cannot be a female virtue, if one reflects on the readiness with which women accept the habit of wearing low-necked dresses whenever custom prescribes it.” 43 I do not wish to imply that Choromański religiously follows Weininger’s reading of woman. Just as he reversed the principle of Othello, he reverses Weininger’s subject-to-object principle. Even if Rebecca is a formless object to two subjects who are supposed to impress their form on her, it is she who imposes her formlessness on them. It is they who in striving to become her “sexual complement” fail to be what they are: Widmar, a businessman, and Tamten, the perfect doctor. One also suspects that Choromański intentionally overplays Weininger. Rebecca was sitting on the sofa. Yet her presence seemed something utterly unreal—Rebecca as such did not exist at all. Her thoughts and her psychic aura took up no place in space and time. The two men could look at her as through a glass or into a vacuum. Her existence was problematical, and the surgeon asked himself whether she was not a specter. This bodylessness, this wraithlike quality, was in the highest degree annoying, and Tamten despised himself for devoting so much time to a female phantom.

But from another point of view, the fact that her very existence imposed its law on everyone was undeniable. Although there seemed to be an empty place on the sofa, only a vacant seat, they knew that a being without form was there, or rather an abstract sum of human properties.44 Is Choromański making the utmost use of Weiniger’s Sex and Character or is he mocking him? For Weininger the only way to a woman’s emancipation is the thorough renunciation of sex; in Jealousy and Medicine we read that love is a disease, like any other disease. Rebecca’s destructive influence wrecks the lives of both men, and makes them compromise their ethical standards. In his passionate review of Jealousy and Medicine, Ostap Ortwin prizes the novel for its very modern moral stance that “stands out in our literature, still cultivating humble eulogies on the erotic topic. Hence the book’s unadulterated, polemical sword turned against woman, and the battle against her for liberty and the independence of man.”45 It is hard to determine to what extent Choromański would agree with this, or any other assessment. Real literature always surpasses the program that it may initially embrace and serves a higher purpose that is not totally definable. Tony Tanner writes that “the novelist scrutinizing adultery was doing no less than showing the tenuousness of all those systems of mediation between nature and culture, as well as all the systems of exchange, on which society itself is based.”46

43 44 45 46

Weininger, Sex and Character, 200. Choromański, Jealousy and Medicine, 49. Ostap Ortwin, “Zazdrość i medycyna,” 99. Tanner, Adultery in the Novel, 84.



Part Two

On Polish Prose

Rebecca may have been what she is because she is a Weiningerian woman, or because as Tanner wants us to believe, “contract creates transgression.”47 Regardless of the structural principle, Choromański was able to breathe life into her and create an important contemporary adultery novel. If Rebecca is not Madame Bovary, she is his Madame Bovary. There are various interpretations of Flaubert’s48 alleged declaration “Madame Bovary c’est moi.” I tend to believe that Choromański could have said the same about Rebecca Widmarowa, and one could have interpreted it in as many ways. 2001

47 Ibid., 11. 48 In Tales of Love, Julia Kristeva writes: “The ‘I am Madame Bovary,’ supposedly spoken by Flaubert, is not alien to the mirage such a femininity represents for the novelist or artist as seducer” (tr. Leon S. Roudiez [NY: Columbia University Press, 1987], 203).


Narrative Strategies: The Case of Andrzej Bobkowski


am not a specialist on Bobkowski, and if not for Grażyna Drabik’s talent for persuasion, I would never have taken on this subject. At the moment I said “yes,” I knew and esteemed Bobkowski’s power of language solely based on my reading of his correspondence with Jerzy Giedroyc, the editor of the renowned émigré monthly Kultura. Drabik, one of the translators of Bobkowski’s major work Szkice piórkiem (Pen Sketches), which Yale University Press has recently brought out as Wartime Notebooks. France 1940–1944,1 asked me to address Bobkowski’s linguistic virtuosity. After realizing what I had taken on, I got the books from the library and started reading, beginning with the most recently published one, Notatnik 1947–1960 (Notebook 1947–60), released in Łomianki, Poland, in 2013, on the centennial of Bobkowski’s birth. Maciej Nowak, the editor of Notatnik 1947–1960, examined Bobkowski’s writing tools, in the literal sense, and how these tools—fountain or ballpoint pen—influenced his style. Nowak describes how Bobkowski’s handwriting changes depending on the tool he uses. For example, the ballpoint pen requires pressure. “This way,” Nowak writes, “blackening the paper with his scribbling noticeably connects the workings of his thoughts to his physical effort. Let us add parenthetically that it cannot be achieved while drafting the letters by pen because the construction of the nib prevents this.”2 Bobkowski did pay attention to his writing tools. While describing his delight with the Goncourts’ narrative, he exclaims: “Pisane wykałaczką, umaczaną w czerwonym winie” (“Written with a toothpick dipped in red wine”).3 1 2 3

Andrzej Bobkowski, Wartime Notebooks. France, 1940–44, tr. Grażyna Drabik and Laura Engelstein (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018). Andrzej Bobkowski, Notatnik 1947–1960 (Łomianki: LTW, 2013), 13. (Hereafter all citations to this Polish edition of Bobkowski’s Notatnik 1947–1960 and the English translation will be cited in the text in parentheses, with the Polish coming first.) Andrzej Bobkowski, Szkice piórkiem (Warsaw: CiS i Towarzystwo Opieki nad Archiwum Instytutu Literackiego w Paryżu, 1997), 512; Wartime Notebooks, 559.


Part Two

On Polish Prose

This brings us to the title of Bobkowski’s major work: “Pen Sketches, or Sketches Written with a Quill,” which forces us to make the connection between Bobkowski’s prose and the visual art that constitutes a great part of his writing. In visual art, as in writing, one may interpret the word “sketches” in at least two ways. For some artists, sketches represent “preparatory sketches, which give only hints of the power of the final products,” while for others, they “were frequently ends in themselves.”4 For example, critics contend that for Egon Schiele, an artist about whom Bobkowski writes (73, 75), sketches “were frequently ends in themselves.”5 Recently there have been discussions as to what extent the final text of “Pen Sketches” is true to the original manuscript. One has to remember that a “sketch” as such is always open to corrections and alterations. Moreover, the diminutive form of the “little pen” (piórko) indicates the author’s distance apropos his own sketches. The very title alerts the reader to the language strategy that will guide him throughout the reading of the text. The late Maria Danilewicz Zielińska, a specialist and witness of Polish postwar émigré literature, considers Bobkowski’s Pen Sketches to be a major exemplar of this class of prose: The author of this diary had just turned thirty at the time of writing. Long before the appearance of the English “angry young men” and our own “furious” he was their exact counterpart. Young, rebellious, opposed to tradition and the habits of his surroundings. After 1945 he left Europe not only to earn his daily bread, but also as a sign of protest against the postwar system, as a sign of his lost faith in Europe. Even though it would be difficult to find an example of a young intellectual more a product of European culture. His notes and comments concerning political events constitute the least valuable layer of the Sketches. . . . However, the images of nature, the descriptions of provincial France, and most of all, of wartime Paris sketched from the mindset “just to survive,” meaning biological survival, are outstanding. The reminiscences about Poland, home, and Kraków are kept to the absolute minimum, to a few short but meaningful mentions. Literary topics predominate. Bobkowski plunged into French literature and soaked up like a sponge its essence and strength, i.e., the clarity and fluency in recreating the most convoluted sensual condition. 6

4 5 6

Cf. Adam Kirsch, “Stuff of Scandal,” New York Review of Books, May 10, 2018, 55. Ibid. Maria Danilewicz-Zielińska, “Szkice o literaturze emigracyjnej” (Wrocław: Ossolineum, 1992), 215. [Unless noted otherwise, all translations from Polish are mine—A.F.]

The Case of Andrzej Bobkowski I came across the collections of notes and impressions, entitled Things Remembered, published in 1995 by Kazimierz Brandys, whom Bobkowski sarcastically names a “Marxist orchid.”7 In it Brandys describes his encounter with Bobkowski’s prose: The Lublin quarterly Kresy (Borders) prints a compendium of Andrzej Bobkowski letters to Tymon Terlecki in London. Brilliant rooting in the language, he [Bobkowski] does whatever he wants with vocabulary and syntax. Many fascinating autobiographical episodes: the son of the general, brought up–as he mentions–on the laps of Osterwa and Rydz-Śmigły. Quite a lot of venom, especially toward writers back in Poland (however not only them, but toward émigré writers as well: Gombrowicz and Miłosz), and bows, sometimes too laudatory, to the addressee. Afterward, I took Pen Sketches, which I did not know earlier. Enormous literary verve, especially in the first part, in the descriptions of the bicycle trip from the south of France to occupied Paris. A mass of observations, and an unusual capacity for perception. The French province, characters, landscape displayed with an excellent visual memory, and—exceptional in literature today—with an affinity for life, and oneself, absolutely natural, and one could say—physical. A mix of cavalier virility and cosmopolitism and a religious praise of life, dislike of Sarmatism—backwardness with Sienkiewicz’s humor. .  .  . It is so riveting to read that I don’t feel like expressing any critical objections. Actually one: a weak self-awareness. I suppose he did not know himself and little reflected upon himself, or ably masked himself.8

Actually, Brandys’s off-the-cuff remarks do an excellent job of describing Bobkowski’s poetics of language. Before I present my humble findings, I would like to share some statements of a few connoisseurs of Bobkowski’s prose. Interest in Bobkowski grew with the publication of unofficial editions that began to appear in the 1980s; enthusiasm for Bobkowski continued to flourish in the twenty-first century, as witnessed by such publications, for example, as Arkadia i Apokalipsa. Refleksja nad kulturą w pisarstwie Andrzeja Bobkowskiego (Arcadia and Apocalypse. Contemplation on Culture in Andrzej Bobkowski’s Writing)9 and Między historią a literaturą: o “Szkicach piórkiem” Andrzeja Bobkowskiego (Between History and Literature: About “Sketches with Pen and Ink” by Andrzej Bobkowski).10

Cf. Maciej Urbanowski, “Wilde Bobkowskiego,” in Andrzej Bobkowski wielokrotnie w setną rocznicę urodzin pisarza, ed. Krzysztof Ćwikliński, Andrzej Stanisław Kowalczyk, and Maciej Urbanowski (Warszawa: Biblioteka “Więzi,” 2014), 357. 8 Kazimierz Brandys, Zapamiętane (Kraków: WL, 1995), 104–5. 9 Michał Kopczyk (ed.), Arkadia i Apokalipsa. Refleksja nad kulturą w pisarstwie Andrzeja Bobkowskiego (Katowice: Śląsk, 2003). 10 Katarzyna Plucińska-Smorawska (ed.), Między historią a literaturą: o “Szkicach piórkiem” Andrzeja Bobkowskiego (Warszawa: Neriton, 2005).




Part Two

On Polish Prose

More recently, the papers from a conference celebrating the centennial of Bobkowski’s birth, which was attended by leading scholars form Poland and abroad, were published as Andrzej Bobkowski wielokrotnie (Andrzej Bobkowski, Time and Time Again).11 The conference proceedings are ornamented with copies of handwritten notes preserved in the archives of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in New York. I will allow myself to quote a few more people who, like Józef Czapski, either knew Bobkowski personally, or like Rafał Habielski, have studied his writings in depth. In his preface to Coco de Oro. Szkice i opowiadania (Coco de Oro. Sketches and Tales) Czapski writes: Who will write about his prose, which with the years becomes more and more dense. .  .  . with the years becomes really not only an expression of the author’s thoughts, but also its rhythm, the breath of this writer, who, like Hemingway, passionately loved life, adventure, and courage, but in his thoughts and his deep stream of consciousness reached perhaps deeper and further.12

In the afterword to the same edition, Rafał Habielski shares his view on the friendship between Bobkowski and Gierdoyc, a vital aspect in the life of each of them. Habielski writes: Their different life paths and experiences turned out to be similar up to the point that became a point of departure toward “cosmic Polishness” understood, especially by Giedroyc, not as rejection of Polishness (which according to Bobkowski’s humorous thesis was impossible, because of the existence of Russia), but as a questioning of the existing practice of its accepted usage, departing beyond the limitation it created.13

And later: “Giedroyc was under the allure of Bobkowski’s style and the variety of genres of his writing—diary, stories, and essays.”14 Pen Sketches (1940–1944), like most of Bobkowski’s writings, was originally published by the Biblioteka Kultury in France, the publishing arm of the journal. The diary immediately became a major literary event when it first appeared in 1957. In 1970 Giedroyc published Bobkowski’s Coco de Oro, a compilation of manuscripts that in his opinion displayed the writer’s individuality.

11 Ćwikliński, Kowalczyk, and Urbanowski, Andrzej Bobkowski wielokrotnie. 12 Andrzej Bobkowski, Coco de Oro. Szkice i opowiadania (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 2015), preface by Józef Czapski, 10. 13 Ibid., afterword by Rafał Habielski, 255. 14 Ibid., 256.

The Case of Andrzej Bobkowski It was not only Giedroyc who was charmed by Bobkowski’s style. In his essay “Sceniczne kody Szkiców piórkiem” (The Scenic Codes of the “Pen Sketches”),15 Krzysztof Miklaszewski provides a fundamental characterization of the author’s “narrative strategy” when he makes the point that Bobkowski each time complicates the too obvious explanation of the presented story, mixing a clearly journalistic point of view with the ironic distance of a historian, imbuing it not only with the dramaturgic complications of the reconstructed action, but also with remarks of the astute observer, thus preventing the explicit interpretation of the events recalled. 16

In view of these several explorations of Bobkowski’s art, I doubt that I will be able to contribute much more than my impressions. Reading this prose, one immediately sees Bobkowski’s sensitivity to the power of language as such, even his anti-Semitic remarks seem to be concerned with precisely that, namely, the bad Polish of the Jews he encounters. It was not until some time had passed that I discovered that these “remarks” represent deeper sentiments than merely occasional bouts of irritation. Irena Grudzińska Gross referred me to the collection of essays entitled Buntownik, Cyklista, Kosmopolak. O Andrzeju Bobkowskim i jego twórczości (Rebel, Cyclist, Cosmo-Pole. On Andrzej Bobkowski and His Work).17 Here one may find Łukasz Mikołajewski’s interesting essay, “Pamięć fabularyzowana. Powojenne poprawki w Szkicach piórkiem Andrzeja Bobkowskiego” (Fictionalized Memory. The Postwar Corrections in Andrzej Bobkowski’s Pen Sketches).18 The essay concerns the recently discovered fact that Bobkowski’s diary entries were edited by the author after the war, and it casts light on some remarkable prophecies that turned out not to be necessarily prophetic, since some were edited post-factum. Mikołajewski wants to establish what in Pen Sketches is truth and what is fictionalization and auto-creation. He attributes it partly to the evolution of the literary genres (notes versus literary diary; 189) and the two various stages of Bobkowski’s confrontation with the topic of Jews and annihilation (193). The collection also includes the polemical

15 Krzysztof Miklaszewski, “Sceniczne kody Szkiców piórkiem,” in Ćwikliński, Kowalczyk, and Urbanowski, Andrzej Bobkowski wielokrotnie, 232–49. 16 Ibid., 243–44. 17 Jarosław Klejnocki and Andrzej St. Kowalczyk (eds.), Buntownik, Cyklista, Kosmopolak. O Andrzeju Bobkowskim i jego twórczości (Warszawa: Muzeum Literatury im. A. Mickiewicza, 2011), 224. 18 Łukasz Mikołajewski, “Pamięć  fabularyzowana. Powojenne poprawki w Szkicach piórkiem Andrzeja Bobkowskiego,” in Klejnocki and Kowalczyk, Buntownik, Cyklista, Kosmopolak, 137–73.



Part Two

On Polish Prose

response of Maciej Nowak,19 the editor of Bobkowski’s Notebook 1947–1960, to which Mikołajewski replied.20 Nowak insists on taking into account the historical context and Bobkowski’s eventual gravitation from anti-Semitism toward filo-Semitism (186–87). The polemic represents two outlooks on the sources and motivation of that evolution. In his conclusion, Mikołajewski points out that Pen Sketches is an interesting and important document of a certain stage of how a Polish intellectual, who came of age in the thirties, dealt with the legacy of anti-Semitism. All three parts in this exchange are important from the point of view of language strategies. If we examine the deleted anti-Semitic phrases, one may notice that Bobkowski had not pursued any sophistication in these expressions; instead one finds some rude and offensive statements, including his admission about his aversion toward Jews. At times he does not deny his anti-Semitism; in fact, quite the opposite, on occasion he auto-analyzes it. Bobkowski’s fluency in French and German was a source and basis of his professional pride and intellectual connections. His language is generally acknowledged to be simultaneously natural, succulent, and rich. And he is very sensitive to any infractions of correct grammar and usage. He sarcastically characterizes the simplistic verbiage of his co-traveler Tadzio as “immaculate Polishness.” His strategy for defining things, events, and psychological reality by reversal, or contradiction, is a characteristic interesting construction. I recently ran across this characterization of Samuel Beckett’s language: “the self-cancelling sentence, in which the second part utterly negates the first.”21 I believe one finds a similar technique in Sketches: “[Francuzi] w czasie pokoju zapomnieli o wojnie, w czasie wojny nie potrafili zapomnieć o pokoju” (“In peacetime, the French forgot about war, in wartime they did not manage to forget about peace,” 29, 26). I will quote a few more instances of definition by negation, or by the reverse meaning: Swoją drogą nie znam (w wielu wypadkach) większego subiektywizmu, jak właśnie ten francuski obiektywizm. (By the way, in many cases I do not know of any greater subjectivism than precisely this French objectivism, 168, 186) . . . Rosja, która nie zna i nie rozumie pojęcia “wolność”, do tego stopnia, że jej nie potrzebuje. (Russia, which does not know or understand the concept of “freedom” to the extent of not needing it at all, 529, 579)

19 Maciej Nowak, “Patrzę inaczej,” in Klejnocki and Kowalczyk, Buntownik, Cyklista, Kosmopolak, 174–87. 20 Łukasz Mikołajewski, “Odpowiedź Maciejowi Novakowi,” in Klejnocki and Kowalczyk, Buntownik, Cyklista, Kosmopolak, 188–96. 21 Fintan O’Toole, “Where Lost Bodies Roam,” New York Review of Books, June 7, 2018, 20.

The Case of Andrzej Bobkowski Or consider this characterization of the French policeman: “Umysłowe niedorozwinięcie posunięte do granic ideału” (“Intellectual retardation approaching the ideal,” 246, 266). His definition of Vichy operates on the same metaphoric principle: “Vichy jest Sfinksem bez tajemnic” (“Vichy is a Sphinx—without secrets,” 240, 259), borrowing the characterization of Vichy from Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Sphinx without a Secret.” He employs the same principle to explain the source of the anti-Semitism: “Ten brak taktu, który tak często my zarzucamy Żydom. Jesteśmy do nich podobni i tu pewnie znajduje się źródło naszego” (“The same lack of tact with which we so often reproach the Jews. We are very much like them and that is doubtless the source of our anti-Semitism,” 175, 187). Throughout the entire diary we witness France’s confrontation with its dogma, but we are also shown how other realities are confronted with their own dogmas. Bobkowski exclaims: “Potworne są te epoki, w których ludzkość rzuca się na poszukiwanie absolute” (“Terrible are the times in which humanity throws itself into the quest for an absolute,” 273, 294). Almost every exchange with another person is a confrontation of culture, history and ethics. He challenges different historical and philosophical views, describing them as casual observations, always looking for a point of view from which he can confront the situation. While visiting the French home of Katherine Mansfield, Bobkowski reflects upon the power of writing and shares with his reader a descriptive metaphor of literature: Dobra, prawdziwa proza. . . . To są odbezpieczone granaty, które autor daje czytelnikowi, którymi go wypycha, aby wybuchły w nim. Czym dłużej eksploduje, tym pisarz jest większy. (Good honest prose. . . . They are activated grenades that the author gives the reader by author, crams into him so they detonate inside. The longer they keep on exploding, the greater the writer, 81, 85)22

In his description of Stendhal’s style we read: “Proste zdania, zupełnie niewyszukane słowa, a wszystko razem tak przenikliwe i obrazowe, że nie sposób ‘nie brać w tym udziału’” (“Simple sentences, unobtrusive words, yet taken as a whole so penetrating and vivid, that it is impossible ‘not to take part,’” 107, 113). Bobkowski’s power of description is comparable to the prototypes he admires. He often turns to Balzac to grasp reality. But in 1941 he admits that he had discovered Conrad for the second time. I quote: Jakaż wspaniała umiejętność oddawania rzeczy nieuchwytnych prostymi słowami. Opisem jakiejś najbardziej materialnej i uchwytnej rzeczy potrafi oddać nastrój wobec którego język i słowo są właściwie bezsilne. (What a splendid ability to convey ineffable things in simple words. By describing a particular, tangible thing, he manages to render a mood that no language or word can define, 178, 91) 22 Another such comparison reads: “theater is like wine” (170, 85).



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Bobkowski’s metaphors and similes, his power of description, whether of the physical landscape, or the inner landscape, are incomparable. On September 18, 1940, he writes: “Czas zepsuł się jak stary budzik” (“Time has broken down, like an old alarm clock,” 112, 118). He confronts “the continuum that lacks spatial dimensions”23 with the mechanism that tries to control that continuum. On other occasions he does the opposite, jumping from physics to metaphysics with the help of personification: “Słupy telefoniczne stały się całą orkiestrą symfoniczną” (“The telephone poles became a complete symphony orchestra,” 45, 44). Famous quotations and book titles appear in countless allusions, for example, in association with Uniłowski’s “Wspólny pokój” (Common Room), he transforms Tolstoy’s Wojna i pokój (War and Peace) into Wojna i spokój (War and Tranquility). In 1943, he is waiting for “forty-four,” which alludes not only to the coming year, but also to Mickiewicz’s symbol of the redeemer. Bobkowski possesses the rare ability to create a linguistic equivalent of elements that by their very nature defy description, such as the movement of water, the wind, and light. He transposes the cohesion of the landscape beauty into a psychological realm, thus transforming his impressions into a philosophical and metaphysical venue: Piękno może być tak samo trudne do zniesienia jak ból. Można je znosić tylko do pewnej granicy, przeżywać do pewnej głębokości. I potem mdleje się wewnętrznie. (Beauty can be as hard to bear as pain. Possible to tolerate only up to a certain point, to experience only to a certain depth. Beyond that, it makes you faint, 36, 35)

Likewise, he can transfer a psychological phenomenon into a mechanical one: “Zdejmuję ciemne okulary i mam wrażenie, że jestem aparatem fotograficznym bez filtra” (“I take off my dark eyeglasses and feel like a camera without a filter,” 41, 40.) The duality of the protagonist’s identity is another important element. At a certain point, he reflects: “Może nawet zerwałem z samym sobą” (“Perhaps I’ve even broken with myself,” 25, 21). There is always an inner dialog between “I” or “he.” He describes this inner controversy as leaving oneself behind, and coming back to oneself. The authentic single personality is always between two beings. This duality is transposed onto societies and countries, for example, in France: De Gaulle ratuje honor, Pétain stara się ratować naród. (De Gaulle salvages France’s honor, while Pétain tries to save the nation, 129, 138)

Or: Chociaż to, co dla nas jest klęską, to dla nich tylko przegraną. (Although for us it is a disaster while for them merely a defeat, 150, 161) 23 Time as defined by Webster’s Dictionary.

The Case of Andrzej Bobkowski He describes the 1943 Conference of the Allied forces as: “Partia pokera rozgrywana wśród koniokradów” (“A poker game among horse thieves,” 472, 514). It is not merely a joke, it is also an assessment. Equally harsh metaphors are aimed at Polishness and the Polish mentality, patriotic hypocrisy: “No i dosiadanie wielkiego konia przy byle okazji” (“Plus getting on our high horse at the slightest occasion,” 272, 293). He directs his reader to reread Bolesław Prus’s The Doll. I do not think there is a comparable view of the war in Polish literature. Because of his very unique perspective, working for a company employing Polish workers in Paris, he comes in contact with Polish émigrés, Frenchmen, and occasionally Germans of different social strata. Almost every exchange with another person is a clash of culture, history, and ethics. Every contact with a fact of war, a novel, or a geographic area stimulates brilliant comparisons and baffling predictions, many of which proved to be right, including the mysterious crash of Sikorski’s plane. Someone should list all his predictions and check how many were right. On September 26, 1943, he writes about Russians: “Niedługo zaczną nas ‘uwalniać’. I uwolnią nas na pięćdziesiąt lat” (“Soon they will begin to ‘liberate’ us. And will liberate us for the next fifty years,” 464, 505). Apart from the almost exact prediction (1944–89) one should not miss the irony in the verb “liberate.” In the same year he predicts that the Holy Alliance between America, England, and Russia will be signed at the cost of Poland’s independence. Among his other predictions, one may count the hypocrisy of political correctness before the term was invented. Using amazing sarcastic metaphors, he dedicates many of his writings to the transformation, sometimes unnoticeable, of people and systems on their way toward the far left, bloody revolutions and terror. The perfect metaphor is his “surgery without anesthesia” (441, 479). Standing in line was one of the few inconveniences that war brought to France. Brandys mentions that it reminded him of the lines in Warsaw during the 1980s. Bobkowski devotes quite a bit of description to these lines and people’s behavior; in many instances his narrative turns aggressively misogynistic. But here, too, we see his linguistic acuity. “Ogonki i ogonki, po wszystko i po nic, ogonki dla ogonków, ogonek do ogonka” (“Lines and lines, for everything and for nothing, lines for the sake of lines, from line to line,” 160, 172). His definition of this phenomenon inscribed in February 1943 reads as follows: “Ogonek to jedna z najperfidniejszych metod poskramiania w człowieku samodzielnego myślenia” (“A line is one of the most perfidious methods of repressing independent thinking,” 360, 391). Bobkowski’s power of language is such that one could quote him endlessly, since description does not do justice to his sarcasm, his seeing through the deceits of ideology, and the limitation of the minds that do not see it. He pinpoints the situation with his favored strategy of reversal. Commenting on the conflict between General Sikorski and the Soviets about Lwów/Lvov, he writes: “My nie chcemy oddać tego, co w tej chwili nie jest nasze, bolszewicy nie chcą się zrzec tego, co nigdy nie było ich” (“The Poles do not want to give away something that at the moment is not ours, while the Bolsheviks do not want to relinquish something that never was theirs,” 366, 397).



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I would like to close with a few remarks on Bobkowski’s attribution of human characteristics to animals, mainly insects, but also to other species. He characterizes the crab as straightforward because it cannot take a turn (41, 40). A few pages later he exclaims that fleas are really splendid (46, 45). He does enjoy observing insects, as witnessed by his vivid description of a fly licking beer off the bar table. I might also mention the spider and eel metaphors that he brings into play. Looking at the whole human race, he is ready to agree with Moscow’s version of evolutionary theory that the ape descends from man (183, 195). He calls the 1941 alliance between Sikorski’s government and Russia an alliance between the cobra and the rabbit (183, 196). And he predicts the consequences. On August 5, 1943, Bobkowski composes a brilliant and long-term expose of communism and socialism: Zsocjalizowany świat zagraża znacznie większą ilością konfliktów, znacznie większym burdelem niż jakikolwiek inny. Ideologiczny kolonializm będzie o wiele krwawszy niż ekonomiczny starego typu. . . . (The socialized world will give rise to many more conflicts, much greater mayhem, than any other. Ideological colonialism will be much bloodier than the old-style economic type . . . , 430, 467)

For the reader of my generation, and not mine alone, the “exploding grenades” of Bobkowski’s prose create the foundation on which one can examine dogma and ideological hypocrisy. 2018


Henryk Grynberg: His Quest for Artistic and Non-Artistic Truth


he novelist, essayist, and poet Henryk Grynberg, who has resided in the United States for the past thirty years, is a major Polish writer of Jewish origin who has dedicated his entire creative effort to documenting the tragic experience of twentieth-century Polish Jewry. He is the author with whom my generation identifies on many levels, especially with regard to his treatment of his experience as a Jewish Polish writer, and as a writer in exile. In this respect, Henryk Grynberg is the most important writer exploring these issues in Polish literature. My essay will assess the meaning of Grynberg’s work in the context of the universal understanding of the twentieth-century Jewish experience. Until recently Henryk Grynberg’s books were seriously underrepresented on the American literary scene. Lately, however, the National Yiddish Book Center placed Grynberg’s The Victory on its list of the 100 Greatest Works of Modern Jewish Literature, and his collection Drohobycz, Drohobycz and Other Stories, published by Penguin Books (1997), received the Koret Jewish Book Award. Thus, his name is found next to Saul Bellow, Yehuda Amichai, Isaac Babel, Elias Canetti, Paul Celan, and the names of other writers who, while writing in many national languages, are associated with something that can be recognized as a Jewish narrative. In 2001 Grynberg was awarded the Doctorate of Hebrew Letters Honoris Causa by the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, a title that before him had been bestowed on such writers as Elie Wiesel, Isaac Beshevis Singer, and Jerzy Kosinski. One might say that with The Victory (1993), The Children of Zion (1997), The Jewish War and The Victory (2001), and Drohobycz, Drohobycz, Grynberg’s profound “artistic truth” is accessible to the American reader. This is not to say that there was no interest before. When Grynberg had his first great success in Poland in the sixties with The Jewish War, American publishers


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competed to acquire the rights to his book. Unfortunately for that book, in 1967 Grynberg sought and was granted asylum here in the United States. The change of his political status triggered a change of heart on the part of the publisher. Only writers staying behind what was then called the “iron curtain” were in fashion. American culture seldom respects foreign writers who make this country their home. It is important to add that the reader will not find a “pretty” image of America in Grynberg’s book. While the American experience is not alien to his protagonists it seems to be ineffective, for nothing can affect people for whom the Holocaust was a major formative experience. Every “new world” is only as valid, as far as it contains the characteristics of the old world.1 The American aspect presented in Kadisz and in some stories in Szkice rodzinne (Family Sketches) and Drohobycz, Drohobycz is simultaneously fragmentary and complex. Grynberg’s protagonists may find haven on this continent, but they never find salvation. They are incapable of the aspirations so crucial to the American myth. The woman of Family Sketches concludes her story: “I feel good in New York. I like to disappear in the crowd on Lexington and Park Avenues, and in the subway.”2 Actually, the American existence of the Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe is meant to be uneventful. The last story in Drohobycz, Drohobycz is narrated by several members of the family. At the end, when the child inquires about his turn to talk, the mother answers: “your life will be so undramatic that no one will be interested. This is why we left [the old country].”3 The fate of the East European Jews remains beyond an American’s comprehension. In Kadisz, when the protagonist’s mother dies in Los Angeles, the rabbi asks routine questions for his eulogy which are, in the words of Józef Wróbel, “utterly grotesque in their incompatibility to her real life. Her portrait will consist of the most banal characteristics: she was a good homemaker, liked to grow flowers, loved her grandchildren.”4 Grynberg’s protagonists come here to lick their wounds, and they do not always succeed even with that. There is hardly any escape from that which they are attempting to escape. Most of the protagonists make a decent living in America but they are never fully reconciled with their life here. Ben, from the story “Cousin Benito,” “once said he was sad he’d die so far away.”5 Even the American Jewish paradise, Florida, where one eats as much as one can for $6.95, is reminiscent of paradise only to the extent that there 1 2 3 4 5

Cf. the protagonists’ excursions to the so-called “Ziemie Odzyskane” (Recovered Territories). Henryk Grynberg, Szkice rodzinne (Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1990), 157. [Unless indicated otherwise, all translations from Grynberg’s works into English are mine—AF.] Idem, “Drohobycz, Drohobycz” and Other Stories, tr. Alicia Nitecki, ed. Theodosia Robertson (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 272. Józef Wróbel, “Henryka Grynberga rozrachunki z Polską,” in his Tematy żydowskie w prozie polskiej 1939-1987 (Kraków: Towarzystwo autorów i wydawców prac nakowych “Universitas,” 1991), 142. Grynberg, Drohobycz, Drohobycz, 230.

Henryk Grynberg: His Quest for Artistic and Non-Artistic Truth is no sex. Perhaps New York is an exception, as opposed to any other place in America, it casts a certain spell on the protagonists and grants them a certain “lightness of being.” At the end of his first visit to New York in 1964 the narrator of the story “Wujek Morris” (Uncle Morris) pays a visit to the Statue of Liberty. He calls her the queen. “I didn’t know that the symbol of liberty could be hollow,” he says after descending from the statue. “One day you will come back and apologize to her,” says an older woman sitting on the bench. When he really returns from Poland for good, his relatives say: “We told you there is no future,” and he adds in an aside to himself: “I did not try to explain that I was concerned with the past and not the future.”6 It is definitely that perspective that informs Grynberg’s attitude toward America, the country that has always been perceived as a country of the future without a past. There is little room for the American myth in Grynberg’s “literary documents,” as Marek Zaleski called his narrative.7 Kadisz is Grynberg’s most comprehensive statement on American culture. In it we see the promised land that broke its promise. California with its otherness—palms, eternal summer, and white furniture—spells betrayal. Two pillars in Grynberg’s life, his mother and stepfather die prematurely in the States, betrayed by the system that believes in its effectiveness. The stepfather who survived a concentration camp, prewar and postwar Polish prisons dies attacked in his own store. To a certain extent, the death of the stepfather somewhere on a Los Angeles Highway is similar to the death of his father killed on the road between Radoszyna and Dobre in the last months of the war. In spite of the heroic effort to survive, they both die because someone wanted their possessions. The stepfather is not saved by the buzzer under the counter, just as the mother is not saved by the American medicine that puts in motion its state-of-the-art facilities but misses the point. The best symbolic scene is the arrival of the emergency ambulance. They respond swiftly but not in order to help, only to follow the proper procedure. The doctor’s callous behavior assumes the symbolic meaning of a gang rape of the mother, the doctor breaches the taboo to no purpose. It is also a hollow procedure.8 This scene in Kadisz represents the guilt felt by a helpless son. One of the major essays in Grynberg’s Non-Artistic Truth is called “Life as Disintegration.” On the artistic level Kadisz is a study of life as disintegration. Grynberg’s first collection of stories Ekipa Antygona (The Antigone Crew, 1963),9 already indicates his topical and artistic direction, and as usually happens with a writer’s earlier works, points to the pattern of the influences which fed his artistic imagination. The title story shows his predilection to base his narratives on real happenings. But 6 7 8


Idem, Szkice rodzinne, 12–3. Marek Zaleski, “Różnica,” in his Formy pamięci. O przedstawianiu przeszłości w polskiej literaturze współczesnej (Warsaw: IBL, 1996), 183. This scene has a prominent precedent in Polish literature, namely, when Gustaw returns home after his mother’s death in Mickiewicz’s Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve), and sees the robbers tearing up the floor where his mother’s bed once stood. Adam Mickiewicz, Dziady, part IV: 772–817. Cf. Jean-Charles Gille-Maisani, Adam Mickiewicz człowiek (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1987), 102–4. Henryk Grynberg, Ekipa “Antygona” (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1963).



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Ekipa Antygona is written in a somewhat veiled style typical of the sixties. Even the opening signals of the individual stories always introduce an ambiguity. It was The Jewish War that turned everyone’s attention to this writer, as it introduced a new canon for writing about the Holocaust. It starts the sequence of Grynberg’s autobiographical books of which the main subject is the fate of the Jew during the Holocaust and under the perils of the communist regime. His other books, following the autobiographical series, are based on a written source acknowledged by the author. Pamiętnik Marii Koper10 (The Diary of Maria Koper, 1993), Dzieci Syonu (The Children of Zion, 1994)11 and the drama Kronika12 belong to this series. Dziedzictwo (Inheritance) combines these two characteristics, as it is autobiographical, yet based on interviews conducted for a film about Grynberg. These are borderline genres, but it takes a master to create a masterpiece from an obscure document that otherwise would never have left the archive boxes. Życie codzienne i artystyczne (Everyday Life and Artistic Life, 1980), and parts of Szkice rodzinne and Drohobycz, Drohobycz are based on other people’s experiences. This mastery is especially prominent in Dzieci Syonu where Grynberg composed an unforgettable oratorio out of dispersed, singular voices. His aim, however, is not “artistic ambition” which he considers dangerous. Instead, he aims to deconstruct the myth that Jews did not have their share of suffering behind the eastern border. Those Jews who either by chance or choice found themselves under Soviet occupation came out of it as decimated as their Catholic countrymen. Nevertheless, they escaped the annihilation that would have been their fate under the German occupation. Reviewing Children of Zion for World Literature Today, Alice-Catherine Carls writes: They were persecuted as Poles and as Jews. There was no room, no food, no asylum, no respite, no place to hide. First the Germans persecuted them, then the Russians, Ukrainians, Moslems, atheists, Christians, Polish children, kolkhoz leaders and Gulag prisoners, for anti-Semitism knows no borders. Then historians forgot about them. Grynberg has given them their voice back.13

Grynberg seems to refrain from fictionalization, which does not mean that these stories are not a narrative in the technical and literary sense. The narrator’s voice is clearly discernible, although the narrator is not the person that, for the most part, speaks, but rather is a person that mostly listens. By listening, coordinating, inserting questions or comments, he commands the reader’s attention, and directs the story. In Drohobycz, Drohobycz he incorporates fragments of documents, quotations from 10 Idem, Pamiętnik Marii Koper (Kraków: Znak, 1993). 11 Idem, Children of Zion (documentary epic), tr. Jacqueline Mitchell (Evanston, IL.: Northwestern University Press, 1997). 12 Idem, Kronika (West Berlin: n.p., 1987). 13 Alice-Catherine Carls, review of The Children of Zion by Henryk Grynberg, World Literature Today (Fall 1998).

Henryk Grynberg: His Quest for Artistic and Non-Artistic Truth newspapers, refers to historical facts; plot is replaced by the most condensed anecdote. It is like an ultimate roll call of those that perished and those that, in the words of Jerzy Ficowski, “escaped destruction, but also escaped redemption.” Grynberg resurrects all of Jewish Eastern Europe in its entirety; he recreates a nonexistent crowd that once existed. The author’s intent seems to be to save these people from anonymity. And it is not that he resurrects only the beautiful, noble, or just. Many of his protagonists carry the heavy burden of transgressions. He wants his truth to be artistically conveyed, yet non-artistically credible. In the season of deconstruction he concentrates on the need to reconstruct. This book recently won him the Golden Pen and nomination for the Nike, Poland’s highest literary prize.

The Importance of Family The Jewish War opens with the words mój ojciec (my father); nine out of the eleven stories in Drohobycz, Drohobycz begin with statements that introduce the immediate family. The family is a microcosm in which most protagonists are placed. The Jewish War came out in 1965 when Polish literature pretended to blossom under the false facades of so-called “minor stabilization” and “minor realism.” It would be an interesting task to compare what Victor Brombert14 calls the “opening signals” of other works of fiction published that year. I doubt that any of them started with the words “my father.” So-called “minor realism” preferred horizontal, not vertical, relations; the family seemed to play a rather marginal role in literature. For Grynberg, the entire social structure is experienced through the family prism. If he speaks of communism it is because some relative was a communist before the war, and another one after the war. Every political turn is presented by the fact that someone close to him went to prison, lost a job, stopped being afraid, or regained an old fear. If a typical device of his prose is defamiliarization, his ultimate goal could be labeled “familialization,” not related to “familiar” but to “family.”15

Identity, Fatherland, Heritage Grynberg constantly wrestles with three existential notions in his work: identity, fatherland, and heritage/inheritance. Two of Grynberg’s books are entitled Ojczyzna (Fatherland) and Dziedzictwo (Inheritance/Heritage). Józef Wróbel writes: “The notion of the fatherland and the notion of national belonging are not described by Grynberg in a colloquial, commonly perceived sense. They are philosophical

14 Victor Brombert, “Opening Signals in Narrative,” New Literary History 11 (1979–1980): 489–502. 15 In her review of Children of Zion, Carls also underlines the fact that the children’s voices, separate and yet fused, recreate a powerful sense of community, of Jewish identity, and, most importantly, of family.



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constructs, which he created while seeking identity in his disintegrated biography and in a disintegrated Jewish world.”16 The fatherland, usually something very solemn and abstract in literature, for Grynberg never loses its etymological and factual link to the word from which it derives: father. “My father is not the bones buried at the meadow path a few kilometers from here. My father is me. It is because of this that I am here. This is what is called fatherland.”17 At the end of the story, when the narrator-protagonist sees his father’s burial place defecated on, he changes his definition: “I am taking you with me, we are leaving. We will feel more at ease now. In the worst case we will peddle like Biumek and Słoń. And when we have made it, no one will come to shit on our grave. For the son who will bury me it may be very important. Because this is what is called fatherland.”18 “Native country” is a synonym for fatherland. In his story “Wujek Aron” (Uncle Aaron) Grynberg deals in very much the same way with this notion. He starts the story with his favored device of a census or register: who of the family was born where of whom and what they lived off. Linking the common root of the word “family” (rodzina) and “native” (rodzinny), the author writes: “It was our native country—literally.” And he concludes saying that only the dead “remained in the native country.”19 Another problem that repeatedly appears in Grynberg’s works is the topic of identity, triggered either by external circumstances; namely, prejudice, or the inner need to define oneself. According to Gershon Shaked,20 the most important characteristic of Jewishness in modern literature is this very struggle with the issue of identity. For Grynberg’s protagonists, this identity was never challenged in the prewar period, or before the assimilation. There is no question who the narrator’s father was, “Abram, Abramek, Abraham,” a rural Jew who lived in Radoszyna, whose family lived and possessed small properties in the nearby villages. The father did not have to pretend to be someone else to be accepted, his existential raison d’être was perfectly clear, even the language of a rural Jew was a perfectly valid and functional tool serving the purpose language should serve, that is, to communicate and not camouflage one’s identity. On the theological plane, Abraham is the spiritual descendant of Abel and was considered his improved version. On that plane, then, his identity is also clear: he was ultimately an Abel. He was a shepherd, he milked his cows and thus fed his son. We read in The Jewish War: “The father did not sit on the horse wagon with us, he walked beside and helped the horses.” He refused to carry arms and died from the hand of a Cain, the man from the same “fatherland” the same “native land.” Even his death was not anonymous, his killer knew him personally. In life or in death, his identity is never in dispute.

16 17 18 19 20

Wróbel, “Henryka Grynberga rozrachunki z Polską,” 140. Henryk Grynberg, Ojczyzna (Warsaw: WAB, 1999), 128. Ibid., 144. Grynberg, Szkice rodzinne, 229. Gershon Shaked, The Shadows Within: Essays on Modern Jewish Writers (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1987), 60; 73ff.

Henryk Grynberg: His Quest for Artistic and Non-Artistic Truth However, the protagonist himself, who survived only because of his concealed identity, has never actually recovered. Just after the war he tells his mother that he does not want to be a Jew any longer: “I hoped for some time that I would not have to be a Jew.”21 When he insists, the mother reluctantly agrees, for “who knows if there are even any Jews left. . . .”22 He still asks himself: “But who were we? and especially who was I?”23 When he returns to Dobre and goes to church on Sunday he is confronted by another survivor’s son who says: “You are a Jew and you must be one.”24 When witnessing the crowd lynching a German, the protagonist says: “I no longer bore a grudge against God for having been born a Jew. Now I was glad not to have been born German, and thanked him for it every day.”25 But the matter of identity is never put to rest. When the narrator returns to his “native land,” his “small fatherland,” he says: “One has to know what one’s origin is, on what one stands and to stand.”26 And moreover: “When a person knows who he is, only then does he feel that he exists.”27 In general, however, the protagonist is never at ease when it comes to his own identity. In the sixties, on his trip through Germany the narrator is asked by a man identifying himself as a Yugoslav whether he is “also a Slav.” The narrator replies: “I said, ‘almost,’ and in any case [I am] a Pole.”28 One may wonder how this exchange would sound today, had these two people met at the same crossroads. In The Victory, the mother and child leave the village where they survived as Poles and Christians, and realize that they cannot reveal their identity: “My mother felt guilty and impure. . . . As a woman and a mother my mother couldn’t help feeling grateful to the Nienaltkowskis, while at the same time, as a Jew, she had been in constant terror of them. She was two persons at once and had to experience double feelings.”29 Such inner divisions will always haunt Grynberg’s protagonists, and his life’s efforts may be characterized, in Józef Wróbel’s words, as a “psychological resignation of the ‘Aryan papers.”30 And Marek Zaleski comments: “The realization of one’s own otherness, the difference forces the protagonist to reconstruct the past.”31 The scene in Ojczyzna where a New Year’s Eve prank results in confrontation and an anti-Semitic insult, ends with the following discourse: “Besides, we didn’t know that we were Jews. We looked at each other, and indeed, we were. All of us. . . . And only now did we notice, 21 Henryk Grynberg, Życie ideologiczne, Życie osobiste (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1992), 12. 22 Idem, The Jewish War and The Victory, tr. Celina Wieniewska with the author and Richard Lourie (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2001), 63. 23 Prawda nieartystyczyna (Warsaw: PIW, 1994), 17. 24 Ibid. 25 Grynberg, The Jewish War and The Victory, 107. 26 Grynberg, Ojczyzna, 125. 27 Grynberg, “Buszujący po drogach,” in Szkice rodzinne, 58. 28 Ibid., 50. 29 Grynberg, The Jewish War and The Victory, 64. 30 Wróbel, “Henryka Grynberga rozrachunki z Polską,” 130. 31 Zaleski, “Różnica,” 193.



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that each of us looks like a Jew. Anyone who ever wondered what it means ‘to look like a Jew’ could see it now. Because in that instant we did look like Jews.”32 Certainly, this is a good moment to reflect on the several degrees of Grynberg’s expatriation: as a Polish writer writing almost exclusively about Jews and residing in the United States. In my view it is precisely his act of facing the problem of his identity and acknowledging his obsession that makes him the least exiled of writers. Much less than those who never openly faced the situation of their belonging to the respective national literature and being of Jewish origin at the same time. While many writers of his generation needed to abandon their holocaust memories for several decades in order to make a name for themselves on an entirely different territory, often finding escape in abstract, theoretical work, Grynberg always felt that his topic did not need external justification. As an author he never practiced escapism. He laid bare his obsession, regardless of the literary fashion. Inheritance (often used interchangeably with heritage) is another important point of reference in Grynberg’s book. Most of the people who returned after the war to their own towns or villages, had nothing to return to, or were afraid to claim their rightful possessions. Therefore “inheritance” becomes a rather symbolic substance. In Family Sketches the female protagonist says: “I simply belong to those who did not inherit from their relatives anything but a sketch.” 33 Such is the lot shared by most of Grynberg’s protagonists. Przemysław Czapliński calls Kadisz “an effort, condemned from the start, of salvaging the heritage and identity against death.”34 And in Kadisz we read: “memories—my heritage, my inheritance that I could easily lose, without it nothing was left.”35 At the unveiling the rabbi says: “This is not about what was written by the lawyers. This is about a more important inheritance, the one we have from God and which we must transfer from generation to generation.”36 The ultimate pronouncement in this matter is to be found in Inheritance: at the exhumation the protagonist saves his father’s milk bottle that provided the additional proof of identification. Someone calls it a “souvenir,” and he retorts: “Inheritance.”

