Tadeusz Różewicz Różewicz, Tadeusz (Vol. 139) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Tadeusz Różewicz 1921–-

Polish poet, playwright, and short story writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Różewicz's career through 1995. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 9 and 23.

Różewicz is widely considered one of Poland's most important and influential writers. His works tend to focus on universal themes, but speak particularly to the generation of Polish adults whose memories of youth, like his own, are filled with the horrifying experiences of World War II. Różewicz often scorns the conventional techniques and philosophies of literature and frequently questions the validity of poetry itself.

Biographical Information

Różewicz was born in Radomsko, Poland, on October 9, 1921. A Jew, Różewicz endured the horrors of the Nazi occupation during World War II. In 1941, Różewicz joined the anti-Communist Home Army and fought for four years. After Poland was liberated from Nazi control, the Soviet-backed regime came to power. Różewicz's career rose and fell according to the current government policy; at times his work was censored, and at other points celebrated. Różewicz began his career as a poet and later turned his attention to playwriting. He won the State Prize for poetry in 1955, 1962, and 1966; America's Jurzykowski Foundation Prize in 1966; and several other prestigious awards. In 1971, Różewicz was voted the most distinguished living poet in Poland.

Major Works

Różewicz employs a similar form and technique in all of his poetry, including the use of free verse and a lack of rhyme, meter, punctuation, and metaphor. Many of his poems struggle to express the tragic experiences of World War II and to delineate language's inability to articulate reality. In “The Survivor” and Other Poems (1976) the title poem relates the suffering and horror of the Holocaust and explores survival and regeneration against the tragic past of post-war Europe. Płaskorzeźba (1991; Bas-Relief) is a volume of poetry about poetry. In it Różewicz reiterates his themes of the loss of social and moral coordinates and presents his attempt at finding a new role for poetry. Różewicz's work typically focuses on the breakdown of post-war culture and the inauthenticity of modern life. Most of his plays use an open dramaturgy which is meant to create a self-contained reality onstage, again focusing on the theme of art's inability to capture reality. Kartoteka (1960; The Card Index) is a very experimental work featuring dramatic action with a dreamlike quality, but without a traditional plot. The play centers on the protagonist, called only the Hero, who is disillusioned by the betrayal of the post-war government. Grupa Laokoona (1961; The Laocoön Group) is a satire which ridicules the belief that beauty and harmony bring universal happiness. Akt przerywany (1964; The Interrupted Act) deflates the conventions of several literary schools of thought, including the surrealists'. The play depends as heavily on visual images as it does on dialogue, and there are several scenes in which no words are spoken. Przyrost naturalny (1968; Birth Rate) takes the form of a writer's diary in which the writer describes a comedy about a population explosion, which he never finishes. This play depends almost exclusively on visual images and can best be understood when seen in live performance. Na czworakach (1971; On All Fours) is Różewicz's vision of the artist in contemporary society. The play centers on a poet laureate who, in the process of being lionized as a cultural institution, loses his creative drive. The production is unique in that the actors perform the play on all fours. In the mid- to late-1970s, Różewicz turned to a more straightforward narrative approach and more complete character development in his plays. Do piachu (1979; Dead and Buried) destroys myths surrounding romantic notions of war, patriotism, and heroism as it recounts the events leading up to the execution of a Home Army officer for a crime he did not commit. Białe małżeństwo (1974; White Marriage) is set in a small, insulated Polish town and tells the story of two adolescent girls who rebel against the town's rules of decorum. Although seemingly more traditional and conventional than Różewicz's other plays, White Marriage parodies and subverts the conventions it employs. Pułapka (1982; The Trap) is based on the life of Franz Kafka, but parallels Różewicz's own family relationships as well, especially the Różewicz family's connections between fathers and sons.

