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Poland II, Poetry of Guilt and Complicity

March 17, 2016


My Sabbath Day amounted to little more than a late afternoon nap. I had a number of things that could only be done today at the church. At the same time, several church leaders pulled me aside to call me on being in the office and ask when I would take the time to take care of myself. How refreshing. I love my congregation!

I found very little time to read multi-national literature this week, so I continued last week’s reading of twentieth-century Polish poetry and finished a novel I’ve had on my shelf for years. I found ample selections in the The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, including poems by:

  • Czeslaw Milosz, who won the Nobel Prize in 1980;
  • Ana Swir
  • Israel Emiot
  • Yankev Glatshteyn
  • Wislawa Szymborska, who won the Nobel Prize in 1996
  • Zbigniew Herbert, the spiritual leader of the anti-communist movement
  • Tymoteusz Karpowicz
  • Tadeusz Rozewicz
  • Miron Bialoszewski
  • Bogdan Czaykowski
  • Adam Zagajewski
  • Piotr Sommer
  • Marcin Swietkicki, and
  • Anna Kamienska


Anna Kamienska, who died in 1986, was a good friend of, and hung out with, the two Nobel Prize winners named above. She wrote fifteen books of poetry, two volumes of notebooks, three volumes of commentary on the Bible, and translations from numerous other languages. Heading into Holy Week, I was struck by this poem by Kamienska, called

“A Prayer That Will Be Answered”

Lord let me suffer much
and then die

Let me walk through silence
and leave nothing behind not even fear

Make the world continue
let the ocean kiss the sand just as before

Let the grass stay green
so that frogs can hide in it

so that someone can bury his face in it
and sob out his love

Make the day rise brightly
as if there were no more pain

And let my poem stand clear as a windowpane
bumped by a bumblebee’s head

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

…and resonated with this blog writer’s reflections upon it.

The novel on my shelf was The Polish Complex by Tadeusz Konwicki, who died last year in 2015. Konwicki wrote numerous novels that circulated underground during the era of Soviet rule. The Polish Complex, however, was seemingly autobiographical – working out complex issues of guilt, complicity, and resistance with regard to his actions during the Second World War and his life as a Polish writer. Set in 1977, the action (or lack thereof) takes place entirely while waiting in line for a liquor store delivery that never arrives (think Godot). I started reading it last week to set the context for reading Michnik’s prison writings, but had no time (or attention) to finish it. After his death, the New Yorker published an obituary of Konwicki in the form of a review of the book. It’s worth five minutes.


The collection of dark yet spiritual poems from this period of overt and covert repression were fitting companions for the week of Super Tuesday and the continuing rise of Trump and American-style fascism.


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