Narrative Devices One of Grynberg’s principal narrative devices is what Naomi B. Sokoloff calls the collision of “two worlds of discourse.”37 These collisions start with the titles. Apropos the title of The Jewish War, Józef Wróbel writes: The title is obviously an inversion of the title of [Josephus] Flavius and of Feuchtwanger. Shifting the accent to the first segment of the title indicates 32 33 34 35 36 37

Grynberg, Ojczyzna, 203. Grynberg, Szkice rodzinne, 157. Przemysław Czapliński, “Kształty nieobecności,” Twórczość 2 (1989), 102–4. Henryk Grynberg, Kadisz (Kraków: Znak, 1987), 38. Ibid., 134. Naomi B. Sokoloff, Imagining the Child in Modern Jewish Fiction (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 27.

Henryk Grynberg: His Quest for Artistic and Non-Artistic Truth the uniqueness of such an experience, as was the Holocaust. The meaning of “war” is ironic, it is only a one-sided war, the other side neither fights, nor kills, it is in constant flight.38

The war is not a war, the victory of the following autobiographical story under that title, is not a victory, “The Fatherland” fails to be one. In “The Ideological Life” there is no ideology, and in “The Personal Life” personal life is impossible without the four walls that provide privacy. As we have already seen, “inheritance/heritage,” like everything in Grynberg’s narrative, is a hollow place to cherish. Knowing all that, one may be surprised that some readers protest that Kadisz is not solely a kaddish. Yes, a kaddish prayer is being disrupted by a brutal fight over inheritance, the most solemn collides with the most mundane. And yes, Kadisz is a disintegrated world falling apart. No innocence there, but Grynberg stipulates that a real literature cannot be innocent. This confrontation of colliding meanings serves multifarious functions in Grynberg’s writings, one of which is the exposure of the appalling hypocrisy of the educational and ideological system of the Stalinist era. Infantile songs and social games are juxtaposed with scenes of vulgar, and sometimes even brutal, sexual gratification. Humor plays a very important role in Grynberg’s writing. He usually takes every situation to its logical extreme, after which a reinforcement follows, frequently after the word zwłaszcza (“especially”). Upon its publication, The Jewish War was so different from the existing literary production dealing with the Holocaust that it caused considerable confusion and fear in reviewer’s circles in Poland, as it disregarded an unwritten recipe for books on the topic. Wróbel comments on this: “In the Polish national mythology, fed by stereotypes of reckless confidence, there was no place for the resigned Jewish stand of the sufferer.”39 And elsewhere: “As if this was not the same time and not the same enemy, the Jewish war is waged separately, and the Polish one separately.”40 Moreover, Grynberg disregarded the demands of the so-called ideological code according to which people’s behavior should be linked to their political affiliation; the “left” should be shown as sympathetic to the Jews, while “right” is nationalistic, and so forth. Grynberg totally ignored these rules. Marek Zaleski writes: “Grynberg helps to break the taboo—the self-censorship of our national consciousness—that does not allow the admission that the Polish Jew was denied the fate of his fellow citizens in Poland.”41 He adds: “The intensity of anti-Semitic resentment resulted in the submission of this memory to brutal manipulation. . . . Memory was also . . . being wiped out.”42

38 39 40 41 42

Wróbel, “Henryka Grynberga rozrachunki z Polską,” 130. Ibid., 139. Ibid., 135. Zaleski, “Różnica,” 187. Ibid., 192.



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This probably accounts for the total silence in the press until the appearance of Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz’s enthusiastic review in Życie Warszawy in 1966. Iwaszkiewicz, at that time the Nestor of Polish letters and President of the Writers’ Union, possessed the power, ability and desire to break that silence. He knew well the fate of the Jews during the war, to many of whom he opened the doors at his estate, and his own daughter was married to Bohdan Wojdowski, another distinguished writer and Holocaust survivor. It was the masterful application of a child’s voice that allowed Grynberg to create such a powerful work of art, which brought him three prestigious awards on both sides of the Iron Curtain–the Tadeusz Borowski Grant in Warsaw, the Kościelski Foundation Award in Switzerland, and the Radio Free Europe award in Munich. A year later when he chose to seek political asylum in the United States, the book became a target of the most vicious political attack in the Polish press, after which his name disappeared from print for more than twenty years. And an American publisher washed his hands of the previous commitment. Grynberg not only uses a child’s voice as a device, but he also “seriously considers his protagonist a psychological being rather than merely a pretext for advancing adult views.”43 The structure of the entire story is indicative of this, above all, the division into the two chapters “Father” and “Mother.” Only the traditional roles are somewhat reversed, the father is remembered as a nurturer who brought the milk, while the mother had to fight the Jewish war. When the protagonist learns that his father has been killed with an ax by someone from the village, his life is being affected forever. Only many years later, after the war, do the protagonist and the author himself complete the long journey–the exhumation of the father’s remains is shown on Paweł Łoziński’s film Miejsce urodzenia (Place of Birth) and written about in Dziedzictwo, the book based on the film’s screenplay. The motif of the exhumation and proper burial of the father appears for the first time in “Hamlet,” the final story of Ekipa Antygona. These two symbolic names set and exhaust the subject. Hamlet represents the reluctance to investigate and to seek revenge for his father’s death and the guilt associated with it, Antygona represents the imperative to give a proper burial to a member of the family. Both motifs appear in Ojczyzna and find their resolution in Dziedzictwo. As in many postmodern texts, it is difficult to discern what begets what, due to the material’s origin, inspiration, and literary treatment. Factual, realistic, non-artistic truth is elusive. And yet, this is what feeds the greater truth, artistic truth. Like the play in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the movie-making brings the investigation to a close, and like Hamlet, Grynberg and his protagonist are denied revenge. In the finale of Dziedzictwo, however, the author stresses that there cannot be forgiveness. Some were astounded by the author’s incontestable position. These critics should recall Zbigniew Herbert’s famous declaration: and do not forgive truly it is not in your power to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn.44 43 Sokoloff, Imagining the Child, 21. 44 Zbigniew Herbert, “The Envoy of Mr. Cogito,” in Mr. Cogito, 61.

Henryk Grynberg: His Quest for Artistic and Non-Artistic Truth The memory of the Holocaust is never absent from Grynberg’s artistic vision; it underlies every single observation, every perception. The bird thrown out of the nest, the raccoon trapped in the chimney of his Virginia home are ready-made metaphors of his experiences. The Holocaust, however, is not his only topic. Grynberg quite successfully revokes in his narrative the absurd countenance of communism, at the same time in his essays he very seriously dissects the myth of communism being a Jewish conspiracy to destroy Poland. He deals with many aspects of this problem, as he portrays the naive idealistic communists, the fanatics, and the opportunists. Like everywhere else, Jews in Poland hoped to find a way to assimilation in communism, the new regime hateful to Poles. He does not shy away from the topic of Jews seeking help in revenge, or simply the protection of the security police. As we see in his book The Victory, the end of the war did not bring peace. Jews sought protection from the Russians occupying the territory and then by the new regime, which in fact triggered new violence, or rather gave legitimacy to the old violence. The young protagonist witnesses Poles and Jews being killed, which feeds the same fear under which he lived during the occupation. The fact that he addresses this problem directly without camouflage, without apology, without denial gives him credibility. Yet, he demands that his reader look at the magnitude of Jewish participation in the prewar communist movement and the postwar regime. Even though Jews in the communist movement were quite visible, he demonstrates how alien the premises of communism were to the majority of the Jewish population. Grynberg’s Jews do not and did not live in ghetto-like isolation, they constantly interact with Poles. Whether in the villages, in Warsaw or Łódź we see numerous threads linking Jews in a natural way with every stratum of Polish society. Not surprisingly, he even finds two Polish surrogate father’s figures: Śliwa, the farmer, and Sałata, the peddler. He creates vivid images of peasants, residents of the city’s outskirts, and, certainly, women. His protagonist took an oath that he would not go to bed with the Jewish woman, and he kept that promise. His descriptions of Polish summers, be it in Ekipa Antygona, Ojczyzna, or Zwycięstwo, are evocative, sensual, and magical. And how different they are from his portrayal of American summers, which are often displaced, like the protagonists of Grynberg’s American stories. Grynberg demonstrates an unmistakable eye for detail and an unerring ear for every minute sound of the local dialect.45 One can see that this landscape speaks to him in its most intimate language. And here I would paraphrase Grynberg: this is called fatherland. If the family is the most natural environment for his protagonists, marriage is above all a contract in Grynberg’s book. If he has anything to notice about someone’s marriage it is the pact that stands behind it. This can already be seen in The Victory: At that time Jews were marrying quickly. Anyone they could. Widowers married widows, invalids married invalids. The blind married the lame and 45 I remember the author’s indignation at the editor’s attempt to “improve” on Grynberg’s rendition of this particular dialect. The editor wanted to make it an a priori image of a dialect.



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paralytics the tubercular. A man we knew in the building next door, an old hunchbacked bachelor, married a pretty young woman who had returned from Ravensbrück with a withered leg. . . . they had to hurry. Their best years were already long past. They had lost their children and weren’t at all that certain that God, who had not been much in evidence for a long time, would bless them with children again. But if they couldn’t count on having children, they could try to replace a father, mother, brother, or sister for one another. Marriage has never been so precious.46

When Grynberg talks about so-called mixed marriages he indicates the political motive and implications of such a union. Before the war non-Jewish communists married Jewish women communists, after the war the reverse occurred—Polish women married Jewish communists because of their power. Immediately after the war hidden survivors would marry into the Polish families that helped them. The protagonist is also under a similar contract as it is hoped that he will marry a distant cousin, also a survivor. Unfortunately, the cousin is a bit “heavy set.” And he does not want to marry a person with a similar psychological burden, another Jew. Finally, when the protagonist does marry it is only a contract, not a marriage. And he does it to complete another contract—the exchange of the apartment. To paraphrase Adorno’s famous quotation, love is not possible after Auschwitz. The burden of the past leaves the protagonist wholly incapable of love, and this probably lays at the root of his misogyny that reveals itself through humor, often morbid but always masterful. The images of women are so interlaced with the image of politics, mainly communism, that they often become a metaphor for all the depravity and degradation, of the system.

Self-appointed Requirement It is not easy to comment on an author who has dedicated part of his work to commenting on himself. And rightly so, because having a mission, he cannot risk leaving it to the mercy of theorizing, and patronizing critics who have their own agendas. In addition, he follows the tradition practiced by Czesław Miłosz, who does not leave to the critics the entire task of exegesis. In his essay “The Holocaust in Polish Literature” Grynberg stresses the fact that even the minimal “elements of artistic ambition” lead to generalization, universalization, and, consequently, to concealment of the truth. He strongly believes that only nonfiction can do justice to the material, because this is not a nineteenth-century crime and punishment perpetrated by one individual, but a twentieth-century collective crime and (equally collective) impunity.47

46 Grynberg, The Jewish War and The Victory, 109. 47 Grynberg, Drohobycz, Drohobycz, author’s commentary on the cover.

Henryk Grynberg: His Quest for Artistic and Non-Artistic Truth In his essay Grynberg praises Zofia Nałkowska’s “invisible/transparent” style and her restraint from fictionalization in her collection of Holocaust stories Medaliony (Medallions).48 He strongly urges that non-artistic truth should be the only goal of literature about the Holocaust. In the same essay he quotes Tadeusz Borowski’s stipulation: “. . . I like to think that one day we shall have the courage to tell the world the whole truth and call it by its proper name.”49 Grynberg’s entire oeuvre may be seen as striving to realize this self-appointed requirement.

“Memorbuch” Concerto In his latest work, Memorbuch (2000),50 published to considerable critical acclaim,51 Grynberg brings to culmination a number of techniques characteristic of his earlier books, for example, the utilization of authentic biographical material, historical documents, and historical synthesis, along with elements of an essayistic approach. Apart from the techniques and the source material, it is Grynberg’s distinctive language that shapes the narrative. The biography of Adam Bromberg, the prominent Polish publisher of Jewish origin, based to a large extent on his own written or tape-recorded memoirs, serves as the plot material for this complex narrative. Grynberg, however, places the life of his protagonist not only in the historical context required by biography, but also in the context of what could be called a fate, a destiny, or more precisely, a Jewish destiny. And this is where the essayistic attitude, which transcends the singular, comes into the picture. While the biography and the history proceed temporally from point A to B and then to C, this movement is illusory, because on the destiny level fate unequivocally awaits to strike. Regardless of the point on the temporal plane, historical circumstances, political or ideological systems without fail bring about the persecution of the Jewish population, and no matter how different the historical context, the persecution proceeds by the same unmistakable ritual. Structurally, the work’s composition is similar to Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, where two planes “interpenetrate and react on each other, separate from each other, unite again, and all with an incomprehensible artistic inevitability.”52 This aura of inevitability is reinforced every time Grynberg detours from the linear biographical narrative, for example, to incorporate almost verbatim the 1936 Polish Parliament’s dispute Grynberg, Prawda nieartystyczna, 99. Ibid., 103. Henryk Grynberg, Memorbuch (Warsaw: WAB, 2000). Mariusz Cieślik, “Księgi Hańby. Memorbuch Henryka Grynberga,” Gazeta Wyborcza, September 28, 2000; Jerzy R. Krzyżanowski, “Memorbuch Adama Bromberga,” Przegląd Polski (New York), November 24, 2000; Krzysztof Masłoń, “Niewłaściwy wygląd encyklopedysty,” Rzecz o książkach, September 12, 2000; Jolanta Brach-Czaina, “Księga żydowskich wspomnień,” Midrasz 12 (2000); Piotr Kępiński, “Grynberg vel Bromberg,” Życie Warszawy, October 26, 2000. 52 Albert Schweitzer, “Chamber and Orchestral Works,” in his J. S. Bach, tr. Ernest Newman. pref. by C. M. Widor (Boston: B. Humphries, 1962), 406. I wish to thank Pavlina Dokovska for pointing out this work to me. 48 49 50 51



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about ritual slaughter. It was still three years until the beginning of war, but the feeling of alienation and defenselessness among the Jewish population is already palpable. Everything that will happen will take place against this background of foreboding. In the following parts of the book this function is fulfilled by a unique Baedeker, the guidebook that Grynberg creates for the benefit of his protagonist’s travels. Instead of scenery, architecture or other local attractions, this “travel book” consists of a history of the persecution of the Jews in each particular place. This theme, repeated again and again, creates an aura of inevitability. The reader is being prepared to conclude that what happened before might and should happen again. The protagonist does not draw on that knowledge until destiny crosses the path of his own biography. In the early 1930s, after being beaten by the young Nazis, his Austrian peers, he seeks refuge, defense and revenge by getting involved in the illegal activities of the Communist Party, thirty years later he experiences persecution at the hand of his own party. The reader realizes that the anti-Zionist campaign instigated by the interests of the Communist regime, does not differ from any other such campaigns in history. The inserted reports of the prewar Polish Diet and the Senate debates about the so-called “Jewish question” make the reader realize that the language used by the first secretary of the Communist Party, Władysław Gomułka and others in order to purge the Jews from Poland in 1968 was not specifically communist jargon, but the language familiar from those prewar debates. It is a shattering realization. That ultimate conclusion is expressed here by none other than Isaac Bashevis Singer, upon visiting the protagonist who in his last exile became Singer’s Swedish publisher. Singer says that it is not communism, nor fascism, it’s something much more older. Unlike most of Grynberg’s work, where the center of gravity is dominated by Holocaust-related events, Memorbuch, while giving an ample account of the growing nationalistic and fascist movement in the 30s, then the protagonist’s history of involvement with pre- and postwar communism, and his survival of the war, gravitates toward 1968, the year in which the remnants of the Polish Jewish population were driven out of the country. Nineteen sixty-eight constitutes the finale of this concerto. To show how the Jews of Poland were again made the scapegoat, Grynberg does not limit himself to the grim story of his main protagonist, but reinforces the message by telling the stories of several people from different walks of life, from the much younger generation, who despite their expectations were forced to submit to the order of the day and let themselves be driven out of the country of their origin, to be stripped of citizenship, and accused of dozens of absurd transgressions and to undergo the familiar assortment of harassment and denigration. In the Central European Jewish tradition dating from the Middle Ages, the memorbuch, according to The Encyclopaedia Judaica, was a community prayer book comprised of three parts: (a) a collection of prayers, (b) a necrology of distinguished persons, (c) a martyrology of people and places. By his very title Grynberg states his own goal, his agenda. It is not a biography of the protagonist, nor a story of one family, it is a memorbuch of Polish Jewry. In one scene the protagonist’s wife throws her wartime diary into the fire. She burns her personal “memorbuch,” perhaps hoping that these memories are things of the past. Grynberg’s book, however, forces the reader to realize that such

Henryk Grynberg: His Quest for Artistic and Non-Artistic Truth memories are not a thing of the past. Like the traditional Jewish memorbuchs, this one will also serve the purpose of preserving in memory both themes of the concerto, the one of life, and the one of tragic destiny. 2003 I would like to express my gratitude to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research for the Aleksander and Alicja Hertz Memorial Fellowship that enabled me to work on this project.



Finding the Way between Globalization and Decentralization: Polish Literature after 1989



here have always been closed periods in literature. Some parameters were determined by the underlying philosophy, for example, Romanticism and Positivism, and others by historical and political phenomena. Sometimes the two determinants coincide, for example, the Polish Romantics were the first generation born under the Russian, Prussian and Austrian partition, therefore the suffering experienced by the Romantic hero was not only that of the individual but of the nation. And even if it were merely an individual, he was shown to suffer for millions. Similarly, Positivism in Poland concerned itself with educating society on how to defy, in a peaceful manner, the brutal reality under the partitions. Not only Polish writers found themselves under the pressure of the times. Literature after World War I, known as the Great War, throughout the entire world was affected by the phenomenon of a lost generation. Ironically, in Poland, whose population fought under the banners of three different occupying empires, the end of World War I brought liberation after 123 years of foreign rule. The two decades that followed, the so-called Interwar Period, in my opinion, the most fascinating period in Polish literature, is in some ways comparable to the period we are going to examine. The literature of this twenty-five-year period is comparable to the literature of a society liberated from restriction and suppression. While making that comparison it seems necessary to recapitulate the war years and

Polish Literature after 1989 the phases of the forty-four years that Poland was under the ideological and political dictate of the Soviet Union. World War II brought the greatest terror ever, and for literature it demanded, to a great extent, a return to the Romantic patriotic ethos and battle-inspiring poetry, so-called Tyrteian poetry.1 The first few years after the war were marked by chaos, accompanied by the feeling of relief, and hope for a normal life. Hence, many writers accepted the new political reality, those who did not soon found themselves on the margins or even beyond the margins. Around 1949 the Stalinist terror became obvious in literature and art—socialist realism had become the one and only permitted view of life and mode of writing. Despotic censorship at times bordered on terror, because not only publishing but the writer’s existence depended on the political point of view. The Poznań Revolt in 1956 led to some political liberalization and hope, but that did not last for long; censorship was once again reinforced, and some journals leaning toward liberalism were closed. In 1968, the student revolt against censorship was diverted by the Party into an anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic campaign, which brought about the exile of many Jews, including a large segment of the intelligentsia. The 1970s mark the beginnings of yearning for voicing independent opinions, the 80s brought Solidarity and many independent underground magazines that were typed and copied (before Xerox), and distributed under penalty of imprisonment and oppression. Martial Law, and the Round Table agreement in 1989 finally led to a change in the system. So, on the one hand, the population had great expectations, and on the other, a reality that never met those expectations. As one should expect, freedom and democracy bring just that—freedom and democracy. People expected much more than that. A number of books examine this epic transformation, describing the processes in factual and theoretical terms. It became a genre in itself. I recently reread Teresa Walas’s book, entitled Zrozumieć swój czas. Kultura polska po komunizmie [To Comprehend One’s Time. Polish Culture after Communism].2 Walas, a prominent scholar, critic and professor at Jagiellonian University, leads the reader step by step to comprehend that time. I will share some of her findings. Quite soon after these transformations the literary environment realized that culture, like everything else, must submit to a free market.3 For a culture that was considered to stand above everyday reality, such a transition was difficult and painful. Walas sends her readers to books by Hanna Świda-Ziemba and Jerzy Szacki.4 Initially there were high expectations, people tried to see analogies between the interwar culture and the post-communist situation, but scholars, Jerzy Jarzębski among them, cautioned against making such a comparison. The new culture had to face the 1 2 3 4

Battle-inspiring poetry. Teresa Walas, Zrozumieć swój czas. Kultura polska po komunizmie (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2003). Ibid., 5. Ibid., 12.



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losses caused by the ideological intervention of the past. The topics absent in the past had to be dealt with, and many texts rejected by the censorship in the past awaited publication. Walas emphasizes that feelings of loss and the desire for vindication were more often expressed by aggression than nostalgia.5 The fall of communism and the casting off of the restrictions of censorship and ideological pressure were accompanied by an absence of governmental support for culture, which brought about a rupture between the elite and mass cultures. The free market showed that moral and/or aesthetic issues do not matter in mass culture.6 In the post-dependent order one observes two colliding movements: high culture and mass culture. Hence the feeling of crisis among the intellectual elite. 7

Nostalgia Nostalgia for a lost world is a natural reaction. The fall of communism, apart from its benefits, brought about adaptation anxiety. According to Robert K. Merton,8 there are four typical ways of reaction to reality, and in the case of the post-communist countries the change required adaptation: innovation, revolt, ritualism, and withdrawal. People felt lost after the liberation. There was no positive vision of what this liberation should lead to. People knew about freedom and prosperity, but one cannot painlessly make the transition from one system to another. Hence people run away from the new reality, they turn to something familiar. The symptoms of such trauma are distrust, pessimism, political apathy, post-Communist hangover, trauma of collective memory, and nostalgia for the past. Homo Sovieticus cannot change on the spot. That which he expected from communism he now expects from capitalism—he is a master of claims and demands. Lack of distance and incomprehensibility produced nostalgia. Globalization and the acceleration brought about by the Internet and informational interference causes disorientation. Some believe that Poles overcame the syndrome of Homo Sovieticus and found themselves in the new reality; however, they had to pay the price of transformation.9 Solidarity, or the notion of solidarity, created a mass movement that united everyone against the communist regime; losing the common enemy forced everyone to create some other enemy, hence the unity was lost forever. Many felt lost and disappointed by the chaos. Shock therapy was painful. However, it did lead to building a better economy.

5 6 7 8


Ibid., 13. Ibid., 126. Ibid., 127. See Piotr Sztompka, “Robert K. Merton’s Four Concepts of Anomie,” in Robert K. Merton and Contemporary Sociology, ed. Carlo Mongardini and Somonetta Tabboni (New Brunswick: Transactions Publishers,1998), 163–177. Robert King Merton, American sociologist and University Professor at Columbia University. See Józef Tischner, Etyka solidarności oraz Homo sovieticus (Kraków: Znak, 2005).

Polish Literature after 1989 Another problem is linked to the position taken by the former opposition to forgive and forget. The literature of the period reflects the process of transformation by conveying the collective experience to the individual one. As many commentators of this literature point out, the new reality did not have its own models of narration, hence initially it appeared to be a cacophony of many voices. The new narrative very often becomes a palimpsest, and/or creates a certain informational noise. The former “big brother” is replaced by the free market, which to the disoriented population looks like another unknown imposed power. To express these new anxieties, artists reached for the so-called “sylvan” narrative, as well as osmosis (gradual absorption), magic realism—strategies that can replicate the search for a new identity in the new order of things. The process of globalization that suddenly fell upon societies at that time caused many controversies, especially in regard to cultural politics and the marginalization of art in the social hierarchy.10 Two movements were observed, the return to the center– publishers, competitions, awards; and decentralization–forming many centers. In the 1990s several new cultural periodicals tried to break away from the dichotomy of official and independent/dissident literature, since the new generation viewed this binary division as an artificial polarization. From the mass unification imposed by the totalitarian system, the literary scene moved to mass individualism. Przemysław Czapliński and Piotr Śliwiński have written interesting work on this topic.11 The fall of communism brought other phenomena of a diffusional character, changing the image of the national culture as monolithic.12 This change led to a decentralization initially understood as the consequence of self-expression. Walas underscores that a political variant of postmodernist thinking is a positive mythologizing of small regions, ethnicities, and so-called “small fatherlands.” Such decentralization found support among many critics of culture, and led to the fall of the center, Warsaw, as a major authority (power center) establishing and ruling literary life. This situation is illustrated by the founding of many literary periodicals and publishing companies. The writers of these regions started to concentrate on reexamining the existing official images of territories and/or minorities whose history and characters were silenced for decades. These “small fatherlands” appeared as if they were newly discovered. See the prose of Stasiuk, Pilch, Tokarczuk, Liskowacki, Chwin, and Huelle. These authors exposed the diversity of these “fatherlands” rather than their supposed unity, as well as their history which had never been discussed publicly. 10 Przemysław Czapliński, Powrót centrali: literatura w nowej rzeczywistości (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2007). 11 Przemysław Czapliński and Piotr Śliwiński, Literatura polska, 1976–1998: przewodnik po prozie i poezji (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2002); idem (eds.), Normalność i konflikty: rozważania o literaturze i życiu literackim w nowych czasach (Poznań: Poznańskie Studia Polonistyczne, 2006). 12 Walas, Zrozumieć swój czas, 132.



Part Two

On Polish Prose

The image of these territories being revealed by these writers creates, according to Walas, a type of archipelago, “a set devoid of tension but also mutual connotations.” Of course, in some instances the very description “small fatherlands” requires quotation marks because these were at different times “fatherlands” for different peoples. As Przemysław Czapliński points out in his article “The Margins and the Center: Polish Prose 1999–2000,” citing Jan Gross’s book Neighbors, “the stories of the fatherlands lost their innocence.”13 The crossover of these trends and paradigms, between globalization and decentralization, is one topic that was absent for forty-five years from public discourse, that is, the German presence on the territories that were German before World War II. There are writers who have made inroads into these territories under dispute. As a person educated in Communist Poland, I was especially touched by reading the prose of Paweł Huelle about Gdańsk and Artur Daniel Liskowacki about my hometown, Szczecin. The novels of Stefan Chwin belong here as well. Under Paweł Huelle’s pen, the city of Gdańsk with its convoluted history becomes an enormous and sensitive instrument on which he plays a masterly sonata. Over the traditional borderlines and national divisions he proposes ultimate, universal, and moral criteria as a cognitive tool in describing contemporary man. One has to acknowledge that in the 70s two writers addressed the topic of the traces of the German presence before the war, namely, Tadeusz Konwicki and Henryk Grynberg; but it was Huelle who set the goal “of revealing the history of specific places mythologized by ideology and politics.” Jan Kott states that there is always a double bottom in Huelle’s Moving House and Other Stories14 and that is why his realism was named magic realism. His immersion in the tradition has a paradoxical outcome; on the one hand, it delivers the tools to decipher the space, on the other, it changes the ordinary, apparently familiar space into something enigmatic. And according to Jerzy Jarzębski, Huelle’s writing became “healing of the space.” In his books Moving House and Other Stories as well as Weiser Dawidek and Mercedes Benz, “the space of the hometown is shown as a unique palimpsest . . . , which allows one to remove the layers of meaning covered up and censored.”15 These three books were almost immediately translated into English, and other languages. Moving House. Stories even has two English translations, one by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, and a second by Michael Kandel. I would like for a moment to concentrate on the story entitled “The Table.” The table that by itself is the center of family life; in this particular family it is also a center of discontent. It was purchased in 1946 by the family coming from the Polish Eastern territories to Gdańsk from a German man who was running away from Gdańsk to Germany. The table also becomes a divide 13 Przemysław Czapliński, “Marginesy i centrum: proza polska 1999–2000,” Kresy, Kwartalnik literacki 48, no. 4 (2001): 146–51. 14 Paweł Huelle, Moving House and Other Stories, tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones (London: Bloomsbury, 1996). 15 Jerzy Jarzębski, “Leczenie przestrzeni,” Tygodnik Powszechny, no. 4/5, May 17, 1998, suplement “Kontrapunkt.”

Polish Literature after 1989 between the protagonist’s mother, who is still afraid of the Germans, and his father, who tries to judge Germans individually, to see the tragic history of each human being. Mr. Polaske who sold the table “was a Social Democrat and spent three years in the Stutthof because he didn’t agree with Hitler.”16 His brother, facing mandatory resettlement to Germany, hangs himself in the attic. In order to fix the table’s one broken leg, the father tries to level the remaining legs, and despite being a skillful engineer he fails to do so. The father cannot make all the legs even, because one cannot trim the past, the mother’s fear and prejudice toward Germans, nor the painful memory. The process of looking for a new table exposes the absurdity of the socialist economy. At the end of the story we see the many layers of this diverse population, people from Lwów and Wilno, Mennonite women who survived the war hidden in an attic, Ukrainians from the kolkhoz who drink and sing in the moonlight, and occasionally burn down sheds. It is a real palimpsest in which every object, every image and historical fact reveal layers of reality silenced for several decades. In her review of the book Cities after the Fall of Communism: Reshaping Cultural Landscapes and European Identity, Maya Nadkarni points out that such cities as “Kaliningrad/Koenigsberg, Kharkiv, L’viv, Łódź, Novgorod, Odessa, Tallinn, Sevastopol, Szczecin, Vilnius, and Wrocław .  .  . struggled with the task of rewriting urban histories that would support their reinvention as nations. . . . The lack of historical consensus and the collapse of the official/oppositional poles of collective memory has led to a fragmentation of urban memory.”17 Reading and rereading the prose of Paweł Huelle and Artur Liskowacki convinces us how painful that process is. Especially for people who were subjected to such deception, and for whom such therapy was quite shocking. In his closing remark about Liskowacki’s novel Eine Kleine (A Little Narrative) Przemysław Czapliński writes: “We recover the city most surely and most fully by telling the story (spinning a yarn) in the name of those who lost that city.”18 In another essay Czapliński writes: “In [Liskowacki’s] novel the demythologizing movement does not lead to building another myth but to questioning all orders, including the mythic one, according to which the past is being shaped and told.” For Artur Daniel Liskowacki, the town of Szczecin and revising its myth became a subject of his artistic creation and a literary topic.19 Recently Liskowacki, a prominent poet, prose writer, and journalist, published Ulice Szczecina. Ciąg bliższy (Street of Szczecin. Continuation, Closer), his fourth book solely dedicated to this 16 Huelle, “The Table,” in Moving House and Other Stories, 5. 17 Maya Nadkarni, review of Cities after the Fall of Communism: Reshaping Cultural Landscapes and European Identity, ed. John Czaplicka; Nida Gelazis; Blair A. Ruble, H-Net Reviews, June 2011, 18 Przemysław Czapliński, “Wzniosłe tęsknoty,” Nostalgia w prozie lat dziewięćdziesiątych (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2001), 160. 19 These and few further remarks are based on Krzysztof Ćwikliński, “Tryptyk szczeciński,” Borussia 33–34 (2004): 224.



Part Two

On Polish Prose

difficult process. The previous three titles, which critics have dubbed a triptych are Ulice Szczecina (Streets of Szczecin), Cukiernica pani Kirsh (Mrs. Kirsh’s Sugar Bowl), and Eine Kleine. Liskowacki has a researcher’s courage and persistence to revive prewar Szczecin. It does not mean that his writing on Szczecin concerns that city only. He sets the paradigm of how literature should face such existential, political and artistic dilemmas. In his last book he reconstructed20 a toponymy of several streets that matter to his biography, he studies the prewar and postwar names, and discovers the biographies of architects and prominent people who lived there. He discusses their relation to the political realities of the times. At a certain point he declares: “I don’t remember but my ‘I’ remembers.” It is not only what his “I” remembers but how the “I” of the streets remembers the same space. His prose exhibits a multilayered and diverse perspective created by the different ideologies. All this is related to the author’s personal and spiritual topography. Kazimierz Brakoniecki writes that the book represents an interesting and indispensable “trend in Polish culture, where discovering the truth about oneself is linked with discovering the truth about one’s native town or place.”21 However, in his interview with Krzysztof Lichtblau,22 Liskowacki warns us against overrating the concept of “small fatherlands”; he sees it as a stigmatizing and patronizing point of view, and disparagement under the guise of the appreciation of regionalism. Thus the problem of the relationship between center and margins, small fatherlands, and stereotyping under the presumed overwhelming umbrella of globalization still generates material for contemporary storytelling. 2016

20 Krzysztof Ćwikliński’s term. 21 Kazimierz Brakoniecki’s blurb for Artur Daniel Liskowacki, Ulice Szczecina (ciąg bliższy) (Szczecin: Bezrzecze, 2015). 22 Krzysztof Lichtblau, “Stworzył mnie Szczecin,” Refleksje 1 (2016), accessed November 30, 2019,


Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov


ew people had a greater impact on the Russian literary scene at the turn of the twentieth century than poet, critic, editor, and translator Valery Bryusov (1873– 1924). Called “one of the most solemn . . . figures in the whole of Russian literature”1 and “reigning impresario of Modernism . . . , a cultural phenomenon of the first magnitude,”2 Bryusov was born in Moscow into a merchant family and educated at Moscow University. His early collections of poems Tertia vigilia (1900) and Urbi et orbi (1903) as well as his literary magazine Vesy (The Scales) placed him at the head of the entire movement known as Russian Symbolism, ultimately perceived as the Silver Age of Russian poetry. Bryusov’s fascination with Rome began in his gymnasium years and remained an inspiration throughout his prolific and multifaceted career. True, many of his poems, historical essays, and novels echo his concern for the fate of other ancient cultures and civilizations, among them the Aegean, the early Egyptian, and the Babylonian. His interest in the Middle Ages resulted in his world-famous novel Ognennyi angel (The Fiery Angel), while speculations on the existence of Atlantis appeared in many other works. But the history of Rome and Roman culture and literature continued to play an important part throughout his life. His sister recalls that reading and reciting Latin poems became a family tradition, cultivated especially during summer vacations.3 In his final years (1917–24), he taught a number of courses at various universities on his favorite topics, for example, ancient literatures, the Latin language in relation to comparative linguistics, and the fall of the Roman Empire. In 1920–21, he even 1 2


D. S. Mirsky, A History of Russian Literature (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949), 435. David M. Bethea, Khodasevich. His Life and Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 32. “When they read Catullus together, Bryusov exercised censorship, choosing only poems ‘proper for girls.’” N. I. Briusova, “Vospominaniia o Valerii Briusove,” in Briusovskie chteniia 1962 (Erevan: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel′stvo: 1963), 487–93.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov advertized in Proletkult his willingness to teach Latin to anyone who wished to learn the language.4 The poet’s well-preserved archives allow scholars to obtain an inside view of this passion. His notebooks, high-school compositions, and personal library catalogues bear witness to his early interests and at the same time shed light on the poems written throughout his life. Of the five thousand volumes in Bryusov’s library, 241 are listed under ancient literature and history, most of them imported from abroad. In 1898, eight of the catalogue’s thirty-one pages were devoted solely to the titles of ancient writers. The marginal notes in his books provide valuable information. In Horace’s Selected Odes, published in 1889 in St. Petersburg, Bryusov left many samples of his own translations. In his French edition of Horace, he made numerous notations, some of them in Latin. His analyses of euphony and alliteration reflect his great enjoyment of these poems. Next to Horace’s verse “Et statuent tumulum et tumulo solemnia mittent,” he noted the pattern of the recurrent consonants and vowels: “tttttttttt, mmm, eeeee,” and next to the line “Non patrie validas in viscera vertite viris”—a similar pattern of “vvvv, ttt, rrrr.” Bryusov’s friends admired his thorough knowledge of Roman history and letters. Nikolai Gumilev adorned the opening page of his Pearls with the inscription: “To Valery Yakovlevich Bryusov—Caesar’s Caesar.” The poet Vyacheslav Ivanov wrote in the volume of his translations from Alcaeus and Sappho: “Candido indici / Vero Romano / docto poetae / Valerio sodalis.”5 Several years earlier, Ivanov had welcomed Bryusov’s “Venok” (Wreath) with his own poem entitled “Wreath,” dedicated to Bryusov: Певец победный Urbi пел et Orbi: Tо—пела медь трубы капитолийской . . . The victorious singer sang Urbi et orbi: It was a song of the Capitoline trumpet’s brass.6

The admiratio Romae tradition was essential to Bryusov’s entire artistic development. The young Bryusov quickly grasped the universal appeal of the Roman heritage. Commenting on his composition on Horace, written in the eighth grade, he confessed that he did not try to picture the Romans, but people in general.7 Alexander Ilinsky and N. Gudzy in their articles on Bryusov’s juvenile work comment on the prevalence of Roman themes. At fourteen Bryusov wrote the poems “Izverzhenie Vezuviia” (The Eruption of Vesuvius) and “Italiia” (Italy). Two years later the young poet found Latin

4 5 6 7

N. S. Burlakov, Valerii Briusov: ocherk tvorchestva (Moscow: Prosveshchenie, 1975). V. Purisheva, “Biblioteka Valeriia Briusova,” Literaturnoe Nasledstvo 27–28 (1937): 673. Viacheslav Ivanov, Sobranie sochinenii, ed. D. V. Ivanov and O. Deschartes (Brussels: Foyer Oriental Chrétein, 1971–79), vol. 2, 327. Aleksandr Il′inskii, “Literaturnoe nasledstvo V. Briusova,” Literaturnoe nasledstvo 27-28 (1937): 457-504; N. Gudzii, Literaturnoe nasledstvo 27-28 (1937): 198-238.



Part Three

On Russian Symbolism

the best medium in which to express his thoughts; but “not his feelings,” he added.8 Gradually, as his studies progressed, more entries in his notebooks consist of translations from classical languages. He tried for the first time to translate the Aeneid, using the five-foot trochee. (He would return to this task repeatedly.) Some time later Bryusov began writing his own classical poem, “Brenna” (Brenn). Eventually the classical world became not only an outlet for Bryusov’s intellectual pursuits, but also a retreat from emotional distress. In addition to the unpublished notebooks and letters, his diary gives us access to the underlying themes of his later works. In her introduction to the English translation of the diary, Joan Delaney Grossman notes, “The pretentious comparison with Sulla and the trumpet flourishes in various passages are partly fun but partly a way of keeping his eye on the target of future greatness.”9 Bryusov’s favorite books and ancient literary and historical figures became a key to his personality. His friendships were often based on mutual intellectual interests. In his diary entry of October 1900, he records: An interviewer, one Zhdanov, visited us Decadents. I was going to receive him very pompously and began to put on airs, playing the role: “Valery Bryusov,” but it turned out that he amounted to more than I thought. I showed him Verhaeren: “Ah, I know,” he said, “the Belgian poet.” I showed him Agrippa (Von Nettesheim), and he started to read it in Latin. He saw Parnaso italiano and began speaking to me in Italian. I was abashed. That was his book, it seems, under the initials L. G.10

In his autobiography Bryusov credited his university professors with instilling in him an interest in Roman culture.11 Even though Greek-related topics were equally present in Bryusov’s literary works, his intellectual and emotional make-up brought him closer to the Roman world.12 On November 19, 1897, he wrote in his diary: “For me the worst exam was Greek. The only time I have ever received the grade ‘Satisfactory.’”13 He told his friend, the poet Maksimilian Voloshin, “Rome is closer than anything to me. Even Greece is close to the extent that she is reflected in Rome. In fact, I relate to the Hellenic world with the same perplexity and incomprehension as the Romans did.”14

8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Gudzii, “Iunosheskoe tvorchestvo Briusova,” 217. Joan Delaney Grossman, introduction to The Diary of Valery Bryusov (1893–1905), ed. and trans. Joan Delaney Grossman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 31. The Diary of Valery Bryusov, 103. Briusov, “Avtobiografiia” (Moscow, 1914), reprint in Russkaia literatura XX veka (1890–1910), ed. S. A. Vengerov, (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1972), 108. Dmitrii E. Maksimov, Briusov: poeziia i pozitsiia (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel′, 1969), 111. The Diary of Valery Bryusov, 88. M. A. Voloshin, Liki tvorchestva, quoted in Maksimov, Briusov: poeziia i pozitsiia, 111–12.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov On his two trips to Italy, in 1902 and 1908, Bryusov was able to experience what had been until then only a vicarious image. In 1902 he traveled only to Venice; in 1908 he reached Rome. In his diary he left a brief but significant entry about his stay there: July. Unbearable heat. Infinity of impressions. The whole ancient world—as if alive. The Forum, the Palatine, the Baths of Caracalla, via Appia, the two Capitoline museums. I was transported with delight by antiquity. Didn’t like Michelangelo, didn’t like Raphael, or the entire art of the Renaissance; exceptionally strong impression of the ancient world.15

These images remained extremely vivid for the rest of Bryusov’s life. In his fiction and essays, his interest was mainly concentrated on the third and fourth centuries AD. Nevertheless, he liked to wander into other periods of Roman history as well. His stories about Virgil take the reader to the first century BC; “Rhea Silvia,” written in 1914, takes place in the seventh century AD. He attempted to translate Roman poetry, calling one cycle “Rimskie tsvety” (Roman Flowers), the other  “Aurea Roma” (Golden Rome). The latter work combined translations with research material collected by the poet in the course of writing his novels, Altar′ pobedy (Victory Altar) and Iupiter poverzhennyi ( Jupiter Overthrown). Since he did not finish these translations, he utilized the material he accumulated for other projects, including his Istoriia rimskoi liriki (History of Roman Lyric Poetry) and the cycle of lectures “Rim i mir” (Rome and the World). All these works were written between 1909 and 1918, a period in which he apparently developed a more historical approach than is found in his earlier works. M. L. Gasparov contrasts the poet’s perception of Roman antiquity in the 1890s with his perceptions after 1910, establishing the Russo-Japanese War as the influencing factor.16 He warns against overestimating Bryusov’s erudition, claiming that, contrary to numerous suggestions by others,17 most of Bryusov’s sources consisted of widely-known books on Rome, some of them popular rather than scholarly. On many occasions Bryusov apparently contented himself with secondhand sources. Nevertheless, as Gasparov notes, the pathos with which Bryusov treats his favorite period, the fourth century AD, deserves credit. In fact, despite extensive research on the subject, no complete agreement has been reached as to what the fourth century meant to the author of Victory Altar. S. V. Shervinsky claims that Rome in decline was what fascinated Bryusov the most—the Rome of moral indifference and religious perplexity.18 15 The Diary of Valery Bryusov, 139–40 16 See M. L. Gasparov, afterword to the fifth volume of Bryusov’s collected works: V. Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii v semi tomakh, ed. P. G. Antokol′skii et al. (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1975). 17 Among them, P. N. Berkov in his “Problemy istorii mirovoi kul′tury v literaturnokhudozhestvennom i nauchnom tvorchestve Briusova,” Briusovskie chteniia 1962, ed. K. V. Aivazian (Erevan: Armianskoe gosudarstvennoe izdatel′stvo, 1973), 20–56. 18 S. V. Shervinskii, “Briusov i Rim,” in Valeriiu Briusovu (1873–1923). Sbornik, posviashchennyi 50-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia poeta, ed. P. Kogan (Moscow: KUBS’a, 1924), 92.



Part Three

On Russian Symbolism

I. Malenin points out that Bryusov searched through all of antiquity and found a basis for his history of culture, to a great extent influenced by mythology. Above all, he found great personalities, supermen in the Nietzschean sense.19 According to some scholars, the fourth century represented for Bryusov a spirit parallel to that of fin de siècle decadence. The theme of antique decadence fascinated all European modernists, starting with Verlaine.20 Maksimov sees Bryusov as “attracted by the ‘lyricism of fading,’ the sensation of transitoriness and doom of the great Roman Empire at the time of its fall.”21 Another scholar, N. S. Burlakov, insists that it was not decline and decadence that attracted Bryusov, but, in fact, quite the opposite: as an artist he appreciated the tension of dramatic confrontation between paganism and Christianity.22 Gasparov sees the fourth century as the embodiment of the Roman idea for Bryusov, while the critic Litvin argues that the third century may serve as another example of Bryusov’s predilection for historical analogies.23 In the spring of 1918 Bryusov began work on the essay “Vremena tridtsati tiranov” (The Times of the Thirty Tyrants), in which he analyzes the crisis of the third century as a social revolution. The translation of poetry constitutes a separate chapter in Bryusov’s literary career. His translations from the Latin were among his first attempts in the field. He began his work on The Aeneid in the gymnasium under the tutelage of the renowned philologist V. G. Appelrot. From the time of this early attempt until the final rendering in Russian of seven songs of the Virgil epic (which were not published until nine years after his death), Bryusov made three different translations executed according to three entirely different theoretical approaches. Fragments of these translations have come down to us in as many as seven versions. The poet was very concerned with the development of theoretical principles for translating from Latin into Russian. His final view on the matter is expressed by a so-called “literal” translation, which inspired heated discussion until relatively recent times.24 After years of controversy over this rendition, Gasparov sought to justify the poet’s approach in his article “Briusov i bukvalizm” (Bryusov and Literalism) that prompted an important discussion in 1971 among writers, translators and researchers.25 In addition to the widely publicized Aeneid, Bryusov translated Horace, with an accompanying theoretical discussion, and devoted much time and attention to his beloved poets of the fourth century: Ausonius, Claudianus, and others. Analogical thinking was very much behind Rome’s appeal for Bryusov. 19 A. I. Malenin, “V. Ia. Briusov i antichnyi mir,” originally in Izvestiia Leningradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta 2 (1930): 185, quoted in Berkov, “Problemy istorii,” 20–56. 20 Verlaine’s impact on Bryusov is indisputable. In his diary on December 31, 1895 (Old Style; January 12, Gregorian calendar), we read: “Verlaine is dead.” Verlaine died on January 8, 1896 (Gregorian calendar). The Diary of Valery Bryusov, 44. 21 Maksimov, Briusov: poeziia i pozitsiia, 111. 22 Burlakov, Valerii Briusov: ocherk tvorchestva, 145–46. 23 Cf. E. S. Litvin, “Evoliutsiia istoricheskoi prozy Briusova,” Russkaia literatura 2 (1968): 154–63. 24 George P. Fedotov considers Bryusov, “perhaps the only Russian poet able to render a congenial translation of Virgil” (see his article “O Virgilii,” in Novyi grad. Sbornik statei, ed. Iu. P. Ivask [New York: Izdatel′stvo imeni Chekhova, 1962], 216). 25 Lev Ozerov, “Priglashenie k diskussii,” Masterstvo perevoda 8 (1971): 88–90.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov He was always eager to identify with the great Romans. On July 28, 1891, the eighteen-year-old Bryusov notes in his diary: “I am like Antony, charmed by Cleopatra. Breaking free from the power of love, I reign again. Today I was writing  ‘Julius Caesar.’”26 A few weeks later he acknowledged the creative pains he suffered in writing the tragedy Pompei. “Antonines for me,” Bryusov confessed to Voloshin, “is the golden age of humanity and Latin literature. Only then does Latin poetry have meaning for me. The age of Augustus is an archaic time. The Latin language at that time had not yet been developed. It was our Derzhavin’s solemn language. Ovid and Horace are poets of the pre-Pushkin period of Latin literature.”27 The three great Romans the young poet admired—Antony, Julius Caesar, and Sulla—became the heroes of his mature poems.28 Apparently, reality did not provide him with an appropriate heroic model. All three poems are formally influenced by the odic tradition of eighteenth-century Russian classicism. Their similarities notwithstanding, each poem carries its own message and plays a different role in Bryusov’s poetry. “Antonii” (Antony), published in 1906, has become one of Bryusov’s most popular poems. Maksimov goes so far as to call it “monumental.”29 It vividly brings together several favorite topics: heroism, love, the strong personality, and catastrophic moments and turning points in history.30 Even Marina Tsvetaeva’s less than laudatory description of Bryusov includes the exclamation: “Bryusov of the Black Mass, Bryusov of Renata, Bryusov of ‘Antony.’”31 The poem has received considerable critical attention. For Burlakov it typifies Bryusov’s pre-Revolutionary output, with its images of great passionate personalities, governed by strong feelings as they act out decisive moments on a great stage. Both Maksimov and Burlakov find that in the last two stanzas of “Antony” the center of gravity shifts from the objective to the subjective plane. These two stanzas present Antony’s flight from the battle of Actium as heroic, an act deemed cowardly by conventional standards. An exemplary hero is expected to overcome temptation and to return to his beloved after winning a battle. Bryusov proclaims as a virtue the hero’s forsaking of the warrior’s honor and glory for love.32 One may appreciate M. M. Girshman’s detailed analysis of metrical, syntactic, and sound elements in “Antony.” He examines its formal virtuosity and the correlations 26 V. Briusov, Dnevniki 1891–1910, ed. N. S. Ashukin and I. M. Briusova (Moscow, 1927; reprint: Letchworth: Bradda Books, 1972), 6. 27 M. A. Voloshin, Liki tvorchestva, quoted in Maksimov, Briusov: poeziia i pozitsiia, 11. 28 Maksimov, Briusov: poeziia i pozitsiia, 159. 29 Ibid., 159. 30 Cf. V. Zhirmunskii, Valerii Bryusov i nasledie Pushkina: Opyt sravnitel′no-stilisticheskogo issledovaniia (St. Petersburg: El′zevir, 1922; reprint: The Hague: Mouton, 1970). 31 Marina Tsvetaeva, from “Hero of Labor: Notes on Valery Bryusov,” in The Diary of Valery Bryusov, 164. 32 Besides the attention given to “Antony” by Zhirmunsky, Maksimov, and Burlakov, the poem is the subject of a twelve-page article by M. M. Girshman: “V. Briusov—‘Antonii,’” in Poeticheskii stroi russkoi liriki, ed. G. M. Fridlender (Leningrad: Nauka, 1973), 199–210.



