The Polish poet and playwright Tadeusz Różewicz died this week, aged 92, having survived the underground in the Second World War, the rise and fall of communist rule in Poland, and the transition into the 21st century.
He was one of the great generation of Miłosz, Herbert and Szymborska, and he will be missed.
Just last year, Barbara Bogoczek’s translation of his fascinating portrait of his mother, Mother Departs, made World Literature Today’s list of notable translations. Here’s an extract from it:
“You know Mummy, I can tell it only to you in my old age, and I can tell you now because I’m already older than you… I didn’t dare tell you when you were alive. I’m a Poet. It’s a word that frightened me, I never spoke it to Father… I didn’t know if it was decent to say something like that.
I entered the world of poetry as if into the light and now I’m preparing to exit, into darkness… I trekked across the landscape of poetry and have seen it with the eye of a fish a mole a bird a child a grown man and an old man; why is it so difficult to utter these words: ‘I’m a poet’, you search for synonyms to help you come out to the world.”
On a similar theme but from another angle, here’s one of my favourite poems of his:
Transformations (translated by fellow poet Czesław Miłosz)
My little son enters
the room and says
‘you are a vulture
I am a mouse’
I put away my book
wings and claws
grow out of me
their ominous shadows
race on the walls
I am a vulture
he is a mouse
‘you are a wolf
I am a goat’
I walked around the table
and am a wolf
in the dark
while he runs to his mother
his head hidden in the warmth of her dress.
World Literature Today also shared this image, which shares his own view of his poems: the photo is by Elżbieta Lempp. You can read some of his poems in Polish here.