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...
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