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between the iambic meter and the antithetical structure of the phrasing. But he overstresses the prosodic elements at the expense of other strata of the poem. “Antony,” he writes, is a synthesis of the historical ballad and the odic tradition, whose strength lies in the rhetorical exclamations which form its consecutive synonymic figures. Above all, Girshman tries to prove that an abstract subject, which he calls “thought-passion,” constitutes the focal point of the poem, and that the latter is obtained by rational and rhetorical means devoid of the concrete rendering of individual meaning. “Antony,” however, embodies much more than surfaces in Girshman’s analysis.33 The battle of Actium in 31 BC was a battle between East and West, and at the same time a struggle for worldwide power; these are facts, not rhetorical ornaments. The passion that is the subject of the poem leads the hero to self-destruction. Thus the hero is placed between East and West at the decisive point of choosing between life and death, or having to choose death alone for two different reasons—power or love. The title, with its historical and existential references, prefigures the antithetical structure revealed in the syntactic stratum. To this horizontal structure another dimension is added: a vertical correspondence in time.34 This correspondence substitutes for the symbolic vertical correspondence “as above so below” derived from the Hermetic tradition—“below” being Bryusov’s period, “above”—antiquity. The first stanza of “Antony”35 immediately sets the scene: the hero appears “on the sunset horizon / of the solemn past.” Bryusov then renders the image of his hero in two similes, one based on a concrete element (granite), the second being more metaphysical (an unforgettable dream). Antony, a giant and an unforgettable dream at the same time, becomes something which is neither. Thanks to the dream element the giant undergoes sublimation, and the image created by this double simile generates great semiotic energy. In this grand temporal setting, Bryusov outlines the historical situation in two lines of the next stanza, providing the reader with additional information: he depicts Rome’s social structure as composed of the people, the tribunes who represent the people, and the emperors. The imperfective aspect of the verb borolis′ (“they were fighting”) implies the continuity of the situation. All actions attributed to Antony are expressed by perfective verbs (postavil, brosil, promenial, povernul), emphasizing their completion as well as the powerful figure of the hero. Although Girshman dismisses Bryusov’s characterization of Antony as abstract, seeing all the references to artifacts as mere signs of antiquity without special significance, the epithets describing Antony as “beautiful, eternally young” do not seem abstract at all. Written sources, as well as sculptures and engravings, establish the 33 Girshman, “V. Briusov—‘Antonii,’” 200. 34 Maksimov, Briusov: poeziia i pozitsiia, and Burlakov, Valerii Briusov: ocherk tvorchestva. 35 Among the classics inspired by this story are Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra and Dryden’s All for Love: or, the World Well Lost. An attentive reader of Plutarch will note that the suicides of Anthony and Cleopatra resemble those of Romeo and Juliet. This resemblance, unrelated to “Antony,” resurfaces in “Ballada o liubvi i smerti.” V. Briusov, Sobranie sochineni, vol. 2, 173.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov prevailing image of Antony as young and attractive. According to Plutarch, Antony had “a very good and noble appearance; his beard was well grown, his forehead large, and his nose aquiline, giving him altogether a bold, masculine look that reminded people of the faces of Hercules in paintings and sculptures.”36 The traditional images that are symbolic to begin with, such artifacts as “victorious laurels, the scepter of the universe, the crown and the purple cloak of the conqueror,” have specific meanings—contrary to Girshman—as marks of distinction, and as material signs of power. Antony was considered a good soldier; the phrase implying that he possessed “the shed blood of the armies” is a reference to his popularity and bonding with his troops. In Rome the loyalty of the army brought the highest worldly honors. By amassing such images Bryusov addressed the common knowledge of educated readers. Besides being symbolically valid, these images are structurally consistent. The victorious laurels and the crown, symbols of “the progressive identification of the hero with the motives and aims of his victory,”37 are eventually replaced by the nimbus, “a visual expression of irradiating, supernatural force, or, sometimes, more simply, of intellectual energy in its mystic aspect.” The replacement of one symbolic adornment of the head by another parallels the replacement of one set of values by another. The mystical significance of the nimbus is strengthened by the epithet “blessed” (blazhen). With the glorification of anti-heroic values (disgrace, ridicule, shame), Antony’s status of fugitive (beglets) is elevated. Since the last two stanzas refer to a universalization of Antony’s experience, the correspondences among crown, laurel, and nimbus take on one more dimension. A similar consistency of symbolism can be traced between “helm” (kormilo) in the fifth stanza and “ship” (korabl′) of the last. Antony did turn his rudder to follow Cleopatra’s ship. Yet, for all its reality, there is no action more endowed with symbolism than a sea voyage, which allows a variety of interpretations. Throughout the entire poem, Cleopatra is never named directly; nonetheless, she is referred to metonymically: a kiss, the desired look, and an Egyptian rudder. The reader knows that the kiss is hers, the look is the look in her eyes, and the Egyptian stern stands for her as well as for the ship. A similar image would return years later in an untitled poem: Гордись! я свой корабль в Египет,38 Как он, вслед за тобой провлек. Be proud! I, like him, dragged my ship to Egypt, following you.

36 Plutarch, Lives of Nine Illustrious Greeks and Romans, ed. John Dryden and Arthur Hugh Clough (New York: Washington Square Press, 1964), 350. 37 Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, s.v. “laurel” and “halo.” 38 Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 3, 403.



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Inevitably Antony chooses death. Thus, in a different stratum, he finds the kiss of death, he looks into death’s eyes, and “the Egyptian rudder” leads him to death. This reading concurs with Girshman’s observation that the hymn of love becomes the realization of a new antithesis between passion and destruction, love and death.39 Here Bryusov uses “love” (liubov′) and “passion” (strast′) interchangeably in writing about Antony and Cleopatra. In another poem, “Obrazy vremen” (Images of Times), we read: Явись, предстань, как Клеопатра, Чтоб вновь Антоний пал, любя!40 Appear, come forth, like Cleopatra So Antony could, loving, fall!

Bryusov’s imagery is deeply rooted in life experiences or history. The purple (scarlet) cloak is one such reference. That Bryusov fully appreciated the significance of the cloak is evident in his Victory Altar, where it is used in the plot’s suspenseful moments. Antony’s scarlet cloak is mentioned twice by Plutarch, associated in each instance with its strong symbolic, almost ritual, power. Thus Plutarch writes: . . . throwing his own scarlet mantle, which was of great value, upon the body of Brutus, he gave charge to one of his own freemen to take care of his funeral. This man, as Antony came to understand, did not leave the mantle with the corpse but kept both it and a good part of the money that should have been spent in the funeral, for himself; for which he had him put to death.41

Of a later incident, Plutarch writes, “Antony, designing to harangue the soldiers, called for a dark cloak that he might move them the more, but was dissuaded by friends: so he came forward in the general’s scarlet cloak, and addressed them.”42 There are also literary references in “Antony.” One of these leads to Tyutchev’s “Tsitseron” (“Cicero,” 1830)43: both poems glorify the final moments of the two illustrious Romans whose paths of life and death happened to be entangled. Although they differ in their philosophical messages and mystical dimensions, both celebrate the grandeur of a time when a single act could determine the destiny of a man and of the world. Tyutchev and Bryusov, in accordance with long-standing literary tradition, identify Rome with the entire world. Apart from this universal parallel, certain phrases and images in both poems exhibit a striking similarity.

39 Girshman, “V. Briusov—‘Antonii,’” 207. 40 Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 2, 177. Carol Ueland called my attention to the interesting parallel with the phrase umru liubia (“I will die loving”) in Pushkin’s “Tsygany” (Gypsies). 41 Plutarch, Lives of Nine Illustrious Greeks and Romans, 381. 42 Ibid., 381. 43 F. I. Tiutchev, Lirika, ed. K. V. Pigarev (Moscow: Nauka, 1965), vol. 1, 36.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov “Antony” Ты на закатном небосклоне Былых торжественных времен. . .

“Cicero” Во всем величье видел ты закат звезды ее кровавой! . .

You, on the sunset horizon of past solemn times. . .

In all greatness you saw the sunset of its bloody star! . .

“Antony” Блажен, кто ведал посмеянье

“Cicero” Блажен, кто посетил сей мир

Blessed is he who knew ridicule

Blessed is he who visited this world

As N. Gudzy44 points out, despite all the differences between Tyutchev and Bryusov, one can trace certain echoes, particularly in the themes of sinful, fateful passion and of catastrophic changes in history.45 He does not address the parallel between “Antony” and “Cicero,” but he indicates several instances where Bryusov used lines from Tyutchev as epigraphs, or as a basis for paraphrase. These borrowings are more visible in Bryusov’s historical poems. Interestingly enough, in one of the poetic cycles in Stephanos, Bryusov provides a quotation from “Cicero” as an epigraph. Neither the grandeur of the past nor the passionate love celebrated with such mastery in Bryusov’s poem exhausts the entire message. The figure of Antony is the perfect decadent, a blemished man with whom to identify. “Poet—Muze” (Poet to the Muse), one of Bryusov’s patently programmatic poems, begins: Я изменял и многому, и многим, Я покидал в час битвы знамена . . . I betrayed many things and people, I abandoned my banners at the hour of battle . . .

Bryusov associated different values with the legend of Caesar. His poem “Iulii Tsezar′” ( Julius Caesar), like “Antony,” published in Venok, was written in 1905 after the Russo-Japanese War and the Tsushima defeat. Bryusov’s sentiments concerning the events of 1904–5 are to be found in several other poems, for example, “Na novyi 1905 god” (To the New Year 1905), “K sograzhdanam” (To My Fellow Citizens) and “Tsusima” (Tsushima). In “To My Fellow Citizens” he resorts to imagery derived from Roman history; in “Tsushima” he refers to Russia as the third Rome. These poems, as well as some letters of the period, reflect Bryusov’s assessment of Russia’s political situation: the capture and sinking of the Russian fleet in the Pacific marked the end of an era. He employs the myth of Caesar to express the longing for the ideal leader so sorely needed. As in “Antony,” the correspondence between “now” and “then” is 44 N. Gudzii, “Tiutchev v poeticheskoi kul′ture russkogo simvolizma,” Izvestiia po russkomu iazyku i slovesnosti 3 (1930): 465–549. 45 Ibid., 491.



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stressed in the poem, the past being the irretrievable model of greatness and glory. Unlike “Antony,” however, “Julius Caesar” refers not to an individual’s emotional experience, but to that of an entire nation. Critics agree that his portrayal of Caesar’s life and legend was intended to carry a strong political and ethical message. According to Burlakov, “Julius Caesar” attempts to portray the present through the mist of history.46 The poet expresses his belief that the monarchy and a powerful dictatorship are needed and directs his indignation at the inertia of the conservative bureaucracy, which he held responsible for the Tsushima defeat. Maksimov, discussing the same poem, stresses the principle of heroism, which he perceives as the main, normative aesthetic principle unifying the author, the lyric voice, and the objectified personae of Bryusov’s poems. The realization of this aesthetic principle is achieved by employing the odic trope.47 Apostrophe, enhanced by exclamatory repetitions and other modes of rhetorical emphasis, dominates the poem. The introductory stanza outlines the political situation by stating the accusations against Caesar: Oни кричат: за нами право! Они клянут: ты бунтовщик, Ты поднял стяг войны кровавой, На брата брата ты воздвиг! They shout: the law is on our side! They swear: you are a rebel, You raised the banner of a bloody war, You raised brother against brother!

The apostrophe is strengthened by the repetition of the familiar pronoun ty (“you”). The reader can assume that Caesar is referring to these accusations in order to respond to them. He is not the addressee, but the main speaker—appropriately enough, since he was a celebrated orator, second only to Cicero. He forsook a rhetorician’s career for a military one, but he owed many of his political victories to his verbal prowess. The next four and a half stanzas consist of Caesar’s speech; out of eighteen lines seven start with the formal or plural pronoun vy (“you”), addressing the Roman consuls and the Senate. This juxtaposition of two voices (a construction not at all typical of the ode) evokes a sharp image of conflict and heightens the dramatic immediacy. The poem contains very few semiotic transformations; there is one personification in the second stanza (“the streets’ stones speak”), attesting to the popular discontent with the Roman Senate. There are also two metonymic expressions in the pre-penultimate stanza: Хотя б прикрыли гроб законов Вы лаврами далеких стран! 46 Burlakov, Valerii Briusov: ocherk tvorchestva, 95. 47 Maksimov, Briusov: poeziia i pozitsiia, 133.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov Even if you had covered the grave of laws With laurels from distant countries!

And . . . Римских легионов Значки—во храмах у парфян! . . . The badges of the Roman legions are in the Parthian temples!

These expressions point to the defeat of the Roman army in Parthia and, at the same time, to the losses of the Russian army in Tsushima. Bryusov accuses the Russian generals in Caesar’s words. The phrase “degenerates of the past” in both situations signals the closing of a historical era. The strongest artistic effect is reserved for the last two lines; after delivering his arguments, the hero makes the monumental decision: Довольно споров. Брошен жребий. Плыви, мой конь, чрез Рубикон. Enough quarrels. The die is cast. Swim, my steed, across the Rubicon!

Ending the poem with the command to his horse implies the immediate subsequent action, thus heightening the dramatic quality.48 This moment is described by Plutarch in his life of Caesar: “At last, in a sort of passion, casting aside calculation, and abandoning himself to what might come, and using the proverb frequently in their mouths who enter upon dangerous and bold attempts, ‘The die is cast,’ with these words he took the river.”49 The command “Plyvi, moi kon′, chrez Rubikon” (“Swim, my steed, across the Rubicon”) with its internal masculine rhyme and the legendary Rubicon in the final position with the rhythmic stress, and the rhyme of vremen and kon′) brings together many threads of the Caesar myth. One of them is the motif of trespassing upon water. Caesar was the “first man that should pass the Rhine with an army”50; he was also “the first who brought a navy into the western ocean, or who sailed into the Atlantic with an army to make war.”51 The legendary Rubicon was in fact the smallest river Caesar’s army had to cross. 48 To use Bakhtin’s terminology, Caesar is represented here as “a person on the threshold of a final decision, at a moment of crisis, at an unfinalizable—and unpredeterminable—turning point for his soul.” Cf. Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 61; see also 62–63. 49 Plutarch, 318. 50 Ibid., 309. 51 Ibid., 310.



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The only positive phrase of the poem is addressed to the horse. There are several legends and anecdotes illustrating the special place that horses held in Caesar’s life. According to Plutarch, Caesar “had been an expert rider from his childhood; for it was usual with him to sit with hands joined together behind his back, and so to put his horse to its full speed.”52 According to Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus: The horse he [Caesar] used to ride upon was strangely marked, with feet resembling very near a man’s, and the hoofs cloven like toes,53 which horse was foaled about home; and when the soothsayers of their learning pronounced that he presaged unto his owner the empire of the world, very careful he was to rear him and nourish him. Now when as the beast should abide no man else to ride him, himself was he that backed him first. The full portrait and proportion of which horse he dedicated also afterwards before the temple of Venus Genetrix.54

This legend’s rendering of a horse almost as extraordinary as its rider suggests isolation from their peers. Bryusov, therefore, has Caesar direct his command to his unique horse at a dramatic moment, thus adding another dimension to the portrayal of his hero—the horse is his only equal. The political analogies with Russia in the poem are not immediately perceived by the contemporary reader, yet it was the political ferment there that stimulated Bryusov to grasp the essence of Caesar’s personality and his myth. Fifteen years later, he wrote the poem “Tsezar′ Kleopatre” (Caesar to Cleopatra), which contains many historical facts and quasi-philosophical reflections, but does not come close to the vividness, consistency, and imaginative power of “Iulii Tsezar′.” Lucius Cornelius Sulla, known as Sulla Felix, was the third great Roman to capture Bryusov’s imagination. The poem “Sulla” was written in 1912 and included in the collection Zerkalo tenei (The Mirror of Shadows) published that same year. Yet Bryusov’s identification with Sulla originated much earlier. In his diary entry of April 22, 1894, Bryusov writes: Sulla belonged to the same class of people as I. These are talented people “sans foi ni loi,” living only for their own pleasure. Very, very often they perform splendid deeds, but they are also capable of God knows what. Sulla was not annoyed by the reproaches of a citizen after the formation of the dictatorship. But Sulla would in no way have considered it a crime to execute that citizen.54

Thus, for the future leader of the Russian Symbolist movement, Sulla personified decadence: talent, living beyond the boundaries of personal and social laws, and subscribing 52 Ibid., 305. 53 One finds similar horse’s feet on the Greek vase drawing showing Apollo’s arrival in Delphi. 54 The Diary of Valery Bryusov, 38.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov to hedonistic ethics. If one adds to the list cruelty, courage, and stoic endurance, one has to agree with Gasparov that Sulla belongs to the old “pantheon of Bryusov’s supermen.”55 Some critics maintain that the poet’s views underwent substantial evolution in the early twentieth century. Gasparov claims that the political events of 1904-5 forced Bryusov to reexamine the function of the symbolism of the old civilizations and the great heroes of the ancient world.56 Burlakov assesses this new period differently. While urging his fellow poets to turn to contemporary topics, Bryusov himself remains in a realm removed from his immediate present.57 The collection Mirror of Shadows (1912) revolves around such giants of history as Moses, Alexander the Great, and Sulla. Burlakov, like Gasparov, acknowledges the change in Bryusov’s attitude toward these ancient heroes, but whereas Gasparov claims that after 1910 Bryusov’s poetry was informed by a different understanding of the historical process, Burlakov believes that the difference lies in the new “heroic” traits that attracted Bryusov’s attention. Intellect and magnanimity, qualities that Bryusov ascribes to Sulla, replaced the virtues of the warrior. Maksimov notes that with the passage of time different kinds of people galvanized the poet; now they were cold and proud, indifferent to the rest of the human race.58 Lucius Cornelius Sulla, a Roman general and statesman, as cruel as he was refined, is not easily identifiable with a generally recognized set of values. To this day, one is confronted with an ambiguous assessment of his historical role and personal character. For some, his activities are overshadowed by the Great Proscription and bloody massacres; for others, he represents the attempt to build a new Roman aristocracy, to found a new conception of law and a modern model of dictatorship. Sulla’s resignation of the dictatorship and retirement into private life still puzzle historians. With his moral indifference, cynicism, wisdom, grand gestures, and attraction to bohemian society, Sulla seemed to meet Bryusov’s need for self-definition. The poet is one of the first and very few to see the potential of Sulla’s myth for the twentieth century. According to G. P. Baker: “Not until the idea of Dictatorship became a living contemporary issue was anyone likely to see either interest or meaning in Sulla’s career.”59 Like the poems “Antony” and “Julius Caesar,” “Sulla” is written in the form of an apostrophe, but it is more descriptive than lyrical in character. Bryusov employs a few formal devices: in the first two lines he introduces his hero by placing him in a historical context and naming his major military victory: Утонченник седьмого века, Принявший Греции последний вздох. 55 M. L. Gasparov, “Neizdannye raboty V. Ia. Briusova po antichnoi istorii i kul′ture,” Briusovskie chteniia 1971, ed. K. V. Aivazian (Erevan: Aiastan, 1973), 190. 56 Ibid. 57 Burlakov, Valerii Briusov: ocherk tvorchestva, 140. 58 Maksimov, Briusov: poeziia i pozitsiia, 136. 59 G. P. Baker, Sulla the Fortunate: The Great Dictator, 2d ed. (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1967), 5.



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The refiner of the seventh century, who received Greece’s last breath.

The reader learns that Sulla lived in the seventh century and brought refinement to his own time.60 One may presume that Bryusov perceives the conquest of Greece as a contribution to that refinement; the plunder included the works of Aristotle, most of them unpublished at the time. The metaphor for the conquest, “Who received Greece’s last breath,” alludes to Sulla’s demand for indemnity from the Greek cities that had aided Mithridates in the war with Rome. This metaphor betrays the insensitivity toward Greek civilization that Bryusov acknowledged on several occasions. The motif of contempt for the human race, introduced in the first stanza, reappears at the close of the poem. Bryusov presents Sulla’s faults as the product of a vile epoch. The dictator is pictured as being in the grip of a mal de siècle, and this is undoubtedly the area of the poet’s own identification with him. The decadent traits are referred to in the third stanza: Ты был велик и в мести, и в разврате You were great in revenge and debauchery

and find their apogee in the last two lines: С презрением невыразимым Народу ты свободу возвратил! With inexpressible contempt You returned freedom to the people!

The entire second stanza of the poem, based on Plutarch’s life of Sulla, is devoted to the famous inscription on his gravestone, penned by the dictator himself. Sulla sees himself as the object of divine favor, epitomized by his assumed name, Felix. (In the draft manuscript Bryusov’s poem was entitled “Sulla Felix.”) The poem echoes Bryusov’s conviction that the dictator belonged to the class of people living for their own pleasure. All this is stated rather plainly, with the help of hackneyed epithets, such as: ispugannym vekam (“frightened centuries”), velik (“grand”), shchastliv (“happy”), zemnykh blazhenstv (“earthly bliss”), bezmernykh sil (“immense forces”), prezreniem nevyrazimym (“inexpressible disdain”). To attain historical flavor, Bryusov employs his typical poetic devices: old Russian forms61 and neologisms, images representing the

60 Sulla’s political activity dates to the years 88–79 BC, that is, some 700 years after the legendary foundation of Rome (754 BC, ab urbe condita). Cf. footnote to “Sulla,” in Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 3, 412–13. 61 Cf. A. Lozovoi, “Istoricheskie motivy v poezii V. Ia. Briusova,” Russkaia rech′ 6 (1973): 18–24.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov material culture of ancient Rome mramor sarkofaga (“the marble of the sarcophagus”), and hyperbolic metaphors: Ты перешел все грани вероятий, Вином земных блаженств упился ты вполне. You crossed all the borders of probability, You got fully drunk with the wine of earthly bliss.

as well as unadorned hyperbole: Не зная, где предел твоих безмерных сил. Unaware of the limits of your boundless power.

“Sulla” is not among Bryusov’s best achievements. Nevertheless, in the company of “Antony” and “Julius Caesar,” it attests to the continuity of Bryusov’s attachment to the heroes of his early youth. Moreover, “Sulla” indicates that Bryusov was not afraid to introduce a legendary figure less popular than Julius Caesar or Antony in order to explore its symbolic potential. Each of the poems discussed treats a different aspect of Bryusov’s recurrent themes: “Antony” represents love and passion, “Julius Caesar” expresses the poet’s political thought, and “Sulla” demonstrates Bryusov’s admiration for the strong, largerthan-life personality. The theme of decadence, present to some degree in “Antony,” is central in “Sulla.” Even though the legendary figures of Antony and Caesar had been exploited in many other literary works, Bryusov does not fail to breathe new life into them. Sulla was a new figure in poetry, but he, too, became a means of articulating Bryusov’s main themes as they cast light on his poetical usage of historical myths. One of the themes that Bryusov sought to express through the language of ancient images was that of passion and its relation to sensuality and death. “Antony,” exemplifying the “extremism of passion,”62 demonstrates that the subject occupied a high place in the poet’s priorities. Bryusov dealt with the topic as a poet, novelist, essayist and translator. In 1890-92 he attempted a prose translation of Ovid’s Ars amandi (The Art of Love).63 In 1904 he published an essay entitled “Strast′” (Passion) in the journal Vesy, of which he was editor. That it was printed in the section titled “Landmarks” attests to the importance of the subject on both the intellectual and emotional levels. In ancient cultures, passion and sexual desire, within and beyond marriage, were acceptable in their own right and were not “considered damaging to spiritual growth”64 as in modern European culture.

62 Maksimov, Briusov: poeziia i pozitsiia, 159. 63 N. Gudzii, “Iunosheskoe tvorchestvo Briusova,” Literaturnoe Nasledstvo 27–28 (1937): 236. 64 Catherine Johns, Sex or Symbol: Erotic Images of Greece and Rome (London: British Museum Publications, 1982), 152.



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Aware of Roman sexual customs and conventions, Bryusov in his Roman novels portrays several different types of liaisons—consummated and unconsummated—as well as ritual orgies. In Roman culture women were awarded the right of partnership and they accompanied men to dinner parties, which was not the custom in Greece. Bryusov was quite well read on this subject and owned the Glossarium eroticum linguae latinae by Pierre Pierrugues. Quoting Nietzsche, Swedenborg, and Boehme, the poet strives to find proper artistic expression for newly liberated passion: The art of the past could never find the same strength for the representation of passion, as it found for the representation of love. Only the creation of Hindu or Japanese plastic art constitutes an exception, Greek and Roman efforts to imitate are far from the model. The art of modern Europe has made only weak and unsuccessful attempts in this direction. Who knows the name of Torrentius nowadays? Our Russian writers always shun the essential element of passion, accepting only its reflection in love.65

The critics did not appreciate Bryusov’s efforts. Konstantin Mochulsky sarcastically discusses the poet’s approach to the subject: “The sober-minded and cold Bryusov,” writes Mochulsky, “considered it his obligation to sing of passion, lust, and erotic madness. He did it consciously and consistently. One can say that he was erotic, in principle.”66 Maksimov qualifies Bryusov’s images of passion in “Pompeianka” (The Pompeian Woman) as “heroic and elevated to tragic heights.”67 However, Maksimov emphasizes that the excessiveness of his assertive passion does not turn into a hegemony of the erotic idea, for Bryusov takes up the conflict between passion and will, or the citizen’s duty, as it is illustrated in “Enei” (Aeneas) and “Tsirtseia” (Circe). Maksimov points out that Andrey Bely named Bryusov the poet of passion. Burlakov believes that the subject of passion was introduced into Russian literature by Tyutchev, but whereas Tyutchev considered passion a natural element of life, the Symbolists were primarily drawn to pathological passion. Whatever Bryusov’s shortcomings in realizing his ideal, his awareness of the philosophical dimension of the problem was much more acute than that of his critics. Viktor Zhirmunsky in his essay “Eroticheskie ballady iz sbornika Rimu i miru” (Erotic Ballads from the Collection To Rome and the World)68 examines the formal means by which the image of erotic tension is rendered in ballads. The critic exposes what he calls the “emblematic accessories of balladic eroticism”69 and their exotic backdrop. 65 66 67 68 69

Vesy 8 (1904): 25–26. K. Mochul′skii, Valerii Briusov (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1962), 93. Maksimov, Briusov: poeziia i pozitsiia, 155. Viktor Zhirmunskii, Valerii Briusov i nasledie Pushkina, 104. Ibid., 11. (Zhirmunsky, however, does not elaborate on the function of this Roman environment.)

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov The most remarkable observation concerns the rule of contrast that governs the majority of the erotic ballads. An additional function of this basic rule may be considered here. The sharp contrast very often presents itself as an obstacle, which supplies a necessary element of passionate love (according to the Romantic concept of love). As Denis de Rougemont, the vindicator of love in the times of sex, writes: Passion is that form of love which refuses the immediate, avoids dealing with what is near, and if necessary invents distance in order to realize and exalt itself more completely. . . . No passion is conceivable or in fact declared in a world where everything is permitted. For passion always presupposes between subject and object, a third party constituting an obstacle to their embrace.70

Therefore the juxtaposition noted by Zhirmunsky may be attributed to the necessary barrier—be it social or physical—between the two potential lovers as in the ballad “Putnik” (Wayfarer) or in “Reshetka” (Grille). Furthermore, these two ballads precisely illustrate de Rougemont’s thesis, since even willingness on the part of the princess (tsaritsa) to overcome the barrier is countered by the demand of the wayfarer—the desire remains unfulfilled, and the water from the symbolic cup spills onto the sand. (Thirst as an image of sexual desire may be traced as far back as Lucretius and, according to de Rougemont, found its ultimate expression in the Tristan and Iseult epic.) Placing the actors of his erotic lyrics in an antique, predominantly Roman, scene allows the poet a greater margin of freedom in treating the subject. Bryusov tried to bring to life the Roman attitude toward eroticism. The ancient cult of Priapus has remained in the modern consciousness only as a cult of motherhood; Christian society cast away the aspect of sexuality, especially male sexuality. Bryusov realized his poetic program with full intellectual consciousness. In the unfinished collection “Sny chelovechestva” (Dreams of Humanity), he placed several poems, along with other imitations, under the title “V dukhe latinskoi antologii” (In the Spirit of a Latin Anthology). Four poems are dedicated to the subject of love and are indeed in the Roman spirit. Bryusov here employs devices characteristic of Latin poetry, such as syntactic inversion and periphrasis. The second poem of this short cycle represents an outlook entirely alien to the Christian moral code: Мне говорят, что Марина многим дарит свои ласки. Что ж! получаю ли я меньше любви оттого? They say that Marina bestows her favors on many. So what! Do I get less love for that reason?

70 Denis de Rougemont, Love Declared: Essays on the Myths of Love, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Pantheon Books, 1963), 41–42.



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An antique costume allows Bryusov to write about liberated passion, sensual pleasure, and desire or, such taboo topics as sadism (“Rab” [Slave], “Grille,” “Peplum”); after all, “cruelty and brutality were original Roman characteristics.”71 His comprehensive knowledge of the Roman world supplied him with the perfect actors to act out his quite modern ideas. His tsaritsa (a rendition of Virgil’s regina) combines characteristics of an innocent beauty with sensuality and cruel sexual hedonism; la femme fatale—a character much revered by the Symbolists. In Bryusov’s poems we recognize her in the heroines of “Slave,” “Wayfarer” and in “Cleopatra,” the ultimate femme fatale. While the poems about great personalities and the erotic ballads represent Bryusov’s philosophical stance, the poems about Rome as a city are closely linked to his thoughts about urban civilization, of which Rome has always been the ultimate symbol. On the first pages of his novel Victory Altar Bryusov depicts the enchantment of a young hero who comes to Rome for the first time. These scenes contribute to a universal image of the initiation into urban life with all its diversity, opportunities, grandeur, and danger. The urban myth played a substantial role in the poetry of the Russian Symbolists, and Bryusov was one of its subscribers and major contributors. For the vast majority of readers brought up with a classical education, the image of Rome transmitted a complex message; it was at the same time an ideal and the first great city, as well as a major symbol of the Roman tradition. One of Bryusov’s favorite Latin poets of the fourth century, Ausonius, called Rome a golden city. The remains of the ancient city, which Bryusov visited in 1908, did not sustain the golden color, but interestingly enough, the color became associated with the image of the city as such. In the poem “Gorodu” (To the City) we read: Ты, хитроумный, ты, упрямый, Дворцы из золота воздвиг. You, the resourceful, you, the persistent one, You erected the palaces of gold.

Bryusov wrote few poems exclusively dedicated to Rome as such. The poem “Italy,” published in the Urbi et orbi collection (1902–3), written in the form of an apostrophic address is too rhetorical with its frequent use of elevated vocabulary (sud′ba [“destiny”], rokovoi [“fatal”], kumir [“idol”], chresla [“loins”]) and ponderous to the point that even the motif of sinful passion cannot save it. What deserves attention is the concept of the country as a woman, or rather the essence of femininity, with the everlasting ability to attract; simultaneously beautiful, fallen, seductive, and able to maintain her innocence and purity. Finally, Italy personifies the mother of the universe. This image echoes the Symbolists’ longing for a positive unity of all things and carries associations of a concept so characteristic of Russian poetry—that of Mother Russia. Thus the mother of the universe concept, polymorphic in its origin, encompasses both 71 Otto Kieffer, Sexual Life in Ancient Rome, trans. Gilbert and Helen Highet (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1950), 65.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov voluptuousness and innocence. Rome, which is of masculine gender in Russian, is portrayed in this poem in a typically decadent manner: И Рим, чародатель единственный, Ужасный в величье своем, Лежит не живой, но таинственный, Волшебным окованный сном.72 And Rome, the unequalled enchantment-giver, Ghastly in its grandeur Lies not alive but mysterious, Shackled by bewitching dream.

The poem “Na Forume” (On the Forum), published in the collection Vse napevy (All the Melodies, 1906–9)73 is one of the most emphatic examples of Bryusov’s admiratio Romae poetry. Written during his second trip to Italy when Bryusov finally reached the country’s capital, the poem captures the author’s awe before the tangible signs of a civilization known to him intimately through his reading. Bryusov also left a direct expression of his Roman experience: On my second trip to Italy . . . I felt the allure of the ancient world. In Rome and Naples, I treated with devotion the remnants of classical antiquity, for long hours I looked at the marble portraits of the emperors, trying to comprehend the soul of those personalities that endure through time; on the Roman Forum and in the subterranean vaults of the Palatine’s palaces I experienced the breath of a life that vanished long ago; on the Apian Way I felt like a Roman citizen, as if there were not two thousand years separating me from the times of Caesar. . . .74

The five-stanza poem “On the Forum” expresses similar sentiments. Its strophic form renders the description of a walk through the ruins, gradually building a panoramic image of the Forum. The last two stanzas express, in the form of an apostrophe, the poet’s identification with the Roman past and its living legacy.75 For visualization of this grandeur and power the author wholly relies on architectural symbolism, which serves at the same time as a carrier of auto-thematic topics. “On the Forum” seems to evolve around the motif of a road, which in the first stanza is implied only by the 72 73 74 75

Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 1, 301. Ibid., vol. 1, 530. “Za moim oknom’’ (Moscow, 1913), 33–34; in Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 1, 649. This is not an accident; in the poem “Fonariki,” written in 1904, one finds the exclamation: “O Rim, svet oslepitel′nyi odinnadtsati chash: / Ty—belyi, torzhestvuiushchui, ty nam rodnoi, ty nash!” (O Rome, the blinding light of the eleven cups: You (are) white, triumphant, you are native to us, you are ours!), ibid., 435.



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action of arriving. In the second stanza this motif is expressed explicitly by the image of stairs and a roadway. While absent from the third strophe, the road motif returns in the next, penultimate, stanza where the Romans are referred to as the road builders. And since in the same apostrophe the poet speaks of the nation’s legacy, the reader may assume that the imperative to create roads is part of this legacy. This assumption finds its justification in the last stanza, where Bryusov proclaims the ruins as his inspiration to continue along his own way, amid deserts. The word puti (“roads”) ends the poem. It is fortified by its position and accentuated by rhyme (with vesti) and rhythmic stress. The architectural images elicit a multi-layered interpretation of the poem’s general and specific symbolism. Buildings as such symbolize mental, cerebral, and psychological values, whereas the ruins and the descent to ruins signify descending into the depths, thus also having a psychological connotation.76 From the metaphysical point of view, the image of the ruins indicates quasi-death and resurrection; the road from the profane to the sacred leads to total reintegration with the absolute. In this respect descending into ruins should be read as a purgatorial experience. In the five-stanza poem Bryusov makes either direct or indirect reference to the ruins four times: v stranu mogil (“to the country of graves”), bazilik rukhnuvshikh stupeni (“the steps of tumbled-down basilicas”), ruinu khramov i dvortsov (“the ruin of temples and palaces”), razvalin kamen′ kazhdyi (“every stone of the ruins”). The theme of purification is consolidated by the final image of roads amid deserts, since the symbolism of deserts also refers to purification and spiritual values. As a metatext, “On the Forum” represents a “poetics of quotations” and a “poetics of realities,”77 where the “quotations” come from a different field of symbolic thought, namely, architecture. The very title of the poem depicts the most expressive sign of the city’s mythology, the heart of ancient Rome. Several general architectural elements, such as the basilicas, courts, temples, and roads, signify aspects of the religious and secular life of the Romans. Above the ruinous landscape the poet places the Arch of Constantine, the best-known of the imperial triumphal arches, the “epitome of Roman sculpture.”78 The Romans took pride in their finest architectural innovations—the arch and the vault,79 utilizing these structures to commemorate the magnificence and grandeur of the Empire. In Bryusov’s poem the arch symbolically fulfills this function: . . . как вершина Великих, пройденных веков, Венчали арки Константина руину храмов и дворцов. 76 Cf. Maria Podraza-Kwiatkowska, Symbolizm i symbolika Młodej Polski (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1975), 230. 77 See V. Toporov, “Peterburg i Peterburgskii tekst russkoi literatury,” in Semiotika goroda i gorodskoi kul′tury; Petersburg, ed. Iu. M. Lotman, vol. 18 of Trudy po znakovym sistemam (Tartu: Tartusskii gosudarstvennyi universitet, 1984), 78–92. 78 G. McN. Rushforth, “Architecture and Art,” in The Legacy of Rome, ed. Cyril Bailey (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), 415. 79 Ibid., 389.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov . . . like the summit Of the grand, past ages, the arches of Constantine crowned the ruin of the temples and palaces.

The phrase reveals its deeper meaning when we consider the fact that the Arch of Constantine has only one very narrow frieze that belongs to Constantine’s day; the remaining elements were taken from previous arches and sculptures of the second century and were adapted to render Constantine’s conception.80 The arch, linked to rituals of triumph in Rome, possesses its own rich symbolism. These rituals have much in common with the Hellenistic Epiphany and Imperial Adventus. Both ceremonies emphasize deification and consecration by apotheosis; moreover, both are rooted in the city-gate concept.81 At the vantage point of this architectural elevation the poem changes its form from description to apostrophe. Bryusov directly addresses Marcus Ulpius Trajanus (53–117 AD), noted for building roads, aqueducts, and harbors: Твой завет, Спокойный, строгий и упорный, В гранит и мрамор здесь одет. Your behest, Serene, severe, and sustained, Is dressed here in marble and granite.

The Roman ideal of unity finds its reflection in architecture. Granite and marble, so often embellishing a concrete construction with decorative facing, imply firmness and endurance. Roman stonework was noted for its durability and provided the models and the standard for Western architecture. Stones and masonry are recurrent images in Bryusov’s poetry. He repeatedly, and with varying success, kept returning to these images in the poems entitled “Kamenshchik” (Stone Mason) and “Kamni” (Stones). But in the poem “On the Forum” the very legacy which Bryusov accepts as his ideal is contained in stonework. In the final lines this universal legacy is transformed into an individual, almost personal imperative: “tvoikh razvalin kamen′ kazhdyi napominaet mne . . .” (“Every stone of your ruins reminds me . . .” [emphasis added—AF]).82 Thus, the last stanza echoes the theme of identification with the Roman past marked in the beginning of the poem. Here all the elements merge: the motif of the road, architecture, stonework, and the theme of legacy fuse to create the atmosphere 80 Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 19, 472b. 81 Baldwin E. Smith, Architectural Symbolism of Imperial Rome and the Middle Ages (New York: Hacker Art Books, 1978), 12–13. 82 Cf. the chapter on Merezhkovsky in this volume. Roman stones typically speak to poets, for example Goethe, Merezhkovsky, Mandelstam.



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of withdrawal into the poet’s own world. Formally the poem relies primarily on similes (ne kak prishlets [“not like a stranger”], kak v znakomyi mir [“as to a familiar world”], kak vo sne [“as in a dream”], kak vershina [“like the summit”]) with occasional metaphors (“venchali Arki Konstantina ruinu,” “zavet . . . v granit i mramor zdes′ odet”), and alliteration (“rodnye teni . . . s radostnoi toskoi,” “vershina / Velikikh . . . vekov / Venchali,” “Kamen′ kazhdyi,” “pustyn′ . . . puti”). The Roman forum in the poem shares certain characteristics ascribed to Rome in the poem “Italiia,” for example, the dreamlike existence and the “wonder-working” properties in “On the Forum” correspond to the magic and enchanting qualities of Rome in “Italiia.” In Bryusov’s poetry the city as such possesses this particular attraction. In his dithyramb “To the City,” written in January 1907,83 the poet calls the city “the tireless magician.” For Rome that magic derives from the ability to transform life to death, and sometimes even death to life. In the short poem “Via Appia,” written in 1914 and designed for the unfinished collection “Dreams of Mankind,” Bryusov explicitly expresses that the transformation—smena vidov—is what fascinates him. In this thirteen-line poem, nine lines consist of the description of a very dynamic street scene that suddenly changes into a dreamy picture of white graves under the vault of Italian pines. Сном застыл, Через белый строй могил, Темный свод роскошных пиний.84 Frozen in sleep, Across the white line of the graves, The dark vault of splendid [Italian] pines.

The poem “Epitafiia rimskim voinam” (Epitaph to the Roman Warriors), written in 1915 and published in the collection Deviataia kamena (Ninth Stone), is an example of a reverse change, where the grandeur of the city sprouts from the graves of the anonymous Roman heroes. We read: . . . мы спим, Чтоб ты, великим из великих, как Древо Смерти, взнесся, Рим! . . . We sleep, so that you, like the great of the greatest, Rome, should rise like the Tree of Death!

83 Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 1, 514–15. 84 V. Briusov, Izbrannye sochineniia v dvukh tomakh (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel′stvo khudozhestvennoi literatury, 1955), vol. 1, 530.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov Although the Tree of Death is often equated with the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, it juxtaposes the general symbolism of a tree, with that of the life of the cosmos. In this poem, however, the word vznessia (“rise”) supports the meaning of upward movement that is connected with the symbol of the world axis. Bryusov tended to explore transformations in cultures or conflicts between and among cultures. Two poems that utilize this theme, “Rimliane v Kitae” (The Romans in China) and “Pesnia normannov v Sitsilii” (The Song of the Normans in Sicily), illustrate in a more general sense the confrontation between the Orient and the West, and the North with the South, respectively. Although the contrast is quite vivid, it does not extend beyond general associations and does not introduce any original characteristic. The splendor of China is characterized by the colorfulness and the variety of precious stones as opposed to the stark white Roman togas; the difference between Normans and Sicilians was to be found in the character of the people and their personal conduct. Bryusov depicts here Southern laziness, first observed and introduced into the literature by Goethe: Здесь люди дремлют в пьяной неге, ведут войну рукой наемной.85 People here doze in a drunken languor, They wage war by hired hand.

The subject of the transformations of civilizations appears in a very ambitious work—a crown of sonnets, entitled “Svetoch mysli” (The Torch of Thought).86 The cycle, written in 1918, the turbulent year in which Bryusov for many reasons was much preoccupied with the subject of the Roman Empire, remained unpublished during the poet’s lifetime. On February 26, 1918, in a letter to his brother, who was being kept in German captivity, the poet confessed: “Apropos, I read almost exclusively in Latin in order so as not to hold a newspaper in my hand.”87 A few months later in his unfinished article “The Times of the Thirty Tyrants” the poet urges his reader: “The forgotten ‘Augustan History’ in our time assumes an absolutely new meaning; if it did not pay to read it during the last 1600 years, now is the time to take it from the shelf, dust it off and put it on one’s desk. The time has come for the biographies compiled at the time of Diocletian and Constantine around 300 AD to become the reference book for the Russian reader of 1918 AD.”88 These two quotations cast light on the poet’s frame of mind at the time when he was working on the cycle that embraces the history of civilization from legendary 85 Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 3, 519. 86 Ibid., vol. 3, 383–89. 87 Quoted in M. L. Gasparov, “Neizdannye raboty V. Ia. Briusova,” Zapiski otdela rukopisei Gosudarstvennoi biblioteki im. Lenina 29 (1962): 220. 88 Gasparov, “Neizdannye raboty V. Ia. Briusova po antichnoi istorii i kul’ture,” 205.



