Archive for the ‘Poland’ Category

Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont (Poland, 1867 to 1925)

Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont (Poland, 1867 to 1925)

Remont won the Nobel prize for his epic novel The Peasants, but here are the opening paragraphs of his novel The Comédienne, published in 1920: Bukowiec, a station on the Dombrowa railroad, lies in a beautiful spot. A winding line was cut among the beech and pine covered hills, and at the most level point, between a mighty hill towering above the woods with its bald and rocky summit, and a long narrow valley, glistening with pools and marshes, was placed the station. This two-story building of rough brick containing the quarters of the station-master and his assistant, a small wooden house at the side for the telegrapher and the minor employees, another similar one near the last switches for the watchman, three switch-houses at various points, and a freight-house were the only signs of human habitation.

Surrounding the station on all sides were the murmuring woods, while above, a strip of blue sky, slashed with gray clouds, extended like a wide-spreading roof.

The sun was veering toward the south and glowing ever brighter and warmer; the reddish slopes of the rocky hill, with its ragged summit gashed by spring freshets, were bathed in a flood of golden sunlight.

The calm of a spring afternoon diffused itself over all. The trees stood motionless without a murmur in their boughs. The sharp emerald leaves of the beeches drooped drowsily, as though lulled to sleep by the light, the warmth, and the silence. The twitter of birds sounded at rare intervals from the thickets, and only the cry of the water-fowls on the marshes and the somnolent hum of insects filled the air. Above the blue line of rails stretching in an endless chain of curves and zigzags, the warm air glowed with shifting hues of violet light.
by Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont,
translated by Edmund Obecny

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Henryk Sienkiewicz  (Polish, 1846-1916)

Henryk Sienkiewicz (Polish, 1846-1916)

Sientkiewicz won the Nobel Prize for his novel Quo Vadis (which means “Where are you going?”). The epic is a story about power overcome by faith, about faith, which brought love, about love which changed Rome. It is a tale of early Christian persecution at the hands of the Roman Emperor, Nero. Sienkiewicz wrote his Trilogy for the purpose of “uplifting the hearts” of his countrymen at a time when Poland did not exist as an independent country.


The novel was made into a movie. Here is the opening paragraph from the book: It was close to noon before Petronius came awake, feeling as drained and listless and detached as always. He was a guest at one of Nero’s banquets the evening before and the orgy dragged on late into the night, and his health hadn’t been all that good anyway for some time. He told himself that waking in the morning was a kind of mental and physical paralysis where neither his mind nor his body was capable of action. but an hour or two spent at his private baths, followed by a thorough kneading of his flesh by skilled slave masseurs, gradually quickened the sluggish flow of blood in his veins, roused him, revitalized him and restored his strength so that he would leave the anointing room as if resurrected, with eyes full of wit and aglow with humor, restored to youth, full of life again, so incomparable in his poise, fastidiousness and brilliance that even Otho couldn’t match his style; he would be truly what everyone said he was: the undisputed arbiter of all that was elegant and tasteful.
translated by W.S. Kuniczak

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I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.
Wislawa Szymborska (born 1923), Nobel Laureate 1996;
translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

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So Little

I said so little.
Days were short.

Short days.
Short nights.
Short years.

I said so little.
I couldn’t keep up.

My heart grew weary
From joy,

The jaws of Leviathan
Were closing upon me.

Naked, I lay on the shores
Of desert islands.

The white whale of the world
Hauled me down to its pit.

And now I don’t know
What in all that was real.

Tak mato

Tak mato powiedziatem
Krótkie dni.

Krótkie dni,
Krótkie noce,
Krótkie lata.

Tak mato powiedziatem,
Nie zdazytem.

Serce moje zmeczyto sie

Paszcza lewiatena
Zamykata sie na mnie.

Nagi lezatem na brzegach
Bezludnych wysp.

Porwat mnie w otchtan ze soba,
Biaty wielaryb swiata.

I teraz nie wiem
co byto prawdziwe.
Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004), Nobel Laureate in 1980,
Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee

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Thank-you Note

I owe so much
to those I don’t love.

The relief as I agree
that someone else needs them more.

The happiness that I’m not
the wolf to their sheep.

The peace I feel with them,
the freedom —
love can neither give
nor take that.

I don’t wait for them,
as in window-to-door-and-back.
Almost as patient
as a sundial,
I understand
what love can’t,
and forgive
as love never would.

From a rendezvous to a letter
is just a few days or weeks,
not an eternity.

Trips with them always go smoothly,
concerts are heard,
cathedrals visited,
scenery is seen.

And when seven hills and rivers
come between us
the hills and rivers
can be found on any map.

They deserve the credit
if I live in three dimensions,
in nonlyrical and nonrhetorical space
with a genuine, shifting horizon.

They themselves don’t realize
how much they hold in their empty hands.

“I don’t owe them a thing,”
would be love’s answer
to this open question.


Wislawa Symborska (born 1923), translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

Here’s the same poem, by a different translator:

A “Thank You” Note

There is much I owe
to those I do not love.

The relief in accepting
they are closer to another.

Joy that I am not
the wolf to their sheep.

My peace be with them
for with them I am free,
and this, love can neither give,
nor know how to take.

I don’t wait for them
from window to door.
Almost as patient
as a sun dial,
I understand
what love does not understand.
I forgive
what love would never have forgiven.

Between rendezvous and letter
no eternity passes,
only a few days or weeks.

My trips with them always turn out well.
Concerts are heard.
Cathedrals are toured.
Landscapes are distinct.

And when seven rivers and mountains
come between us,
they are rivers and mountains
well known from any map.

It is thanks to them
that I live in three dimensions,
in a non-lyrical and non-rhetorical space,
with a shifting, thus real, horizon.

They don’t even know
how much they carry in their empty hands.

“I don’t owe them anything,”
love would have said
on this open topic.
translated by Joanna Maria Trzeciak

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