Critical Reception

Różewicz's work encounters widely differing critical reactions. Reviewers often disagree about the content and style of his writing. Critics frequently note the spareness of Różewicz's poetic style. His language is stripped of metaphors and rhymes, and many commentators find this to be a powerful feature of his writing. However, other critics argue that this style is only effective when the image that a particular poem depicts is strong enough to stand alone. Michael Irwin states, “[w]hen the verse is doing no more than conveying information the bleakness can come close to empty mannerism. But when, as is frequently the case, there is a powerful idea or image to be expressed, the style comes into its own.” Most reviewers agree that Różewicz's plays are best appreciated when seen in performance rather than read, because of their reliance on visual imagery to convey meaning. Halina Filipowicz asserts, “Daring and original in conception and immensely inventive in execution, Różewicz's dramatic works display unusual theatrical power.” Many critics find a parallel between the fluid structures of Różewicz's plays and the dislocations of post-war Poland. Reviewers note Różewicz's preoccupation with finding value in life and art after the horrors of World War II and the inability to adequately capture reality with language. E. J. Czerwinski states, “Both in his poetry and in his plays Różewicz has always questioned values that people hold sacred—Communism, patriotism, Catholicism, the role of women as sexual objects (White Marriage), and especially the arbitrarily imposed rules of the game whether during wartime or at any time.”

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

W lyzce wody (poetry) 1946

Niepokój [Anxiety] (poetry) 1947

Kartoteka [The Card Index] (drama) 1960

Grupa Laokoona [The Laocoön Group] (drama) 1961

Świadkowie albo nasza mała stabilizacja [The Witnesses] (drama) 1962

Akt przerywany [The Interrupted Act] (drama) 1964

Przyrost naturalny: Biografia sztuki teatralnej [Birth Rate: Biography of a Play] (drama) 1968

Stara kobieta wysiaduje [The Old Woman Broods] (drama) 1968

Na czworakach [On All Fours] (drama) 1971

Białe małżeństwo [White Marriage] (drama) 1974

Odejście Głodomora [Departure of a Hunger Artist] (drama) 1976

“The Survivor” and Other Poems (poetry) 1976

Do piachu [Dead and Buried] (drama) 1979

Conversation with the Prince and Other Poems [translated by Adam Czerniawski; revised and expanded edition published as They Came to See a Poet, 1991] (poetry) 1982

Pułapka [The Trap] (drama) 1982

Płaskorzeźba [Bas-Relief] (poetry) 1991

Poezja wybrane/Selected Poems (poetry) 1994

E. J. Czerwinski (review date Summer 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of “The Survivor” and Other Poems, in World Literature Today, Vol. 51, No. 3, Summer, 1977, p. 465.

[In the following review, Czerwinski takes issue with some of the translations in Różewicz's “The Survivor” and Other Poems.]

The best way to judge whether Tadeusz Różewicz is a fine poet is to learn Polish. There is no second way. A translator is worse than a jealous suitor: he despises his rivals. He tries to be objective, but he is constantly being infected with “translatoritis”—a sickness involving choice of words and, in some cases, choice of poems. Regarding the latter, for example, this anthology [“The Survivor” and...

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Alice-Catherine Carls (review date Summer 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Niepokój, in World Literature Today, Vol. 55, No. 3, Summer, 1981, p. 498.

[In the following review, Carls discusses the different styles Różewicz employs in his poetry.]

It is the policy of Polish publishers to print a few thousand copies of a work, thus making frequent reissues necessary. In 1971 a volume containing the complete poetic works of Różewicz was published. Today Ossolineum presents us with [Niepokój] an extensive selection of the poet's works through his 1969 Regio. One might regret that the present edition does not include poems from the later volume Opowiadanie traumatyczne: Duszyczka (A Traumatic...

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Halina Filipowicz (essay date Winter 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Theatrical Reality in the Plays of Tadeusz Różewicz,” in Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 26, No. 4, Winter, 1982, pp. 447–59.

[In the following essay, Filipowicz provides an overview of Różewicz's life and career.]

Although Sławomir Mrożek is the best-known Polish dramatist in the West, it is Tadeusz Różewicz who has revolutionized post-war drama in Poland. Considered by many one of the outstanding avant-garde European poets and playwrights, Różewicz revolts in his plays against realistic psychology and the storytelling of conventional drama and uses the formal principles of construction found in modern poetry and art. He thus creates a...