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Atlantis to World War I. In this work of fourteen sonnets (excluding the final one), the fifth, sixth, and part of the seventh deal with Roman civilization. In the sonnet “Ellinizm i Rim” (Hellenism and Rome) Bryusov argues that by defeating Greece, Rome united the Hellenistic legacy with the Western element.89 As the apogee of Rome’s triumph, the poet chose the time of Julius Caesar, ending the sonnet with the words: “On vstal, kak tsar′, v torzhestvennoi porfire” (“He rose, like a tsar, in the triumphant purple”). This final line, in accordance with the very strict form of a crown of sonnets,90 will be repeated two more times in the cycle, bringing back the image of that symbolic garment91 into his poetry, and manifesting his fascination with the power based on divine right—the autocracy. The next sonnet “Rimskaia imperiia” (Roman Empire) expresses his deeply felt conviction, that only fate can match forces with the grandeur of Rome and its heroes. Many writers and historians at the turn of the twentieth century sought analogies with the fourth century—the century of Rome’s fall. Bryusov was among those who believed that at the moment of its fall the Roman Empire was at the peak of its development. Unfortunately, in these last poems the philosophical concept is not matched by artistic technique, which may account for the fact the reason that “The Torch of Thought” was never published. But even the less successful poems demonstrate a profound and thorough understanding of what one might per analogiam to the “Petersburg text” call the “Roman text” and its attendant complex symbolism. Rome with its larger-than-life heroes, with its architecture and customs, with its unprecedented grandeur and its mysterious fall was an omnipresent entity in Bryusov’s poetic consciousness. The poet never tired of exploring Roman images and myths for the realization of his artistic ends. They served to universalize his poetic message as well as human experience. Even “Grebtsy triremy” (Oarsmen of the Trireme), a poem depicting the fate of the lowest class of slaves, the oarsmen chained to the galleys of the trireme, ends with the existential universal symbol of men journeying through a sea, unaware of their destination: Быстро со мглой гробовой Снова сливаемся все мы, Мча на неведомый бой Бег быстролетной триремы.92 Swiftly with the deathly mist We all merge once again, Rushing to unknown battle The race of the swift-flowing trireme.

89 90 91 92

Cf. the poem “Sulla.’’ A cycle comprised of fifteen interlinked sonnets. Cf. “Antony” Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 1, 420.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov Rome, the indisputable cradle of Western culture, provided the poet with a means of expression in his poetic quest. It was in the world of poetry that the young leader of a new trend held his third vigil (Tertia vigilia is the title of his 1900 collection) and received much-desired recognition. The same sort of analogy prompted Bryusov to name his next collection Urbi et orbi. The common interpretation of the title, which in Russian (Rimu i miru) repeats the phonetical parallel (-rbi in Latin; mir in Russian), has it that the title was meant to address a wider audience, beyond the exclusively literary one. There is no evidence that the concept of Moscow as a Third Rome appealed to Bryusov on religious grounds. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to employ this concept in the context of his political views. The Russo-Japanese War awakened in Bryusov very strong political feelings. Joan Delaney Grossman93 believes that Bryusov’s love affair with Nina Petrovskaya, which began at this time, contributed considerably to his heightened emotions, political and otherwise. At the time Bryusov’s attitude toward the Revolution was mixed, if not entirely negative.94 It appears that Bryusov saw parallels between Russia and the Roman Republic not only in his poems. In his review of the book Bor′ba za Velikii okean (Battle for the Great Ocean [The Pacific Ocean]), written by René Pinon in 1904, Bryusov writes: “The Roman Senate was able to calculate in advance, for whole centuries. Russia— the new Rome—can think only about yesterday.”95 This characterizes his frame of mind underlying the writing of several civic poems. Hence, in the poem “To My Fellow Citizens” Bryusov resorts, to some extent, to the analogy with Rome, and in “Tsushima” he employs the concept of the Third Rome. In the poem “To My Fellow Citizens,” written in December 1904, the poet appeals to his fellow citizens for unity in the face of external danger, unity necessary to succeed in the RussoJapanese war: Теперь не время буйным спорам, Как и веселым звонам струн. Вы, ликторы, закройте форум! Молчи, неистовый трибун! Когда падут крутые Веи И встанет Рим как властелин Пускай опять идут плебеи На свой священный Авентин!96

93 Joan Delaney Grossman, Valery Bryusov and the Riddle of Russian Decadence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 397. See especially the chapter “The Year 1905 and Stephanos,” 264–97. 94 Cf. Grossman’s review of the related literature, ibid., 265-66. 95 N. Ashukin, “Nenapisannaia poema ‘Agasfer’ v 1905 godu,” Literaturnoe Nasledstvo, 27–28 (1937): 239. 96 Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 1, 425.



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Now is not the time for turbulent disputes Nor the joyous sound of strings You, lictors, close the Forum! Keep silent, furious tribune, When the stern Veii fall And Rome will rise up like a ruler Let the plebeians again go To their sacred Aventine!

Significantly, while addressing his fellow citizens, Bryusov invokes an analogy from the period of the beginning of the Roman Republic. On the eve of the 1905 Revolution and in the midst of the Russo-Japanese war, he sought parallels with the famous conflict between the patricians and plebeians.97 In 494 and 449 BC the plebeians marked their protest by abandoning Rome and going to Aventine Hill.98 But Bryusov’s poem contains something which may be called a cryptic or reverse analogy. Having in mind the internal turmoil and the imminent Revolution of 1905, Bryusov wants his compatriots to behave in exactly the opposite manner as did the early Republic’s plebeians. He wants them to protest after the war is over; when it has ended victoriously, and when they no longer have their leverage. In Rome, the plebeians exerted pressure just when they were being summoned by the councils to join the annual campaign against the hill tribes. Thus, in alluding to the political model of the virtuous Roman Republic,99 the poet extols only one aspect of its principles—the readiness of the citizens to defend the republic. At the same time he denies, if only temporarily, their right to defend their public liberty.100 Unlike Mandelstam, who in his well-known poem “Offended, they depart for the hills” (Obizhenno ukhodiat na kholmy) invoked the image of Aventine to acknowledge the people’s “thirsting for freedom and a role in the governance of the state,”101 Bryusov used the symbol of Aventine to urge people to renounce these longings. No wonder, he himself always worshiped absolutism and autocracy. “Any democratic government seemed to him,” writes Vladislav Khodasevich, “either a utopia or an ochlocracy, mob

97 Cf. the exhaustive footnote, ibid., vol. 1, 631–32. 98 Cf. Titus Livius, The History of Rome, trans. George Beker (London: Strahan and T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies, 1797), vol. 1, 214. 99 Cf. Peter Bondanella, The Eternal City, Roman Images in the Modern World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press), 4. 100 Niccolo Machiavelli in his The Prince and the Discourses, comments on these events: “I maintain that those who blame the quarrels of the Senate and the people of Rome condemn that which was the very origin of liberty . . . ; and all the laws that are favorable to liberty result from the opposition of these parties to each other, as may easily be seen from the events that occurred in Rome” (trans. Christian E. Detmold [New York: Modern Library, 1950], 119). 101 R. Przybylski, “Rome, or a Dream about the Unity of All Things,” in his An Essay on the Poetry of Osip Mandelstam: God’s Grateful Guest, trans. Madeline G. Levine (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1987), 21.

Three Great Romans in the Poetry of Valery Bryusov rule.”102 Even if one questions Bryusov’s use of the symbolism of Aventine, one cannot deny the force of the message. Equally strong is the message of the poem “Tsushima.”103 We have already discussed Bryusov’s civic outrage upon hearing the news of the sinking of the Russian fleet by the Japanese.104 As Grossman writes: “In majestic cadence the poet there mourned not only the loss of life and ships at Tsushima, but the end, for the foreseeable future, of Russia’s great hope for ‘Both the scepter of the Far East / And the crown of the third Rome.’”105 The strength of these lines is achieved not only by alluding to the concept of the Third Rome, but also by combining this with the image of the nonexistent crown, the main symbol of Roman triumph. Bryusov embraced a variety of Rome-related motifs and images in his poems to express his longing for Russia’s political grandeur. His use of the image of the victorious purple was not abstract. He hoped that the Russian generals, whose cloaks were also ornamented with red, would be as victorious as Julius Caesar. At times he thought of himself as Antony, but he often saw himself as Sulla. Bryusov also thought it appropriate to address Urbi et Orbi from the place of his permanent residence—Moscow. 1988

102 103 104 105

V. F. Khodasevich, “Bryusov,” in Grossman, Valery Bryusov and the Riddle, 158. Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 1, 426–27. Grossman refers to the substantial literature on this theme. Grossman, Valery Bryusov and the Riddle, 278.



The Contradictions of the Northern Pilgrim: Dmitry Merezhkovsky


mitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky, the forerunner of the modernist movement in Russia, played a considerable role in creating the image of ancient Rome for the Russian reader. Born in St. Petersburg and educated at St. Petersburg University, Merezhkovsky (1865–1941) embarked on a successful literary career very early. In 1889 he married Zinaida Gippius, an exceptionally talented young poet. They created and maintained a literary salon that influenced the entire literary environment in St. Petersburg, and later in Paris where they emigrated after the Communist take-over. With a degree in history and philosophy, vast traveling experience, and fluency in Greek and Latin, Merezhkovsky was perfectly equipped to contribute to the revival of the symbolism of antiquity, and of ancient Rome in particular. He did so primarily in Smert′ bogov (The Death of the Gods, or Julian the Apostate in the English translation)1 and the first part of his renowned historical trilogy entitled Khristos i Antikhrist (Christ and Antichrist), which brought him fame, first outside of Russia, and subsequently in his own country, where a novel on an ancient subject was still a rarity.2 In the trilogy Christ and Antichrist Merezhkovsky formulated his religious and philosophical concept—a concept very insightfully described by Nikolai Berdyayev: He was possessed by the pathos of globalism, of coercive universalism, typical for the Latin spirit, for the Roman idea. He apparently received this yearning for global unity from Dostoevsky. He perceives the entire world and the whole of world history either as poles, or as aspects of Christ and Antichrist. The whole

1 2

“Iulian otstupnik” [ Julian the Apostate] was originally titled “Otverzhennyi” [Outcast]. A. Amfiteatrov, “Russkii literator i rimskii imperator,” in Literaturnyi al′bom (St. Petersburg: Izdatel′stvo tovarishchestva “Obshchestvennaia pol′za,“ 1907), 150.

Dmitry Merezhkovsky diversity of the world’s life, the whole immense sphere of relativity is lost from his view, does not interest him, or is brought by him to polar depths. In him there is not a grain of Goethean wisdom penetrating the cosmic multitude.3

Very much the same principle of polarization permeates the three poems that Merezhkovsky dedicated to the topic of ancient Rome.4 “Pantheon” (Panteon), written in 1891 during the poet’s stay in Rome, is structured around two sets of antitheses that lend tension to an otherwise poetically uneventful work. The first opposition is introduced in one of the opening lines: Путник с печального Севера . . . в древний вхожу Пантеон. A pilgrim from the sad North . . . I am entering the ancient Pantheon

This opening introduces the confrontation between the lyrical subject and the symbolism of the Pantheon. When the wayfarer from the North enters this landmark, modern man is confronted with the Roman past, but the ancient (pagan) form of this structure is also confronted with its present Christian content and function. As for many previous visitors, Winckelmann and Goethe the greatest among them, the heritage of Rome is twofold for Merezhkovsky. Seeing Greece in and through Rome, the poet addresses Greek gods. In this relatively short work he twice refers to the image of Olympus. With the theme of the Northern wayfarer in Rome, Merezhkovsky continues the tradition of the European admiratio di Roma literature that was originated by outsiders and cultivated especially by travelers from the North. Goethe in his Roman Elegies repeatedly refers to his lyrical subject’s vantage point: . . . his tales about snow, mountains, and houses of wood (II) Oh, how happy I feel in Rome, when I think of the old days, Dull gray days, till I fled from the imprisoning north! (VII)5

This topoi, created by Goethe, functioned in Russian literature for some time, perhaps since the first translation of the Roman Elegies by Strygovshchikov in 1840.6 3 4 5 6

Nikolai Berdiaev, “Novoe khristianstvo (D. S. Merezhkovskii),” in Sobranie sochinenii (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1989), vol. 3: 490–491. I am indebted to Professor Zoia Yurieff for bringing this article to my attention. D. S. Merezhkovskii, Sobranie stikhov, 1883–1910 (Letchworth: Bradda Books, 1969), 60–63. W. Goethe, Roman Elegies, trans. David Luke (London: Chatto & Windus, 1977). Cf. Andre von Gronicka, The Russian Image of Goethe: Goethe in Russian Literature of the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), vol. 2, 268.



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In “Pantheon” the unique relation between the Northerner and Rome receives a special dimension in the words: sladostnym strakhom ob′′iat (“embraced by a delightful fear”). Muratov, who visited Rome much later, made a similar confession in his famous “Images of Italy.” “This eternal greenery,” he writes,  “crowning the hills and ruins of Rome, excites and charms the hearts of Northern people, as if it were the words of ancient myth or the appearance of primeval deities.”7 The Pantheon, built by Agrippa in 27 BC and rebuilt by Hadrian in 120 AD, during the golden age of Roman architecture, has been used continuously as a place of worship since its very beginning. It lends itself to such symbolic interpretation, especially since Hadrian, a very Hellenized Roman emperor and participant in the Eleusinian mysteries, intended it to reflect his deep interest in Greek civilization and to stress unity by “bringing together all the gods in an amazing new Pantheon built to symbolize the community of heaven under its prodigious and daring dome.”8 Later, in 609 AD, it was repurposed as a Christian church. It is only natural that Merezhkovsky found the embodiment of his main philosophical and religious concerns—the relation between the principles of the pagan world and those of Christianity—in the Roman Pantheon. The polarities multiply.9 The confrontation of space and time in the poem’s introductory line is paralleled by a confrontation on the spiritual level—the opposition of the human spirit with the grandeur of the gods. The atmosphere of the church reflects the suffering of Christ but the serene sky seems to represent the ancient (and very Hellenic) ideal of beauty and life. In the Pantheon these contradictions are united just as they are united in the human soul, without losing their dialectic polarization: Спорят в душе человека, как в этом божественном храме Вечная радость и жизнь, вечная тайна и смерть. Eternal joy and life, eternal mystery and death Dispute in man’s soul, as in this divine temple.

This closing statement is preceded by the eternal, universal question: Where is Truth? Combining two grand cultures of antiquity, the Pantheon, Rome’s Olympus, inspires the dispute that reflects Merezhkovsky’s own concern. As we have seen, other works of the poet revolve around the quest for Hellenism, which reflects the quest for the inner self. The poem’s lyrical subject identifies with Christianity and martyrdom. Видите: это—мой Брат, Это—мой Бог! . . . Перед Ним я невольно склоняю колени . . . 7 8 9

P. P. Muratov, Obrazy Italii: Polnoe izdanie v trekh tomakh (Leipzig: Z. J. Grzhebin, 1924), vol. 2, 25. Royston Lambert, Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1984), 42. Cf. Berdiaev’s statement: “Merezhkovsky constantly aspires toward synthesis, toward the third containing the thesis and antithesis, toward the treble” (“Novoe khristianstvo,” 491).

Dmitry Merezhkovsky You see—this is my Brother, This is—my God! . . . Before Him I involuntarily bend my knees . . .

Thus in the person of the pilgrim, the sad North (pechal′nyi sever) and Christianity share a common denominator. As a Northern wayfarer is alienated in the South, Christ is alienated in the Pantheon, under the Roman sky, pagan in its beauty and serenity. В тихой лазури небес—нет ни мученья, ни смерти . . . In the silent azure of the sky—there is no torment, no death . . .

B. Griftsov points out that for the poet, “Christianity is first of all the destruction of beauty. Merezhkovsky shows no mercy to Christianity.”10 Apart from its own symbolism, the poem gives voice to the architectural symbolism inherent in the plan of the Pantheon, namely, the correlation between the dome as a symbol of Providence and the sky that constitutes and substitutes for the cupola in the Pantheon. By making the Pantheon a reflection of the human soul, Merezhkovsky revives the romantic, specifically Byronic, notion of Rome as “the city of the soul.”11 The notion of Rome as an ideal is pertinent to two other poems by Merezhkovsky: “Rim” (Rome) and “Budushchii Rim” (The Future Rome). In these poems the fate of the Eternal City is perceived as emblematic of the fate of humanity, and of its yearning for freedom and unity. The rhetorical and teleological question: “Kto tebia sozdal, o Rim?” (“Who created you, oh, Rome?”) opens “Rome” and is answered in the very same line: “Genii narodnoi svobody” (“The genius of national freedom”). The second, longer poem, “The Future Rome,” is concerned with the problem of unity. It opens with the equally rhetorical statement: “Rim — eto mira edinstvo” (“Rome is the unity of world”). At the heart of these two poems lies an assessment of Rome as the center of the world, which by its very existence endows everything with special significance. Merezhkovsky believed that the city represented the highest expression of ancient civilization, both Greek and Roman; in one essay he writes that Greco-Roman “impersonality” expresses itself in the city.12 Thus the poems dedicated to Rome constitute a testimonial to the city and to the ideal that is preserved as a potential in the stones and ruins that are so pertinent to the theme of Rome in Goethe’s first “Roman Elegy.”13 For Merezhkovsky, “stones” and “ruins” are the only poetically charged words and the only concrete images in poems otherwise entirely rhetorical and devoid of tangible representations, their symbolism relying solely on historio-philosophical categories. But it is significant that the main message of each poem is related to the above images. In “Rome” the “sacred stones” 10 B. Griftsov, “D. S. Merezhkovskii,” in his Tri myslitelia (Moscow: V. M. Sablin, 1911), 105. 11 George Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, canto 4, 78. 12 D. S. Merezhkovskii, Zachem voskres? Religioznaia lichnost′ i obshchestvennost′ (Petrograd: Korabl′, 1916), 11. 13 Omry Ronen discusses the problem of the poetry of stones in Goethe and in Mandelstam in his book An Approach to Mandelshtam ( Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1983), 48.



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are the only heirs of the legacy of the Roman Republic—freedom; in “The Future Rome” the ruins may contain the panacea for the discord in the human race. Searching among the ruins, richly symbolical in itself, becomes the quest throughout the history of Western civilization for a new formula of unity. Both poems reflect Merezhkovsky’s religious quest. In “Rome” the myth of the creation of Rome is reinforced with the Promethean myth, both symbolizing the defiance of the human spirit, and both actualized in the poem in the Christian dogma of the immortality of the soul. The enslaved mortal is contrasted here with the free immortal one who is equal to the gods; ancient Rome is the embodiment of sacred values. “The Future Rome” directly identifies Rome with sacrum in the final exclamatory rhetorical question: Где ты, неведомый Бог, где ты, о будущий Рим? Where are you, unknown God, where are you, future Rome?

The symbolism of these two poems is historically oriented. The references, thus addressed to the educated reader, constitute a kind of metatext. The very word “Rome” is used repeatedly in its manifold meaning—as city, state (republic or empire), center of Christianity, center of the world, and period of civilization. Merezhkovsky, who assigned an instrumental role to Greek statues in his prose, found only one Roman statue worthy of his attention, namely, that of Marcus Aurelius, the emperor-philosopher, illustrious member of the eminent dynasty of Antoninus. Marcus Aurelius lived in a period between two great crises: the struggle of the ancient world with barbarians and Christianity with paganism. Merezhkovsky believed that Marcus Aurelius was best equipped to carry out an end-of-the-century message. “And the wisdom of the great Caesar shines over a world doomed to perish,” he writes in his essay on Marcus Aurelius,14 applying the notion of doom to ancient Rome, as many of his contemporaries applied it to the fate of Petersburg. The same sentiments are repeatedly expressed in the poem “Mark Avrelii” (Marcus Aurelius): Он знал: погибнет Рим отцов, He knew: the Rome of his fathers will perish

and further: За Рим, не веря в торжество, Он умер и предвидел, Что Риму не воскреснуть вновь,

14 D. S. Merezhkovskii, “Mark Avrelii, ocherk,” Trudovoi vestnik literatury i nauki 12, no. 21 (November 1891): 250–66.

Dmitry Merezhkovsky He died for Rome, not believing in [Rome’s] triumph And foresaw That Rome would not rise again.15

In his essay Merezhkovsky admits that he was overwhelmed by Ernest Renan’s book Marc Aurele et la fin de la monde antique. His identification with the drama of Marcus Aurelius follows the course determined by Renan’s title and reflects his own fascination. Prompted by Renan’s great narrative, he wrote a twelve-stanza poem with regular, grammatical abab rhymes, for the most part, executed in the form of a meditation upon seeing the statue of Aurelius. The first two stanzas consist of a rhetorical apostrophe to the statue, which has survived centuries of turmoil. In the opening lines Merezhkovsky touches upon the problem of survival: Века, разрушившие Рим, Тебя не тронув, пролетели, Над изваянием твоим . . . The centuries, destroying Rome, Passed over your statue Without touching you . . .

As a student of classical history and a studious visitor to Rome, the poet probably knew that the statue owes its preservation to mistaken identity; it was believed to represent Constantine the Great. For this reason alone it escaped the fate of countless other pagan monuments which were destroyed and melted down during the Middle Ages. As a writer Merezhkovsky was not interested in presenting historical facts but in illustrating his historio-philosophical concepts.16 By ending the first stanza with the exclamation “Bezsmertnyi Mark Avrelii!” (“Immortal Marcus Aurelius!”), the poet allows his readers to believe that it is due to the merits of Marcus Aurelius that this sculptural representation has survived. While this exclamation refers to the unceasing values of the emperor’s philosophy, at the same time it permits the poet to allude to the statue’s miraculous preservation. Interestingly enough, throughout the poem the point of focus moves back and forth from the person to the statue and from the statue to the person. In his awe for the philosopher, Merezhkovsky does not hesitate to further idealize the emperor’s divine status. In the eleventh, penultimate, stanza he refers to Marcus Aurelius in the third person, that is, in a more descriptive manner: Теперь стоит он, одинок, Под голубыми небесами На Капитолии, как бог. 15 Merezhkovskii, Sobranie stikhov, 80–81. 16 Marc Aldanov, “D. S. Merezhkovskii,” Novyi Zhurnal 2 (1942): 372.



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Now he stands alone Under the blue skies On the Capitol, like a god.

Aurelius experienced loneliness as an emperor and as a statue; the theme of loneliness pervades all of Merezhkovsky’s work.17 When the statue was taken to represent Constantine, it stood near the papal palace, the Lateran. As soon as it was stripped of its religious symbolism, it was removed by Michelangelo Buonarroti to the Capitol.18 These facts, however, proved irrelevant for the poet in Merezhkovsky, who was known for his liberal treatment of history, particularly when a religious or philosophical argument was at stake. In his fascinating essay  “The Statue in Pushkin’s Poetic Mythology,” Roman Jakobson writes: Verse about a statue is accordingly a sign of a sign or an image of an image. In a poem about a statue a sign (signum) becomes a theme or a signified object (signatum). The conversion of a sign into a thematic component is a favored formal device of Pushkin’s, and this is usually accompanied by exposed and pointed internal conflicts (antinomies) which are the necessary, indispensable basis of any semiotic world.19

In the case of the statue of Marcus Aurelius, this basis is even more complex. Thanks to its great visibility, over the centuries this statue engendered hundreds of mounted figures throughout the Western hemisphere.20 But as art historians emphasize, the statue of a Roman emperor is not a representation of the emperor’s appearance, but of his image, and thus served as a vehicle of political propaganda. Therefore, already in the statue itself we are addressing an image of an image, which is further idealized in the poem. Merezhkovsky is not the only poet who attempted such a task. In 1832 Adam Mickiewicz in his “Ustęp” (Digression) to the third part of Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve) contrasted the statue of Marcus Aurelius to Falconet’s statue of Peter the Great, with all the political and moral implications of such positioning. Mickiewicz chose to exemplify his moral judgment by contrasting the two monuments, especially the horses. The two statues (Marcus Aurelius and Peter the Great) had much in common, though their relationship has always been antithetical.21 In commissioning the monument to Peter the Great, the court of Catherine the Great expected Falconet to deliver something similar to the celebrated Roman equestrian statue. The sculptor (who had never seen Rome) detested the Roman statue, and considered the representation of the horse 17 Griftsov, Tri myslitelia, 90. 18 Heinz Kahler, “M. Aurelius Antoninus,” in his The Art of Rome and Her Empire, trans. J. R. Foster (New York: Crown Publishers, 1963), 167–170. 19 Roman Jakobson, “The Statue in Pushkin’s Poetic Mythology,” in Pushkin and his Sculptural Myth, trans. and ed. John Burbank (The Hague: Mouton 1975), 44. 20 Rushforth, “Architecture and Art,” 419. 21 Tadeusz Sinko, Mickiewicz i antyk (Wrocław: Polska Akademia Nauk, 1957), 314–16.

Dmitry Merezhkovsky inferior from an aesthetic point of view.22 In his epistolary debate about the statue of Marcus Aurelius and his project for the monument of Peter the Great, the philosophy of art takes its place in an interesting configuration with the philosophy of power. What is more interesting, Falconet himself believed that he had portrayed Peter the Great as a legislator, that is, a philosopher.23 To some extent, we owe Mickiewicz’s concept of the two conflicting equestrian images to Falconet’s determination. In his book  Pushkin’s Bronze Horseman, Waclaw Lednicki writes that “willfulness and inexactness lie at the base of the entire conception of the poet.”24 Mickiewicz’s vision partially serves as what Jakobson termed the signum for The Bronze Horsemen,25 after which any Russian poem depicting the mounted emperor is a potential, multi-layered metatext, and a contribution to the so-called “Petersburg text.” Merezhkovsky’s direct address to the Roman emperor ends with the words “philosopher-emperor,” an attribute that reflects not only the person, but also the statue. According to art historian Donald Strong, “the public image of the philosopher-emperor is skillfully handled by the sculptors of the day. Some of the portraits of Marcus, and indeed of his successors, are occasionally difficult to distinguish from traditional heads of famous Greek philosophers.”26 There are certain convergences in the poetic images of Marcus Aurelius in Mickiewicz’s and Merezhkovsky’s renderings. We have already mentioned immortality. Merezhkovsky writes: “Bezsmertnyi Mark Avrelii” (“Immortal Marcus Aurelius”), and Mickiewicz states: “Zgadniesz, że dojdzie do nieśmiertelności” (“One would guess that he will attain immortality”).27 There are also similar oversights in the two renderings. The Roman emperor was not as irreproachable as the Polish poet would have us believe: he was guilty of persecuting Christians; moreover, his statue does not depict him at the moment of his triumphal return. Instead, he is “dressed as a general in short tunic, general’s cloak and laced riding boots,”28 while the celebration of victory would require the triumphal quadriga. Similar faults can be found in Merezhkovky’s description: . . . как триумфатор Сидишь на бронзовом коне . . . И в складках падает с плеча простая риза, не порфира . . . 22 He was not the only one to hold such an opinion. H. Kahler writes that “as a whole—in relation between rider and horse—it lacks the harmony of classical composition.” The Art of Rome and Her Empire, 167–68. 23 See Ann Betty Weinshenker, Falconet: His Writings and His Friend Diderot (Geneva: Droz, 1966), especially chapters: “The Tyranny of Antiquity” and “The Arts Compared.” See also Z. V. Zaretskaia, Fal′kone (Leningrad: Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1965), 34–39. 24 Waclaw Lednicki, Pushkin’s Bronze Horseman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1955), 34. 25 Jakobson, “The Statue in Pushkin’s Poetic Mythology,” 125. 26 Donald Strong, Roman Art (London: Penguin, 1976), 112. 27 This last statement refers to the horse. 28 Kahler, The Art of Rome and Her Empire, 167.



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И нет в руке его меча. . . . Like a triumphant conqueror You sit on a bronze steed . . . A simple garment, not a purple one falls in pleats from the shoulder . . . And there is no sword in his hand.

The absence of the purple coat29 and sword gains symbolic significance here. These two images contain one of the dichotomies typical of Merezhkovsky. The poet wants Marcus Aurelius to be humble and triumphant simultaneously. This is an example of what Berdyayev calls “doubling thoughts” and what Griftsov describes as “a passion for logical schemes and contradictions.”30 Just as Falconet created his horse as an antithetic response to the Marcus Aurelius statue, both Mickiewicz and Merezhkovsky portray their emperors as the antithesis of the image of the Russian tsar. It seems that Merezhkovsky went even further in his idealization, comparing the emperor to a god, which may be a poetic realization of the intent of ancient image-makers. Roman Jakobson stresses in his essay that “plastic art was linked to the concept of paganism in the Russian view.”31 Merezhkovsky through the use of epithets attempts to convey the stoic tranquility of the emperor-philosopher: in blessed silence; imperturbable is his peace; sadness unearthly; hopeless sadness; the peace of great humility; tranquil grief. It is hard to assess which of the two texts by Merezhkovsky—the poem or the essay—is more emotionally charged, since the latter, besides its informative virtues, appeals strongly to the reader’s feelings and imagination: The mood of doom and the end of an era, pertinent to the frame of mind of all Russian poets of that time, is superimposed by Merezhkovsky on the period which was considered at the time to be a “golden age.” It is Merezhkovsky’s interpretation of Aurelius’s Meditations and of Renan’s book that casts this shade on the emperor and his fate. Merezhkovsky selected a few philosophical categories, rather than images, which helped him to express his own intellectual and religious anxieties and to promote the ideas constituting the modus vivendi of his life. As a poet he was not further inspired by the city of Rome and the history of Roman civilization. Although Merezhkovsky is not considered a great poet, his literary output exerted an enormous influence on his generation in Russia and abroad. His poems about Rome contributed to the development of the symbolic potential of that topic and proved that the subject served as a vehicle for a vital message. 2003 29 The rejection of the purple coat by prominent Roman figures seemed to hold a special appeal for poets; Bryusov in “Antony” and Komarovsky in his “Augustus” employ this image. 30 Berdiaev, “Novoe khristianstvo,”492; Griftsov, Tri myslitelia, 99. 31 Jakobson, “The Statue in Pushkin’s Poetic Mythology,” 40.


The Quest for Pax Romana as a Quest for Peace of Mind: Vasily Komarovsky


great minor poet of the Silver Age, Count Vasily Alekseyevich Komarovsky (1881– 1914) should be credited with creating a very distinctive image of Rome, although he was never able to visit Italy.1 He studied law and literature, but most sources include only biographical information concerning his mental illness. Komarovsky’s poetic gift has always been admired by refined critics. D. S. Mirsky writes about him: “Probably no poet ever succeeded in giving his verse that absolutely indefinable touch of unique personality so well as Komarovsky did,”2 while Tomas Venclova writes that “it can be expected that the time will come for his poems.”3 A friend of the major Acmeist poets but not an Acmeist himself, Komarovsky was rooted in Tsarskoe Selo, a suburb of St. Petersburg, the traditional summer seat of the imperial family, famous for its classical palaces, galleries, parks, and monuments. Komarovsky’s exposure to classical architecture in Tsarskoe Selo and St. Petersburg evidently influenced the image of Rome that he created in his poetry. Komarovsky, as well as Annensky whom he admired, is


2 3

See W. Tjalsma, “Count Vasily Komarovsky, A Minor Master of the Petersburg Style,” in V. A. Komarovsky, Stikhotvoreniia i proza, ed. George Ivask (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1979), 10. This edition is the essential source for this chapter. See also V. Toporov, “Dve glavy iz istorii russkoi poezii nachala veka,” Russian Literature 7 (1979): 312, note 73; I am indebted to Prof. Yurieff for pointing out this article to me. Mirsky, A History of Russian Literature, 473. Tomas Venclova, “The Exemplary Resident of Tsarskoe Selo and the Great Pupil of the Lycée: Some Observations on the Poetics of Count Vasily Alekseevich Komarovsky,” in A Sense of Place: Tsarskoe Selo and Its Poets. Papers from the 1989 Dartmouth Conference Dedicated to the Centennial of Anna Akhmatova, ed. Lev Loseff and Barry Scherr (Columbus, OH: Slavica Publishers, 1993), 260–74.


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associated with Petersburg Poetics,4 which may be well summarized in his phrase: “Na skudnom severe dalekii otblesk Rima” (“On the meager North the distant reflection of Rome”). The word “reflection” significantly exposes a paradoxical congruence: Rome and North. Since Komarovsky never experienced Rome personally, the light in his Roman poems has an essentially northern quality; it is broken, or blurred, more a reflection of light than light coming directly from its source. The absence of direct sunlight is invoked in the first poem of Ital′ianskie vpechatleniia (Italian Impressions), written in 1912, in which the poet describes Russia: Люди солнца не помнят; Курят, снуют, грустят; В мороке мутных комнат Северный горький чад. . . .5 People don’t remember the sun; They smoke, dash about, grieve; The northern, bitter fumes stray In the darkness of turbid rooms. . . .

Thus most of the time Komarovsky looks at sculptures through these “Northern, bitter fumes”; the statues in the poem “Muzei” (Museum) are seen in moonlight, while the beautiful alabaster bust of Agrippina the Elder comes from Copenhagen, even further north.6 Komarovsky’s interest in Rome was enhanced by his thorough knowledge of Latin, the history of ancient Rome, and its cultural legacy. His association with other Petersburg poets, who embraced both the modern city culture and its classical roots, strengthened his preoccupation with the Roman theme. However, in his search for classical values and in his identification with them, he was able to maintain a certain ironical distance, for example, in his choice of Incitatus—the name of Caligula’s horse—as his literary pseudonym. “Komarovsky was attracted to statues,” writes George Ivask in his miniature essay on statues in the poetry of Annensky and Komarovsky.7 Ivask argues that Komarovsky was inspired by sculptures perhaps to the degree that Pygmalion was enamored with his own sculptural creation. In discussing a poem dedicated to a statue, Ivask asks, 4 5 6


V. Veidle, “Petersburgskaia poetika,” in his O poetakh i poezii (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1973), 102–26. Komarovsky, Stikhotvoreniia i proza, 117. The distinction of the northern light is being recognized as an important factor in art and its perception, particularly Symbolism. Cf. Kirk Varnedoe, Northern Light, Nordic Art at the Turn of the Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 286. The bust of Agrippina the Elder was created in southern light but is being seen in the northern. George Ivask, “Statui Annenskogo i Komarovskogo,” in Komarovsky, Stikhotvoreniia i proza, 10.

Vasily Komarovsky “Isn’t she dearer to him than the live woman?”8 Poems about sculpture form a rich tradition in Russian poetry, to which Pushkin’s contribution stands out in particular. The complex interaction between the two texts—sculptural and literary—and the relation between the model and its sculptural representation has attracted the attention of scholars as well. As noted earlier, in his essay “The Statue in Pushkin’s Poetic Mythology,” Roman Jakobson explored many of these complex problems. One of them especially applies to Komarovsky’s treatment of statues in his poetry: Only the opposition of the dead immobile matter from which the statue is shaped and the mobile, animate being which a statue represents provides a sufficient distance . . . , and it is just this basic antinomy of sculpture that has been most effectively captured and exploited in poetry.9

Komarovsky was a poet with a rare gift, who was not only inspired by statuary, but who was also able to inspire life back into the “dead immobile matter.” He was thus able to draw the ultimate conclusion from Jakobson’s “basic antinomy.” In his brilliant analysis, Toporov points precisely to this phenomenon, stating that Komarovsky instills his own image into the image of the statue by enlivening it with his breath.10 This gift was nurtured by his admiration for the classical canon, which remained with him throughout his short and tormented life. “Na kopengagenskii biust Agrippiny Starshei” (On the Copenhagen Bust of Agrippina the Elder), a sestet with an aa bb cc rhyme pattern, in which the first two pairs consist of assonances, and only the cc rhymes are exact, is a poetic portrait of Agrippina the Elder—Augustus’s granddaughter, the daughter of the exiled Julia, and the wife of Germanicus (Tiberius’s adopted son). She was Caligula’s mother, and Nero’s grandmother. Throughout her life, she never failed in her humanity and courage; her chastity and fertility made her the ideal Roman matron. She died of voluntary starvation. Hers is one of the most tragic biographies we have of women from antiquity, which Komarovsky encapsulates in his image of the three phases of the day: den′ bezsolnechnyi (“sunless day”), vecher temnokrylyi (“dark-winged evening”), noch′ bezlunnuiu (“moonless night”).11 In this poetic substitution of the time of day for the time of life, the poet reverses the direction of light—the silvery light emanating from the individual illuminates her dark somber life. The image of light and the poet’s almost physical attraction to the bust give it life. On the linguistic level this is achieved by bringing to life fossilized, idiomatic expressions. Tjalsma writes: “Significant of Komarovsky’s emergence as a true Petersburg poet is his use in almost all his last poems, . . . of the conversational style. Here the reader is charmed by the unexpected meeting in the poem with the words and intonation of his own everyday

8 9

Ibid., 31. Roman Jakobson, Pushkin and His Sculptural Myth, trans. and ed. John Burbank (The Hague: Mouton, 1975), 32. 10 Toporov, “Dve glavy,” 266–67. 11 Komarovsky, Stikhotvoreniia i proza, 58.



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spoken language.”12 In order to revitalize idiomatic expressions and accommodate the conversational language in the poem, the poet reverses or inverses its uses. Thus, the light expressed by siianie (“shining”), which in conversational Russian is usually associated with joy, here comes from anguish; it is the shining of a blade. The blade may be associated with Agrippina’s many years in army camps as well as her tragic life. Like a silvery face, siianie here is of metallic origin, although the sculpture is made of marble. A similar strategy is used in the description of the neck. The poet breaks down the idiomatic “swan neck,” and creates “swan wrinkles of a marble neck,” thus inducing the image of mature beauty. The last two epithets, torzhestvennyi i sladkii (“solemn and sweet”), underscore the solemnity of the topic and the attractiveness of the character, as a woman and a sculpture. According to Susan Wood, the portraits of Agrippina reflect “the diverse roles she played in political propaganda during her lifetime and after her death.” Besides Agrippina’s youthful portraits, “some replicas .  .  . like the Capitoline head, include subtly modeled furrows under the eyes and across the cheeks, which suggest mature age (Agrippina was between forty-five and fifty when she died), as well as physical and emotional sufferings.”13 We learn from art historians that figures of lesser importance than the emperor, including members of the imperial family, were portrayed in the form of a bust, but they were all presented as a certain dynastic type, ready for acceptance as divine beings in their own lifetime. Donald Strong writes: “The phenomenon of Julio-Claudian dynastic portraiture is the creation of an idealized family image which became all-pervading.”14 Komarovsky works with idealized images, but unlike Merezhkovsky, he uses his knowledge of biography and his language strategy to reduce the degree of idealization.15 He sees through the official image, to the fate of the mortal. The poet manifests his fascination with sculpture, both marble and metal, in several other poems. In “Statuia” (Statue) he reflects on the incompatibility between the ideal represented by the work of art and the realization of that ideal in real life. The poet achieves this by using essential sculptural elements: marble, light (siianie), and a Pygmalion-like physical attraction to the sculpture: И равнодушная, она не обещала— Сияла мрамором у светлых берегов . . . Несчастный!—Вечную и строгую любовь Ты хочешь увидать одетой в плоть и кровь.16

12 Tjalsma, “Count Vasily Komarovsky,” 16. 13 Susan Wood, “Memoriae Agrippinae. Agrippina the Elder in Julio-Claudian Art and Propaganda,” American Journal of Archeology 92 (1988): 411. I am indebted to Cora Acebron Tolosa for bringing this article to my attention. 14 Strong, Roman Art, 45. 15 See the chapter on Merezhkovsky in this volume. 16 Komarovsky, Stikhotvoreniia i proza, 63–64.

Vasily Komarovsky And she, indifferent, did not promise— The marble radiated on the glowing shores. And you—misfortunate!—you wish to see Eternal, solemn love clothed in flesh and blood . . .

One of Komarovsky’s most admired poems, “Gde liki mednye” (Where the copper images, 1912), again brings together the themes of sculpture and Rome. V. N. Toporov considers this poem an example of the perfect balance that the poet was able to attain between the two “texts”—that of Rome and Tsarskoe Selo, between the reality of the period of ancient Rome and the beginning of the twentieth century.17 The aura of this gloomy and revealing poem is introduced by images of two copper statues—of Tiberius, Augustus’s successor, and Sulla, the general and dictator of the Roman Republic. These two statues, out of many situated in the famous Cameron Gallery, seen from the bank of the Big Pond in Tsarskoe Selo, are chosen by the poet for the darker sides of their personalities, particularly their debauchery and cruelty. On the visual plane the copper figures find their structural reflection in the image of copper-colored, gilded patches of light muddied by the heavy autumnal smoke. The reader is confronted with many transformations, which are to a certain extent inherent in the gloominess of statues. Initially these are natural transformations—the smoke darkens the light; the ice covers the water of the pond. But these natural transformations are followed by mysterious ones. Black swans, real animals with complex aquatic and death-related symbolism, are transformed in this poetic vision into chtonic demons— harpies representing “cosmic terror” and thanatic forces.18 This transformation of images expresses “a situation in which man’s inner wholeness is torn to shreds.”19 One should not forget that harpies terrified Aeneas during his quest for home.20 On a social plane, the monsters stand for the wicked, tyrannical monarch,21 perhaps Tiberius and Sulla of the first line of the poem. What is even more interesting is the fact that Cameron and Rastrelli were considered masters of the effect of light in architecture and landscaping.22 The movement of light and colors accompanies the increase of the emotional horror—from the red copper and dimmed sunlight, to the black color of the swans, and the dark-violet waters (temnolilovykh vod) and the similarly colored lilac night (sirenevaia noch′). This 17 Toporov, “Dve glavy,” 264–65. The more recent collection of academic articles, Loseff and Scherr’s A Sense of Place, constitutes a continuation and further explication of Toporov’s thesis on Tsarskoe Selo. 18 These swans, Tsarskoe Selo “mythologems” as Venclova calls them, undergo transformation in Akhmatova’s poem as well. However, Akhmatova turns the white swan into a raven, cf. Anna Lisa Crone, “Akhmatova and the Passing of the Swans: Horatian Tradition and Tsarskoe Selo” in Loseff and Scherr, A Sense of Place, 90; see also Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols, 13, 44. 19 Ibid., 212. 20 Virgil, Aeneid 3:210ff. 21 Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols, 302. 22 Cf. A. N. Petrov, Pushkin. Dvortsy i parki (Leningrad: Isskustvo, 1969).



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twelve-line poem manifests the highest qualities of Komarovsky’s craftsmanship, which has been aptly characterized by Tjalsma: There is a sense of another reality in much of his verse, particularly in his early poetry written between 1903–1909 or 1910. There is a certain tremor, a certain inexpressible modulation of feeling, sometimes rendered as modulation of lighting, which has much more to do with the poet’s sense, probably heightened by his experience of madness, of an inner reality than it does with observed natural phenomena. There is frequently a mood of foreboding, sorrow or shame which, though it can be attributed to Symbolist influence in his verse, also has a haunting reality about it which is Komarovsky’s own and, again, is almost surely to be connected to his unstable mental condition.23

Sergey Makovsky links this poem to Komarovsky’s insanity: “The poet wanted to express in words the inexpressible. These harpies, the fabulous sharp-clawed blood sucking eagles, are even more horrible, because they were the Tsarskoe Selo black swans flapping their wings, before their transformation. They flew from the heart of the poet recalling his own madness. . . .”24 V. N. Toporov points to the poetic “stylization” that combines the image pertinent to the Roman Empire, represented by the image of busts, with the image of the contemporary Tsarskoe Selo, represented here only by the image of ice.25 There is one more poem in this collection which relates to both the Roman and sculptural themes—“La cruche casse” (The Broken Pitcher), a poem that has been comprehensively analyzed by Toporov and Ivask. It is one of those poems that elicits endless chains of associations for someone who knows the statues of Tsarskoe Selo, and who knows the poems about them by Pushkin, Akhmatova, and Annensky.26 Ivask writes: Komarovsky does not experience horror, pity, or resentment. However, it is not indifference. This poem is not static, it is dynamic. Already in the first lines he in a solemn and majestic manner revels in melancholy at the pavilion of “born to the purple depression” and the reflections of Rome on the “meager North” of Russia. He doesn’t strive to escape into the past of an 23 Tjalsma, “Count Vasily Komarovsky,” 13. 24 Sergei Makovskii, Na Parnase “Serebrianogo veka” (Munich: Izdatel′stvo Tsentral′nogo ob′′edineniia politicheskikh emigrantov iz SSSR, 1962), 229. 25 Toporov, “Dve glavy,” 265. 26 Pushkin was the first Russian poet to introduce the landmarks of Tsarskoe Selo to literature. Other prominent poets who are considered creators of the so-called “Tsarskoe Selo text” include Innokenty Annensky and Anna Akhmatova. Because of its vicinity and affinity with St. Petersburg, the architecture of Tsarskoe Selo is quoted as an example of the Petersburgian period of Russian architecture, and the so-called “Tsarskoe Selo text” is treated as a part of the “Petersburg text.” Apparently, only a person who knows Tsarskoe Selo could decipher to which statue the poet refers.

Vasily Komarovsky ancient world; he lives in the present, passionately celebrating his anguish in the dusk. He displays the hopeless but somehow intoxicating stoicism of the “last Roman.” 27

According to Toporov, the entire poetic tradition is encoded in this poem, as a result of the interdependence between a very intimate, emotional treatment of the subject with the “strict form of the Alexandrian verse.”28 Komarovsky often presented his subjects and motifs from different points of view. The number of poems about statues attests to this practice, as do the recurrent images of marble and copper.29 The motif of marble appears in the beautiful poem “Vdali liudei” (Far away from people) related to the archetypal theme of quest for home, a topic pertinent to the Roman theme in general. In this poem marble and stone serve as the building material for home and security: Построил мраморный триклиний и камнем обложил родник.30 He built the marble triclinium and laid the spring with stones.

Another device that attracted Komarovsky was to speak in the language of the “other,” the “stranger,” which Toporov calls the “external I” (vneshnee ia).31 There are several poems in which the lyrical “I” becomes an imaginary Roman, either an old veteran who received land from the agrarian assignment, as in “Vecher” (Evening) and “Far away from people” or a young inexperienced soldier, as in “Toga virilis.”32 The sonnet “Evening” (1910), with its precise though restrained rhyme pattern (abba abba ccd eed), is built around the veteran’s meditation upon seeing a storm. The title refers to the time of day, and also to the time of life of the ex-legionnaire, who has been wounded many times, and who for the past thirty years has been a settler in the area of Milan. The same device, connecting the phases of a day to those of life, was used by Komarovsky in his poem about the bust of Agrippina. Another correspondence 27 Ivask, “Statui Annenskogo i Komarovskogo,” 30. 28 Toporov, “Dve glavy,” 267. 29 The rich deposits of copper in Tuscany may have been precisely the reason for Etruscans to settle in the area. Cf. Michael Grant, Myths of the Greeks and Romans (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1964), 365. There are a few copper images always related to antiquity: “Priskachet vsadnik v brone mednoi” (The horseman in the copper armor will come galloping) “Vdali liudei” (1907); “Siiaet med′ i lastiatsia sobaki” (The copper shines and the dogs fawn), “Toga virilis” (1911); “. . . iz mednykh izognutykh naiad” (. . . from the copper of the bending naiads), “Muzei” (1910). Komarovsky mentions Corinthian copper as well in the prose fragment “Sabinula.” 30 Ibid., 76 31 Toporov, “Dve glavy,” 276. 32 Cf. Toporov’s analysis of the structure of these three Roman sonnets, “Dve glavy,” 280.



