Anna Swir (actual name Swirszczyn´ska) was born in Warsaw, Poland, on February 7, 1909. Her father, an artist, was unable to keep his family out of dire poverty. Swir grew up doing her schoolwork and sleeping in her father’s workshop. Nonetheless, in a group of poems that she wrote years later about her mother and father, she expressed a close bond and sincere gratitude. Swir managed to put herself through college where she studied medieval and baroque Polish literature. A poem of hers was published in a popular magazine in 1930 when she was only 21 years old. Swir’s first book of poetry and drama was published in 1936, the same year she went to work for an association for teachers, where she stayed until 1939. At the same time, she was the chief editor of a very famous magazine that was read by most of the children of Poland during that period.
When the Nazis invaded in 1939, she became a member of the Polish Resistance, writing for underground publications as well as helping to maintain the intellectual life of Poles through secret poetry readings and other literary meetings. During the Warsaw uprising in 1944, she helped to nurse the soldiers at a makeshift military hospital. After the destruction of Warsaw, she moved to Krakow where she lived from 1945 until her death in 1984. Although the war was a pivotal point in Swir’s life, she waited almost thirty years before she wrote about it. The result was a collection of poetry published in 1974 entitled Building the Barricade.
As her pre-war activities indicate, for a number of years Swir was best known for her many poems and stories for children. After the war, from 1946–1950, she was the director of a theatre for children. Her second book of poetry was published in 1958, followed by other collections in 1967 and 1970. Continuing her work as a playwright, too, Swir wrote an opera for young people in 1963, and a play in 1976 set in World War II that won a special award from the Polish Prime Minister.
In her sixties, Swir began to write about the female experience in love, desire, motherhood, fate, old age, disease, and rejection. In 1972, she published I’m a Woman, and in 1978 Happy as a Dog’s Tail—both collections of poetry that emphasized feminism and eroticism. This was followed posthumously in 1985 by Suffering and Joy, a collection of poems about her parents. Perhaps because of her war experiences, Swir replaced her religious faith with a belief in only the realities of the flesh. Her prime devotion seems to have been to her country. However, when Swir died of cancer in 1984, her daughter reported that Swir had reconciled with the Catholic Church. In that same year, Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan translated into English the poems in Happy as a Dog’s Tail. In 1996, they would publish a revised collection of Swir’s poetry in Talking to My Body. In both books, they provided a lengthy and excellent analysis of Swir’s life’s work.