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Eric Shorter (essay date Spring 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Plays in Performance Festivals: Dublin and Avignon,” in Drama, No. 143, Spring, 1982, pp. 30–1.

[In the following essay, Shorter recounts what it is like to experience Różewicz's Birthrate in the theater.]

Ought we to be primed for the play? Should we get ready for it, like students? How much are we expected to know before the curtain rises? Is it best to have read the book, or not? Suppose you do not even speak the language in which the play is written?

These and other questions filtered vaguely through the minds of some playgoers at the 1981 Dublin Theatre Festival on their way to the Gate [to see Tadeusz Różewicz's...

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Robert Hauptman (essay date Summer 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Tadeusz Różewicz and the Poetics of Pessimism,” in North Dakota Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 3, Summer, 1982, pp. 77–82.

[In the following essay, Hauptman discusses how Różewicz seeks to overcome his pessimism through his poetry.]

“Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich … ?”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Although many twentieth century poets such as Trakl, Celan, or Plath have manifested bitterness, despair, and pessimism in their verse, Tadeusz Różewicz, playwright, short story writer, poet, one of Poland's most important littérateurs, is perhaps unique: the frequently unrelieved negativism, especially of his early poetry,...

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E. J. Czerwinski (essay date March 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Feasts in Time of the Plague: Polish Theatre and Drama, Post-Solidarity,” in Modern Drama, Vol. XXVII, No. 1, March, 1984, pp. 41–54.

[In the following essay, Czerwinski discusses the state of the theater in post-solidarity Poland.]

The classics are back and East European theatres are feasting on them. It is that time again when the winds of resistance die down and the ominous calm spreads across the theatre community. It has happened before, each time signaled by the censorship of Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady (Forefather's Eve), a nineteenth-century classic that straightforwardly excoriates the old Russian regime. Unfortunately, things have...

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Halina Filipowicz (essay date September 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Tadeusz Różewicz's The Card Index: A New Beginning for Polish Drama,” in Modern Drama, Vol. XXVII, No. 3, September, 1984, pp. 395–408.

[In the following essay, Filipowicz asserts that Różewicz's The Card Index exhibits an open dramaturgy and a rejection of literary conventions which have caused a strong impact on Polish drama.]

The Card Index (Kartoteka) is the best known and most seminal of some fifteen full-length plays by Tadeusz Różewicz, foremost Polish poet and dramatist who has achieved an unimpeded style of his own.1 Written in the late 1950s, when the arts in Eastern Europe were emerging from the...

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Daniel Gerould (essay date March 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Laocoön at the Frontier, or The Limit of Limits,” in Modern Drama, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, March, 1986, pp. 23–40.

[In the following essay, Gerould traces the Laocoön myth and its role in Różewicz's The Laocoön Group.]

FATHER I had a bit of bad luck. I get there, I go over to the blindingly white Laocoön Group, of course there's a crowd, a mob, a lot of tourists. I elbow my way through. And there's a sign on the base of the statue: “Laocoonte—Calco in Gesso. Dello Originalle in Restauro.” What could I do?

SON But, Daddy, what makes the Laocoön Group so beautiful?


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András Fodor (essay date 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “On Różewicz,” in Acta Litteraria, Vol. 30, Nos. 1–2, 1988, pp. 152–60.

[In the following essay, Fodor discusses his translation of Różewicz's poetry into Hungarian and Różewicz's relationship to Hungarian poetry.]

Tadeusz Różewicz has been known in Hungary since the 1960s. Yet, even the postscript to his first volume published in this country sets out the way in which his plays differ from those of Mrożek, noting that Różevicz is really a poet. Accordingly, his theatre, too, reveals the lyricist's universe, a continuity of existence of the lyrical self on and off stage. Thus we did have some knowledge of Różevicz being one of the...

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Edward Możejko (review date Autumn 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Überblendungen, in World Literature Today, Vol. 63, No. 4, Autumn, 1988, pp. 688–89.