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presented in this poem is between a storm and war: “Liubliu grozy voinstvennyi raskat” (“I like the warlike peal of a thunderstorm”). Using very picturesque imagery, the poet brings this quite worn metaphor to life again. In this reversed realization of the metaphor one can trace the approach that Osip Mandelstam demonstrated in his famous line: “Priroda—tot zhe Rim” (“Nature is also Rome”). If nature is Rome,33 then nature’s phenomena may signify history or its elements, such as war and peace.34 The poem “Far away from people,” written in 1907 and dedicated to Baroness M. F. Taube, subtly accentuates its Roman theme. Actually, only mramornyi triklinii (“marble triclinium,” a couch used by ancient Romans for reclining at meals, or a dining room furnished with such a couch) points to a Roman setting. There are also some indications that the poem’s lyrical persona may share the identity of the protagonist of the sonnet “Evening,” written three years later. Let’s compare them: “Far away from people”: Холмы взрывая дважды плугом, я сеял трепетной рукой.

“Evening”: За тридцать лет я плугом ветерана провел ряды неисчислимых гряд.

Having ploughed the hills twice, I sowed with a trembling hand.

In thirty years with a veteran’s plough I furrowed countless rows.

Old age is implied by autumn in “Far away from people” and by the night in “Evening.” These two poems share other Roman themes—the quest for home, and for peace (pax romana). The veteran’s principal concern, like that of Aeneas, is founding a new home. In “Far away from people” we read: И стали за волшебным кругом, Колосья, тишина, покой. And beyond the magic circle stood The ears of grain, silence, and peace.

At the same time, both veterans experience some anguish, and an inner desire to shatter that peace. In “Far away from people” this is expressed by the wait for the unknown visitor who Рассказом горести случайной тревогу разбудить потерь. With his tale of chance sorrow [will] stir up the anxiety of losses. 33 Cf. Ryszard Przybylski, An Essay on the Poetry of Osip Mandelshtam, 15–16. 34 Toporov states that Komarovsky’s images paved the way for some elements that appear in the poetics of Osip Mandelstam and, to a lesser degree, those of Anna Akhmatova. See Toporov, “Dve glavy,” 274.

Vasily Komarovsky The protagonist of “Evening” is experiencing an imaginary war. On the mythical plane it is a battle between good and evil, with the storm representing дремучий край, Где залегли зловещие драконы. the primeval forest, Where ominous dragons slumber.

The vindicatory symbolism comes from the Roman side. The Roman legions are led by an eagle—the bird placed on the highest step of the symbolical ladder of beings, and an emblem of Rome. The justification of the Roman cause is strengthened by light—the image of the golden eagle and the epithet pylaiushchie, “flaming” or “burning.”35 In the poem “Toga Virilis” (1911), the lyric persona is again a Roman, this time a young warrior awaiting his first battle. As in “Evening,” the title of the poem has a paraphrastic character. In Rome, toga virilis was the garment of initiation into manhood for young patricians; here the first battle will function as a toga virilis. As the first line of this abba abba ccd ccd sonnet announces, the battle against the Dacians will be led by Domitian, whose name is introduced in the ninth line. There were two confrontations between Domitian’s army and that of Decebalus of Dacia. In the first one the Roman army suffered defeat. They were the victors in the second war, but were hindered by Domitian’s determination to make peace. Domitian, who never got to the battlefield, celebrated a splendid triumph in Rome. The poem captures the impatience in the war camp before the attack. Perhaps it is the second confrontation and the soldiers want revenge. By using short, verbless phrases in the first three lines and two presenttense verbs in the fourth, Komarovsky creates the dynamic atmosphere of excitement before a battle.36 The three first lines sound almost like a short cabled message: На площади одно лишь слово—«Даки». Сам Цезарь—вождь. Заброшены венки. Среди дворцов—военные рожки. Сияет медь и ластятся собаки.37 On the square only one word—“Dacians.” The Emperor himself—the chief. Wreaths are cast away. In the midst of courtyards—military trumpets. The copper shines and dogs fawn. 35 Cf. the topic of combat with a dragon in Mircea Eliade, The Myth of Eternal Return, tr. Willard R. Trask, 2nd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 37–42, especially 40, note 70. 36 Cf. V. N. Toporov on Komarovsky‘s utilization of adjective and noun structures, and their function in the strategy of retardation, antiquization, and “antologization.” “Dve glavy,” 272–75. 37 Komarovsky, Stikhotvoreniia i proza, 104.



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The tension is expressed by the soldiers’ utterances, along with the anxiety conveyed by the words “dogs fawn” in the fourth line. This aura of anxiety, as experienced by the lyrical “I,” develops gradually to find its ultimate expression in the last line: “I tol′ko vchuzhe serdtse klokotalo” (“And only strangely the heart was beating”). If the first quatrain of the sonnet describes the camp, the next takes the reader to an imaginary battle. Through the young, inexperienced soldier’s daydreaming about his first combat, the poet exercises his imagination: the exhausting march in the sand (“i po kolena tina i peski”), the campfires, the riverbank (most probably the Danube), and crossing the river. In the first tercet the poet actually returns to reporting from the camp. The very conversational “No nado zhdat′” (“One has to wait”) fulfills a double function here: it informs the reader of the postponement, and delays the quasi-narrative, enabling the persona to complete the characterization of Domitian. This characterization is laconic, but not enigmatic; it touches upon few traits, but very important ones for Domitian. In the elliptical introductory sentence, “The Emperor himself—the leader,” the poet alludes to Domitian’s longing to establish his own military fame, equal to that of his father, Vespasian, and his brother, Titus.38 Although he was disdained by the Senate, and not well known by the population, he was very popular with his army. The first tercet tells about Domitian’s inclination to preside over judiciary proceedings. According to Suetonius: “In ministering justice precise he was and industrious. Many a time, even in the common place, sitting extraordinarily upon the tribunal, he reversed the definitive sentences of the centumvirs, given for favour and obtained by flattery.”39 In the third tercet, the line “The trial of a handful of Christians” (“Sud nad gorst′iu khristian”) alludes to the fact that Domitian was a very strict defender of the national religion. He had a record of persecuting Christians, according to J. B. Bury, who writes that it “has been supposed that Flavius Clement and Domitilla, who are said to have been accused of ‘impiety,’ were Christians and this is not improbable.”40 Naturally, the view of Domitian that is given in the poem bears all the features of what the Formalists defined as the device of “estrangement “or “defamiliarization.” The “external I” represents the mentality of a dedicated soldier, not an omniscient narrator; he repeats the justification of Domitian’s persecutions without judging his cruelty. The poem is realized by the juxtaposition of this naive perception of the lyrical persona and the perception of the reader. Domitian himself is a peripheral figure in this poem. There were other emperors who persecuted Christians and fought Dacians as well. Nevertheless, the poet, in the manner of a good Renaissance painter, took great care with his background.41 Not unlike Andrea Mantegna in his canvas the Triumph 38 As Komarovsky’s prose indicates, he was especially interested in this period and he seems to have known it well. 39 Suetonius, History of Twelve Caesars, tr. Philemon Holland (London: G. Routledge, 1930), 377. 40 J. B. Bury, A History of the Roman Empire from its Foundation to the Death of Marcus Aurelius (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930), 394. 41 Cf. Komarovsky’s poem “Vozrozhdenie,” in Stikhotvoreniia i proza, 105–7.

Vasily Komarovsky of Caesar, Komarovsky leaves no space unfilled on this sonnet’s canvas, where every single detail is saturated with symbolism, with the symbolic ladder of beings—from dogs to emperors. Having painted this background, the poet returns to the drama. Not until the final tercet does the poet express the central theme of the sonnet, the theme presented by the metonymic title—the initiation into manhood, and the impatience, anxiety, and expectation related to it. The young warrior in Komarovsky’s sonnet confesses in the last tercet: Я никогда не пробовал меча, нетерпеливый—чуял зуд плеча. I have never tried the sword, impatient—I felt the itch in my shoulder.

But he also shares the pre-battle excitement of the old veteran in “Evening”: “Toga Virilis”: И только вчуже сердце клокотало

“Evening”: Пылающие идут легионы

And only strangely the heart was beating

Blazing legions go

The parallelism manifests itself in the implication of pylat′ (“to blaze”) and klokotat′ (“to beat,” or “to bubble,” of a sizzling liquid). If in “Toga virilis” the image of the emperor occupies a prominent, albeit secondary position, the sonnet “Augustus,” also written in 1911, is dedicated entirely to the theme of the founder of the Roman Empire. The two quatrains of this abba abba ccd ede sonnet are written in the apostrophic form with the obligatory rhetorical second person singular. In these eight lines the poet epitomizes Augustus’s image as perceived by the lyrical “I.” He expresses the complexity of Augustus’s personality and his place in history by juxtaposing his vices and virtues, and by enumerating his great deeds in a quasi-objective manner. Thus in the first line the noun “serdtse” (heart) is modified by two attributes,42 one adjectival and negative and one nominal and positive; he has a kholodnoe serdtse (“cold heart”), but serdtse mudretsa (“the heart of a sage”). The ambivalence signaled in the first line is continued in the second line, where the poet states that tribun, zhrets i tsenzor (“tribune, priest of heathen religious cult, and keeper of the census/censor”) are encapsulated by this “cold heart of a sage.” The tribun stands for the tribunician powers, the title Octavian used to disguise the real nature of his authority; the word zhrets alludes to his becoming pontifex maximus in 12 BC, after the death of Lepidus, but with tsenzor, the poet consciously plays on the word’s ambiguity, as censorship was suspended, not abolished, during the rule of Augustus. Initially in ancient Rome, the censor was an elected official whose responsibility was to register individuals and their property; later censorship became the crown of a political career; after 42 Cf. Toporov’s examination of Komarovsky’s usage of double attributes. “Dve glavy,” 272.



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Augustus, the emperors assumed censorial powers. Augustus exercised the powers, but never assumed the title. Placing the all-too-well-known word tsenzor next to the archaic zhrets and tribun the poet leaves to the reader the concretization of its meaning. After defining Augustus’s functions, the poet proceeds to describe his deeds: “Ty Kassiia zastavil udavit′sia / I rimlianam ostalsia za ottsa” (You forced Cassius to strangle himself / and you were left as the father of the Romans). Gaius Cassius Parmensis, whom Augustus put to death after the battle of Actium, stands metonymically for Octavian’s many victims on his road to power. Naturally, the perception of the profundity of these two lines depends on the reader’s erudition. The reader who is aware of the repute of the Cassius family will realize an entire political drama in these two lines. There was another Cassius, Gaius Longinus, who participated in Caesar’s assassination and fought at Phillippi against Octavian’s and Anthony’s legions. The reader not as well informed will miss most of the political and philosophical subtleties of the period, but will be able to decipher the message that Augustus’s political career was not devoid of cruel moments. One moment where fascination with cruelty surfaces, albeit with an ironic undertone, is the line “I rimlianam ostalsia za ottsa.” A factual statement in itself, the line becomes ironic only because of its position. After years of anarchy, wars, and turmoil, Octavian’s leadership was perceived by Romans as necessary for establishing integrity and stability.43 In the second quatrain, again an apostrophe, the poet semantically abandons the rhetorical style of the first quatrain by using such colloquialisms as lstets (“flatterer”) and lukavaia lisitsa (“sly fox”). These words are meant to undermine the veracity of the previous statement. The poet characterizes the same person once in an odic style as zhrets, and soon after in the style of a fable, lukavaia lisitsa. By simply juxtaposing these two styles the poet distances himself from both extremes, pathos and satire, and instead endows everything with an ironic undertone. It is evident that in calling Horace a court flatterer, which he never was, Komarovsky employs a grand gesture of irony; it is a very Pushkinian line. Nikolay Punin underscores this very specific ironic touch in Komarovsky’s Roman poems: “There are verses written only with the aim to instill the sense of the epoch, to teach irony—they are beautiful; others excite like lyric poetry, but this is not a lyric at all. It is born and fed by the refined and good-natured irony of the veteran, who has seen with his own eyes the Roman emperors. . . .”44 The imperial title, insignia of power, and garments of distinction, like the toga virilis, appealed to the poet’s imagination. In “Augustus” Komarovsky ironically refers to the fact that Augustus declined to wear the type of attire befitting an emperor. He writes: И не надел, лукавая лисица, Ни затканных одежд, ни багреца. 43 Kenneth J. Pratt points to the fact that “the eternity of the city was fitted into the pragmatic aspect of the Roman religious structure, but only after a development which took place from the principate of Augustus through the reign of Hadrian.” Kenneth J. Pratt, “Rome as Eternal,” Journal of the History of Ideas 26, no. 1 (1965): 27; see also Suetonius, “The History of Octavius Caesar Augustus,” in his History of Twelve Caesars, 99. 44 Nikolai Punin, in V. A. Komarovsky, Stikhotvoreniia, 22.

Vasily Komarovsky And you, the cunning fox, did not wear Either brocade or purple.

This paraphrastic statement is historically true and precise. Zatkannaye odezhdy refers to “the purple gold-broidered toga, worn by victorious generals in triumphal procession,”45 while bagrets stands for the purple-edged toga of a magistrate. Abandoning these garments of distinction is an act as symbolic as putting them on. In his poem “Antony,” Valery Bryusov uses a similar device: “Venets i purpur triumvira ty promenial na potselui” (‘The laurel and purple of the triumvir you exchanged for a kiss”). Where Bryusov used justification fortified by pathos to characterize Antony, Komarovsky distances himself from his hero’s point of view, and introduces his own vantage point with an ironic ring to it. The reason Augustus declined to wear a special toga was political and diplomatic; he wanted to preserve, at least partially, the appearance of the republic. He did not want to appear as an emperor, even though he was inaugurating the empire. Suetonius writes, “When the people offered and instantly forced upon him the dictatorship, he fell upon his knees, cast his gown from off his shoulder, bared his breast, and, with detestation of the thing, besought them not to urge him further.”46 Thus, not the clothing, but the absence of it provided Augustus with the means of political disguise. Lukavaia lisitsa alludes to this clever feat of diplomacy by the Princeps. In “Augustus,” Komarovsky treats the theme of Horace much as he did with Domitian in “Toga virilis.” Horace is introduced at the beginning of the second quatrain, then suspended, and masterfully elaborated upon in the tercet. During the reign of Augustus, his office and person became the main source of inspiration for the great authors of the period. Charles T. Cruttwell writes: “Augustus has been the most fortunate of despots, for he has met with nothing but praise. . . . As it is, all the authors that have come down to us are panegyrists. None seem to remember his early days, all centered their thoughts in the success of the present and the promise of the future.”47 However, he stresses the fact that “the works by Horace and Virgil abundantly prove that servile compliment was neither expected by him nor would have been given by them.”48 It took greater effort for Augustus to win approval from Horace than from Virgil, who was enthusiastic from the start. Throughout his life Horace was able to maintain independence, and to a certain extent, a critical attitude. Having been a victim of the emperor’s policy himself,49 he did not approve of Augustus’s politics before the closing of the Temple of Janus in 29 BC, which signaled a proclamation of peace. He 45 Cf. Bury, A History of the Roman Empire, 21. 46 Suetonius, History of Twelve Caesars, “The History of Octavius Caesar Augustus,” chapter 52. And in chapter 73 he writes: “He wore not lightly any apparel but of housewife’s cloth, made within house by his wife, his sister, his daughter, and nieces. His gowns were neither strait nor scant, nor yet wide and large; his senator’s robe neither with overbroad studs of purple guarded, not with narrow.” 47 Charles T. Cruttwell, A History of Roman Literature, 3rd ed. (London, Charles Griffin, 1878), 243. 48 Ibid., 248. 49 His father’s estate was confiscated after the civil wars to provide lands for discharged soldiers.



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refused the office of the secretary and, as Cruttwell writes, “scrupulously abstained from pressing his claims of intimacy, as the emperor wished him to do.”50 So much for the “flatterer”! In the first tercet the rhetorical “you” (second person singular) is abandoned (to return in the next tercet), and the entire stanza takes on the form of a digression about Horace. It is a testimonial to the author of “Exegi monumentum,” reflecting Horace’s outlook on temporality and immortality. The image of an ox grazing over Maecenas’s ashes seems to be taken from Horace’s own ode. Horace died within a month of Maecenas and his ashes were buried beside his patron’s on the Esquiline. The metaphor “i zvonkaia tsitata poroiu v’et lavrovye venki” (“and a ringing quotation at times weaves the laurel garlands”)51 echoes Horace’s concept of poetic powers. Komarovsky twice commends the ancient meter in “Augustus”: zvonkaia tsitata “(a ringing quotation”) refers to Horace’s verse, and mednyi plesk serebrianoi reki (“the [brazen] copper lapping of the silver river”) alludes to the Aeneid. It is common knowledge that Virgil’s Aeneid provided the mythical justification for Augustus’s governmental reforms. It is believed that humanity owes the preservation of this great epic to Augustus, who acted against the poet’s last wish. The reasons that Augustus’s ostryi slukh pleniala Eneida (“keen ears were captivated by the Aeneid”) were not solely aesthetic but philosophical and political as well. The structure of the last stanza recalls the ambiguity between exposing Augustus’s abuses (obida) and glorifying his deeds, which is the main political theme of the Aeneid. In his essay “O Vergilii” (On Virgil) George P. Fedotov states, “Virgil is inseparable from Rome, and his poetic work—from the political deed of Augustus.”52 The words “Pust′ velika narodnaia obida” (“Even if a great national offense”) refer to proscriptions, cruelties, and other of Augustus’s wrongs, which he himself could not forget—even if he was forgiven by his favored poets. Komarovsky here raises the moral question: How much could and should be sacrificed for the welfare of the state? This matter hit quite close to home in imperial Russia. Fedotov sheds light on this relation when he writes, “The shadow of Virgil— perhaps invisibly stood over the Russian Empire.” And he continues, “Virgil’s school is almost adequate to the Russian Empire.”53 Fedotov also points to the very significant fact that the Roman poets forgave Julius Caesar and Augustus’s infringements of liberties in exchange for the Pax Romana and the glory of Rome. This is exactly the sentiment expressed in the last stanza of the sonnet, but it may not be the poet’s own judgment. Nevertheless, it is reflected in the rhyme pattern, in which obida is balanced by Eneida (Aeneid). There is still another important factor here. Horace’s zvonkaia tsitata (“ringing/ resounding quotation”) is described objectively, regardless of Augustus’s perception,

50 51 52 53

Cruttwell, A History of Roman Literature, 282 Komarovsky, Stikhotvoreniia i proza, 103 George P. Fedotov, “O Virgilii,” 219. Ibid., 216, 219.

Vasily Komarovsky whereas the evaluation of Virgil’s poetry is presented only through Augustus’s eyes.54 In the Russian literary tradition Augustus is known above all as Ovid’s persecutor; by choosing the emperor’s appreciation of the two greatest poets of the period as a topic, Komarovsky vindicates Augustus by promoting his image as a literary patron.55 The poem “Augustus” constitutes what may be called Komarovsky’s Roman text. In the cycle “Italian Impressions,” which was intended as an imaginary travel journal, the poet is preoccupied with the landscape and the relaxed ambiance of the South. These themes predominate, supplanting the motif of antiquity. However, Komarovsky forces the reader to remember that the persona of these poems is a tourist aware of both the classical and the modern admiratio Romae traditions, the tourist for whom klassicheskoi tolpoi begut barany (“the sheep run in classical formation”) and o forume beseduet pedant (“a pedant lectures about the Forum’).56 Poem 6 of the cycle constitutes a summation of the lyrical hero’s experiences. As he tours places of historical, mythical, and religious significance, he is aware of the pathos and solemnity of events long past, and at the same time he expresses his relaxed, humorous perception of the genius loci. In each of the poem’s five stanzas the situation of “then” and “now” is juxtaposed. The poet uses here both syntactic and compositional parallelism. The discrepancy between the presumed and the actual perception of the described place or event creates poetic tension, and constitutes the charm of this light poem. The key to the structure of the poem lies in the motto, taken from Bryusov’s poem “V igornom dome” (In a casino).57 Bryusov’s stanza, written in a very solemn spirit, became the stimulus for the stylistic and even philosophical polemic with the Symbolist leader. Using the parallel structure and juxtaposition of “now” and “then,” exactly as in Bryusov’s stanza, Komarovsky parodies Bryusov’s rhetorical style. The “then” part of the consecutive parallels deals with the grandeur of the ancient past, while the corresponding “now” part deals with trivial matters of the tourist’s physical comfort. From Rome’s glorious past the poet depicts the struggle of the Roman republic: а здесь прошел с когортами Сенат перехитривший Кай. Kai passed here with his cohorts, outwitting the Senate.

54 In his prose published in 1912 in Apollon, Komarovsky’s hero is much more eloquent in his assessment of Augustus: “Emu vspominalis′ sviashchennyia imiena Skipionov, Tsezaria, Avgusta i on kusal guby, soznavaia nichtozhestvo svoego pokoleniia” (“He recalled the sacred names of the Scipios, Caesar, Augustus and he bit his lips, realizing the nothingness of his own generation”). Komarovsky, Stikhotvoreniia i proza, 38. 55 He mentions Ovid in his prose. 56 Komarovsky, Stikhotvoreniia i proza, 120. 57 First published in 1912; V. Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 2, 57–58.



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This is a reference to the conflict of Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, who besieged his native Rome with the Volsci tribe. In another example he evokes images from the beginning of Christianity: Там где идти ногами босыми, Благословляя час и день. Where one would go barefoot Blessing the hour and day.

In still another we find the sentimental enthusiasm of Winckelmann, Где над редчайшею находкой Счастливый, плакал Винкельман! Where over the most rare find Happy Winckelmann wept!

These examples mark milestones of the modern admiratio Romae tradition. The poet matches these unique, symbolic, grand events with common, trivial, but nevertheless very human gestures: Затягиваюсь папиросoю И всюду выбираю тень. Бреду ленивою походкою И камышек кладу в карман . . . I inhale the cigarette And look everywhere for the shadow. I stroll in a lazy stride And put a small stone into my pocket . . .

Komarovsky also touches upon the relation between Russia and Rome, and the Turkish origin of his presumed Cossack ancestors. In the opening strophe, he compares the Cossacks wandering in their country of origin, Anatolia of Asia Minor, with his own imaginary wanderings around the Capitoline Hill. In the closing stanza he compares Moscow’s Iauza with Rome’s Tiber, aware that the informed reader may find an allusion to the Third Rome concept here. The word “Iauza” may also refer to Bryusov’s poem “Noch′iu” (At Night), where the same word appears.58 Bryusov was very proud

58 I am indebted to Professor Zoya Yurieff for pointing this out to me.

Vasily Komarovsky of finding a rhyme for “Iauza,” as he mentions in a letter to Pertsov.59 Komarovsky’s purpose in this poem is to parody the stiff rhetoric of Bryusov’s poetry and to indicate to the reader how far his Petersburg poetics is removed from that of the Moscow Symbolist leader. It is significant that this literary polemic takes place on a subject so close to the hearts of both poets—Rome. Thus it combines the so-called texts of three Romes: Rome, Moscow, and classical Petersburg.60 Komarovsky was evidently aware that his contribution to the Russian admiratio Romae tradition was quite unique. 2007

59 Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 1, 82–83, and note 578. 60 According to Toporov, this poem represents “a typical stand of the contemporary man, either toward the exclusion of the sphere of the contemporary, or the exclusion of the sphere of the genuine” (“Dve glavy,” 282).



The Scepter of the Far East and the Crown of the Third Rome: The Russo-Japanese War in the Mirror of Russian Poetry


he Russo-Japanese War and the ensuing political events affected all strata of Russian society, and—not surprisingly—found their reflection in the literature of the period. Erik Gollerbakh, the art historian and critic (1895–1942?), not yet ten years old when the war broke out, writes in his memoirs: On a bookshelf stood a modest book in a calico binding the color of coffee with cream, with a bas-relief portrait of Zhukovskii. I first opened it when the Japanese were sinking the Russian fleet, and the newspapers were full of melodious and strange Japanese names. Russian power had fallen into the black pit of infamy, and it turned out that some Fujiyama or Liaoyang was to blame for it all. Candy boxes with Japanese scenes and cheap fans with pictures of geishas became popular. During evening tea they spoke of bad quartermasters, about Tsushima and Port Arthur. Portraits of Kuropatkin, Stessel and Linevich were being printed in Niva. I loved to cut out photos of battleships from the newspapers, encircle them with pictures of sailors and paste them onto cardboard. I read the casualty lists with curiosity and fear, gazed intensely at the circles of portraits (there were rows of these circles in each issue of Niva) and could not understand why this young and handsome “captain of the second rank” was killed, while this infantry general, an old fogey, was alive and had been awarded a “St. Vladimir with Crossed Swords”? I sometimes heard quite distinctly the rumbling of weapons during the sea battle, saw men falling into the black water, and shuddered at the thoughts of a watery abyss.

The Russo-Japanese War in the Mirror of Russian Poetry Once on a rainy and overcast day, in place of the rumbling of cannons and the splashing waves of the Pacific, Zhukovskii’s muse appeared before me in her light brown clothing.1

Certainly, the war that had such an impact on the imagination of a ten-year-old was bound to influence the poetry of the period, above all, the verse of the leader of the Symbolist movement, Valery Bryusov, and his fellow poets, namely, Vladimir Solovyov, Vyacheslav Ivanov, and Maksimilian Voloshin. In order to avoid direct political reference that would not clear the censorship, the poets quite often would resort to what Bryusov termed an historical disguise or costume. The images of Ancient Rome perfectly served this purpose, particularly since they constituted a frame of reference accessible to the educated reader of that time. These images, which the poets used to address such patriotic concerns as the Tsushima defeat and the inadequacy of political and military leadership in Russia, will be the main focus of my analysis. Few people had greater influence on the Russian literary scene at the turn of the twentieth century than Valery Bryusov (1873–1924). Poet, critic, editor and translator, he has been called “one of the most solemn . . . figures in the whole of Russian literature” and the “reigning impresario of Modernism, . . . a cultural phenomenon of the first magnitude.”2 His early collections of poems Tertia vigilia (1900) and Urbi et orbi (1903), as well as his literary magazine Vesy (The Scales) placed him at the head of the entire movement known as Russian Symbolism, during what was ultimately perceived to be the Silver Age of Russian poetry. Mikhail Gasparov, the leading authority on Bryusov, considers the Russo-Japanese War to be the single most influential factor on Bryusov’s perception of Roman antiquity.3 Bryusov’s pronouncements concerning the events of 1904–5 are to be found in several poems, including “To the New Year—1905,” “To My Fellow Citizens,” “Tsushima,” and his famous “Julius Caesar.” These poems, as well as some letters of the period, reflect Bryusov’s assessment of Russia’s political situation: he considered the capture and sinking of the Russian fleet in the Pacific to signal the end of an era. By the time of the Russo-Japanese conflict, Bryusov’s position as a leader among his fellow poets was sufficiently well established that he could speak on the subject with an air of authority. His poems set the tone for the political discussion among the literary elite, reflecting simultaneously the elite’s attitude toward this major political event. In his review of the book Bor′ba za Velikii okean (Battle for the Great Ocean), written by René Pinon in 1904, Bryusov writes: The history of coming centuries will be determined on the shores of the Pacific. The coming war starts a new era. The deserts along the Amur will become the bread basket of the world, poverty-stricken China will become a 1 2 3

E. F. Gollerbakh, “Recollections of Tsarskoe Selo,” in Loseff and Scherr, A Sense of Place, 330–31. See Mirsky, A History of Russian Literature, 435; David Bethea, Khodasevich: His Life and Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 32. Mikhail Gasparov, “Briusov i antichnost′,” afterword to Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii.



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Croesus of the twenty-first century. Farsighted countries have already comprehended the inevitable significance of the Pacific Ocean. But the main demarcation will come after the end of the Russo-Japanese war. .  .  . The Roman Senate was able to calculate in advance, for whole centuries. Russia— the new Rome—thinks only about yesterday. Russia should understand that she will live in the millennia to come.4

These words demonstrate for us Bryusov’s frame of mind during the composition of these civic poems. The poem “K Tikhomy okeanu” (To the Pacific Ocean), which takes the form of an invocation to the ocean, was written in mid-February, after the negotiations between Russia and Japan had been broken off on February 5. In this poem Bryusov tries to justify his and Russia’s longing for access to the Pacific. His poetic arguments are emotional. Imbued with imperial emotions, the poem does not speak of economic prospects, but rather establishes mythic reasons for gaining access to the Pacific. He maintains that it is the “call of a dream” (golos mechty) and “an old passion” (staraia strast′) that have spurred Russia to undertake this ambitious quest. Moreover, he writes that “the children of the steppes” (deti stepei) need another kindred space. The union of Russia and the Pacific Ocean would be a brotherly union, and who—asks the poet—would have the audacity to disrupt the union of these two giants? Кто, дерзновенный, захочет разъять Двух великанов?

In his letter to Petr P. Pertsov, dated April 1, Bryusov voiced much stronger emotions concerning the conflict: Oh, the war! Our inactivity drives me out of my wits. It is high time to bomb Tokyo. Our strength lies in the fact that we are on foreign land and the Japanese are at home. It is more difficult when the theater of war is at home [rodina]. We should abandon Arthur and Vladivostok to the whims of fate— let the Japanese have them. And we in return will take Tokyo, Hakodate, and Yokohama. Let the Japanese stroll [guliaiut] about Manchuria, and we will have a stroll in Nippon [Japan]. Well, they will not reach Moscow, and we will reach Tokyo quite soon. I love Japanese art. Since childhood I’ve dreamed about seeing those most whimsical temples, those museums with the works of Kiyonaga, Utamaro, Eishi, Toyokuni, Hiroshima [sic!],5 Hokusai, and all those who sound so strange to the Aryan ear . . .

4 5

Ashukin, “Nenapisannaia poema ‘Agasfer’ v 1905 godu,” 239. Probably a slip of the pen on Bryusov’s part. The poet no doubt has in mind the Japanese landscape painter, Ando Hiroshige.

The Russo-Japanese War in the Mirror of Russian Poetry But let the Russian cannonballs [iadra] smash these temples, these museums, and the artists themselves, if they still exist there! Let all of Japan turn into a dead Hellas, into ruins of a better and great past—I am for the barbarians, I am for the Hunns, for the Russians. Russia must reign supreme over the Far East, the Pacific Ocean is our lake, and because of that obligation all these Japanese mean nothing, even if there were a dozen of them. The future belongs to us, and when compared to that which is not merely the future of the world, but of the cosmos, what is the meaning of all these Hokusais and Utamaros?6

The Tsushima defeat traumatized Bryusov. In his letter to a friend (May 1905), he writes that “all of old Russia went to the bottom of the ocean” with the destruction of the Russian Pacific fleet.7 And in a letter to another friend, written in early October, he admits: “I still cannot free myself from delirium, from the nightmare of our war. I am still under the impression that this marked a new boundary, that a new era of history had begun.”8 The poem “Tsushima,” written in late August, was composed in the interval between these two letters.9 Written in a sonorous, rhapsodic voice, “Tsushima” expresses the undeniable identification of the lyrical “we” with the fate of the fleet: the repetition of the possessive pronoun “our,” and the personal pronoun “we” testify to this identification. By using “our” and “we” he internalizes the pain and the mourning, but when he addresses “Russia” as such he employs the dialogical “you” and does not assume responsibility for the disaster. As Joan Delaney Grossman writes: “In majestic cadence the poet there mourned not only the loss of life and ships at Tsushima, but the end, for the foreseeable future, of Russia’s great hope for ‘Both the scepter of the Far East / And the crown of the third Rome.’”10 Needless to say, these final words were suppressed by the tsarist censor, and printed only in later Soviet editions. In the six months since the writing of “To the Pacific Ocean“ the poet has abandoned all hopes of attaining a point of access to the Pacific. Bryusov’s poems “Voina” (The War) and “Na novyi 1905 god” (To the New Year of 1905) are full of indignation, expressed in strong, dark images of blood, fire, wrath, and unknown fate. Equally strong civic concerns are expressed in the poem “K sograzhdanam” (To My Fellow Citizens), written in December 1904, where Bryusov draws parallels between Russia and the Roman Republic. The poet appeals to his fellow citizens for unity in the face of external danger, the unity necessary to succeed in the Russo-Japanese war: Теперь не время буйным спорам, Как и веселым звонам струн. V. Briusov, “Desiat′ pisem V. Briusova k P. P. Pertsovu,” in Pechat′ i revoliutsiia 7 (1926) 42. G. I. Chulkov, Gody stranstviia, ed. M. V. Mikhailova (Moscow: Ellis Lak, 1999), 324. Ibid., 43. Briusov, “Tsusima,” in Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 1, 426–27. Unless noted otherwise, all citations to Briusov’s works are drawn from this edition. Citations of volume and page number will be given in the text. 10 Grossman, Valery Bryusov and the Riddle, 278.

6 7 8 9



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Вы, ликторы закройте форум! Молчи, неистовый трибун! Когда падут крутые Веи И встанет Рим как властелин Пускай опять идут плебей На свои священный Авентин! (Bryusov, vol. 1, 631–32) Now is not the time for turbulent disputes Nor for the joyous sound of strings You, lictors, close the Forum! Keep silent, furious tribune, When the stern Veii fall And Rome will rise up like a ruler Let the plebeians again go To their sacred Aventine!

Significantly, while addressing his fellow citizens, Bryusov invokes an analogy from the period of the early Roman Republic. On the eve of the 1905 Revolution and in the midst of the Russo-Japanese War, he sought parallels with the famous conflict between the patricians and plebeians. In 494 and 449 BC the plebeians marked their protest by abandoning Rome and going to the Aventine Hill.11 But Bryusov’s poem contains something which may be called a crypto- or reverse analogy. Having in mind the internal turmoil and the imminent Revolution of 1905, Bryusov wants his compatriots to behave in exactly the opposite manner of the early Republic’s plebeians. He wants them to protest after the war is over, when it has ended victoriously, and when they no longer have their leverage. In Rome, the plebeians exerted pressure just when they were being summoned by the councils to join the annual campaign against the hill tribes. Thus, in alluding to the political model of the virtuous Roman Republic, the poet extols only one aspect of its principles—the readiness of the citizens to defend the republic. At the same time, he wants them to suspend, if only temporarily, their right to defend their public liberty. This is not the lesson that many others drew from this event. In his Discourses, Machiavelli comments on these events: “I maintain that those who blame the quarrels of the Senate and the people of Rome condemn that which was the very origin of liberty . . . ; and all the laws that are favorable to liberty result from the opposition of these parties to each other, as may easily be seen from the events that occurred in Rome.”12 Unlike Mandelstam, who in his well-known poem “Obizhenno ukhodiat na kholmy” invoked the image of the Aventine to acknowledge the people’s “thirsting for freedom and a role in the governance of the state,”13 11 Titus Livius, The History of Rome, tr. George Baker (London: Printed for A. Strahan, and T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies (successors to Mr. Cadell) in the Strand, 1797), vol. 1, 214. 12 Machiavelli, The Prince and the Discourses, 119. 13 Przybylski, “Rome, or a Dream about the Unity of Things,” in An Essay on the Poetry of Osip Mandel′shtam, 21.

The Russo-Japanese War in the Mirror of Russian Poetry Bryusov used the symbol of Aventine to urge the people to renounce these longings. No wonder, he himself had always worshipped absolutism and autocracy. “Any democratic government seemed to him”—according to V. F. Khodasevich—“either a utopia or an ochlocracy, mob rule.”14 Even if one questions Bryusov’s use of the symbolism of the Aventine, one cannot deny the force of the message. In the poem “To My Fellow Citizens” Bryusov makes use of imagery derived from Roman history. In “Tsushima” he refers to Russia as the third Rome; in “Julius Caesar,” written in 1905 and published in Venok, Bryusov employs the myth of Caesar to express the longing for the ideal leader so sorely needed at the time. Political ferment stimulated Bryusov to grasp the essence of Caesar’s personality, and his myth. And, to a great extent, the censorship compelled him to resort to what he called “antique images animated by the contemporary spirit.”15 Critics agree that Caesar’s life and legend were intended to carry a strong political and ethical message, to portray the present through the mist of history. The correspondence between “now” and “then” is stressed in the poem, the past being the irretrievable model of greatness and glory. “Julius Caesar” refers to the emotional experience of a whole nation. The poet expresses his belief that the monarchy and a powerful dictatorship are needed and directs his indignation at the inertia of the conservative bureaucracy, which he held responsible for the Tsushima defeat. In his previously quoted letter to Pertsov, Bryusov exclaims with indignation: “Dogs are sometimes beaten—and it’s not a happy sight. But to see the Emperor of all the Russias beaten!”16 The principle of heroism is the main, normative aesthetic principle unifying author, lyric voice, and objectified personae in “Julius Ceasar.”17 Apostrophe enhanced by exclamatory repetitions and other modes of rhetorical emphasis dominates the poem. The introductory stanza outlines the political situation by listing the accusations against Caesar: Они кричат: за нами право! Они клянут: ты бунтовщик, Ты поднял стяг войны кровавой, На брата брата ты воздвиг! They shout: the law is on our side! They swear: you are a rebel, You raised the banner of bloody war You raised brother against brother!

The apostrophe is strengthened by the repetition of the familiar pronoun ty. The reader can assume that Caesar is referring to these accusations in order to respond to them. He is not the addressee but the main speaker—appropriately enough, since he 14 15 16 17

Grossman, Valery Bryusov and the Riddle, 158. G. I. Chulkov, Gody stranstvii (Moscow: Ellis Lak, 1999), 329. Briusov, “Desiat′ pisem,” 44. Maksimov, Briusov: poeziia i pozitsiia, 133.



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was a celebrated orator, second only to Cicero. He forsook a rhetorician’s career for a military one, but he owed many of his political victories to his verbal prowess. The next four and a half stanzas consist of Caesar’s speech; out of eighteen lines seven begin with the formal or plural pronoun vy, addressing the Roman consuls and the Senate. This juxtaposition of two voices evokes a sharp image of conflict and heightens the dramatic immediacy. The metaphor in the second stanza (“the streets’ stones speak”) attests to the popular discontent with the Roman Senate. There is an interesting parity between two lines from Bryusov’s “Julius Caesar” and two lines of Solovyov’s “Panmongolism.” Both poets create a vision of humiliation caused by defeat. In Solovyov’s “Panmongolism” we read: И желтым детям на забаву Даны клочки твоих знамен. And the yellow children are given scraps of your flags to play with.

Compare these lines from Bryusov’s “Julius Caesar”: Но что же! Римских легионов Значки—во храмах у парфян. And what! The emblems of the Roman legions are placed in the Parthian temples.

Solovyov’s poem, written years before the war, represents a poetic prediction of a disaster, but in Bryusov’s poem these expressions point to the defeat of the Roman army in Parthia in 53 BC and, at the same time, to the losses of the Russian army in Tsushima. Bryusov accuses the Russian generals in Caesar’s words. The phrase “degenerates of the past’’ signals the closing of a historical era. The most powerful artistic effect is reserved for the last two lines; after delivering his arguments, the hero makes a monumental decision: Довольно споров. Брошен жребий. Плыви, мой конь, чрез Рубикон! Enough quarrels. The die is cast. Swim, my steed, across the Rubicon!

Ending the poem with the command to his horse implies the immediate subsequent action, thus heightening the dramatic quality. To use Bakhtin’s terminology, Caesar is represented here as “a person on the threshold of a final decision, at a moment of crisis, at an unfinalizable—and unpredeterminable—turning point for his soul.”18 This 18 Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 61, 62–63.

The Russo-Japanese War in the Mirror of Russian Poetry moment is described by Plutarch in his life of Caesar: “At last, in a sort of passion, casting aside calculation, and abandoning himself to what might come, and using the proverb frequently in their mouths who enter upon dangerous and bold attempts, ‘The die is cast,’ with these words he took the river.”19 The command “Plyvi, moi kon′, chrez Rubikon” (with its internal masculine rhyme, with the legendary Rubicon in the final position with the rhythmic stress, and the rhyme of vremen and kon′) brings together many threads of Caesar’s myth. One of them is the motif of crossing a body of water. Caesar was the “first man that should pass the Rhine with an army”; he was also “the first who brought a navy into the western ocean, or who sailed into the Atlantic with an army to make war.”20 The legendary Rubicon was in fact the smallest river Caesar’s army had to cross. The only positive phrase of the poem is addressed to the horse. There are several legends and anecdotes illustrating the special place that horses held in Caesar’s life. According to Plutarch and Suetonius, the horse was almost as extraordinary as its rider. Bryusov, therefore, has Caesar direct his command to his unique horse at a dramatic moment, thus adding another dimension to the portrayal of his hero—that of the loneliness of a great individual. In the context of the Russo-Japanese war, the images related to the myth of Caesar appealed to Bryusov more strongly than any other. Several times he resorts to the theme of “casting the die,” always in a most dramatic, almost traumatic, context— the “die” rolls in blood and dust. Bryusov embraced these Rome-related motifs and images to express his longing for Russia’s political grandeur. He harbored hopes that the Russian generals would be as victorious as Julius Caesar. Nikolai Gumilev, a poet of the younger generation, adorned the opening page of his Pearls with the inscription: “To Valery Iakovlevich Bryusov—Caesar’s Caesar.’’ It is interesting to note that Bryusov may have had recourse to ideas put forward much earlier by Vladimir Solovyov. In 1890 Solovyov, concerned with the imminent confrontation with the people of Asia, published two articles on this issue: “China and Europe” and “Japan.” A combination of these concerns found poetic expression in the poem “Panmongolism.”21 The connection between the fear of invasion by the Mongol tribes and the doctrine of the third Rome existed in the Russian consciousness long before Solovyov. The main point here is that the fall of Constantinople to the Turks (1453) coincided approximately with the final overthrow of Tatar rule in Russia (1480); these two events were naturally linked in Russia, being regarded as a shift in the center of world holiness. At the same time as Islam was victorious over Orthodoxy in Byzantium, in Russia the reverse had taken place, that is, Orthodoxy was triumphant over Islam.22 19 Plutarch, Lives, 318. 20 Ibid., 309–10. 21 S. M. Solov′ev, Zhizn′ i tvorcheskaia evoliutsiia V. Solov′eva (Brussels: Foyer Oriental Chrétien, 1977), 342–44. 22 Iu. Lotman and B. A. Uspenskii, “Echoes of the Notion ‘Moscow as the Third Rome’ in Peter the Great’s Ideology,” The Semiotics of Russian Culture, ed. A. Shukman, tr. N. F. C. Owen (Ann Arbor: Dept. of Slavic Langugaes, 1984), 455–56.



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On Russian Symbolism

In “Panmongolism” Solovyov presents history as a cycle perpetuated by sin and punishment. Thus “panmongolism” is an instrument of destiny unleashed as a response to the decay of spiritual life: Остыл божественный алтарь И отреклися от Мессии Иереи и князь, народ и царь. The divine altar has grown cold Both priest and prince, people and tsar Renounced the Messiah.

The phenomenon of “panmongolism” is anthropomorphized (“he raised”) in the poem and is given certain sacred qualities as divine destiny, the instrument of fate, the instrument of divine punishment. And probably because of this function, the Asiatic tribes, in addition to their insect-like qualities (swarm of awakened tribes, host of regiments, innumerable as locusts and insatiable like them) are endowed with divine protection as well, “protected by mysterious power.” The poem is more discursive than lyrical. The prophecy of imminent disaster corresponds to the prophetic character of the doctrine of the Third Rome. As Chulkov writes in his article “Poeziia V. Solov′eva” (The Poetry of V. Solovyov): “The very important and innermost in Solovyov’s poetry is its prophetic character.”23 In the poem, the second and third stanzas illustrate the role that “panmongolism” played in the theory of the three Romes. The poet links the notion of “panmongolism” with the idea of the Third Rome and demonstrates its dynamics in the example of Byzantium— the second Rome. Then he brings the matter home: Russia did not learn from the errors of Byzantium and in considering herself the Third Rome she commits the sin of pride. The final two stanzas are presumably written from the post-catastrophic point of view: Russia had been conquered, its greatness a thing of the past: “The two-headed eagle is crushed.” As in the second Rome, whose fall followed the nation’s renunciation of Christ (“And they renounced the Messiah . . .”), in the Third Rome it will follow the forsaking of Christ’s legacy (“Who could forget the behest of love”). The theme of Russia’s sinful pride permeates two of Solovyov’s poems. It is expressed explicitly in “Ex oriente lux”: О Русь! В предвидении высоком Ты мыслей гордой занята. Oh, Russia! In your lofty foresight You are absorbed in proud thought.

23 G. I. Chulkov, “Poeziia V. Solov’eva,” Voprosy zhizni 4–5 (1905): 103.

The Russo-Japanese War in the Mirror of Russian Poetry and is alluded to twice in “Panmongolism”: И все твердят льстецы России: Ты—третий Рим, ты—третий Рим; And Russia’s flatterers keep repeating: You are the Third Rome, you are the Third Rome;

Solovyov’s poems directly refer to Philotheus of Pskov’s well-known prophecy of Moscow as the Third Rome. The last line of “Panmongolism” is an exact quotation of that prophecy: “And a Fourth [Rome] shall never be . . .” Solovyov questions the self-congratulatory attitude that characterizes Russia’s perception of itself in the light of the idea of the Third Rome. Many of the questions raised by Solovyov remain unresolved over one hundred years later. After the Tsushima defeat, Bryusov in the poetic and political polemic that informs “Julius Caesar” utilized the positive and optimistic aspects of the Julius Caesar legend, whereas Maksimilian Voloshin found it necessary to allude to the darkest moments, that is, the assassination and the end of the Roman Republic. Voloshin’s poem “Predvestiia” (Portent) is dated January 9, 1905 (Bloody Sunday, January 22 [New Style]), St. Petersburg. Apparently, the poem is purposely misdated. The poet actually finished it in early July 1905, and sent it to his friend A. M. Petrova a few weeks later.24 The poet, who had arrived in St. Petersburg on the morning of January 9/22, 1905, witnessed Bloody Sunday, and the following month, upon his return to Paris, published a report about it in the French magazine Courier Européen. “Portent,” the poetic report, was first published in Rus′ in late August 1905. To express his sorrow and shock the poet drew on the legend of Julius Caesar. Even though the poem refers to Caesar only once, indirectly, it touches the very nerve of the most dramatic moment of Julius Caesar’s life and of Roman history, as narrated by both Plutarch and Suetonius. The poet has chosen Rome in 44 BC; the assassination of Julius Caesar is foretold, and therefore unavoidable. The poem starts with the words: Сознание строгое есть в жестах Немезиды: Умей читать условные черты. Пред тем как сбылись Мартовские Иды, Гудели в храмах медные щиты.25

24 The genealogy of the poem is described in M. Voloshin, Stikhotvoreniia, ed. L. A. Evstigneeva (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel′, 1977), footnote on pages 393–94; and I. T. Kupriianov, Sud′ba poeta: Lichnost′ i poeziia M. Voloshina (Kiev: Naukova dumka, 1978), 89. 25 M. Voloshin, Stikhotvoreniia i poemy, ed. G. P. Struve, B. A. Filippov, N. A. Struve (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1982–84), vol. 1, 221. All further references to this edition will be cited in the text with volume and page number.



