Ariel Center for
Policy Research



NATIV  Volume Sixteen   Number 4-5 (93-94)  ■  Sep. 2003 ■ Elul 5763 ■ Ariel Center for Policy Research





Contemporary Polish Poetry:
A Short Anthology

Philip Rosenau

The article is the author’s personal stroll through some of the main streets of the contemporary Polish poetry, intended to show its breadth and unique scope. On purpose he has excluded in this stroll the “grand trio”: Milosh, Herbert and Szymburska. It is when the tallest trees are removed that one gets a panoramic view of the landscape. The author, Professor of Mathematics at Tel Aviv University, left Poland over 45 years ago at the age of 10, and has “discovered” contemporary Polish poetry which, of course, is completely different from the sounds of childhood nurseries, in a second-hand bookstore in Manhattan. Poems by one Zbigniew Herbert, translated by Milosh with an afterword by Brodski, were like a burst of a super-nova in dark skies. They marked for him a beginning of a long personal journey into contemporary Polish poetry, of which translation of Polish poetry plays an important part.

One of the topics he muses over in the article is the unique cultural climate prevailing in Poland after World War II. On one hand there was a communist repression, which no matter how bad, was still very mild when compared with the one going on in the Soviet Union. But, since Poland was a free country prior to the war, old cultural and literary traditions were very much alive and could not be easily eradicated by the new regime. The amalgamation of the old traumas and traditions with new ones created a set-up that soon was to beget unique results. Since the mid 1950s, the central stage of Polish poetry was taken by a new generation of poets who, when the war started, were still teenagers, and thus, although badly impacted upon, were not crippled by its events. What has become an essential trademark of this generation was not a hope for quick victory or any victory for that matter, but a preservation of human dignity in spite of the relentless acoustic pollution induced by the communist propaganda that threatened to contaminate irrevocably the language. Ten years of literary activity – from the mid 1950s through to the mid 1960s – resulted in a body of literature of which any nation would be proud.

The enhanced Communist repression since the late 1960s and voluntary and even more so, involuntary, emigration of many poets to the West, has transformed the literary landscape from being uniquely Polish into an all-European affair. The result of this transformation is that the poetry written in the last 20 years or so, although as good as any, no longer carries the unique Polish characteristics which gave it its former uniqueness.

The presented translation includes poems by Rozewich, Twardowski, Bursa and Zagajewski.


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