Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 807
Tadeusz Róewicz, son of Wadysaw Róewicz and Stefania Golbard, came from a white-collar worker’s family in Radomsko, a provincial town in the ód district of south-central Poland. Róewicz was born just after Poland regained independence (after 150 years of partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria), and his childhood and early youth coincided with the euphoric first years of the new Polish Republic. This period was initially marked by a surge of national optimism, reflected in art and literature, that would gradually decline because of economic, social, and political problems. Róewicz attended secondary school in Radomsko and even then attempted to write poetry, his first verse appearing in school papers and in a religious publication for youth in 1938. Because of financial difficulties, however, he was forced to quit school in 1938.
Subsequently, Róewicz’s personal fate became inextricably entwined with the larger drama of Polish and European history. The catastrophe of the German invasion in 1939 was especially tragic for him and his generation, then at the threshold of maturity. One of his brothers was shot by the Gestapo. Róewicz himself spent the Occupation in Radomsko, earning money as a tutor and also working in a factory, in a carpenter’s shop, and as a messenger for the municipal authorities. After a time, Róewicz became involved with the Polish partisans. He worked with an underground press and wrote a collection of poetry and stories, which was circulated in typescript among partisan units. He also coedited an underground paper, Czyn zbrojny (armed action). He completed clandestine officer training in 1942 and then served in the anticommunist Home Army from 1943 to 1944.
After the war, Róewicz obtained his secondary school certificate in Czȩstochowa through special courses for working people. He then studied art history at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow from 1945 to 1949. His growing skepticism about the value of all the arts crystallized during these years in Krakow. Róewicz now saw the source of all artistic creation as lying elsewhere than in aesthetics. He began to reconstruct what seemed to him to be most important for both life and poetry: ethics. Life calls for some philosophy or value system, yet the war experience compromised, even utterly destroyed, the value system inherited from the past. The incalculable spiritual cost of the war and its effect on those who survived would become an obsessive theme in Róewicz’s early work. What he and others had lived through was most succinctly and even coldly summed up in a famous poem from this period, “The Survivor.” The horror of the wartime experience with its concomitant disillusionment about humankind and civilization, and later the moral confusion experienced during the postwar years—all would become constant threads running throughout Róewicz’s work. Although most starkly and dramatically appearing in his early poetry and short stories, these threads nevertheless continued to appear in later works as well.
In 1946, he published his first book, a collection of satiric works. In 1947, his first volume of poetry, Unease, appeared and immediately attracted the attention of critics. Perhaps to remove himself from the enforced self-criticism demanded of writers in the 1950’s, Róewicz moved to the Silesian town of Gliwice in 1949. He himself has termed the move a “conscious decision.” Between 1949 and 1955, he continued to publish, although some of his poetry of this period is considered the weakest of his output. On the other hand, Róewicz was also criticized at this time for continuing to write about war-related themes and for not being sufficiently ideological or optimistic.
After the Thaw of 1956, Róewicz increasingly expressed himself through drama. His early important plays of the 1960’s marked new stages in the experiences of his generation, now the elders in postwar Polish society. In 1968, Róewicz again chose to remain apart from the more fashionable intellectual life centered in Warsaw or Krakow. He moved to Wrocow, in Silesia, one of the most lively artistic centers in Poland, especially for the theater.
In 1981, in response to the renewal of Polish political, cultural, and social life inspired by the independent trade union Solidarity, Róewicz began to contribute materials to the journal Odra. However, the brief flowering of Polish civil society came to an abrupt end with the declaration of martial law. As a result, the following year Róewicz declined the Juliusz Sowacki Prize on political grounds.
In 1987, increasing liberalization throughout the Eastern Bloc as a result of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s program of glasnost enabled Róewicz to obtain permission to travel to the United States and attend a production of The Hunger Artist Departs in Buffalo. After the collapse of Poland’s communist government and its replacement by a democratic one, Róewicz remained active as a literary figure in spite of advancing age, although he focused his efforts primarily on poetry.
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