Part Three

On Russian Symbolism

There is somber knowledge in the gestures of Nemesis: Know how to read the symbolic lines. Before the Ides of March had passed, The copper shields sounded in the temples.

Thus Voloshin implies that the prediction of Bloody Sunday had been ignored, just as the warning to Caesar was ignored. At the same time, Bloody Sunday itself constitutes an omen of approaching catastrophe. This title indicates the linkage between premonition and revenge, an association that is reflected in the myth of Julius Caesar, assassinated at midday on March 15. The topic of the portent is also pertinent to the image of “three suns “appearing on the sky over Petersburg. This sign is mentioned by I. T. Kupriianov and is discussed at length by Cynthia Marsh.26 In “Portent” Voloshin alludes to Caesar’s death, without mentioning his name but referring instead to the Ides of March, and the warnings recorded by Plutarch and Suetonius, which Caesar hears on his way to the Curia. Challenging a man who has already warned him, Caesar says: “The Ides of March are come,” and the man answers calmly, “Yes, they are come, but they are not past.”27 Elements of the Julius Caesar myth reappear throughout the poem: the theme of the ignored forewarning, and that of a new omen—three bloody suns in the third stanza and the prophetic incantation of the fifth. The image of Nemesis incorporates the themes of fate and revenge. The theme of revenge is linked to the conflict between Caesar and Pompeii that ended with the defeat of the latter during the civil war. The fact that the political assassination took place in the Court of Pompeii implies revenge for his death. Originally the poem had one more stanza that read: По улицам толпой нестройной и неслитной Бродили мы, и каждый был далек С одной мечтой—бесстыдно любопытной— Увидеть кровь—святой, запретный плод. (Voloshin, vol. 1, 221) Along the streets in disorderly and disjointed throngs We wandered, and everyone was distant With one reverie—shamelessly curious— To see blood—the sacred, forbidden fruit.

This stanza, excluded from the final version, contains two themes pertinent to the Julius Caesar myth: violation of the taboo related to looking at or the shedding of human blood and the theme of collective responsibility. Plutarch comments that

26 Kupriianov, Sud'ba poeta, 89; Cynthia Marsh, M.A. Voloshin: Artist-Poet (Birmingham: University of Birmingham, 1982), 98. 27 Plutarch, Lives, 341.

The Russo-Japanese War in the Mirror of Russian Poetry “conspirators themselves were many of them wounded by each other, whilst they all leveled their blows at the same person.”28 This ensured collective responsibility. Out of these two poems written in 1905, and linked to the legend of Julius Caesar, Bryusov’s poem is more explicit in its references to the legend than Voloshin’s. And yet, Voloshin evokes a more profound meaning from the Caesar legend with the taboo of bloodshed, collective guilt, Nemesis, revenge. On the other hand, Bryusov’s poem incorporates broad knowledge of historical facts, and in a more direct way expresses his political disappointment and ambition. The political turmoil of 1905 affected Vyacheslav Ivanov as it had so many of his fellow writers; like Bryusov and Voloshin, he responded by drawing on Roman myths and symbols. The fifth part of his collection Cor Ardens, “Godina gneva” (The Time of Wrath), addresses matters which alarmed the entire Russian population: the RussoJapanese War (particularly the Tsushima defeat), Revolution, and Bloody Sunday.29 Ivanov turns to the Roman tradition in two of the thirteen poems of the cycle: in the sonnet “Populus-rex,” written on October 31, 1905, the day after the convocation of the State Duma, and in “Lucina,” written on New Year’s Day 1906, shortly after the insurrection (Ivanov, vol. 1, 90). In “Populus-rex” Ivanov expresses his fondness for Roman republican ideals, which were so important to Russian Romantic thought. The poet makes a strong distinction here between the concept of the slave who has been freed (vol′nootpushchennik—“freedman”) and the free man who has been enslaved and has thrown off his yoke: . . . в узах были мы заложники-цари; Но узы скинули усильем всенародным, Кто не забыл себя в тюрьме багрянородным, Наследие державств властительно бери, И Память Вечную борцам своим твори Насильникам отмстив забвеньем благородным. (Ivanov, vol. 2, 253–54) . . . in bonds we were hostage-kings; But we threw off the bonds through nation-wide effort, He who did not forget in prison that he was born to the purple Imperiously take the patrimony of power and create the Eternal Memory for your fighters and by noble oblivion revenge against the aggressor.

The composite zalozhniki-tsari (hostage-kings) and the compound bagrianorodnyi (born to the purple) reflect on the linguistic level the Latin title “Populus-rex.”

28 Plutarch, Lives, 344. 29 V. Ivanov, Sobranie sochinenii, ed. O. Deschartes and D. V. Ivanov (Brussels: Foyer Oriental Chrétien, 1971–79), vol. 3, 249–57. All references to Ivanov’s works are to this edition and will be given in the text by volume and page number.



Part Three

On Russian Symbolism

But within three months Ivanov would also draw on the other main model in the Roman political legacy, namely, the empire. In the nine-stanza poem “Lucina,” whose epigraph is taken from a famous quotation from Virgil’s “Fourth Eclogue,” the poet refers to the most hopeful period of the empire—its early years. The Eclogue, written in 40 BC, in the midst of civil war, created a myth of its own. Its visionary message is connected with the Sibylline Books, and the poem was considered to be the prophecy of a new golden age under Augustus. The epigraph from Virgil’s Eclogue was easily identifiable by the average reader at that time, and Ivanov’s invocation directed to Lucina, the goddess Juno, who aided women in childbirth, was read in its political context. The child destroyed at birth in the poem is the Revolution of 1905 (Ivanov, vol. 2, 255). In the spirit of Virgil’s prophetic Fourth Eclogue, Ivanov follows tragic pronouncement with an expression of hope: Все перемнется в нас, что глина; Но сердце, сердце—как алмаз. (Ivanov, vol. 2, 256) Everything will take its shape in us like clay: But the heart, the heart—like a diamond.

This strong belief that the major values are being preserved beyond death and decay is expressed in other war-related poems, among them “Ozim′” (Winter Crop), written in 1904, and “Pod znakom Ryb” (Under the Sign of Pisces), written in February of the same year. In the poem entitled “Tsushima,” written May 31, 1905, Ivanov also resorts to the myths of resurrection, namely the Phoenix; he creates a vision of Russia being submitted to baptism through fire. This short poem of only four stanzas, as compared to the seven stanzas of Bryusov’s “Tsushima,” was inspired by the press account that one battle cruiser named Almaz (Diamond) broke through the enemy lines. The tragedy of the fleet is equated with being thrown into a sacrificial fire; this image of fire is reinforced by the image of the burning bush, through which only the Phoenix can pass. Like Bryusov, Ivanov identifies with the mourning nation: И некий дух-палач толкает нас вперед иль в ночь могильную, иль в купину живую . . . And some ghost-executioner pushes us forward Into the sepulchral night, or the burning bush . . .

And, like Bryusov in his “Julius Caesar,” Ivanov recognizes the error, he yearns for Siloam, the sacred spring, to wash out the blindness, and to pour over the fire of revenge. The helms in the hands of Russia’s leaders are crushed, and Russia has to rely on the celestial helmsman. These linguistic strategies give Ivanov’s image its density. The poem is built on images of water and fire, whereby it conveys to the reader the tragedy of cosmic and providential proportions. The cruiser Diamond that escaped

The Russo-Japanese War in the Mirror of Russian Poetry doom is like a real diamond extricated by fire from the black coal. And that is the fate that he foresees for Russia. Poetically it is the same “diamond” that we see in the poem “Lucina.” I am sure one could produce an entire anthology of poems inspired by the tragedy of Tsushima and events related to the Russo-Japanese War, if such does not already exist. These poetic testimonies are no less valid than any other historical, journalistic, novelistic, or military accounts. Let me end with one more quotation from another important poet of the time, Konstantin Balmont, whom Mandelstam called the “father of Russian Symbolism.” Balmont also wrote poems about the war, but they are not that significant. He left another statement, however. In his article “Leviathan, Yggdrasil, Earth-Titan, Eagle: Balmont’s Reimagining of Walt Whitman,” Martin Bidney writes: Balmont translated Whitman to the sound of sea rhythms: he tells us that he did most of the renditions for his Whitman anthology during the autumns of 1903 and 1905 on the Baltic shore, and also (during the latter autumn) partly in Moscow, listening to the soldiers’ rifle salvos. In “Marine Phosphorescence” Balmont brings together more explicitly the themes of death and the sea in connection with Whitman. . . . Here Balmont describes walking by the sea at Soulac-sur-Mer, trying to sort out his reactions to the Russo-Japanese War in the context of Whitman’s meditations on Civil War fatalities. Whitman, he reasons, wrote of a war that served the higher end of emancipation, while Balmont’s friend Leonid has just died in a quite different sort of struggle—a baseless conflict, where the only “enemies” were those unseen leaders who uprooted peaceful men like Leonid from their homeland to make them die pointlessly on the barren plains of Manchuria. Balmont’s metaphor for this grotesque uprooting is the transformation of sea plants tossed ashore by a recent storm: the beautiful orchid-like forms are now hideously twisted out of shape, “cartilaginous-looking, large-nostriled, repellent stalks, broken tangled, dead” [khriashchevidnye, nozdrevatye, protivnye stebli, slomannye, sputannye, mertvye]. Even so are the mounds of the dead in Manchuria mere remnants tossed up by the great “Ocean of Night” [vybroskami nochnogo okeana, 168].30


30 Martin Bidney, “Leviathan, Yggdrasil, Earth-Titan, Eagle: Balmont’s Reimagining of Walt Whitman,” Slavic and East European Journal 34, no. 2 (1990): 176–91.



My Native Realm

What might have been . . .


peaking hypothetically, one might assume that if not for the war, my European homeland would be Lwów (now Lviv), with all its complexities—which have been much written about, or concealed, in countless essays, memoirs and allegories. That would have been an erroneous hypothesis, indefensible, in fact. If not for the war, then things would have turned out like they do in Szymborska’s well-known poem “Nieobecność” (Absence)—my father, Mr. F, would certainly not have met my mother, Miss S.1 Although both came from Lwów, at the time of the German invasion of Poland, my father, a technician by profession, was working in Częstochowa as a teacher at the vocational school; he was doing a decent job of supporting his mother and three sisters back in Lwów. My mother, meanwhile, was a young Communist; she had sat out her fifth year of a ten-year sentence in some jail in central Poland. In September 1939, with the help of kindly students, my father packed everything he possessed and hurried to Lwów, his homeland. My mother, who was freed a few weeks after the war broke out, also made for Lwów: the prison had been evacuated and the guards were traipsing the prisoners around the country in search of a spot safe from invading armies, until they realized there was no such place. “From the minute the Red Army made its entrance,” my father wrote in his memoir, “I found work as a technical manager in an army factory that repaired weapons from the Polish Army that had fallen into Soviet hands.” My mother found a job in that factory, cleaning the weapons. And that’s where they met, becoming a couple shortly thereafter, in 1940. Not long after the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, they were forced to separate; I was already “on the way” though they didn’t know it. And yet, 1

Compare the opening lines of Szymborska’s “Absence”: “A few minor changes / and my mother might have married / Mr. Zbigniew B. from Zduńska Wola. / And if they’d had a daughter—she wouldn’t have been me,” in Wisława Szymborska, Here, tr. Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010), 59–60.

My Native Realm although it’s unlikely I would have been born in Lwów even without the war, the city hung over my childhood, my consciousness, and my life. And everything was left behind in Lwów —the city of my mother and father

My poem “Forget-me-nots,” written in the first years after I came to the United States, begins with these words. Of course, The City of My Mother is the title of a novel by Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski, which I remembered as a child. But most importantly, this poem came into existence only after I had come to the United States. Only here, when I myself was in exile, did I realize fully that the entire postwar existence of my parents was a type of exile, too. I would never have understood that had I remained in Poland. There, it seemed to me—a child and a youth—not a big deal to exchange one city for another. But for them, Lwów was their city, their native realm, their European homeland.

My Father’s Lwów My father, Psachie Freilich/Frajlich, was born in Hetmanian Sokolowka on July 21, 1911. I remember he used to repeat the Polish hero Stefan Czarniecki’s formulation—“Not of salt, or fields, I am, but from what hurts me”—with such pride as if he himself were a hetman. Before the First World War he lived in Komarno. According to my father’s notes, in 1914 the Cossacks rode into town, were beating and killing Jews, and burned the place to the ground. His entire family, along with the other survivors, fled to Prague, where they remained until the end of the war, keeping themselves alive on ration coupons. Upon returning, he stayed with his grandparents in Sokolowka. In his diaries I found a note that in 1920 Polish Army boys, dressed in proud blues, appeared in the city, and one of them took out his bayonet and cut off half of Menia the baker’s beard. Just like young Miłosz, my father watched the marching of various armies before the family settled in Lwów, where he went to the school named after Rabbi Doctor Abraham Kohn. And even though my father’s father was a religious Jew, he sent his children to a secular school. Here it should be emphasized something often forgotten, namely, the difference in the education of the Jews of Galicia compared with the Jews in the Russian Partition. In the Austrian Partition the language of instruction was Polish. Jews in Austria-Hungary, poor and rich, spoke faultless Polish, while in the Russian Pale only those who could afford private school spoke decent Polish. In grammar school my father read the essentials, visited local museums and exhibits, and saw the Racławice Panorama. After school he would go to cheder and then spent three years at yeshiva. Thus, he received the foundations of a Jewish education. In that same poem “Forget-me-nots” I wrote: I heard my first line of poetry in the Urals “Father’s Return” my father taught me



Part Four

On Writing and Exile

My father loved literature; he’d even studied for entrance to the gymnasium, but his plans were foiled for lack of funds. But even in his old age he could recite both Koncert Wojskiego—Wojsky’s Concert—from Pan Tadeusz and the moving poetry of Chaim Nachman Bialik, which he translated for us from Hebrew. He played sports and was an excellent swimmer. In his youth he belonged to a Jewish sports club called, I believe, the Maccabees. He used to recall that whenever there were anti-Semitic provocations, boys from that club would stand up to the offenders. At seventeen, my father lost his father. Relatives advised his mother to send him to work “in stocks”—that is, as a stockboy at a small store. But she decided otherwise, convinced that once he graduated from school he could support himself and her. And so it happened that in 1931 he finished the prestigious Abraham Korkis Technical College. My father was very attuned to nature, he could not walk by a tree or a shrub without identifying it. Naturally, he also could speak the Lwów slang known as bałak, and loved to show off this skill from time to time. He also knew Yiddish, Hebrew, German, and Russian. Toward the end of his life he had to learn English and was tormented that language had ceased to be a tool that was pliable in his hands. Before the war my father had been active in the union movement, for which he was thrown out of work, but unlike many of his contemporaries he kept his distance from the Communists. I cannot say whether he felt a pull toward them, but he knew that if he was put in jail, his mother and sisters would be left without means and that held him back. He turned his back on religion and never returned. Toward the end of his life, when he was already in a rest home, I encouraged him to take part in some of the activities at the local synagogue; he answered me: “I’ve never seen Him.” In this way, shortly before his death, my father put into words his pain at the loss of his entire family in the Holocaust and the great loneliness of the final years of his life.

My Mother’s Lwów My poem, which begins with the words “My mother dreams of Sykstuska,” in large measure summarizes her gloomy childhood, where she returned in her memories until her final days: Who remembers that the carpenter used to live there a poor widower with his six children who remembers how a stray bullet shot the hat from David’s head that Arcadia in the crowded tenement hunger and beatings the absence of one’s own bed on the other side of the ocean on the other side of existence my mother dreams of Sykstuska.

My Native Realm My mother, Amalia/Malwina/Malka Scheiner/Szajner was born in Lwów on April 5, 1912. I am not sure what year her father was drafted into the Austrian Army, but I do know that soon after his return from the war his wife died from malnutrition. Shortly thereafter my mother’s thirteen-year-old sister left home with a Zionist organization and departed for what was then Palestine; some time later, her older brother illegally left the country to spend his life in Uruguay. To the end of their lives, both spoke unsullied Polish. When I met my aunt in the fifties, she pointed out to me a finer point of language, namely, that I was confusing the words for “female tailor” (krawczyni) and “tailor’s wife” (krawcowa). I bring this up as an example of something Miłosz told me in an interview for Radio Free Europe, and which he repeated many times, that people on the peripheries of language guard their speech with much greater vigilance. After some time my grandfather himself tracked down these two, in the hope that he would fetch the rest of the family. He sent his second wife along with the baby to stay with her parents, and my mother and her younger brother stayed with their uncle—my grandfather’s brother. The very religious family quickly tired of caring for other people’s children. Maybe my grandfather wasn’t sending enough for their upkeep, but it’s quite possible they were simply worn down by the stubbornness, legendary in our family, of the young Scheiner children. Enough so that her uncle went to the rabbi and as corpus delicti sufficient to get rid of the children, he presented the diary of my mother, who had written that she wanted to be free as a bird outside the window. The Jewish charity organizations in Galicia saw to it that my mother did not end up on the street, but in a boarding school that offered professional training.2 In addition to vocational subjects, the school taught general subjects, including religion, Hebrew, and English. The summer months were spent at a Socialist-Zionist Hashomer Hatzair scout camp in the eastern Carpathians, where they hiked in the mountains and worked in the fields so that they could carry the acquired knowledge over to the Promised Land. And here it was, I imagine, that my mother came into contact with Communist propaganda, which to her and many of her contemporaries was much more attractive than any other promethean ideology, and which, as a consequence, drove her to conspiracy and ending up a political prisoner. Her entire family, who remained in Lwów after Hitler’s invasion, died at different hands. She was a gifted writer and her memoirs still wait to see the light of day. Throughout her entire life after the war, my mother collected the crumbs of her prewar Lwów, and made off with the photos that she had sent abroad from Poland before the war. She gathered testimony from people who had witnessed her father—he had returned in 1938—being beaten to death on Balonowa Street and news of her brother with his wife and children, who were turned in by their neighbors. I imagine that the magic of Lwów and the awareness of its tragic end was the glue of my parents’ marriage for many years. In the 1960s my parents established contact with friends who sent them an invitation to Lwów; they went. That trip turned out to be a bad experience for my father. He could not bear to look at things, he did not want to walk the streets, and never wished to return. My mother, on the other hand, visited every corner. 2

Żydowska Średnia Szkoła Zawodowa ( Jewish Vocational High School).



Part Four

On Writing and Exile

Then she sent my sister there, and in July 1969 she pressed me to leave my infant son in the care of my husband and housekeeper and accompany her on her second visit to Lwów. There, for eleven days, she led me to each house, knocked on the door, asked if we might come in, and showed me who sat where at the table and what used to hang on the walls. It seemed to her that, in the apartment she’d left in 1941, and which the present residents had been living in since 1946, she spotted a familiar chair. Naturally that chair made it into a poem of mine. In New York my parents got their hands on a large map of prewar Lwów, which they kept in a plastic frame; it was kept in a safe place for years, and after their death I had it laminated. On the second page of the map was a little note in somebody’s handwriting: Hela, leave the key with Kourowa, I lost my key. So much for their native Europe.

Kirghizia I too was born mid-journey For escape is an excellent journey.

On May 18, 1984, in New York City, at an evening of Polish poetry organized by the Committee for International Poetry and the local office of Writer’s Voice, I was sitting on stage alongside Czesław Miłosz, Tymoteusz Karpowicz, Henryk Grynberg, Stanisław Barańczak, and Richard Lourie. When my turn came, naturally the person introducing me began with my place of birth. Thus there was no surprise that, at evening’s end, an authentic Kirghiz woman was waiting for me at the door, happy to meet a compatriot. I had to disappoint her. I know nothing about Kirghizia. I’ve never seen my birthplace since reaching the age of consciousness. But here in America, Kirghizia returned to me in many ways. In 1974 on the front page of the New York Times I saw an article about victims of an avalanche in Osh. It was the first time I’d read the name of that place anywhere but in my passport. In her all-encompassing love of the universe, Mama instilled in me pride that I was born on the roof of the world, nearly on the Pamirs. It was only later in life that I looked at a map and tried to refute this theory, but my mother continued to see the Pamir Mountains. In 2002 Bogdan Czaykowski, a poet of the Continental group and professor in British Columbia, published an anthology of Polish poetry in foreign lands, including eleven of my poems. Toward the end of that same year I received an email from him: Dear Anna, . . . At the moment, I’m sending you the write-up of our presentation of the anthology in Moscow. In it you’ll find a request that you write a few words about yourself for the presentation of the anthology in Bishkek. I warmly join in this request!!! Please email the text to Dr. Olga Medvedeva .  .  . Olga Medvedeva is a Polonist of Russian-Jewish background; she’s an excellent person. Send word. With warm regards, Bogdan Czaykowski

My Native Realm And a few days later, after receiving my reply, he wrote: Dear Anna, I was very excited to receive your letter, and thank you for the quick reply. Naturally, after such a whirlwind please send whatever you already have prepared. It would be great if there were some mention of Osh. We must spin the threads of friendly feelings amongst all nationalities and peoples. If poets don’t do this, who will? This is one of the characteristics of Olga for which I am so fond of her. Warmly, and looking forward to longer letters, Bogdan

I shed my instinctive resistance and added a few words about Kirghizia, still unknown to me, to the text I’d already prepared: “I am truly honored that my poems will wander there, where my mother wandered in her flight from the Holocaust. I don’t remember the city where I was born, since shortly thereafter we departed for the Urals. . . . Art and poetry connect people separated by natural and unnatural barriers, and I’m touched that while I wasn’t able to make the trip back to the city of my birth, my voice will; my voice returns to the city where it first rang out.” Olga Medvedeva’s initiative forced me to reflect somewhat on my birthplace. An accident? Sure, but also a most important fact. The text was translated into Russian, read over the radio and published together with my poems in the bilingual Polish journal Polonus. I made contact with an organization of Poles living in Kirghizia, and when a Kirghiz musical group came to Columbia, among the examples of folk art they brought with them, I found a hand-embroidered pillow, which will one day accompany me on my ultimate journey. But that wasn’t the end of my “return” to Kirghizia. Olga Medvedeva wrote a paper on the different fates of Polish women and Polish Jews in Kirghizia, in large part relying on the recollections of my mother. And what’s more surprising, she found in the archives a letter touching on the dramatic situation of my mother (and me). Thanks to the blessings of modern technology, not long before her death my mother was able to see a facsimile of a document that had been vital to our survival. A few years ago, in Warsaw, Ludwika Wujec dug up the family correspondence from the time of the war and uncovered yet another thread in the fabric concerning the nearly miraculous reuniting of our fathers and mothers.

The Urals—Molotov, or Perm Province I only know from stories how we ended up in Lysva in the province of Molotov, or Perm. We traveled as a foursome. My father found fictitious husbands for two of mama’s friends, who had sent official letters of invitation. While mother lay sick in the train car underneath the bench, Minka Amzel and Franka Smołowicz, my adopted aunts, transported me safe and sound. While I do recall the Urals, there are bits of images that don’t add up as a whole. Yet they are the beginning of my consciousness. It was there that I saw



Part Four

On Writing and Exile

a leaf of grass under the snow for the first time, there that I heard my father’s persistent recitation of the poem “Father’s Return.” Polish was my first language, but when I went to preschool I began to speak Russian and to this day I have kept hold of a decent accent. From my reading, I remember only Tolstoy’s version of The Three Bears, Tolstoy’s version because every time I heard the name Leo Tolstoy, I would wait for the “fat lion” to join in the action—for Tolstoy’s first name means lion, while his last name and the Russian word for fat are nearly identical. There’s also the story about the boy who called me a Jew. I told him, “I’ll Jew you,” without knowing what that even meant. Enough on my passion for morphology. It seems that somewhere I’ve already written about the many-weeks journey from Lysva to Szczecin in a freight car, the transportation that was arranged by the Union of Polish Patriots. Others have also written about the journey.

Szczecin Our first apartment in Szczecin was in a building where an entire section had been destroyed by a bomb. For me, the wallpaper was a revelation; I ran from wall to wall shouting out “Poland, Poland.” We’d traveled to get to this place called Poland, I must have been glad to finally have reached it, and on top of everything, there was floral-patterned wallpaper. “This isn’t Poland, this is Szczecin,” my father said, and to this day I hear his voice. But after a certain time Szczecin became Poland for all of us. My parents rebuilt their lives there, I graduated from high school there, spent my childhood and youth, had wonderful teachers and friends. And although it was in Warsaw that I went to university, got married, and had a son, Szczecin remains the place of the most formative period of my life. At the end of her life my mother admitted that her happiest years were spent there, though they weren’t easy ones. In Szczecin, as I wrote in “The Wind Searches for Me Again,” I developed a love for literature, and began to write myself. When I was still in school, I received third prize in literature in the Voice of Szczecin competition. No first prize was awarded, second prize went to Edward Balcerzan, and the third prize was split between somebody I’d never met, and me. The next prize I’d receive would be in 1981, when I’d already emigrated—that was a prize from the Kościelski Foundation, then located in Switzerland; Jan Błoński was one of the jurors. I’d only met Professor Błoński in New York. He was there to receive the Jurzykowski Prize. At the reception I gave him my most recent collection of poetry, a small book that he placed in his voluminous jacket pocket, and said, “I hope the day will arrive when you’ll be able to come to Poland.” The newspaper Przekrój had my name as Alicja Fiałkowska in its note about the Kościelski Prize recipients in 1981; how did that distortion happen? I never received a religious education. My parents did, but each of them for his or her own reasons, at his or her own time, rejected religion in favor of a secular, and then communist, worldview. I was aware that there existed a Catholic and, in Szczecin, a Protestant worldview. And not just an awareness, but a certain knowledge. I saw friends studying the catechism, preparing for first communion. When my sister and I lugged home a discarded Christmas tree after the holiday, my parents allowed us to keep it in the house. From then on we always picked up a tree for the New Year, with a star atop

My Native Realm the evergreen as a more apt symbol than an angel. In time, my father made a globe out of sky-blue tissue paper and adorned it with a dove of peace. I knew the Catholic holidays better than the Jewish ones. We didn’t celebrate the latter, while we were always invited to neighbors and my parents’ friends’ houses for Easter and Christmas Eve. I often envied my classmates with their Easter baskets and I even prayed to the icon a priest gave me in my classmate’s house. I knew about the existence of Judaism and its rituals. My parents told me about them in the form of anecdotes or else they recalled them on one or another occasion. And we had acquaintances, who celebrated the Jewish holidays and invited us over. And yet still it was somehow less real for me. Once we went to visit friends who were fasting for the Jewish Day of Judgment, Yom Kippur. “Grab an apple, whatever you like,” said the woman of the house. “I can’t eat because today is the Day of Judgment.” “Reaaaally? But what if you get hungry?” I asked. I began to fast on Yom Kippur some twenty years later in New York City. I was a cultural correspondent then for Radio Free Europe and I had gone to Chicago for a conference and to promote my first book of poetry. After giving a reading, a group composed of Zbigniew Chałko, Tadeusz Nowakowski and his wife, Edward Dusza, and I went to a Polish restaurant. It was the eve of the Day of Judgment and as we passed through a certain neighborhood, my friends reminded me that it was so quiet and empty because everybody was celebrating Yom Kippur. And only then did I feel that if my non-Jewish friends could recognize the weight of this holiday, so should I. Most of my Jewish friends, like me, were secular. I want to point out that Jewish families only ever consisted of two generations, like ours. Everybody, without exception, had lost their grandparents; everybody, without exception, had escaped the Holocaust either by fleeing or being brought to the East—to Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, or in the best case, the Urals. It never came into my head to ask why somebody had been born in these distant lands. Instinctively, I knew that our survival was somehow connected with our place of birth, yet at the same time, it was not vital to our identity. Since childhood I’d grown up in an atmosphere of acceptance for the existing system, in an era when my parents strongly believed that what was then, and what would come, were much better than what they had known in their own childhood and youth. And so I accepted the indoctrination at school as more or less the natural view of the world. And even considering the indoctrination, at my school I received if not the best, then certainly a very good education and preparation for life. Our teachers, for all that, had a good education, a few had even attended tsarist schools and as a result beat us over the head with grammar, mathematics, the basics of biology, and table manners. I was still in elementary school when people began to whisper about the “cult of personality.” The boys would run up to their favorite teachers after class to discuss it. I didn’t really know what they were talking about, so I went to the newsstand to buy a paper—the only paper left was the Catholic Słowo Powszechne. My parents laughed that I had to buy a Catholic newspaper in order to find out about the cult of personality. But I was shocked when a conversation got started about crimes that had been committed. I went to see my mother at her office and I asked, “Is it true?” “What?” my



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mother asked. I was speechless, I could only point my head at the portraits on the wall. My mother nodded. I never made any resolutions, but I also never joined any political organization. Three times I was enjoined to. Mama wanted me to see “the new organization of socialist youth.” I didn’t say anything. At the lyceum, where I was president of the student body, we were given a choice: if we all joined the Union of Socialist Youth (ZMS), we could have meetings during seventh period instead of Russian class. I knew that if everybody signed up, I too would be excused from the lesson. And that’s what happened. Of course, I missed out on all the youth camps, games, and other activities. That deficit was made up for by my self-satisfaction, which years later I put into a poem called “I am my own person.” The last close call was at the University of Warsaw. Professor Jadwiga Pietrusiewicz, a lecturer in medieval literature, suggested I join the ZMS. So I went to the rooms where the organization had their offices, with the question, “What do you actually do?” They had no answer to my question. I have to admit that I paid a price for my decision not to join the Socialist Youth. All the poetry festivals and the majority of the publications at that time—I mean the 1960s—were sponsored by the ZMS. In the Polish literature department, everyone was a poet, and I didn’t dare confess that I too wrote poetry. Only after I graduated, when I was invited by a colleague, did I stop by the offices of the student Klub Hybrydy and submit a couple of poems for an open competition. My colleagues warmly took me in, and that was my literary home until I left the country. Like other novice poets, I submitted a book of poetry to the PAX publishing house, but I left the country in November 1969, before it was possible to publish. My colleagues at Klub Hybrydy were very loyal to me and even after I left Poland, they published a few of my poems. It was a courageous gesture and one of solidarity, which I treasure to this day. In the 1980s, many of those who’d been active in the ZMS turned opposition, they created new journals and publishing houses, but because I’d never joined their organization in the first place, I was still never accepted by them. In emigration I encountered so many kind and noble people thanks to whom I realized, despite my fears that life was over, that life, in fact, was only just beginning. February 26, 2011 Translated by Ross Ufberg


My “Unprocessed” Holocaust


y first reaction to the invitation to this Conference on Holocaust and Genocide Studies was to decline. Even though I am a Polish Jew, and I belong to the generation born during World War II, and a great part of my family, unknown to me, was brutally murdered during the war, I did not experience the Holocaust as such. And I would consider myself an impostor if I were to write about the Holocaust, not having lived through that experience, and in the presence of books written by authentic survivors. And, as we remember, there were such deceptions in the past. In addition, I recall the rule introduced by the Polish writer, Zofia Nałkowska: no fiction in writing about the Holocaust. I understand, however, that some survivors may use their experiences as a basis for fiction. Let me be specific, I was born a world apart from the birthplace of my parents, I had never seen any of my relatives killed by the Germans or others during the Holocaust. When we were allowed to return to Poland after the war it was to former German territory, Szczecin. My parents who lost everyone they had left behind were not allowed to see the places of the massacre. More than two decades later they had the opportunity to visit for few days their hometown: Lwów/Lviv/Lvov. By searching and pursuing, my mother was able to find out how some of her relatives died, but my father never found a trace. The facts established by my mother, and the stories of her surviving relatives, I was able to publish several years ago in the Polish-language magazine Midrasz in the form of my mother’s interview and an authentic letter. Some time ago I decided to read about all the atrocities that took place in my parents’ native Lwów in the years 1941–45. I took all the relevant books from the library, and in one of them I found the scene in which a boy asks his assailant to let him go home because his mother does not know where he is. It is similar to what I knew happened to a child in our family. I returned all the books to the library without reading any further. In that respect I am guilty of not processing. My generation of Jewish children lived innocent, secular, and happy lives near the ruins, not realizing that this was not a natural landscape. When I was a child, I did not know a single Jewish peer who had grandparents. However, this seemed somewhat natural, since many of our Polish friends in the town where we lived had also lost relatives


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On Writing and Exile

during the war, in the army, during the Warsaw Uprising, during the deportations to Germany or Russia. And everyone had been born somewhere else. I was aware that I had lost cousins, and that each of my parents had lost the one living parent and siblings. But I came into the world of non-existent grandparents and nucleus families. I longed so much to have the opportunity to call someone “grandma” that my sister and I decided to call our German cleaning lady “grandma.” And she, being separated from her family, assumed that title. Recently I came upon two texts in which I was blamed for not having “processed” the Holocaust in my poems, for not writing more explicitly about it. To tell the truth, I regard such attitudes as a form of reverse racism. Some specialists in Jewish studies begin to believe that Jews should only write about Jews, the Holocaust and again—Jews. I know that I am very much aware of my identity, and I appreciated when one reviewer of my fifth book of poems, which had been first published back in Poland after our exile, pointed out three motifs of reflection in my poetry—viewing/watching the world, Jewish fate, and the bond, or absence of such, with the Other. He pointed out that I had been able to escape the facile evocation of the drama of the Jews.1 Other non-ideological critics have also appreciated other references to the Holocaust in my poems. The prominent Polish scholar, Wojciech Tomasik, dedicated a small chapter in his book to the analysis of my poem “Locomotive,” in which there is one-line reference to the Holocaust.2 I believe that I am not the only writer with a so-called hyphenated identity who is pushed to the corner by specialists. I have read some bitter testimonies of JewishAmerican writers who also did not appreciate such attitudes on the part of their critics. I grew up with a full understanding, please do not equate it with appreciation, of my origins, and at a certain point of my life I learned more and more about the plight of the Jews during the war, which some of my early poems reflect in their feelings of loneliness, and exclusion. In my childhood and early youth, during the yearly commemorations of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising I would hear the Yiddish song, based on M. Gebirtig’s poem about the prewar pogrom in the town of Przytyk. S’brent means “It is burning.” Once I asked someone to translate for me the Yiddish poem and I wrote a poem ending with the words “My town is burning, and at the Warsaw Ghetto Monument, the torch is burning.” It was a sarcastic poem, and I showed it to two people, one of whom was a poet and, when I was young, something of a mentor, and he approved; the other was the editor-in-chief of the major Szczecin newspaper, a friend of my mother whom I had known since childhood. He accepted several of my other poems, and about this particular one he asked: “And what would you like to be burning?” I don’t think that poem was ever published. Recently in my papers I found another poem, perhaps also never published, based on the same image from Gebirtig’s song but related in this instance to our emigration. In my personal life it was our emigration following the 1968 so-called anti-Zionist campaign of the Polish Communist regime, which was a major trauma that I am still processing, however on a different level than at the beginning. 1 2

M. Broński (Wojciech Skalmowski), “Płynność świata,” Kultura (March 1994): 151–53. “Ikona nowoczesności.”

My “Unprocessed” Holocaust The poem reads:

Emigration It’s burning, brothers, it’s burning, our little town in flames. Mordechai Gebirtig For my parents Suddenly my little town was burning S’brent S’brent everybody called out all around hissing flames S’brent they repeated in their houses at night but they didn’t toss their pillows out the window and in the morning it was very hard to wipe the bitter ash from the heart —we must leave— whispered Tevya the Milkman —to America screeched the cantor’s son and others silently moved behind them.

Tr. Ross Ufberg

Emigracja Gore bracia, gore, płonie nasze miasteczko. Mordechaj Gebirtig Moim rodzicom Nagle spaliło się moje miasteczko S’brent S’brent wołali wszyscy dookoła chociaż nie było syczących płomieni S’brent



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On Writing and Exile

powtarzali nocą w swoich domach lecz nie rzucali przez okno poduszek a tylko rankiem bardzo trudno było otrzepać serce z gorzkiego popiołu —trzeba już jechać— szepnął Tejwie Mleczarz —do Ameryki pisnął syn Kantora a inni milcząc ruszyli za nimi.

(undated) I am quoting this here to show how persistent this motif was for me. And yet, I knew nothing of what happened to my relatives in Lwów. I learned about that only later. I recently came across a review of a new book by Piotr Forecki, Reconstructing Memory: The Holocaust in Polish Public Debates. The reviewer, Jonathan Huener of the University of Vermont, points to “the phenomenon of ‘collective forgetting’ in the years of the Polish People’s Republic.”3 Forecki dedicates four chapters to naming a variety of factors, one of which is marked by “an emphasis on Polish wartime victimization and martyrdom.” And that was the atmosphere in which my generation grew up. Jews were considered, in the official propaganda version, collateral damage of the war. And I would say not only my generation in Poland but everywhere else. The discourse on the Holocaust was absent in the United States, and in Israel as well. As was the Katyń massacre. I mention it here only because in the last few years I have learned that my paternal grandmother’s relative, who was a chief Rabbi of the prewar Polish Army, was murdered in Katyń. When I look back I suspect that this early indifference to the topic of the Holocaust may have been a cause of the many suicides among Holocaust survivors. It was only in the 1970s and 80s that the topic fully opened up for discussion, in large part because of Lanzmann’s Shoah The important lesson for me were the books of my friend Henryk Grynberg, the Holocaust survivor and major writer. I was able to empathize, to analyze his work, to write reviews, but I would never claim that I had experienced it. I could not process something I had not experienced. My major trauma was our exile. And it is interesting that this phase of my life resulted also in some sort of “processing” of the “unprocessed” realities. Only when I found myself in exile did I realize that my parents’ postwar life was already an exilic experience, only then was I able to comprehend their lifelong feeling of displacement, 3

Jonathan Huener, review of Reconstructing Memory: The Holocaust in Polish Public Debates by Piotr Forecki, Slavic Review (Spring 2015): 172–73.

My “Unprocessed” Holocaust and their nostalgia for Lwów. And this is the subject of many of my poems, such as “The Lost Land,” “Birds,” “Forget-Me-Nots.” In 1991, standing in the dark Children’s Room in the Museum in Jerusalem and hearing repeated the names of children who had been killed I was able to experience the authentic mourning process. Later on, I cannot remember when, I wrote a poem about the cousin I never knew who perished in Kraków.

Cousin I didn’t know him he had blonde hair and made sketches only through the small window light fading all the time it might have been possible to sneak across the border from Kraków to Lviv but grandma was blind so better together with the sketches the blond locks and grandma.

Tr. Ross Ufberg

Kuzyn Nie znałam go miał jasne włosy i rysował tylko przez małe okienko coraz mniej światła. Jeszcze można było przez zieloną granicę z Krakowa do Lwowa ale babcia ślepa więc lepiej już razem z rysunkami jasnymi lokami i z babcią.

(undated) 2015–18



March Began in June: My “Processed” Trauma


wo thousand eighteen is a year of significant anniversaries: one century since the end of World War I—and Poland regains its independence—and in the history of the Polish People’s Republic the year marks a half-century since the events of March 1968. I suspect that the fear of this second anniversary caused the greatest controversy. It would have been better to organize comprehensive, impartial education of the events of 68, including both the negative and positive aspects of this historical moment. One must remember that 1968 was an unusual year around the world. The date alone became a symbol of historical, political, and social upheaval in Paris, Prague, Warsaw, Berkeley, Chicago, and Columbia University in New York City. It was the year of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. In Poland it started with student demonstrations protesting the ban on performances of Adam Mickiewicz’s Romantic drama Forefathers’ Eve. Students demanded democracy and freedom of speech. They were brutally attacked by the militia, ZOMO and ORMO. That fact was quickly transposed by the political regime into the primitive, ever-useful, anti-Zionist propaganda with all its consequences. Fifty years have passed since the infamous March of 1968 and I still consider that event and its aftermath the major formative factor in my life, despite the fact that I was not a participant in the events, but rather a recipient. I still stand by the words of my poem: Again I travel over Gdańsk Station Only I cannot Get past it to the order of the day.

Translated by Thomas Anessi

My “Processed” Trauma Znów przejeżdżam nad Dworcem Gdańskim ale nie mogę nad nim przejść do porządku dziennego.

I have traveled to Poland many times since my first return in 1993, but I never go down the stairs to see the station itself. Even though I know that there is a plaque commemorating our exodus, and now even the impression of my face appears there on a mural. The image of the station that I saw the last time on November 12, 1969, predominates in my memory. It’s not an image I cherish, but I cherish the memory of friends, some of whom I saw there for the last time. Who I am now was determined by my exilic experience. It was there and then that I realized how brittle the principle of our safety was, and this forced me, initially against my will, to take charge of my own life. It sounds a bit like a slogan, but it was a great lesson in humility, which exile always is. Twenty yeas ago in my article published in the magazine Midrasz,1 I argued that the words “émigré” and “exile” were often used synonymously in regard to our emigration, even though they are not synonyms. Every exile is an émigré but not every émigré is an exile. My argument, supported by this quotation from Joseph Conrad, “Words, as is well known, are the greatest foes of reality,” was prompted by the existing inclination to diminish the status of that fact. The criterion for exile is to be the subject of exile; it cannot be reversed by open political borders, and/or diluted semantic borders. We do not speak about Adam’s emigration from the Garden of Eden or Ovid’s emigration from Rome. Of course, I appreciate the attention our emigration has received in the last fifty years from scholars like Jerzy Eisler, Krystyna Kersten, Dariusz Stola, Józef Banas, and a number of others. For many of us, rereading these books is like reading a review of our biography, and listening to the present rhetoric of some politicians becomes such a review as well. It is very important to give credit to those scholars, writers, and editors who worked to document this period. Recently such studies more and more often have met with aggressive negation. Even though March 1968 has been quite well researched, assessed, and described, it is still worthy of being remembered now, when Gomułka’s slogans are still found to be useful, and he himself becomes a model for some politicians to follow. We witness similar manipulations in many countries, where anti-Semitism has returned to some of the most prestigious universities in Europe and the United States, and where in the contemporary newspeak anti-Semitism is hidden under the slogans of anti-Zionism. In 1968 the ruling party understood that playing the anti-Semitic card would unite a considerable part of society against the demonstrating students. The party’s anti-Zionist campaign sidelined the students’ opposition. Talk about censorship and the opposition was replaced by talk about the Jews. Everything was strictly controlled, and when this aggressive anti-Semitism started to embarrass the Party, the Zionists 1

Anna Frajlich, “Marzec zaczął się w czerwcu,” Midrasz (March 1998): 6–8.



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were renamed revisionists. From the sociological point of view, it is interesting that as a result a considerable number of people joined the Communist Party. Recently I came across this quite interesting definition by Andrzej Bobkowski, who in 1943 writes: “. . . hideous nationalism is an enticing wrap in which a bitter pill is served.”2 For so many years our predicament was like internal bleeding, our wounds were deeply hidden and invisible to an outsider. Not much attention had been paid to it inside or outside Poland; the nature of the hurt was incomprehensible and was to be suffered in silence. At the time, I was grateful for Kazimierz Wierzyński’s satire Czarny Polonez (Black Polonaise).3 Even though written before 1968, it was perhaps the first Polish émigré literary work to deal with the subject of what would lead to the events of 68. It took some years for our exile to become the subject of writing and scholarly inquiries. There was a tendency to minimize the fact that we were banished from the country that we considered our own. We were all forced to renounce our citizenship. I had to sign the renunciation for my two-year-old son. Even after we left, painful forms of harassment followed some of us, people were denied entry visas to bury their parents, or visit sick family members. Some who were allowed to enter faced harassment: they were told they were lucky that their parent had terminal cancer otherwise they wouldn’t have been given a visa. Most of us were raised in an atmosphere that was both patriotic and dogmatic, which made coming to terms with the reality of banishment all the more difficult. It was not only making the painful decision to leave the country, being forced listening to false public accusations, but also enduring the false atmosphere that surrounded this matter, as well as the curse cast upon those who left and those who maintained contact with them. Hence, letters were sent without the sender’s address, meetings, if any, were always held in secret. Everything was calculated so that the person falsely accused would feel guilty. Our generation, which grew up in a very closed and claustrophobic society, was brainwashed on the topic of emigration. We were taught that the emigration of the nineteenth century was to be glorified, and the one of the twentieth to be despised. One had to liberate oneself from that burden. For me writing produced this liberating effect. Sometimes my own poetry, for example, “Jestem oddzielna” (I am separate), allowed me to pass from the dogmatic perception of personal freedom to the truly personal experience of it. The poem “Aklimatyzacja” (Acclimatization), a poem about the necessity and the impossibility of forgetting, helped me with a similar transformation.4 One must forget, because constantly looking back leads to sterile nostalgia. Moreover, this is a poem about the desire to control something as involuntary as remembering and forgetting. Slowly I was being transformed from the person I had been made by others into my own true self. It was Witold Gombrowicz who said that the writer is a neurotic who cures himself. 2 3 4

Andrzej Bobkowski, Szkice piórkiem, 430. The translation is mine. Kazimierz Wierzyński, Czarny Polonez (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1968). Translations of the two poems, with the Polish text, can be found in Between Dawn and the Wind, tr. with an introduction by Regina Grol (Austin, TX: Host Publications, 2006), 58–59, 10–11.

