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.
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.
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.
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.”