Joseph Wittlin Zbigniew Folejewski - Essay

Zbigniew Folejewski

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Joseph Wittlin] is above all a genuine poet, sufficiently original and sufficiently talented so as not to have slavishly to follow any programs and manifestoes. In Poland between the wars there were many programs and many manifestoes, but what is even more important is the fact that at the very thresh-hold of political independence, a few years after Versailles, Polish poetry produced such magnificent phenomena as Łąka (Meadow) by Bolesław Leśmian, Karmazynowy poemat (Crimson Poem) by Jan Lechoń, Czychanie na Boga (To Ambush God) by Julian Tuwim, Ballady (Ballads) by Emil Zegadłowicz, Parada (Parade) by Antoni Słonimski, and … [Hymns] by Joseph Wittlin. The authors, all young poets, expressed their individual feelings, hopes and doubts, in forms which were more or less novatory, but each was sufficiently original and suggestive to gain its own position in Polish literature. (p. 69)

In Wittlin's Hymns the leading note which will stay with the poet all his life is a tone of fright at the thought of what the war and the post-war developments have done to men, fright at the thought of dehumanization, the nightmare of the twentieth century. What was expressed in poetic form in the Hymns will forty years later be echoed by the symbolic title of Wittlin's latest volume, Orpheus in the Underworld of the 20th Century.

There are many personal and quite a few objective, descriptive motives in his Hymns. The collection shows us a sensitive poetic personality, not pessimistic, but somewhat weary in his world outlook. Wittlin, like many of his contemporaries, watched his world emerge out of the misery of war, in the process of which too many human values had to be sacrificed. This amalgamation of bold dreams and prosaic details of daily reality, in which a "spoonful of soup" can become a symbol of life and death, is the poetic matter of this volume. The poem, "Hymn to a Spoonful of Soup," is perhaps the most shaking and the most revealing in the volume, both from the...

(The entire section is 851 words.)