My “Processed” Trauma While writing these poems I did not intend to represent anyone but myself, although I did find many readers among our emigration of 1968, as well as those of the older political emigration, who empathized with me. It was the support of my readers that helped me to overcome the enormous depressing and paralyzing effect of exile. It did take some time for historians and sociologists to make their first attempt to document and classify the March events. Today the bibliography concerning the 1968 exodus is rather impressive. Books by scholars, historians, sociologists, specialists on literature, and journalism fill and continue to fill the blank pages of that particular chapter. In 2008 our family (my sister, my husband and myself) contributed to that pile by publishing our correspondence5 with our parents during the year and a half of separation. It took us almost forty years to recognize that this correspondence, preserved and typed by my late mother, possessed documentary value. The literary contribution of the writers who experienced this particular emigration is growing. Earlier books by Michał Moszkowicz and Natan Tennenbaum, were later joined by those written by William Dichter, Tamara Sławny, Włodzimierz Holsztyński, Henryk Dasko, and recently Ewa Herbst and Sabina Baral. This literature, together with film documents and compilations of interviews, gives a just and thorough representation and interpretation of this disgraceful episode. Michał Moszkowicz’s Dog’s Passport and especially his Kadish are important books that contribute to the understanding of the vital problems of Polish Jewry of my generation, and that of our parents, the problem of identity. Moszkowicz deals with young East European Jews, and their attraction to communism during the interwar period, as well as their attitude toward religion and tradition. The book is concise, well written, and devoid of sentimentality. Tennenbaum, a popular songwriter before 1968, dedicated a number of his poems to the subject: in one poem he writes about Odysseus seeking his “return ticket,” and in another he proclaims: “There is no Ithaca without you, as there is no me without Ithaca.” For a long time, poetry and fiction primarily used allegorical language: Tennenbaum wrote about Ithaca; I viewed our ordeal from the position of the eternal Jewish lot of exile; Moszkowicz was tormented by dreams about seeking his “dog’s passport”—the infamous travel document. Speaking of allegorical language, I found a certain level of comfort in reading Andrzej Szczypiorski’s novel Msza za miasto Arras (A Mass for Arras),6 published in 1970. Reading The Family Carnovsky, written by the elder Singer, Israel Joshua, in the 1940s, and even Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman, I was amazed to see that all such departures looked the same, and shared common strategies, with intimidation playing a prominent role. The novel Głupia sprawa (Stupid Thing) by Stanisław Ryszard Dobrowolski, published in 1969 in Poland, added insult to injury. In a country where a business card

5 6

Felicja Bromberg, Anna Frajlich, Władysław Zając, Po Marcu—Wiedeń, Rzym, Nowy Jork (Warszawa: Biblioteka Midrasza, 2008). Andrzej Szczypiorski, A Mass for Arras, tr. Richard Lourie (New York: Grove Press, 1993).



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On Writing and Exile

could not be printed without the censor’s approval, publication of such a defamatory novel about the Jews in the ghetto was meant to offend those already offended. Adam Michnik quite appropriately termed 1968 in Poland a “dry pogrom,” because “pogrom” connotes physical violence and an attack on a person’s dignity by various means, including an attack on one’s possessions. We hear and read how custom officials deliberately broke people’s sets of china and memorabilia. Actions such as these are part and parcel of the pogrom mentality. Many countries throughout the world have expelled Jews at one time or another. And time and time again we observe an increase of anti-Semitism in Europe, and the United States, by which I mean not only randomly expressed anti-Semitic sentiments, but also the increased general acceptance of such expressions. Today we see quite often how blaming Jews shifts to blaming the Zionists, especially on university campuses. It is a recognizable deception. One has to remember that what we call March 68 in Poland, started in June 1967, immediately after the Arab-Israeli War. First, we experienced banishment in the form of definition, from Poles of Jewish origin we suddenly became Zionists, the “fifth column.” One of the most humiliating acts took place long before March, by forcing the board of the Cultural Association of Polish Jews to condemn Israel. On the one hand, Gomułka and his gang named every Jew a Zionist, and on the other, they wanted to grill every Jew so that they would deny being one. Pregnant at the time, I felt physically threatened and for the first time I feared that I was not protected by the law in the face of all the propaganda and the so-called “spontaneous” demonstrations of Arab students on the streets of Warsaw. Not being engaged in political life, we soon—like many of our friends—started to feel its effects, culminating for us in an anti-Semitic, offensive sign on our door. Such a sign on the door is not only an offense—it is a denunciation. Many of us tried to wait out the hate campaign; we could not see ourselves leaving Poland. To prompt people like us, the Polish Press Agency published a warning that permission to leave would be issued in the “usual” manner only until September 1969. That infamous communiqué, accompanied by rumors of resettlement, did the trick for the many who were undecided. The stigmatized person remembers not only every sympathetic gesture, but also every neutral one. And we remember many people who went out of their way to reassure us of their loyalty. My professor and mentor Janina Kulczycka-Saloni invited me to her house for a talk. And of course, we remember all the friends who came to our farewell party. They all came to the infamous railroad station in Warsaw, Dworzec Gdański, and greeted us twenty something years later when we could visit Poland for the first time. I believe that the voices of such people should be heard as well. Obtaining our American visas required passing through the customary vetting “stations”—a few days in Vienna, and seven months in Rome. Finally, we landed in the States. As a group we were too insignificant to merit special treatment or attention, as was awarded later to the Russian Jews, who immigrated to the United States en masse in the 80s. Playing the victim would be the worst strategy in such a country as the United States. Rather we had to deal in silence with our anonymity and social degradation, which often was more painful than the financial shortages. We tried to find ways

My “Processed” Trauma to keep afloat without letting go of our aspirations. Faced with the crisis in American industry, my engineer husband experienced one disappointment after another. Lack of work, lack of help, lack of hope—that was our beginning. However, without the language, without contacts, just by sheer determination, he accomplished his goal, and he eventually found work in his chosen field of optical engineering and happily worked for many years. My four years working as an assistant in a scientific laboratory helped us to establish ourselves to a certain degree. Later on, I started my graduate studies in order to overcome the degradation, and eventually I did defend my doctorate. These are byproducts of our “March.” Among these I count my books, my publications in the London journal Wiadomości and Kultura in Paris, and last but not least, my thirty-five- year career at Columbia University. We slowly left behind our isolation, and other exile-related psychological problems. Our losses were balanced by gains. Fifty years later many things look different, the sole fact that most of us survived, and many of us succeeded in our new life is an act of defiance and a triumph over what might have been. Many of those who did not emigrate also constructed good lives and careers. But I am painfully aware that this was not everyone’s lot. I have seen too many lives ruined by this exile. People who were pulled out of their lives at a later stage, people who could not find themselves in the new circumstances, and could not recover psychologically and otherwise. My loyalty to them, and to their fate determines my ambivalent view on recovering the citizenship taken away from us at departure. It is my parents’ generation whose pain is of the greatest concern to me. Despite their heroic efforts to survive in the new circumstances, they never recovered from their exilic wounds. Theirs was a generation that suffered two world wars, which lost everything and almost everyone in the Second World War, who had worked all their adult life in their home country, and faced exile in their retirement after losing that retirement at home. They are the silent ones, those who passed away before they could share their stories. Even those who did not emigrate faced humiliation and separation from their families and friends. Families of three generations were uprooted to another country as the direct result of 1968. Grandchildren spoke a language that the grandparents were too old to master. During World War I my father’s family fled the Cossack pogroms from Galicia to Prague; during World War II he was forced to go East with the work battalions, leaving his family behind. When both my parents returned from the Soviet Union, where they survived the war, their native town Lwów was off limits; none of the parents, siblings and families left behind were alive. Only when I found myself in exile did I realize that my parents’ postwar life was already an exilic experience, only then was I able to comprehend their life-long feeling of displacement and their nostalgia for Lwów. This is the subject of many of my poems, for example, “The Lost Land,” “Birds,” “Forget-Me-Nots.”7 Initially my parents, due to their poor health, did not leave the country, but in December of 1970, upon learning that the government was killing workers in Gdańsk, they decided to leave regardless of 7

Translations of the first two poems appear in Between Dawn and the Wind, 6–7, 14–15.



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On Writing and Exile

their condition. In the United States, my father, already in his late fifties, afflicted with post-stroke epilepsy, and often falling and getting up on the streets, went back to work, in order to secure the smallest American pension. Among the writers of the older generation with a very strong Jewish identity and recognizable creative output who left Poland because of 1968 one should mention: Stanisław Wygodzki, and Arnold Słucki; neither of them ever fully found their place in exile. Israel was not the right place for Polish-Jewish writers or even Yiddish8 writers to lick their wounds. Słucki very quickly moved to Germany of all places, where he died prematurely. Wygodzki tried hard to adapt to his new home. After reading my poem “To a Friend in Haifa,” with the lines: Czemu tutaj gdzie każdy pęd puszcza korzenie ty wciąż jak ziarno które spadło na kamienie. Why here where every sprout strikes root you are still like the seed which fell upon the stone?9

Wygodzki wrote to me: this poem is about me, I am “the seed which fell upon the stone.” Poets who represented the voice of the most tragic fate of their generation, that of the Holocaust, were to a great degree silenced by the bitter experience of the 1968 exile. Thanks to the charismatic efforts of Professor Sławomir Żurek at Catholic University of Lublin, and other scholars in Poland, for example, Kazimierz Adamczyk of Jagiellonian University, the work of these poets is coming back to the Polish reader. Was 1968 a shock because it happened so soon after World War II? One wanted to believe, for no apparent rational reason, that such blatant anti-Jewish propaganda could not take place so soon. Two books of interviews remind us of what happened to many people in 1968: Teresa Torańska’s Jesteśmy (We Are) and Joanna Wiszniewicz’s Życie przecięte: opowieści pokolenia Marca (Life Cut in Two: Stories of the March Generation).10 I admit that I approached reading these interviews with some trepidation, among other concerns I was afraid that I would find the material to be somewhat redundant. But it was just the opposite—both books made me relive the entire process week by week. One cannot overestimate the significance of the material collected by these two authors. 8 Like my first mentor Hadasa Rubin. 9 Ibid., 28–29. 10 Teresa Torańska, Jesteśmy: rozstania ’68 (Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2008); Joanna Wiszniewicz, Życie przecięte: opowieści pokolenia Marca (Wołowiec: Wydawnictwo Czarne, 2008).

My “Processed” Trauma I think this is the most that can be done while our generation is still on hand to bear witness. The two authors, unfortunately, have passed away prematurely. Placing her interviews with the ’68 exiles in the context of official speeches and policy documents, Teresa Torańska demonstrates that the enforced emigration was intentional. It was not a byproduct of the policy—it was the goal. Together, the government, the Party, the security forces, and the army set the entire apparatus into motion with a campaign of harassment and humiliation of young and old alike. Many scholars of Jewish origin throughout the country were harassed, fired from their jobs, and even arrested. Some were fired and not allowed to emigrate if they insisted on stating that their nationality was Polish. The ruling people needed the apartments and positions to allure supporters. Already outside the university, and working in a small peripheral magazine for the blind, I was not fully aware at the time how systematically that particular task was being carried out. There is one more thing I realized while reading Torańska’s book— how actively involved Jaruzelski was in this process. His orders concerning officers who served many decades in the Polish Army were appalling. From my own observations, I recall a person who worked for the army as a sport consultant being persuaded to leave his Jewish wife and small son, and was then sent for an indoctrination course. All this happened on Jaruzelski’s watch. One other phenomenon has received too little attention–the suicides. We clearly do not have the complete numbers, but a little note lurks here and there as a reminder. In order to retain its legitimacy, any synthesis and research of the1968 anti-Jewish campaign should deal with that matter in all its complexity. The book of interviews Księga wyjścia (The Book of Exodus),11 collected by Mikołaj Grynberg, reinforced this image from a more recent perspective. The interviews presented in all these books help the reader to distinguish the various degrees of exile. The degree was proportional to the awareness of one’s identity. A number of the interviewees were not aware of their Jewish identity, or denied it. Their exile started not at the crossing of the border but at the moment of the realization that they were not the person they thought they were. The renunciation of one’s Jewishness plays a role in many narratives, including Maria Stauber’s book, Z daleka i z bliska (From Far and Near).12 People perceived their Jewishness on different levels, for many it was a secular Jewishness, not even realizing that secular Jew is for many a contradiction in terms. Under the Communist regime, the renunciation of religion and/or religious practices was expected of everyone, but somehow these expectations were more applicable to the Jews, and adopted by them to a greater degree. Our generation, the generation of postwar European Jews, grew up without grandparents, and usually it is the grandparents who are the bearers of tradition. During my childhood, I had many friends, both Polish and Jewish, whose relatives were killed by Germans, but I did not have a single Jewish friend who had even one living grandparent. 11 Mikołaj Grynberg, Księga wyjścia (Warszawa: POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland in cooperation with Wydawnictwo Czarne, 2018). 12 Maria Stauber, Z daleka i z bliska (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2001).



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The dilemma of redefining one’s identity is a natural step in the process of maturing and development. But it should never take place under the pressure of fingerpointing and public demonstrations, which at any moment threaten to turn violent, or controlled violence when the lawlessness of collective responsibility is at work. Despite many claims that it was a fight for political power, one can clearly see that a shoemaker and an accountant in the Jewish cooperatives in Wałbrzych or Dzierżoniów were equally good targets as the political big shots in Warsaw. The racial card was the only card played there. As Professor Piotr Wandycz states in his article: “The Polish communists used nationalism to gain legitimacy.”13 It is astonishing how the generation of our parents, many of whom were Communists or sympathizers themselves, were blinded to that strategy until it was used against them. The underlying message used by Gomułka, hoping to find support in the masses, was his apparent commitment to ethnic cleansing, for all practical purposes. In his 2005 interview with Anna Jarmusiewicz published in Rzeczpospolita’s literary supplement Plus Minus, Professor Jerzy Jedlicki states: “In 1968 the Communist Party and the other parties licensed by it reached with delight for the rhetoric of fascist nationalism.” 14 While speaking and writing about 1968 one should not ignore the phenomenon that became a primary, and seemingly reasonable, subject of blame—the perception of an overrepresentation of officials of Jewish origin, in the various branches of the government, administration, security, and the Party. I myself could not believe that an entire class of people, because of their position, lived in special neighborhoods, thus creating a sort of elite whose children, for example, were chauffeured to the same school. Knowing the nature of dictatorial regimes, one cannot think that it was an accidental or overlooked phenomenon. I was amazed to learn of the existence of such enclaves, and I can appreciate that their exile was perhaps even more painful, for they lived in utopia to the extent that they did not know their own identity; perhaps their parents wanted to believe that they had already entered the international kingdom of communism. Amazingly, their passage abroad was in many instances eased by Western liberals because they spoke the same political language. Many of us had a foothold in some sort of utopia, even if we did not partake in a privileged life. I am referring to the belief instilled in us that we were living in a relatively safe world, a world without racial prejudice. We know better now that there is no such world, nor such a society, and the only answer is an open society with strong and just laws against racial prejudice, against hate language and hate crime. Because even such overrepresentation does not justify shifting blame on an entire ethnic or racial (you name it) strata of people from Party officials, professors of the university, journalists and bookkeepers of cooperatives in backwater Silesian towns. 13 Piotr Wandycz, review of Europas Platz in Polen: Polnische Europa- Konzeptionem vom Mittelalterbis zum EU-Beitritt, Slavic Review (Summer 2008). 14 Anna Jarmusiewicz, “Rozmowa z prof. Jerzym Jedlickim,” Hańba domowa, Rzeczpospolita/ Plus Minus, no. 54, March 5, 2005, accessed January 12, 2020, Jedlicki-O-Marcu_68r.html.

My “Processed” Trauma Joseph Banas rightly entitled his book Scapegoats.15 I hope that most people would agree that such practices definitely do not belong in what we call civil society. One must also remember that while we were being stripped of our citizenship upon leaving the country, most Polish citizens could not leave the country at any cost. Hence, perhaps our exodus might have been viewed as something to be envied by those who could not leave. I believe that greater attention should be paid to those who did not give in to the general atmosphere, but who stood by their moral principles and their friends, so that it is not only a history of well-known figures but also considers those lesser known. It would be equally instructive to have a record of what motivates decency when one has to pay for it. The testimonies of the people who opposed the policy should supplement the testimony of those who were subjected to that policy. Perhaps not enough attention is being paid to those non-Jews who left with their spouses, sometimes risking that they would not see their relatives for years, if ever. As many other historic events have taught us, it takes time for an event like this to find a narrative that will do it justice. 2008–18

15 Joseph Banas, Scapegoats: The Exodus of the Remnants of Polish Jewry, tr. Tadeusz Szafar, ed. Lionel Kochan (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1979).



The Price of Integrity


y first full-time employment in Warsaw, after graduating with my master’s degree in Polish philology from Warsaw University, brought me to a very small magazine for the blind called Nasz Świat (Our World), which by and large published reprints from the major literary magazines. My supervisor at that magazine, Jerzy Szczygieł, was a blind writer and journalist, the author of several books and one screenplay. By this time I had already published some poems, but I had never told anyone in Warsaw. I knew that my work in this small, specialized press, published in Braille, was far from glamorous, but I liked the fact that I was working for someone who was already an acknowledged writer. Since it was a rather low-profile position, a number of people asked me why I was working there. Most of the graduates of the Polish philology department went on to teach in high schools, while others stayed in the department to continue their graduate studies, which I did as well, but as an auditing member. Ambitious graduates would try to find a position in the press, but that was always a far from straightforward proposition, which required political or social connections. I wanted to avoid that and never approached anyone I knew for a job. My professor and mentor, Janina Kulczycka-Saloni, invited me to audit and participate in her doctoral and post-doctoral seminar, and for living expenses I chose the first job that was offered to me, assistant to a blind editor and writer. While the work was not very ambitious, my boss certainly was. He soon decided to start a magazine for the blind that would publish original articles dealing with their real problems, instead of reprinting material from the major magazines. He also wanted to publish this new magazine both in Braille and regular print so that people outside the blind community could read about these problems as well. The authorities were very much against funding this sort of authentic magazine and the obstacles that they put in our way provided me an opportunity to take part in an interesting and lonely battle. This adventure included circumventing the rules and regulations and knowing how to employ a meta-language that would not allow the censors to identify us as adversaries. The way the system worked was quite Machiavellian. On the one hand, everything was centralized; on the other, a dual power was in effect in even the tiniest branch

The Price of Integrity of activities. For example, the entire sector of cooperatives employing disabled persons had one major supervisory association, regardless of the fact that each disability demanded different accommodation and dealt with different problems. The central power decided a variety of matters, and every local cooperative manager had to be mindful of what was demanded of them by this power. Clearly, a central institution like this had its own press organ, and anything written in our magazine was dependent, on the one hand, on this centralized organization and, on the other, must abide by the censorship requirements that were mandatory for the entire press. At the time, even a business card had to be cleared by the political censorship. I remember going to the censorship office on business for the magazine, and once I had to take my supervisor’s business card, which bore the text: “Jerzy Szczygieł, writer.” No printing shop could print a single word without the censor’s permission. Every institution was subject to this dual control; regardless of what the management decided, the Party line had to be enforced. In other words, the needs of the disabled and their communities and cooperatives were totally dependent on decisions from above. Since everything was centralized in this matter, reality and the perception of reality were separated to the point of schizophrenia. And at this point my supervisor, Jerzy Szczygieł, decided to go against the grain. For people like him the English language has a great definition: “larger than life.” Life itself, in its most authentic manifestation, was his element. The struggle with life’s adversities enhanced his strength, momentum, and imagination. He had an extremely keen ear for human suffering, and when working among blind people he constantly witnessed the suffering of people forced to live on life’s margins because of their disability; discriminated by the system, society, and often by their own family. When he came across such cases he would stand up against all these elements—both the system and social hardheartedness—and he would try to influence the family situation. And it was for these reasons that he began his fight to transform the bulletin of the cooperative for the blind into a separate periodical that addressed the needs of the working blind. I witnessed that enormous effort. Almost every power, both administrative and political, actively opposed it. Yet, he was able to gather enough support to start the magazine. I watched every step of it. He found a vocational printing school to cut costs; students printed it as their exercises. The magazine was published in what we called a “black print” version and Braille. I remember letters from people who said that they were going out to listen whether the car with the magazine was coming. The Braille version was quite large and heavy and had to be distributed by special car. Also, the “black print” version, meaning black on white, a regular print version, which a family member could read to a blind relative, was a great success. Our readers were happy when their family could see blind people’s achievements. Jerzy Szczygieł was a heroic figure. Born in 1932, as a small boy he lost his older brother in a Nazi concentration camp. Apparently, that brother was involved in the underground anti-German opposition. In his childhood he lost his parents, and had to take care of his younger brother. He lost his sight and one leg in a postwar minefield while trying to dismantle a grenade. Some forty years later, harassed for his opposition



Part Four

On Writing and Exile

to martial law in Poland, he died of a stroke in 1983 at the age of fifty-one. He paid the highest price for his bravery. In his short life he graduated from Warsaw University, raised three children with his equally extraordinary wife, published more than ten novels, three of which were filmed. During the time of the Solidarity movement, when I was already in exile, Szczygieł’s magazine became an acclaimed dissident magazine. Apparently, this small niche periodical was commanding a big price on the black market. I will return to that later. At the time, even though our magazine was small and largely unknown, it focused a lens on all the problems related to our so-called “socialist” society. While cultivating my own literary interests, I was able to observe the greater literary world in Poland by attending meetings of the Polish Writers Association with my blind boss and witnessing the growing conflict between writers and the Communist Party bosses, which culminated in the infamous events of 1968 that eventually led to my own exile and my own social and political education. Moreover, it supplied a necessary wound, according to Rilke, that became the foundation for my own creative writing.

Examples of Censorship Intervention Witnessed by Me An article for the magazine related to the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, I don’t recall the author, praised the heroism of two leaders, one of whom was on the index of censorship. The woman censor yelled at me, asking why the article treats two figures equally when one is a hero and the other a “traitor.” Of course, the system always required an enemy, which I think is inherent in Hegel’s triad. Jerzy Szczygieł would write by dictating to his wife, who also had writing ambitions, but recognizing that his talent was genuine she had taken vows not to act on those ambitions. She usually accompanied him on his visits to publishers, but I would sometimes cover for her, as happened when his novel Szare rękawiczki (Gray gloves) was in production. The heroine of the novel suffers from a neurosis caused by her mundane life: every day is the same, every day is gray. She goes to a place in the mountains to get away from the monotony of her daily life. On the train she meets a young soldier, full of life, who is going to the same area on a mission to bring back a deserter. Not a big-time deserter, just an enlisted guy who ran away from the army to help his family on the farm. The topic of desertion is crucial for the novel because the heroine is a deserter from her life. But the censor objected: there are no deserters in the Polish People’s Army. It took quite some negotiations to keep the innocent “deserter” in the book. And we are talking here about the so-called “small stabilization” period in Polish history (1957–63). There were other mechanisms at work which one dared not even mention. In Poland there is one exemplary school for blind children founded by a Franciscan nunnery in a Warsaw suburb in 1910. It was also a center for intellectual life during the interwar period. The school continued its activities after the war as a private institution with some help, I assume, mainly from Polish charities abroad. Many prominent blind artists and intellectuals graduated from that school. Among them Edwin Kowalik, a prominent pianist awarded prizes at international competitions in Budapest, Rio de

The Price of Integrity Janeiro and Warsaw. The Communist authorities, jealous of the success of the religious school, started to send them a disproportionate number of children with additional disabilities, mainly autism, to lower the median of the test results. Of course, one could never write about this. I don’t think the general public was even aware of the school’s existence. I remember the interview my boss, published by Włodzimierz Dolański, a leading typhlologist, a once prominent pianist with ties to that school, for which he was publicly chastised and humiliated. One could never write about other facts, such as the suicide of a small girl in another school. Once, during the course of my supervisor’s interview, I heard a bizarre story, which was also kept under wraps. A blind man, president of one of the cooperatives, told us that he lost his sight in an attack by the Russian border patrol on the Polish border patrol during peace time, after the war. Perhaps they were drunk, or just got an order to scare their Polish allies. My boss was a Party member, because as he told me there was a time when you could not be an editor of even a small magazine without joining the Party. It was years later, during the Solidarity movement, that he shed this burden. But even as a Party member he was not a docile journalist—far from it. He created a column, which he signed with the nom de plume Xerxes, in which he rebuked every injustice he came across. In reaction to the political crisis of 1968, when students and intellectuals protested abuses of freedom of expression, excessive censorship, the regime began a very cruel campaign against them. The Communist Party reacted to the conflict with an anti-Semitic campaign. The atmosphere got thicker and thicker, and culminated in demonstrations, students being beaten, massive arrests, people being fired from their jobs. The response to the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda was the mass emigration of Jews from Poland, a large portion of the Jewish intelligentsia. At a certain point my husband and I decided to emigrate, and on November 12, 1969, we left the country as political refugees. My boss, his whole family, and the entire publishing department walked us to the train station, which in itself was a demonstration of courage and friendship, because these people were photographed at the infamous Gdańsk Terminal, the departure terminal. Throughout the seventies my former supervisor did not get involved in political activities. He published a few new books; some of his books were turned into TV movies. And then in 1980 the Solidarity movement was born. Soon afterwards, on December 13 of the same year, the movement was choked by the declaration of martial law. The government persecuted the most prominent journalists in the country; they were dismissed from their positions. The late Dariusz Fikus, member of the very prominent and popular Party weekly Polityka, describes in his book how it happened. The journalists were at the shipyard at Gdańsk when martial law was proclaimed. They could not file their reports, because the telephones were not working; the workers asked them: So what are you doing here? And a large group of them decided to write a proclamation, stating their discomfort with the situation, their dissent. As a result, a hundred of them were arrested and interned, many were fired from their jobs and were ostracized.



Part Four

On Writing and Exile

Jerzy Szczygieł, the editor of a small, apolitical, insignificant periodical, offers them a job, and leaves the Party. Suddenly, the country’s best journalists are writing articles about blind cooperative management and famous reporters are going to these blind cooperatives workers to write reports. And then suddenly I was reading about Niewidomy Spółdzielca (The Blind Cooperative Worker) in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other papers. I was able to observe from New York how my former supervisor and friend tried to beat the system. When censorship intervened, he would go to court to fight for the right to announce the intervention in print. This right was given to a very small percentage of the press, the large, central newspapers, but he fought for it as well. Embittered by martial law, Szczygieł commissioned an article about the Pope, when he visited Poland the second time. Censors blocked the article, and in response he published reprints about the Pope. Reprinted material cannot be censored. The establishment was furious; the attacks on him became more and more vicious. His two sons were abroad, and he worried that they would not be able to return. A severe stroke followed, which led to his premature death in 1983. His prominent friends gave beautiful speeches at the funeral, but a few years later very few people remembered to give him credit or to review the book that came out when he was in a coma. The only person who remembered him in his Alphabet was the director of his first movie, a very prominent artist and later Senator Kazimierz Kutz. Dariusz Fikus, managing editor for Jerzy Szczygieł throughout the entire period of the martial law regime, dedicated one sentence to Szczygieł’s name in his book. For several years, when responding to requests coming from Poland to name prominent martial law activists, I tried to convince different committees to include Jerzy Szczygieł. On December 13, 2012, the thirty-first anniversary of martial law, he was posthumously awarded the Order of Polonia Restituta, Commander Cross, by President Bronisław Komorowski. The Cross was accepted by his widow Lucyna Szczygieł. My correspondence with him and his family is now in the Bakhmeteff Archive at Columbia University. 2009


Cultural Diversity in the Workplace


rowing up in Poland in the 1950s and 60s I was quite brainwashed on political and philosophical matters, but as far as my work ethic was concerned, I received a good education and was instilled with a positive attitude toward work. In this respect, we were not demoralized by the system. In addition, the example set by my parents and teachers provided a positive model. I was taught to work responsibly and honestly. Individuality, however, was never encouraged, and I can see that it has affected my career. I belong to the generation when “modesty” was extolled, never self-promotion. It took me some time to realize that passivity is not an asset. And that was probably the greatest inhibition for me to overcome. Moreover, in Poland at that time, you pretty much stayed put on the job—you didn’t change jobs. So my first shock in America was to find out that you are basically on your own. You have to find a job, and then keep it, but if you lose it, don’t despair, you simply move on. That is a very difficult lesson to learn. And as I look back on my American experience, I see that things might have been different had I been prepared for these rules. Prepared both emotionally and intellectually. When you come to a new country, your major goal and duty is to survive. We had a small child, and that was a major responsibility. A second goal was to survive mentally, to overcome the sense of degradation. In a new environment you are pushed to the lower strata of society, which is depressing and diminishes your ability to make progress. There are multiple barriers to overcome: language, customs, inhibitions, ignorance about how society works in this new country. My resume with all my different jobs might indicate an adventurous life. I did many things I would not have dreamed of when I was in Poland, where I would probably have stayed at the same position where I had begun. But I am not adventurous, I am adaptive. I tried to make the best of every situation. Even when I was unhappy, I tried not to waste energy on frustration. This might not be good advice, but it worked for me. I recently visited the laboratory where I had worked some twenty years ago. I worked there for four years, and that had its own advantages. I looked out the window


Part Four

On Writing and Exile

and experienced déjà vu—I recalled looking out this window for four years, asking myself, “Will this be my view for the rest of my life?” For many years I was passive, waiting for someone to recognize my virtues and talents and hand me the perfect job—but that never happened. But I did learn to seize opportunities, or at least recognize them in a bad situation, maybe losing a job. But to see that this also may lead to something new. My first step was to learn the language. At a certain point, while working at the laboratory, I enrolled in a literature course at Hunter College that met during the lunch hour. This was a very important experience for me. I suddenly realized that I could pursue my interest in literature even in this country and in a foreign language—I could go back to school. At the time I was almost thirty and had considered myself to be too old for the university. I resumed my writing, almost daily during my subway ride to work, and I began publishing in the Polish émigré press in Europe. These were good journals and magazines, but they had no money—they provided me with intellectual and artistic satisfaction, but without an honorarium. I did, however, make my name known in Polish circles here in the United States and in London. That eventually led to my job for Radio Free Europe, which was freelance and poorly paid, but allowed me to take care of my son and pursue my graduate studies. Meeting Zoya Yurieff, my mentor, who later became my professor and adviser, marked a turning point in my life. She was a tenured professor in the Slavic department at New York University, and we were introduced socially. She had read and admired my poems, and insisted that I apply for admission to the department. All of which happened when I was about to lose my job at the laboratory due to a shortage of grants. And she launched my new life. Of course, it was nothing glamorous, and I struggled for many years, studying in two languages (Russian and English), which I did not know well, and at the same time trying to bring in some money, and taking care of my family. My mentor was of a different, yet similar background. She was Russian, but had lived in Poland before the war. She was older and of a different wave of emigration. But she loved poetry, as did I. Initially, I did not plan to go all the way with graduate school, but was hoping to earn some credits and get a job offer. That of course never happened. Instead, I eventually defended my dissertation. I found my present employment by accident. I had learned that there was an opening for a Polish language instructor at Columbia University. So, I mobilized myself, my friends, and decided that I would capitalize on the fact that I was a published author. And I got my foot in the door. My position was not the utmost of academic careers, but if you take into account that I did not have to move from New York City, and that I still pursue my writing career, and how late in life I defended my dissertation, then I consider it quite the accomplishment. I recently heard someone comment on the fact that in the past language teachers never progressed beyond that. I am proud of the literature courses that I teach, and of my students’ work—many have gone on to publish their papers in major journals. I remember two instances in my life when I was told outright that I should lower my expectations because I was a woman. The first time it was a woman in the Jewish

Cultural Diversity in the Workplace immigration agency, who told me that since I would be staying home with my son, I did not need to attend the English classes that they offered for new immigrants. I was offended, because at that time Poland on this count was more progressive than America. No one in Poland would utter a statement like that. But I secured myself a job, called the agency, and got the course. The second time it was the chairman of the Slavic department at New York University. He told me that if he had to choose between some young man and me, he would give the financial aid to the young man, because I was already fulfilled with my child and family. Of course, my status as a bilingual and bicultural person contributes to my profession as a teacher of language and literature, and as a writer. But taken together, the simple facts of being a woman and living in exile caused many additional problems in my life. Nonetheless, they also presented me with a unique challenge that might not have come otherwise. April 9, 1999 Milano School of Management and Urban Policy



Writing Polish in America


hen people used to ask me where I was from, my favored answer was “from Brooklyn,” since that for many years was my permanent address. But because my accent is not exactly a Brooklyn accent, I would need to explain further: “from Poland.” But where in Poland? And now it would get a bit complicated. Both my parents were from Lwów, from whence they fled to Russia in 1941 to escape Hitler’s invasion. I was born in Kyrgyzstan, and then lived for some two or three years in the Urals. On our way back to Poland, Lwów was off limits, and all our relatives had perished in the Holocaust. Having neither home nor family to return to, my parents went to the last stop of the transport train: Szczecin. My first strong impression there was that the wallpaper had a floral design. I started running from wall to wall shouting “Polska, Polska.” Szczecin and this half-burnt building and its wallpaper was Poland for me, and as long as I lived in Poland I never recognized the fact that my parents had been forced to leave their home, that they had already lost their country, or what now everybody, after Stanisław Vincenz, calls their “small fatherland” (mała ojczyzna). It took a few years of my own exile for me to realize that very much the same thing had happened to my parents. They too had to start everything from the beginning, alone, in a new place. This realization allowed me to see it as a pattern, and I wrote about it in some of my poems. To be sure, it was not only the lot of our family, but our family also participated in this sad twentieth-century phenomenon of uprooting, lack of security, and permanence. I should say that even though exile and living in exile was the central experience of my life, and is the predominant theme of my poetry, I am, perhaps, a somewhat atypical example. The political emigration I belong to was less recognized and talked about than the other waves of emigration. However now, at the fortieth anniversary of Poland’s March 1968 there is a more lively interest in our emigration. When I left Poland I was not a “writer” yet, even though I had already published some poems and articles and the manuscript of my first collection of poems had been favorably received by a publishing house. It was obvious that I would not pursue publication under the circumstances of emigrating. I had to wait more than twenty years to publish my first book in Poland.

Writing Polish in America To myself, however, I was a writer, or, a potential writer, and while still in Poland, I viewed emigration as the worst possible scenario, a very cruel verdict. The majority of people who emigrated, especially those who emigrated under pressure, know that the first years of the emigration are a real hell. Alienation, nostalgia, hopelessness, and despair accompanied those bleak first years of our stay in New York City. It was only after some time that one began to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. For us that light—not necessarily appreciated at the time—was freedom. But as we can observe, even in Poland, right now, in very difficult circumstances it is hard to appreciate the fact that freedom is a fundamental right and has value in and of itself. And it is far from pleasurable to learn for the first time as an adult how to function and survive in a free world.1 Therefore, it is only from my present perspective that I can view exile as an inspirational experience. The more painful it was, the more rewarding it became—a true lesson in life. I am not the only person that considers exile a school of humility, but when I wrote about it in my poem “Emigration,” I wrote it from my own, very dearly paid for, experience. At the time I was a relatively young woman, mother of a small child. A deeply wounded person, wounded in my most intimate feelings, including self-esteem, feelings of patriotism, and the very basic need to belong. I myself, along with my family and friends, had to confront this totally unexpected challenge. Suddenly stripped of basic social protections, of acceptance, of citizenship one had to resort to an inner source of strength—the feeling of one’s personal dignity, and to the moral support of friends. These friends, and their letters, were the only link with our previous life, which seemed so close and at the same time absolutely remote. In 1993, when I went back to Poland for the first time after our dramatic departure, I asked the prominent poet, priest and professor, Jan Twardowski, to do me the honor of opening the promotion of my first book published in Poland. At that opening, Father Twardowski, whom I had met previously in New York, said: “It is known that the author that writes in a given language belongs to the nation that uses that language, and we welcome in Anna Frajlich—a Polish poet.” I do not have to tell you how indebted I am to him for stating something about which I have always felt very strongly. I have always considered myself a Polish poet. The Polish language is my first language and my native tongue. Polish literature is my first and primary frame of reference. Am I trying to justify something here? No. I am aware that my destiny, which is an intangible combination of my Polishness, my Jewishness, and last but not least now my Americanness, determines my writing. The topic of a writer’s dual identity, which for many centuries was considered a rather problematic subject, now is being considered theoretically. On Polish turf it was Artur Sandauer who first tried to build some sort of a system in his essay “O sytuacji pisarza polskiego pochodzenia żydowskiego” (On the Situation of the Polish Writer of Jewish


Having gone through this experience, later in the 1990s, I could appreciate the despair and the difficulties of accommodation that people in Poland lived through, who, without emigrating, found themselves in a system that had suddenly changed.



Part Four

On Writing and Exile

Descent).2 Recently I read another rather interesting attempt to systematize the literature written in various national languages by writers of Jewish origin. I am referring to the book by Gershon Shaked, The Shadows Within: Essays on the Modern Jewish Writers and the essay “Shadows of Identity,” in particular.3 If I were to draw any conclusions for my own usage, it would be the ability to examine all these problems and to learn to draw the strength from “the shadows within,” at the same time appreciating anything that is granted from outside. And this is the American way, something I arrived at because I am here. After the immeasurable success of Czesław Miłosz, no one doubts that one can live in America and write in Polish if one wants to. Of course, there is a rich tradition of Polish writers—and poets in particular—living in this country, but it is a tradition perceived rather from its negative perimeter. When I first started to publish here, I heard many well-wishers voice their doubts that one can write poetry without the stimulus of the literary café. And people believed that it was a legitimate concern. Even when I went back to Poland I was asked about this as well. I had already realized that there are different approaches and styles to literary life. The French one, the continental one, more popular in Poland, in which the café was indispensable, and an Anglo-Saxon one, where the writer prefers solitude over constant interaction. Of course, I do not deny the need to belong to an environment, and for me this role was filled by my association with the London based literary weekly Wiadomości, which opened its pages to many writers who found themselves in exile, and in the late seventies again opened its pages to literary dissidents from Poland. For me Wiadomości had one absolutely unique quality; namely, the only recommendation one needed was one’s own text. In that sense Wiadomości was open and democratic. It virtually gave me my life as a writer. Being an émigré writer poses the problem of homelessness. It was Wiadomości that provided me with a surrogate home when I needed one. I suddenly acquired readers in so many places. I realized it gradually, years later, when I visited London, or Chicago, or London, Ontario, or Tel-Aviv, when people would come to my readings and would know my poems, they wanted to hear them, to buy a book. It was wonderful feedback and very rewarding. Being a Polish writer of Jewish origin presents one with the task of dealing with a dual identity. And even the Jewish part of it had a strange twist to it. Myself and most of my Jewish friends were raised as secular Jews, which for some could be a contradiction of terms, and for us for a long time did not even require the modifier, the two words (Jew and secular) seemed to be synonymous. Even though I knew theoretically and anecdotally from my parents about Jewish life in Poland before the war, only in the United States did I discover that traditional Jewish life still exists.

2 3

Artur Sandauer, O sytuacji pisarza polskiego pochodzenia żydowskiego w XX wieku (Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1982); On the Situation of the Polish Writer of Jewish Descent in the Twentieth Century ( Jerusalem: Hebrew University, Magnes Press, 2005). Shaked, The Shadows Within.

Writing Polish in America Naturally there was no way for me to have what might be viewed as a literary career. Initially my family responsibilities circumvented me from claiming special time for my writing. I might also mention that even the American workshops open to Polish writers in Poland, would not consider hosting a Polish writer in exile. But I learned to accept that. I am grateful that I was able to somehow balance the obligation to my family, and at times earning money was a crucial part of this obligation. I am also grateful that I was able to advance myself professionally by earning my doctoral degree, and to fulfill myself as a writer. When I look back now I am surprised by all that I accomplished and am happy to acknowledge that it happened as a result of being in America.4 People occasionally ask me during readings and interviews, what impact American poetry has had on my writing. To tell the truth, this is something I cannot really pinpoint. The reason is more biographical than philosophical. For many years in New York I dedicated every waking hour to studying Russian literature and Russian poetry was my subject of study and dissertation. It became my one degree of separation. I did read contemporary American poetry, but not enough to assess the impact. At the same time, I do recognize and acknowledge the impact of American essays on my own writing, both poetry and the essay. I am in awe of the American essay: informative, beautifully written, endowed with clarity, intellectual depth and elegance. With time, the political changes in Poland opened up possibilities for me to publish in Poland. In 1990 I was the author of four books of poetry, received favorably by the émigré critics; nevertheless, I had not been anointed by the literary establishment. But I found my readers and publishers there without that. There was always a friction between the perception of the critical establishment in Poland and the need of émigré writers to establish themselves in the eyes of the readers in the homeland. In the 1980s I gave a talk at a conference on “Polish Émigré Literature” at SUNY Buffalo. I pointed out that many people who as a matter of fact had always evinced a rather careless attitude toward their mother tongue were all too eager to trace the damage to the language of the emigration. The language argument was used as the crowning argument against exile literature in the postwar period. The threat was very real, but the writer in exile would guard his language with unmatched energy because “his language was his castle.” My conclusion at that time was based on my own experience, my observations, and my intuition. It was considered that living a bilingual life was a major threat for a writer. I remember discussing this with many poets in my interviews conducted for Radio Free Europe. While the emigrants tried hard to resist the interference of the second language with their native tongue, and limit the amount of assimilation of foreign words and phrases, the speakers of Polish in Poland display a total lack of such resistance. The Polish cultural language is polluted with the worst possible technocratic American slang, sometimes bordering on “pidgin.” 5 4 5

Of course, many writers engaged in activities that I did not, including working in translation, or promoting my own writing in this country. A form of a speech with a simplified grammar and reduced vocabulary that evolves as a means of intercommunication among speakers of mutually incomprehensible languages.



Part Four

On Writing and Exile

However, just as bilingualism was not a major threat to the language of writers in exile, the changes that we witness in Poland are no major threat to literature written in Poland or elsewhere. A very interesting text on this topic is the book-length essay by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature,6 in particular the third chapter, in which the authors introduce the tetralinguistic model of vernacular, vehicular, referential, and mythical language. When I read the Deleuze-Guattari book I resented at first their stress on the political significance of bilingualism, but after giving it some thought, I realized that it offers a great deal of political perspective. The nineteenth-century Polish writer Eliza Orzeszkowa’s accusation of betrayal leveled at Joseph Conrad confirms this. The theme of betrayal became a major theme for Conrad. In my case becoming bilingual was involuntary, and for many years English was only my vehicular language. Slowly it became to a certain extent my cultural and referential language. Polish is, and will remain my cultural language, as the greatest number of cultural references at my disposal is, in this language, in addition to an infinite number of associations. I may write para-literary texts in English, but it is less likely that I will compose literary ones. Lately the hostility toward émigré literature has subsided from the general scene in Poland; quite the contrary, a significant effort has been made to assimilate émigré literature. Not without friction and misunderstandings. While émigré writers expected instantaneous acceptance and applause, the critics expected an equally instantaneous disappearance of the phenomenon of émigré literature. None of this happened. However, a great deal of work has been done in terms of the preservation of archives, establishing special studies dedicated to émigré literature in many universities, and publishing numerous monographic and critical works. One cannot deny that real efforts have been made. Perhaps what is lacking is a theoretical frame, which would take into account the integrity of this literature, to what extent it relates to the so-called “core/home” literature, and to what extent its differences are integral enough to claim a separate approach. Professor Halina Filipowicz attempts to mend this gap in her essay “Beginning to Theorize ‘Polish Émigré Literature,’”7 in which she writes: “The ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ are implicitly far more complex and multivalent than geographical boundaries and the cultural spaces they enclose can accommodate.” Another interesting statement, if a bit “extreme” in her own words reads: “The implicit attitude of the home center toward Polish émigré literature seems in fact to approach the colonialist stereotype.” In her attempt to disrupt the dichotomy of literature at home and literature in emigration, she refers to the work of Deleuze and Guattari on Kafka and proposes it as a base for

6 7

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, tr. Dana Polan, foreword by Réda Bensmaïa (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986). Halina Filipowicz, “Beginning to Theorize ‘Polish Émigré Literature,’” in Between Lvov, New York, and Ulysses’ Ithaca: Jozef Wittlin—Poet, Essayist, Novelist, ed. Anna Frajlich (Toruń: Nicholas Copernicus University, 2001); published in Polish in Teksty Drugie 3 (1998).

Writing Polish in America creating a theoretical foundation. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the critics took notice of this idea. There is still a lot to be done. And there is hope that it will be done, because literary life in Poland is also shifting. Political changes brought about an unexpected decentralization of the Polish literary scene, and perhaps such a decentralized home literature will be able to absorb, and/or to confront an émigré literature that defies a centralized “colonial” approach. Another unexpected phenomenon related to the émigré situation, is something that one can call putting down secondary roots, a new identity enriched by the culture of the new country, its philosophy, norms and ideals. The obliging perpetual rebellion against the situation, the negativism that was perceived as an obligatory companion of one’s patriotism is replaced by the acceptance of the new environment, and the consequences of the exile. I myself cannot underestimate the impact of 1968 on my life and the events that immediately followed. And by impact I do not mean some sort of intellectual stimulus, but a blow that for a long time virtually incapacitated any ability to reflect. It is ironic that very often what is painful may be enriching, and beyond despair one finds another dimension. The trauma of separation is the source of the literature of exile, and a formidable factor determining the identity. For one of my poetry readings in New York, I prepared a mini review of my own poems dealing with images of New York City, and while preparing it I could see how the functionality of the image of that city changed in my poetic output: the strange place to which I could not relate any positive association gradually became the place that is valuable not by comparison with other familiar places, but as a value in itself. It is, as I called it in one of my latest poems “a boat and a harbor.” Writing in Polish in America became the most natural way of life for me, now without the stress and pain that I experienced at the beginning of this road. 2008



Identity and Difference: The Power of Language


have always liked the scene in Charles Dickens’s The Tale of Two Cities (1859), in which a Polish gentleman gives testimony in front of the English Court and no interpreter is needed because he testifies in Latin. At that time, too, the world was a global village not because of television but thanks to Latin, both the lingua franca and the cultural frame of reference. Naturally we cherish the great movement of the Renaissance that resulted in the development of national languages and great national literatures and cultures. Romanticism further expanded the matter of nationalism and attached to it such imponderable concepts as national pride and national destiny, among others. Independently of the vigorous development of national languages there has always been a lingua franca. When the great Polish Romantic poet, Adam Mickiewicz, visited Goethe in 1829, they conversed in French. Mickiewicz knew German but he said he would not dare to speak the language in front of the great German poet. Certain fields of science and culture used their own common languages, for example, German for technology and trade, Italian for music, French for love and literature. But this mainly concerned the educated strata of society. With the global village instituted by television and liberalization taken to the extreme, we now observe a process similar to créolization. National languages have developed characteristics we associate with pidgin, for example, a reduction of grammar, or the substitution of perfectly functional words of a given language with a word borrowed from English. This is the type of shortcut that even the educated classes cannot and do not wish to ignore. The ivory tower of grammatical correctness is equal to self-exile. This is very interesting if one takes into consideration the fact that throughout the entire period of the cold war the language argument was always played against the writers in exile.

The Power of Language In 1968 Czesław Miłosz, the 1980 Nobel Laureate, then a Polish poet in exile and professor at the University of California, wrote a poem entitled “My Faithful Mother Tongue”: Faithful mother tongue, I have been serving you. Every night, I used to set before you little bowls of colors so you could have your birch, your cricket, your finch as preserved in my memory. This lasted many years, You were my native land; I lacked any other.

