George Szirtes on Tadeusz Różewicz: “There is, in his harsh clarity, something beyond…”


The late, great poet…

We wrote yesterday about Tadeusz Różewicz, who died at 92. Today, poet and translator (and friend) George Szirtes writes about him in The Guardian. He says the Polish poet “was one of the great European ‘witness’ poets whose own lives were directly affected by the seismic events of the 20th century.”

“‘My decimated generation is now departed and dying, duped and disillusioned,’ he said soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He saw the forgetting of history as a disaster, ‘the falling of tears on the stock exchange’ as he wrote in a poem of 1994.”


“That generation, born just after the first world war, amid the great chaotic redrawing of maps, saw the rise of fascism, the terrors of the second world war (both Różewicz and his brother Janusz – also a poet – served in the Polish Underground, Janusz being killed by the Gestapo in 1944), then watched the Iron Curtain descend across Europe and survived, if they did, Stalinism without being jailed or killed to see the clock tick towards 1989 and what they sometimes considered the false reinterpretation of their own pasts.


… and his admirer.

“Różewicz’s own recounting of his life, Mother Departs – a work part memoir, part diary, part recorded conversation, part poetry – presents us with the picture of a childhood that begins with an intensely religious mother who was born Jewish but then became part of the Catholic community. By the time Tadeusz was born the family was living in a small town, but she had spent years in a small backward village and her vivid descriptions of village life, which he recalls in Mother Departs, made a strong impression on the poet in his understanding of human potential.

“Różewicz’s first poems were religious and he never quite lost sight of the idea of good and evil. He did after all see plenty of the latter. After studying the history of art at university in Kraków he began to publish both poetry and plays and made his reputation in both, developing a collage style in plays like The Card Index.”

He concludes: “Różewicz was a major figure in modernist poetry but his modernism has little to do with theory and formal experiment as such. There is, in his harsh clarity, something beyond, a touch of early Chagall perhaps, as though life were sacred after all.”

Read the whole thing here.

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