[In the following excerpt, Możejko praises Różewicz's style in Überblendungen.]

Überblendungen (Penetrations) is an attempt to give a cross section of Tadeusz Różewicz's poetry in German. Whether the attempt is successful is another matter. Różewicz has attained a position alongside Miłosz and Herbert as one of the most prominent Polish poets of the postwar era. He was awarded the State Prize for Literature in 1966 and five years later was recognized by a vote of younger Polish poets as the most distinguished living poet in Poland....

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Madeline G. Levine (review date Spring 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Poezja, in World Literature Today, Vol. 63, No. 2, Spring, 1989, pp. 332–33.

[In the following review, Levine asserts that Różewicz's Poezja demonstrates how the poet's work “has come full circle.”]

The fruits of almost forty years of poetry writing are gathered together in the new two-volume edition of Tadeusz Różewicz's poems [Poezja]. The 1988 edition recapitulates, with only minor changes, the 1976 volume Poezje zebrane and adds to the earlier collection approximately fifty new works that have appeared in print during the last decade or so.

It will come as no surprise to readers who are...

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Halina Filipowicz (essay date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Puzzle of Tadeusz Różewicz's White Marriage,” in Drama and Philosophy, edited by James Redmond, Cambridge University Press: New York, 1990, pp. 211–23.

[In the following essay, Filipowicz traces the different feminist readings of Różewicz's White Marriage.]

Why Tadeusz Różewicz's White Marriage (Białe małżeństwo) should have earned a reputation as an unequivocally feminist play is perhaps more a question for a cultural historian than a literary scholar.1 All the same, it is an issue that can hardly be ducked in the context of current feminist debate.

The most eloquent case for White...

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Paul Coates (essay date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Gardens of Stone: The Poetry of Zbigniew Herbert and Tadeusz Rozewicz,” in The Mature Laurel: Essays on Modern Polish Poetry, edited by Adam Czerniawski, Seren Books, 1991, pp. 173–88.

[Coates is an assistant professor of English at McGill University and author of literary theory. In the following essay, he analyzes the differing styles of Zbigniew Herbert and Tadeusz Różewicz and each poet's approach to humanity.]


There are several possible ways of describing the tremendously subtle mechanism of checks and balances that regulates Herbert's poetry. One could say that in it the incidental becomes central, or—in the terms of...

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Halina Filipowicz (essay date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Tadeusz Różewicz's Postmodern Trilogy,” in Polish Review, Vol. XXXVI, No. 1, 1991, pp. 83–101.

[In the following essay, Filipowicz asserts that in his trilogy of works—The Interrupted Act, Birth Rate, and “The Guards”—Różewicz “strives to return the theatre to the realm of the unsettling truth of human existence, to a condition that is unstable and unpredictable.”]

Picasso claimed that he had always had to fight his dexterity as draftsman and painter.1 Tadeusz Różewicz,2 a virtuoso master of innovative dramatic techniques, abandoned his playwriting dexterity3 to make things as difficult as...

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Elzbieta Baniewicz (essay date May 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Labyrinth of an Obscure Law: Różewicz Stirs Polish TV,” in Performing Arts Journal, Vol. XIII, No. 2, May, 1991, pp. 56–61.

[In the following essay, Baniewicz discusses why Różewicz's Do piachu met with such controversy in Poland.]

Art is rarely one of the early fruits of revolution. Today Polish artists, who demanded freedom at the Round Table not so long ago, talk chiefly about money. Culture is costly, and new economic order, with its suppression of inflation, has brought recession and growing unemployment, so it can hardly be expected that the government will zealously try to save art rather than health services, housing, or industry. Film...

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Jonathon Aaron (review date Spring/Summer 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Without Boundaries,” in Parnassus, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring/Summer, 1991, pp. 110–28.

[In the following excerpt, Aaron praises Różewicz's “The Survivor” and Other Poems.]