In these lines one learns about the cares and concerns of the poet, aware of the necessity of performing rituals in order to preserve his native tongue, which for him, like for many other expatriates, was a way to maintain his identity. At that time the Polish language in Poland faced different dangers from political new-speak and double-talk. Poets in Poland, suppressed by censorship, dealt with that interference by means of something that could be likened to a homeopathic treatment, namely, linguistic poetry. They responded to the subversion of language by subverting new-speak, deconstructing it from within. It is his writing in his native tongue, according to Miłosz, that endows him with his distinctiveness, his unique status; without it, even with his professional success as a scholar and a philosopher, he would be like everyone else. And he ends his poem: Faithful mother tongue, perhaps after all it’s I who must try to save you.1

Some years later, the well-known Polish poet, Anna Kamieńska accused Miłosz of not having “a full command of the Polish language.”2 Not long ago, I came across a very indignant reaction to this statement by Adam Czerniawski, a Polish poet and translator who has resided in England since World War II: I have one more piece of evidence that Poles in Poland have a problem with accepting the writing of expatriates, they are seeking its specific characteristic in an inappropriate spot. Very often they assume a priori that it must be not entirely proficient Polish. It is time for someone, who while being convinced that he is examining the language of emigrants, would examine in the same respect the language of the population of Poland. That analysis would prove that 90 percent of the population “does not have a full command of Polish.” 1 2

Czeslaw Milosz, “My Faithful Mother Tongue,” in Selected Poems 1931–2004 (New York: Ecco, 2006), 90. Anna Kamieńska, Notatnik 1973–1979 (Poznań: W drodze, 1987), 227.



Part Four

On Writing and Exile

In order to be fruitful, research on the literature of expatriates should be conducted in a totally different direction, . . . one should, first of all, examine the psyche of the writer implanted in, or torn between, two cultures. It is not only an important phenomenon, but also a new one. . . . This bilingualism signifies biculturalism, which in the psychological structure of each of these writers has quite different grounds and reveals itself in a different manner.3

People with a rather careless attitude toward their mother tongue are very eager to trace the damage to the language of the émigré community. The language argument was used as the crowning argument against literature written in exile. Most of the time it was done for the purpose of shifting attention away from the political. In light of this conflict even a compliment is viewed with suspicion. If someone compliments my Polish I always tend to sniff out a covert political statement. Are they saying that my Polish is intact despite many years in a bilingual environment? Or are they saying that my Polish is not that good? Are they saying that as a Jew I have a particular awareness that a non-Jew doesn’t need? And yet exile always had a kind of appeal. Oliver Sacks in his fascinating essay “The Landscape of His Dreams”4 argues that “one is not born with a disposition to recollect; this comes only with changes and separations in life. . . . It is thus, discontinuities, the great discontinuities in life, that we seek to bridge, or reconcile, or integrate, by recollection, and beyond this, by myth and art.” The trauma of separation is the source of the literature of exile, and it is the source of the language among the exiles, who out of necessity become bilingual. Adam Czerniawski is right in his assessment of the language of the population of Poland. (If one compares the language of the educated emigrants of the forties, and those of the eighties, the comparison will prove that the language of the former is richer, more sophisticated, less polluted.) There was definitely a higher linguistic standard applied to the educated classes of the past. The Polish population’s linguistic isolation during the decades behind the Iron Curtain has apparently resulted in some sort of lack of linguistic immunity. Even though for many years the Polish language, for example, resisted the (imposed) impact of Russian. While the émigrés tried hard to resist the interference of the second language with their native tongue, and limit the amount of assimilation of foreign words and phrases, the speakers of Polish in Poland display a total lack of such resistance. For many years the pidgin language of the big Polish communities of Chicago and New York was a topic of jokes of Polish entertainers. Now the Polish cultural language, polluted with the technocratic American slang borders on pidgin. We all want to preserve our identity and individuality but most of the time we resent when the “otherness”—that we may cherish—is imposed upon us. Not long 3 4

Adam Czerniawski, Któtkopis 1986–1995 (Katowice: Wydawnictwo Gnome, 1998), 155, 156. “A Neurologist’s Notebook. The Landscape of His Dreams,” The New Yorker, July 27, 1992.

The Power of Language ago the teacher in one American school asked children to bring to class “their favorite ethnic food.” When one child from an ethnic background brought a hamburger the teacher protested. It resulted in a talk radio discussion about who should decide the identity of that child. Did the ardor for ethnicity go too far? While half of the world identifies with American popular culture via McDonald’s hamburger, the child in America is denied that right. It reminded me of a similar incident that happened long ago. In 1956 when the Jews were leaving Poland my sister’s second grade teacher asked the class: Who is going to Israel? Several kids raised their hands and the rest whispered to my sister: raise your hand, raise your hand. “I am not going, I am not going,” protested my sister. That’s right, we were not going then, we waited for the next wave of emigration. This imposition of “otherness” often takes a more subtle form. Editors will publish the work of certain writers in a certain month that evokes some sort of political associations, regardless of how irrelevant the link of that work to politics. Identity, however, is rarely a clear-cut matter. Jews writing in various languages always provide a good example of this complexity.5 Are they more Jewish than they are Polish, Russian, French, or American? Sometimes a literary fashion decides how these things are viewed. For many years critics in Poland politely overlooked the Judaic aspect of Bruno Schulz’s writing. And suddenly in the 1980s there was an avalanche of scholarly papers treating the underlying Judaic themes and motifs. In the interwar period, a group of prominent Polish poets of Jewish origin were constantly attacked from the Polish nationalistic position for injecting “otherness” into Polish Slavic culture. But many years later in New York, these same poets were posthumously disapproved of by Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Yiddish-language writer and Nobel Laureate. He accused them of betrayal from the Jewish position. But even if we are to define our own identity there is still a lot of ambiguity to deal with. Recently I was writing a paper about my friend and colleague, Henryk Grynberg, a Polish writer and a Holocaust survivor, who has lived in the United States for the last thirty years. His protagonist, who as a child survived the war with his mother because they concealed their identity, dedicates considerable effort to what one critic calls a “psychological renunciation of his “Aryan papers.”6 Thus the protagonist is never at ease when it comes to identifying himself. On his trip through Germany, in the mid-sixties, the narrator is asked by a man identifying himself as a “Yugoslav” whether he is “also a Slav.” The narrator replies: “almost,” and in any case (I am) a Pole.”7 One may wonder how this exchange would sound today had these two people met at the same crossroads. However, holding on too firmly to identity may also be treacherous. Over the years East European literatures and film developed such powerful means to counteract 5 6 7

This may not concern writers of Jewish origin only. I just came across the statement that “every novelist of note in Britain these days seems to be an Indian.” Edmund Morris, “The Top 100,” New York Times Book Review, August 23, 1998, 27. Józef Wróbel, Tematy żydowskie w prozie polskiej, 130. Henryk Grynberg, “Buszujący po drogach,” in Szkice Rodzinne, 50.



Part Four

On Writing and Exile

the oppression of political manipulation and censorship that after the great political change many writers and film directors found themselves empty-handed, if only temporarily. Two very successful films, the Czech film Kolja and the Russian The Thief demonstrate that the topic has not lost its validity but that the delivery needed to be reinvented. The fact that these two films utilizing the device of defamiliarization, a child’s view of the world, were such a success indicates that a new perspective is needed. For years we accepted that there are two, or three, acceptable perspectives from which to view the world, which was divided but into an approved division. Today the mask has been lifted but underneath we find not one face, but many. It did hurt these literatures somewhat. Once at the center of the world’s attention they have been shifted to the periphery. After all, a free person holding destiny in his or her own hands interests no-one. This does not mean that being at the center of the world’s attention solves any problems. Some ten years ago when I first read with my students Wisława Szymborska’s powerful poem “Reality Demands” about past battlefields of the world, we came across the name of Kosovo Polje. I had to dig in encyclopedias for details. Today when I read it with my students, I have to explain to them that at the time when this poem was written it was still a dormant battlefield. And how does all this concern myself? I am a Polish poet who was exiled from Poland thirty years ago because I am a Jew. I am a Polish Jew who escaped the worst because I was born in Soviet Kirghizia, which is now independent Kyrgyzstan. I write Polish poetry in the United States, where I also teach Polish language and literature. In my soul my three beings—Jewish, Polish, and now American—are one, indivisible. At the meetings of our Writers-in-Exile chapter of PEN, we sit around one table, each of us with a different language and origin, our lingua franca is American English, the language of the country that offered us a second chance at a time when we had none. September 10, 1998

Afterword. Departures, Returns and Memory in the Collected Essays of Anna Frajlich

I believe that I will return; poets always return, in flesh or on paper. Joseph Brodsky


nna Frajlich’s most recent book of verse, W pośpiechu rzeka płynie (“The River Rushes Past,” 2020), was published by Forma Publishers, her publisher for the last decade. On an extra-literary note I might mention that the publisher’s offices are located in Szczecin, the city of her childhood, and that since 2008 Frajlich holds the title of Honorary Ambassador to the City of Szczecin. Unusually for Frajlich, the volume is organized thematically, and not chronologically. The first and longest section of four parts is titled, “Odjazdy, powroty, pamięć” (Departures, Returns, Memory), a formulation that comes as no surprise to the reader familiar with Frajlich’s poetry and biography. I would like to consider this section title in relation to the present volume of collected essays. As she writes in her “Author’s Preface,” Frajlich was forced into exile by the virulent anti-Semitic campaign of 1968—often referred to by the shorthand notation of March ’68—leaving Poland the following year as a beginning poet and young mother, with no hope of return to her homeland or parents. (As it happened, a year later the campaign forced her parents to leave the country as well.) Of course, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and Poland’s independence, everything turned out differently than could have been imagined back in the sixties. Frajlich returned to Poland for the first time in 1993, the same year as the publication of her fifth book of poetry, Ogrodem i ogrodzeniem (The Garden and the Fence)—her first book to be published in Poland. This was the first of Frajlich’s many returns to Poland, both in the form of publications and personal appearances. As Alice-Catherine Carls writes in her appreciation of Frajlich’s work, her recent appearances, and growing reputation in Poland, the year 2016 marked


Afterword . . . a homecoming for famed Polish-American poet Anna Frajlich. Recently retired from her position as senior lecturer of Polish language and literature at Columbia University, she continues to be active on the lecture circuit, with invitations to Kyrgyzstan, Spain, England, and Lithuania, in addition to several poetry readings in New York City. In 2016 she participated in no less than ten events organized in Poland in her honor during the fall. She had readings in Warsaw at the Polish Writers Association, Warsaw University, and Łazienki Palace as well as readings in Lublin and Szczecin. The pièce de résistance was the first international conference [on Frajlich’s work] held on October 24–25 at the University of Rzeszów.1

The televised poetry reading at the famed Łazienki Palace and the Rzeszów conference held in her honor acknowledged Frajlich’s place in Polish literature as a whole, no longer confined to the category of writer in exile. Two years later Frajlich returned to Poland to promote four new book publications and participate in the several commemorations of ’68, giving lectures and interviews, as well as participating in the symposium “(Auto)Biographical Experience versus Identity” at POLIN, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. During these days of commemoration, the dreaded Gdańsk Railway Station, the scene of so many heartrending separations in 1968, boasted the likeness of Frajlich on a mural to mark the fiftieth anniversary. The reader will learn more about the life and fate of Frajlich in the last section of this book, “On Exile and Writing,” which opens with the powerful essay “My Native Realm.” The title, of course, alludes to Czesław Miłosz’s 1959 book,2 but Wilno, the city of Miłosz’s birth has been superseded by Szczecin, a foreign city that became part of Poland only after World War II. Had it not been for World War II and the Holocaust, Frajlich ought to have been born in Lwów, the city of her parents, and not Kyrgyzstan. Frajlich’s parents, however, had fled from Poland—had they not done so, they would have perished. The reunited family returned to settle in Szczecin, which baby Anna ecstatically greets as “Polska” (Poland), but Frajlich père corrects her and says, “This is not Poland, this is Szczecin.” A poignant example of an unrealizable or thwarted return. Following Miłosz’s example, Frajlich lays out the important milestones and events in her quest for self-definition: Kyrgyzstan, Szczecin, Warsaw, New York City.3 1 2


Alice-Catherine Carls, “Beyond Exile: Reclaiming Anna Frajlich,” World Literature Today, March 15, 2017, accessed January 31, 2020, cultural-cross-sections/beyond-exile-reclaiming-anna-frajlich-alice-catherine-carls. Czesław Miłosz, Rodzinna Europa (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1959), tr. Catherine S. Leach as Native Realm: A Search for Self-Definition (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1968). Frajlich’s essay first appeared in Polish in the volume Rodzinna Europa: Pięć minut później, ed. Anna Kałuża and Grzegorz Jankowicz (Kraków: Korporacja Halart, 2011), which presents over twenty poets of different generations grappling with their own self-definition. For a more detailed biographical sketch of Anna Frajlich, see my “Double Identities: A Profile of Anna Frajlich (-Zajac),” Harriman Magazine 3, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 30–45, accessed February 8, 2020, summer/double_identities_anna_frajlich-zajac.pdf.

Departures, Returns and Memory in the Collected Essays of Anna Frajlich By opening her book with the essay “Czesław Miłosz: The Ambivalent Landscape of Return,” Frajlich signals the importance of the Nobel laureate for her as poet and elder statesman, as well as the leitmotif of the trope of return. She traces the poet’s concern from his “first exile” in 1937, when he was dismissed from his position at the radio station in Wilno and eventually accepted a position at Warsaw Radio. That same year he writes the poem “In My Native Land” (1937), which opens with the lines “In my homeland to which I will not return.” True exile, however, did not commence until 1951, when the poet sought political asylum in France. Living and teaching in Berkeley, California, in 1963, he could still write, “I have never left you, my city.” Even more striking in her analysis of the trope of return in Miłosz’s poetry is her reading of Miłosz’s translations of seventeenth-century English metaphysical poet, Thomas Traherne, and his poem “The Return.” As she writes, Traherne’s poem “may have set the pattern for some of Miłosz’s own returns written during the following decades. . . . [The] confrontation of his soothing native landscape, and the painful landscape of exile account for the immense tension and depth of his poetry.” Many of the lines in her essay draw upon Frajlich’s own experience of exile and return. When she writes that “the theme of the return must be seen in the context of exile. And the greatest affliction of exile is loneliness,” we sense and recognize that her insight here to some extent is not mere scholarly appraisal, but also the product of personal experience. An experience that she gives voice to in her prose and poetry, for example, this early poem from 1973, whose emphasis on landscape cannot help but call to mind Frajlich’s essay on Miłosz and his ambivalent landscape of return: Acclimatization I forget meticulously I forget scrupulously my native landscape my daily landscape I forget the ragged I forget the billowy Clouds in a sky Clouds over a town I forget to the end I forget them nonstop —faces cloaked in the dusk Behind windows of trains.

Translated by Regina Grol

Or consider this new poem about returning to Rome fifty years after her first Roman visit in 1969, when she and her devoted husband, Władysław Zając, and infant son Paweł waited for their travel documents to continue their journey to New York City:



Afterword Rome, Once Again To Władek Who has returned to whom? Rome to us or have we returned to her? we are a half-century older but Rome is always on the run a half century for Rome is but a moment’s pause that same pillar of light in the Pantheon descends aslant guarded by the dome up there and down here for centuries by the wall while Bernini calmly rests amidst the choir You recalled that our penny thrown into the Fountain kept its promise the fountain without cease spouts silvery water time floats like water and just as smoothly. It’s not far at all from the hotel to the Steps you once promised me a glass of wine in the famed Caffè Greco. Rome, March 17, 2019 Translated by Ronald Meyer Brooklyn, February 2020


I. On Poetry “Czesław Miłosz: The Ambivalent Landscape of Return.” World Literature Today (Autumn 1999): 663–668. “He Also Knew How to Be Gracious (Czesław Miłosz).” In An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Milosz, edited by Cynthia Haven, 138–53. Athens, OH: Ohio University Swallow Press, 2011. “From Common Servant to Lot’s Wife (Wisława Szymborska).” Presented at the 2008 Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (Philadelphia), on the panel “Gender as Issue or Simply as Perspective of Element.” “Intellect Imbued with Clarity, Grace, and Humor. Notes on Wisława Szymborska.” The Dirty Goat 8 (1997): 26–31. “The Ghost of Shakespeare in the Poetry of Wisława Szymborska.” In Szekspiromania, księga dedykowana pamięci Andrzeja Żurowskiego, edited by Anna Cetera, 391–407. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2013. “The Last Time We Saw Her (Szymborska).” Published in Polish as “Widzieliśmy ją po raz ostatni,” Przegląd Polski/Nowy Dziennik (New York, March 2012): 2; and in Zachwyt i rozpacz. Wspomnienia o Wisławie Szymborskiej, edited by Agnieszka Papieska, 108–11. Warszawa: Dom Wydawniczy PWN, 2014. “Apollo and Marsyas: A Tribute to Zbigniew Herbert.” Presented as “Tribute to Zbigniew Herbert (1924–98)” at the Barnard-Columbia Polish Students’ Club (October 20, 2005).


Bibliography “Poet of the Seventh Climate: Recurrent Images in the Poetry of Bronisław Przyłuski.” Polish Review 1 (1985): 25–41. “A Canon of His Own (Vasyl Makhno).” Published in Polish as “Własny Kanon,” introduction to Wasyl Machno, Dubno, koło Leżajska. Wiersze i eseje, 7–11. Leżajsk: Stowarzyszenie Rozwoju Wsi Dębno Miejskie Centrum Kultury, 2012. “Must Poetry Be Absolutely Modern?” Presented at the 27th International Biennial of Poetry, Liege, Belgium, October 10-13, 2012. The text was distributed in English and in French translation.

II. On Polish Prose “Two Unknown Soldiers ( Józef Wittlin).” In Between Lvov, New York and Ulysses’ Ithaca: Józef Wittlin—Poet, Essayist, Novelist, edited by Anna Frajlich, 47-60. Toruń: Nicholas Copernicus University, 2001. “Bruno Schulz: Mythmaker and Legend.” In “A Tribute to Bruno Schulz,” 4–10. New York: Center for Jewish History in Association with YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Jewish Heritage Goethe-Institut New York, the Polish Cultural Institute, PEN American Center in collaboration with W. W. Norton & Co., and Penguin Books, November 19, 2002. “The Lifelong Passion of Jerzy Ficowski.” Presented at the Kosciuszko Foundation, New York City, February 18, 1993, at the symposium “The Work and Life of Bruno Schulz,” organized and moderated by Anna Frajlich. “Michał Choromański and Otto Weininger: Jealousy, Sex, and Character.” Polish Review 51, no. 1 (2001): 71–80. Translated into Polish by Tomasz Kunz as “Zazdrość, płeć i charakter. Michał Choromański i Otto Weininger.” In Polonistyka po amerykańsku. Badania nad literaturą polską w Ameryce Północnej (1990–2005), edited by Halina Filipowicz, Andrzej Karcz, and Tamara Trojanowska, 146–56. Warsaw: IBL, 2005. “Narrative Strategies: The Case of Andrzej Bobkowski.” First publication. Presented at the annual conference of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University, June 2018. “Henryk Grynberg: His Quest for Artistic and Non-Artistic Truth.” In Living in Translation: Polish Authors in the United States, edited by Halina Stephan, 193–214. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003.

Bibliography “Finding the Way between Globalization and Decentralization: Polish Literature after 1989.” Presented at the symposium “Cultural Canons and National Writers in Central and Eastern Europe: Revaluations, Re-readings, New Avenues,” Romanian Cultural Institute, New York, February 18, 2016.

III. On Russian Symbolist Poetry “Three Great Romans in Valery Bryusov’s Poetry.” In Studies in Slavic Literatures and Cultures in Honor of Zoya Yurieff, edited by Munir Sendich, 153-65. East Lansing: Russian Language Journal, 1988. “The Contradictions of the Northern Pilgrim. Dmitry Merezhkovsky.” In For East is East: Liber Amicorum Wojciech Skalmowski, edited by Tatjana Soldatjenkova and Emmanuel Waegemans, 425–436. Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters and Departement Oosterse Studies, 2003. “The Quest for Pax Romana as a Quest for Peace of Mind. Vasily Komarovsky.” In Anna Frajlich, The Legacy of Ancient Rome in the Russian Silver Age, 145–64. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. “The Scepter of the Far East and the Crown of the Third Rome: The Russo-Japanese War in the Mirror of Russian Poetry.” In Rethinking the Russo-Japanese War, 1904–5. Centennial Perspectives, edited by Rotem Kowner, 232–44. Folkestone: Global Oriental, 2007.

IV. On Writing in Exile “My Native Realm” (Moja rodzinna Europa). In Rodzinna Europa. Pięć minut później, edited by Anna Kałuża and Grzegorz Jankowicz, 135–48. (Kraków: Korporacja Halart, 2011. “My ‘Unprocessed’ Holocaust.” Presented at the International Holocaust Studies Conference, Middle Tennessee State University, October 2015. Published in Tematy i Konteksty 8 (2018): 43–48. “March Began in June: My ‘Processed’ Trauma.” Presented as the second part of “My ‘Unprocessed’ Holocaust” at the International Holocaust Studies Conference, Middle Tennessee State University, October 2015. “The Price of Integrity.” Presented at the 41st Annual Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, Boston, 2009.



Bibliography “Cultural Diversity in the Workplace.” Presented at the Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy, New York City, April 9, 1999, at the invitation of Carol R. Anderson, Director of Career Development and Placement at the Milano Graduate School. “Writing Polish in America.” Presented at the 11th Annual World Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities, Columbia University, March 2006. “Identity and Difference: The Power of Language.” Presented at the 65th International PEN Congress, Helsinki, September 6–11, 1998. Published in International PEN Bulletin 49, no. 1 (1999): 70–74.

Selected Honors and Publications

Selected Honors • •

• • • • • • •

Medal Uniwersytetu Szczecińskiego (Szczecin University Medal) awarded by the Senate of Szczecin University, January 30, 2020. Wybitny Polak (Distinguished Pole in the United States), 2017, in recognition of Frajlich’s many contributions to Polish culture. The award and diploma were presented at the Polish Consulate in New York City, on May 10, 2017. Union of Polish Writers in Exile (London) Literature Prize, 2015 Asnyk 2011, Przyjaciel V LO (Friend of High School 5), Szczecin, 2011. Title of Honorary Ambassador to the City of Szczecin, 2008 W. & N. Turzanski Foundation (Toronto) Literary Prize, 2003 Knight’s Cross of Order of Merit, awarded by the President of the Polish Republic, 2002 Kościelski Foundation (Geneva) Literary Award, 1981 Third Prize in the Szczecin Literary Competition. Dodatek Literacki Głosu Szczecińskiego (Literary Supplement to the Szczecin Voice), 1959.

Selected Book Publications Poetry Translations • Un oceano tra di noi, bilingual, translated into Italian by Marcin Wyrembelski. Maddaloni: Parlesia Editore, 2018.  • Between Dawn and the Wind, bilingual, expanded 2d ed., translated by Regina Grol. Austin: Host, 1991; reprinted 2006. • Le vent, a nouveau me cherche, bilingual, translated into French by AliceCatherine Carls, preface by Jan Zieliński. Soisy-sur-Seine: Editinter, 2003; reprinted 2012.


Selected Honors and Publications In Polish • w pośpiechu rzeka płynie. Szczecin: Forma, 2020. • łodzią jest i jest przystanią. Szczecin: Forma, 2013. • Znów szuka mnie wiatr. Warszawa: Czytelnik, 2001. • W słońcu listopada. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2000. • Jeszcze w drodze, introduction by Mateusz Werner. Warszawa: NOWA, 1994. • Ogrodem i ogrodzeniem. Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1993. • Drzewo za oknem Arkusz poetycki, Graphics: Bartek Małysa, AdMarK Graphics,Inc. New York, NY.1991 • Który las. London: Oficyna Poetów i Malarzy, 1986. • Indian Summer. Albany, NY: Sigma, 1982. • Tylko ziemia. London: Oficyna Poetów i Malarzy, 1979 • Aby wiatr namalować. London: Oficyna Stanisław Gliwa, 1976. • Reprints of the first four books of poetry: Aby wiatr namalować/Tylko ziemia (Szczecin: Fundacja Literatury imienia Henryka Berezy, 2016; Indian Summer/Który Las (Szczecin: Fundacja Literatury imienia Henryka Berezy, 2018). • Numerous publications in anthologies and textbooks.

Prose • • •

Czesław Miłosz. Lekcje. Prywatny Hołd (Czesław Miłosz. Lessons. A Personal Tribute). Szczecin: Forma, 2011. Laboratorium. Szczecin: Forma, 2010; third expanded edition, 2018. Felicja Bromberg, Anna Frajlich, Władysław Zajac. Po Marcu—Wiedeń, Rzym, Nowy Jork. Warszawa: Biblioteka Midrasza, 2008.

Scholarly Books • •

The Legacy of Ancient Rome in the Silver Age. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. Between Lvov, New York, and Ulysses’ Ithaca. Józef Wittlin. Poet, Essayist, Novelist, edited by Anna Frajlich. Toruń: Nicholas Copernicus University, 2001.

Conference Proceedings •

“Tu jestem / zamieszkuję własne życie”: Studia i szkice o twórczości Anny Frajlich, edited by Wojciech Ligęza and Jolanta Pasterska. Kraków: Księgarnia Akademicka, 2018.



1968 (or March 1968—Jewish exodus from Poland), 156


Acmeism, 123, 203 Admiratio Romae tradition, 167, 185, 217– 219 Agrippina the Elder, 204–205, 204n6, 206n13 Akhmatova, Anna, 31n16, 207n18, 208, 208n26, 210n34 Alvarez, A., 58 Amzel, Minka, 241 Annensky, Innokenty, 203–204, 208, 208n26 Anti-Semitism, 137–139, 146, 149, 151, 159, 238, 251, 254, 263, 279 Anti-Zionism, 156, 159, 246, 250–251 Antony, Mark, 171–181, 193, 202n29, 215 Apostrophe, 176, 179, 185–187, 199, 214, 225 Augustus, 171, 202n29, 205, 207, 213–215, 215n46, 216–217, 217n54, 232 Aurelius, Marcus, 198–202 Auschwitz, 154


Bachelard, Gaston, 77, 79, 83 Baker, G. P. 179 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 29, 177n48, 226 Balcerzan, Edward, 91, 93, 242 Balmont, Konstantin, 233, 233n30 Balzac, Honoré de, 139 Banas, Józef, 251, 259 Baral, Sabina, 253 Barańczak, Stanisław, 20, 30, 36, 51, 58, 65, 91, 109, 236n1, 240 Barbusse, Henri, 98 Batory, King Stefan, 15

Behaviorism, 61, 61n9 Belknap, Robert B., x Berdyayev, Nikolai, 194, 202 Białoszewski, Miron, 45, 60, 91, 94 Bidney, Martin, 233 Bielatowicz, Jan, 70, 72–73 Bloom, Harold, 45 Błoński, Jan, 242, 60, 65, 91, 91n3, 91n4, 91n5, 116, 118 Bobkowski, Andrzej, 133–142, 252 Borkowska, Grażyna, 27 Bosch, Hieronymus, 87 Brakoniecki, Kazimierz, 164 Brandys, Kazimierz, 135, 135n8, 141 Brombert, Victor, 98n1, 103n16, 147 Bryusov, Valery, 166–193, 170n20, 170n24, 215, 217–219, 221–227, 229–232 Brzozowski, Stanisław, 13, 14


Caesar, Julius, 167, 171, 175–177, 177n48, 178, 181, 185, 190, 193, 198, 212n39, 213, 214, 217n54, 221, 225–227, 229– 232 Caligula, 204–205 Camus, Albert, x, 9, 98–107 Carls, Alice-Catherine, 146, 147n15, 279, 280n1 Carmen, 127, 127n21 Carpenter, Bogdana, 3, 3n158, 58n1, 59, 59n5, 62n1, 67n16 Carpenter, John, 62n12, Cassio, 126, 127 Cassius, Gaius (Longinus), 214 Cassius, Gaius (Parmensis), 214 Catherine the Great, 200


Index Cavanagh, Claire, 27n3, 30, 31n16, 32n19, 36, 48n32, 51236n1 Censorship, 14, 16, 20, 46, 59, 91, 151, 159– 160, 166n3, 213, 221, 225, 251, 261–264, 275, 278 Chałko, Zbigniew, 243 Choromański, Michał, xi, 123–124, 126–129, 131–132 Chulkov, G. I., 221n7, 225n15, 228, 228n23 Chwin, Stefan, 161, 162 Cicero, Marcus Tullius, 174–176, 226 Clark, Joanna, 36, 110, 110n5, 116 Cleopatra, 171, 172n35, 173, 174, 178, 184 Columbia University, 93, 95, 250, 255, 264, 266, 280 Conrad, Joseph, 139, 251, 272 Constantine I (the Great), 186–187, 189, 199–200 Coriolanus, Gaius Marcius, 218 Cruttwell, Charles I., 215–216 Czapliński, Przemysław, 150, 161–163 Czapski, Józef, 136136n12 Czarnecka, Ewa, 4, 4n8, 14, 14n3 Czaykowski, Bogdan, 16, 240–241 Czerniawski, Adam, 37, 94n16, 275–276, 276n3 Czycz, Stanisław, 60


Dadaism, 63, 91 Danilewicz-Zielińska, Maria, 134n6 Dasko, Henryk, 253 De Gaulle, Charles, 140 De Rougemont, Denis, 183, 183n70 Defoe, Daniel, 47 Deleuze, Gilles, 272 Descartes, René, 37, 65 Desdemona, 127, 127n20 Dichter, William, 253 Dickens, Charles, 47, 274 Doborwolski, Ryszard, 253 Dobyns, Stephen, 59 Dolański, Włodzimierz, 263 Domitian, 211–212, 215 Drabik, Grażyna, 133 Dürer, Albrecht, 116 Dusza, Edward, 243


Eisler, Jerzy, 251 Eliot, T. S., 85, 92, 92n7 Emigration, 63, 244, 246–247, 251–253, 257, 263, 266, 268–269, 271–272, 277

Émigré literature, 13–14, 16–18, 21, 69–70, 72–73, 85, 89, 133–135, 251–252, 266, 270–273, 276 Equestrian statuary (equestrian statue), 200–201 Exile, 2–5, 7, 9–12, 16, 20, 25, 53, 65, 69–72, 86, 89–91, 94, 99–100, 106, 106n25, 107, 111, 143, 156, 159, 237, 246, 248, 251– 253, 255–258, 262, 267–276, 278–281 Existentialism, 36 Expressionism, 63, 75, 91


Falconet, Étienne Maurice, 200, 201, 201n3, 202 Fenton, James, 94, 95 Fiałkowska, Alicja, 242 Ficowski, Jerzy, xi, 109, 112–113, 115–122, 147 Fikus, Dariusz, 263, 264 Filipowicz, Halina, 272, 272n7, 284 Fiut, Aleksander, 3–5, 5n14, 9n30, 14 Flaubert, Gustave, 47, 132, 132n48 Flavius, Josephus, 150 Forecki, Piotr, 248, 248n3 Frajlich (Freilich), Psachie, 237 Frajlich (née Scheiner/Szajner), Amalia/ Malwina/Malka, 239 France, Anatole, 47 Futurism, 91–92


Gandhi, Mahatma, 98, 107 Gasparov, M. L., 169, 169n16, 170, 179, 221 Gender and gender studies, 30, 124, 185 Gerould, Daniel, 14 Giedroyc, Jerzy, 20, 133, 136, 137 Giergielewicz, Mieczysław, 70 Gippius, Zinaida, 194 Globalization, 158–164, 285 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 42, 187n82, 189, 195, 197n13, 274 Gollerbakh, Erik, 220 Gombrowicz, Witold, 15, 16, 88, 89, 110, 111, 135, 252 Gomori, George, 51 Gomułka, Władysław, 156, 251, 254, 258 Gopnik, Adam, 54, 54n52 Gorczyńska, Renata, 14, , 17, 20, Gore, Joseph, 21, Goya, Francisco, 116, Grol, Regina, 26, 252, 281, 287 Gross, Jan, 162

Index Grossman, Joan Delaney, 168, 168n9, 191, 191n93, 223 Grudzińska Gross, Irena, 137, Grynberg, Henryk, 20, 143–156, 240, 248, 257, 277 Grynberg, Mikołaj, 257, 257n11, Guattari, Felix, 272, 272n6, Gudzy, N., 167, 175, 175n44, Gumilev, Nikolai, 167, 227, Günther, Karl, 108,


Habielski, Rafał, 136, 136n13, Hamlet, 29, 30n11, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 48, 49, 50, 52, 63, 65, 152 Hardwick, Elizabeth, 23 Hasek, Jaroslav, 98 Herbert, Zbigniew, 3, 3n1, 4, 19, 19n7, 23, 34, 45, 58–68, 58n1, 58n2, 59n4, 59n5, 60n7, 62n10, 62n12, 63n13, 67n16, 68n19, 85, 91, 94, 122, 122n7, 152, 152n44 Herbst, Ewa, 253, Herling-Grudziński, Gustaw, 66n15 Hitler, Adolf, 45, 163, 163n16, 239, 268 Holocaust, 38, 83, 144, 146, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156, 238, 241, 243, 245– 249, 248n3, 256, 268, 277, 280 Holsztyński, Włodzimierz, 253 Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus), 167, 170, 171, 214, 215, 216 Huelle, Paweł, 161, 162, 162n14, 163, 163n16


Icarus, 29, 43 Ilinsky, Alexander, 167 Interwar period, 158, 253, 262, 277 Iribarne, Louis, 16, 20 Irzykowski, Karol, 123, 123n4, Ivanov, Vyacheslav, 167, 167n6, 221, 231, 231n29, 232 Ivask, George, 203n1, 204, 204n7, 208, 209n27 Iwaszkiewicz, Jarosław, 152


Jakobson, Roman, 110, 200, 200n19, 201, 201n25, 202, 202n31, 205, 205n9 Jakowska, Krystyna, 123, 124n5, 128 Jaruzelski, Wojciech, 257 Jarzębski, Jerzy, 115, 118, 159, 162, 162n15, Jedlicki, Jerzy, 258, 258n14, Jewishness, 109, 110, 116, 148, 257, 269 Judaism, 22, 110, 110n5, 116, 243,


Kaden-Bandrowski, Juliusz, 237, Kafka, Franz, 110, 112n14, 114–115, 272 Kahan, Arcadius, 15 Kakutani, Michiko, 45 Kalm, Chet, 21, Kamieńska, Anna, 275 Karkowski, Czesław, 115 Karpowicz, Tymoteusz, 20, 23, 24, 60, 91, 94 Katzenelson, Itzhak, 119 Kersten, Krystyna, 251 Khodasevich, Vladislav, 166n2, 192, 193n102, 221 Khrushchev, Nikita, 46 Klub Hybrydy, 244 Koch, Kenneth, 93, 93n13, Komarovsky, Vasily, 202n29, 203–219, 203n1, 203n3, 204n7, 209n29, 210n34, 211n36, 212n38, 212n41, 213n42, 217n54, 217n56 Konkowski, Andrzej, 123 Kosiński (Kosinski), Jerzy , 23, 59, 143 Kosko, Allan, 118 Kościelski Foundation , 59, 152, 242 Kościuszko Foundation, 21, 22, 114 Kott, Jan, 14, 15, 16, 16n4, 18, 45, 46, 46n21, 46n23, , 47, 53, 53n48, 53n49, 162 Kowalik, Edwin, 262 Kryński, Magnus J., 3030n12, 36 Krzyżanowski, Jerzy, 14, 155n51 Kuczyński, Bogusław, 113 Kujawińska-Courtney, Krystyna, 46, 46n20, 46n22 Kulczycka-Saloni, Janina, ix, 14, 254, 260 Kultura (Paris), 2, 20, 73–74, 133, 255 Kuryluk, Ewa, 116, 117, 117n23 Kwiatkowski, Jerzy, 61, 61n8, 62, 65


Landau, Felix, 108, 116 Lednicki, Waclaw, 201, 201n24 Legeżyńska, Anna, 43, 43n12, Leśmian, Bolesław, 71, 75, 92, 92n6, 111, Lichtblau, Krzysztof, 164, 164n22, Ligęza, Wojciech, 288, 7n22, 28, 28n6, 29n8, 30n11, 35, 42, 42n5, 43, 43n10, 44, 44n13, 50, 51, 51n40, 55 Linguistic school of poetry, 91, Lisiecka, Alicja, 70, 71, 71n7, 71n8, 71n9, Liskowacki, Artur Daniel, 161, 162, 163, 164, 164n21, Lizakowski, Adam, 23 Lourie, Richard, 149, 240, 253n6, 4n8, 20,



Index Łobodowski, Józef, 69, 69n1, 71, 71n10, Łukasiewicz, Jacek, 65, 67, 67n18, 47n27


Machiavelli, Niccolò di Bernardo dei, 192n100, , 224, 224n12, 260 Machno, Vasyl, 284, Maciąg, Włodzimierz, 130, 130n39 Maguire, Robert A., x, 6n17, 30, 30n12, 36 Mailer, Norman, 22 Makaryk, Irena, 45, 45n19, Maksimov, D.168n12, 168n145, 170, 170n21, 171, 171n27, 171n28, 171n32, 172n34, 176, 176n47, 179, 179n78, 181n61, 182, 182n67, 225n17 Malenin, I., 170170n19, Mandelstam, Osip, 59, 187n82, 192, 192n101, 197n13, 210, 210n34, 224, 233 Mann, Thomas, 36, 115, Mansfield, Katherine, 139 Mantegna, Andrea, 212 Marsh, Cynthia, 230, 230n26, Medvedeva, Olga, 240, 241 Merezhkovsky, Dmitry, 187n82, 194–206, 196n9, 206n15, 285 Meyer, Ronald, x–xi, 282 Miązek, Bonifacy, 71, 71n9 Michnik, Adam, 254 Mickiewicz, Adam, 6, 15, 52, 52n46, 119, 137n17, 140, 145n8, 200, 200n21, 201, 202, 250, 274, Mielhorski, Robert, 92, 92n8 Mikołajewski, Łukasz, 137, 137n18, 138, 138n20 Miłosz, Carol, 24–25 Miłosz, Czesław, 36, 36n5, 58, , 78, 90n1, 91, 106n23 Miłosz, Janina, 18 Miłosz, Oscar, 7 Mirsky, D. S., 166n1, 203, 203n2, 221n2 Mochulsky, Konstantin, 182 Moszkowicz, Michał, 253 Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 99, 99n7 Mrożek, Sławomir, 15,


Nadkarni, Maya, 163, 163n17 Nałkowska, Zofia, 108, , 113, 120, 121, 155, 245 Norwid, Cyprian Kamil, 24n10, 52, 52n45 Nowakowski, Tadeusz, 243 Nyczek, Tadeusz, 44, 44n14


Ophelia, 29, 30, 30n11, 42, 43 Ortwin, Ostap, 128, 130, 130n40, 131, 131n45 Orzeszkowa, Eliza, 272 Othello, 125, 126, 127, 127n20, 131 Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso), 127


Panas, Władysław, 116 Pantheon, 48n30, 103n18, 179, 183n70, 195, 196, 197, 282 Peiper, Tadeusz, 91 PEN Center, xi, 22–23, 36, 59 Pertsov, Petr P.219, 222, 223n6, 225 Peter the Great, 200, 201, 227n22 Petersburg text, 190, 201, 208 Petrova, A. M., 229 Petrovskaya, Nina, 191 Pietrusiewicz. Jadwiga, 244 Pinon, René, 191, 221 Plotinus, 3 Plutarch, 172n35, 173, 173n36, 174, 174n41, 177, 177n49, 178, 180, 227, 227n19, 229, 230, 230n27, 231n28 Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America (PIASA), 19, 136 Poświatowska, Halina, 30 Poznań Revolt, 159 Prévost, Abbé Antoine Françoise, 47 Prokop-Janiec, Eugenia, 23, 23n9 Prokopczyk, Czesław, 58, 59n4 Prus, Bolesław, 141 Przyboś, Julia, 14, 15, 60, 61 Przybylski, Ryszard, 65, 192n101, 210n33, 224n13 Przyłuski, Bronisław, xi, 69–83 Punin, Nikolay, 214, 214n44 Pushkin, Alexander, 208


Radio Free Europe (RFE), 2–3, 9, 14, 18, 73, 152, 239, 243, 266, 271 Rajek, Laszlo, 51 Rehabilitation, 46, 47, 48, 50, 51, 52, 54 Remarque, Erich Maria, 98 Renan, Ernest, 199, 202 Riff, Władysław, 113, 215n47 Rilke, Rainer Marie, 72, 73, 73n17, 76, 94, 94n14, 115, 116, 128n24, 262 Robertson, Theodosia S., 5n14, 109, 109n4, 112n13, 115, 115n20, 144n3 Romanticism, 158, 274

Index Rostropovich-Clark, Joanna. see Clark, Joanna Roth, Philip, 116 Różewicz, Tadeusz, 34, 45, 48, 54, 54n53, 60, 61, 64, 91, 94, 94n16 Rudnicki, Janusz, 122, 122n6 Rusinek, Michał, 55 Russian Symbolism, x, 3, 16, 77, 79, 81, 105, 127–128, 166, 173, 178–179, 185–187, 189–190, 193–195, 197–198, 200, 204n6, 207, 211, 213, 221, 225, 233 Russo-Japanese War, 175, 189, 191, 192, 220–233


Sacks, Oliver, 276 Sainte-Beuve, Charles Augustin, 47 Sandauer, Artur, 47, 47n28, 49, 49n34, 60, 109, 109n2, 111, 111n7, 112, 112n15, 114, 114n19, 115, 115n21, 118, 120, 122, 269, 270n2 Schama, Simon, 41, 41n2, Schiele, Egon, 134 Schlatter, James F., 45, 45n18 Schönle, Andreas, 109, 109n4 Schulz, Bruno, 16, 23, 59, 108–111, 109n4, 110n6, 111n, 277 Scott, Peter Dale, 19, 58 Shakespeare, William, 14, 29, 36, 41, 42, 126, 127n20, 152, 172n35 Shakespearean motifs and allusions, 41–42, 44, 46n20, 63–65, 67, 77–79, 87, 91, 103, 127, 129, 140, 152, 177, 180, 184–187, 193, 209, 217–218, 227, 246, 248, 277 Shervinsky, S. V., 169 Sikorski, Władysław, 141–142 Singer, Isaac Bashevis, 112, 112n14, 114, 114n18, 156, 277 Singer, Israel Joshua, 253 Skamander, 70, 74, 75 Skuszanka, Krystyna, 46, 46n20, 46n22 Sławińska, Irena, 15 Sławny, Tamara, 253 Słucki, Arnold, 256 Smołowicz, Franka, 241 Socialist realism, 41, 47, 90, 120, 159 Solovyov, Vladimir, 221, 226, 227, 228, 229 Solovyov, Joseph, 221, 226, 227, 228, 229 Stalinism, 36, 45 Stauber, Maria, 257, 257n12, Stola, Dariusz, 251 Strong, Donald, 201, 201n26, 206

Suetonius, 178, 212, 212n39, 214n43, 215, 215n46, 227, 229, 230 Sulla, Lucius Cornelius (Sulla Felix), 178– 181, 180n60 Świda-Ziemba, Hanna, 159 Swir (Świrszczyńska), Anna, 20, 26 Szacki, Jerzy, 159 Szczygieł, Jerzy, 260, 261, 262, 264 Szczypiorski, Andrzej, 253, 253n6 Szelińska, Jozefina, 113, 113n16 Szymborska, Wisława, x–xi, 26–39, 41–60, 91, 94, 236n1 Śliwiński, Piotr, 161, 161n11 Śmieja, Florian, 16


Tanner, Tony, 6, 6n17, 7, 11, 125, 125n11, 126, 126n14, 127n20, 131, 131n46, 132 Taube, M. F., 210, 257 Tennenbaum, Natan, 253 Termer, Janusz, 123, 123n3 Thaw, 27, 45, 61 Third Rome, 175, 191, 193, 218, 223, 225, 227–229 Tjalsma, William, 203n1, 205, 206n12, 208, 208n23 Tolstoy, Leo, 140, 242 Tomasik, Wojciech, 246 Toporov, V. N., 203n1, 205, 207, 207n17, 208, 209, 210n34, 211n36, 213n42, 219n60 Torańska, Teresa, 256, 256n10, 257 Traherne, Thomas, 4, 4n9, 4n10, 4n11, 4n12, 5, 5n13, 9, 11, 12, 281 Tsushima, 175–177, 191, 193, 220, 221, 223, 225–226, 229, 231– 233 Tumash, Vitaut, 15 Tuwim, Julian, 18, 19, 74n21 Twardowski, Jan, 269 Tyrteian poetry, 159


Updike, John, 108, 108n1, 112, 112n12


Valéry, Paul, 93 Vallee, Lillian, 10n39, 20 Venclova, Thomas (Tomas), 15, 203, 203n3, 207 Vendler, Helen, 23 Virgil, 169, 170, 170n24, 207n20, 215, 216, 217, 232 Vogel, Debora, 112, 113



Index Voloshin, Maximilian, 168, 168n14, 171, 171n27, 221, 229, 229n24, 229n25, 230, 230n26, 231


Walas, Teresa, 159, 159n2, 160, 161, 161n12, 162 Wandycz, Piotr, 258, 258n13 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 246 Wat, Aleksander, 20 Wawrzyńska, Ludwika, 28, 29 Weininger, Otto, xi, 123, 124n6, 128–131 Weintraub, Wiktor, 14 Wiadomości (London) Wieniewska, Celina, 114, 118, 149, 149n22 Wierzyński, Kazimierz, 83, 252, 252n3 Wiesel, Elie, 143 Wilde, Oscar, 139 Winckelmann, Johann Joachim, 195, 218 Wiszniewicz, Joanna, 256, 256n10 Witkiewicz, Stanisław Ignacy, 16, 110, 111, 111n10, 113, 116, 120, 121 Wittlin, Halina, 23 Wittlin, Józef, x, 21, 23, 90, 93, 93n12, 98–107, 98n4, 98n5, 272n7, 284, 288 women’s poetry , 26, 27, 38, 39 Wood, Susan, 206, 206n13

World War I, x, 98, 99, 104, 112, 158, 159, 190, 250, 255 World War II, ix, 4, 15, 16, 34, 45, 63, 91, 98, 111, 119, 162, 245, 255, 256, 275, 280 Woroszylski, Wiktor Wróbel, Józef, 144, 144n4, 147, 148n16, 149, 149n30, 150, 151, 151n38, 277 Wujec, Ludwika, 241 Wygodzki, Stanisław, 256 Wyka, Kazimierz, 61, 76, 76n32, 77, 78, 78n41 Wysłouch, Seweryna, 123, 123n2, 125


Yom Kippur, 243 Yurieff, Zoya, x, 195n3, 203n1, 218n58, 266


Zadura, Bohdan, 85, 87, 88 Zając, Paweł, 281 Zając, Władysław, 253n5, 280n3, 281 Zaleski, Marek, 145, 145n7, 149, 149n31, 151, 151n41 Zawodniak, Mariusz, 60, 60n7 Zhirmunsky, Viktor, 171n32, 182, 182n69, 183 Zionism, 251 Żurek, Sławomir, 256