Tadeusz Różewicz, strongly present in [Czeslaw] Milosz's anthology, is now available to American readers through a cogent selection, “The Survivor” and Other Poems, translated by Magnus J. Krynski and Robert A. Maguire and published by Princeton's poetry in translation series in 1976. The war is perhaps more overtly central to Różewicz's poetry than to that of any of his current contemporaries. A twenty-four-year-old survivor in 1945, having fought with the military...

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Bill Marx (review date 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Gurus and Gadflies,” in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Vols. 18–19, Nos. 1–2, 1993, pp. 100–20.

[In the following excerpt, Marx traces Różewicz's attempt to capture life in postwar Poland through the poetry of They Came to See a Poet.]

Now in his 70's, Polish poet Tadeusz Różewicz has always treated poetry as a zero sum game, struggling to evolve a language that adequately expresses the political deterioration of Poland after World War II. From this comes his rejection of high culture, his fundamental disdain of rhetoric, and his transparency of style, which have made him one of his country's most popular poets. Yet for all of his work's personal...

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Bogdana Carpenter (review date Autumn 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Conversation with the Prince and Other Poems, in World Literature Today, Vol. 54, No. 4, Autumn, 1993, p. 662.

[In the following review, Carpenter points out some of the strengths and weaknesses in Różewicz's poetry from Conversation with the Prince and Other Poems.]

It is welcome to have Adam Czerniawski's translations of Różewicz's poetry in print again. This latest collection [Conversation with the Prince and Other Poems] is an expanded version of the Selected Poems (Penguin, 1976), with a generous selection of Różewicz's recent poems. The translations are smooth, colloquial, both resourceful and very flexible, and also...

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Richard Sokoloski (essay date 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Różewicz at Seventy: Rebirth of a Survivor,” in Polish Review, Vol. XXXIX, No. 2, 1994, pp. 195–211.

[In the following essay, Sokoloski reassesses Różewicz's work as the writer enters a new phase in his career upon turning seventy.]

The year 1991 marked Tadeusz Różewicz's seventieth birthday. In retrospect, it is clear that the occasion not only inaugurated an important renewal of interest in his works but, more significantly, may well have inspired a new phase in his writing. In May of that year, the University of Ottawa staged an international symposium devoted to Slavic Drama, a substantial portion of which dealt with problems of Różewicz's...

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Holt Meyer (review date Winter 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Forms in Relief and Other Works and Bas-Relief and Other Poems, in Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 39, No. 4, Winter, 1995, pp. 647–48.

[In the following review, Meyer compares two different translations of Różewicz's Płaskorzeźba.]

Tadeusz Różewicz (1921–), one of the greatest living Polish writers, has worked in various literary genres, including lyric, drama, prose, and criticism. He began publishing poems and stories under a pseudonym in the underground press during the Nazi occupation while serving as a partisan in the antifascist Homeland Army (Armija krajowa). Almost immediately after the publication of...

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Richard Sokoloski (essay date September–December 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Modern Polish Verse Structures: Reemergence of the Line in the Poetry of Tadeusz Różewicz,” in Canadian Slavonic Papers, Vol. XXXVII, Nos. 3–4, September–December, 1995, pp. 431–53.

[In the following essay, Sokoloski delineates the evolution of the Polish verse form, specifically Różewicz's contributions to verse construction.]

The following paper seeks to reexamine the general evolution of verse forms in modern Polish poetry in order to distinguish certain modifications formulated by Tadeusz Różewicz. More specifically, it considers the extent to which his innovations have reaffirmed the line as an important unit of measure in contemporary...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Czerwinski, E. J. Review of Teatr, 2 vols. World Literature Today 63, No. 2 (Spring 1989): 333.

Review of Różewicz's complete plays.

Sokoloski, Richard. “Sources of Tadeusz Różewicz's Correspondence: Julian Przyboś, 1945–1962.” Polish Review XLI, No. 1 (1996): 3–36.

Presents several letters written to Różewicz from Julian Przyboś which help demonstrate the relationship between the two writers.

Additional coverage of Różewicz's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 108;...

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