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Tadeusz Różewicz 1921–
Polish poet, playwright, and short story writer.
Różewicz is one of Poland's most important and influential writers. Although universal in theme, his work is said to speak especially to the generation of Polish adults whose memories of youth, like his own, are synonomous with memories of the horrifying experiences of the Second World War.
Early exposure to brutality and death radically affected Różewicz's view of life and people. He writes from a point beyond despair, one where humans lack all grace and honor and are merely animals. Różewicz is not, however, a nihilist. His work is most compelling in his portraits of individuals inching toward some semblance of meaning in a world that appears to have gone mad.
Różewicz scorns the conventional techniques and philosophies of literature and often questions the validity of poetry itself. Viewing romanticism as ludicrous, he equates pain with truth and creates verse that sometimes verges on the journalistic. A recent addition to his translated work is "The Survivor" and Other Poems.
(See also CLC, Vol. 9.)
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Tart, cool, devoted to "a poetry which may again become anonymous," Rosewicz writes about a ruined world and the fragmentation of personality. His poems written from the museum at Auschwitz [and collected in Faces of Anxiety,] concentrate upon details like the pockets of children bound for the gas chambers "bulging / with string and stones / and little horses made of wire." "Et in Arcadia Ego," a long poem about a visit to Italy, expresses through a series of vivid contrasts the inability of a poet brought up in wartime Poland to accept the paradise around him. Rosewicz's work is not unlike that of his fellow countryman Zbigniew Herbert, but it is sharper, less tender, and uncompromisingly against all "poetic" flourishes, which he sees as deceits…. (p. 557)
Julian Symons, "New Poetry: From Auden to Ogden Nash," in Punch (© 1969 by Punch Publications Ltd.; all rights reserved; may not be reprinted without permission), Vol. 257, October 1, 1969, pp. 556-57.∗
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Tadeusz Różewicz issued from a white-collar worker's family in a provincial town and during the war was a soldier in a guerilla unit of the Home Army. His desperate tone of derision, critics like to explain, expressed the reaction of a whole generation "contaminated by death." His first volumes, Anxiety (Niepokój, 1947) and The Red Glove (Czerwona rękawiczka, 1948), received immediate notice. By contrasting the scenes of war he had witnessed, which asked for the brush of a new Goya, with the entire heritage of European culture, he arrived at a negation of literature because it seemed to be no more than a lie covering up the horror of man's brutality to his fellow man. Thus, if poetry could be practiced at all, it should seek to destroy all literary conventions. Różewicz's opposition to metrics, rhyme, and even metaphor had a moral meaning. He built his verse with simple words, sometimes scarcely bound to each other syntactically; this practice led critics to compare his technique of construction to building with blocks. His corrosive irony (not deprived of self-pity), deforming the beautiful phrase, signified an awareness that one epoch in the history of mankind had come to an end. He wanted to be naked, to shed the security provided by creeds or philosophical systems. Thence his predilection for re-evaluating words, which makes his poems sound like a primer. (p. 462)
Różewicz, by drawing the inference that man is alone in a universe without metaphysical justification and that the only reality is his exposure to other men, hit upon (without realizing it at first) the central theme of French existentialists. His poetry is a moralist's search to define himself through his relationship with another man, yet the moment he seems to establish an agreement with the world, he annihilates it with a self-destructive passion. (p. 463)
Różewicz is a poet of chaos with a nostalgia for order. Around him and in himself he sees only broken fragments, a senseless rush. True, he wrote a certain number of tender poems on the most innocent people—children, very old men—but his world is situated between the holocaust of the last war and the threat of future annihilation by nuclear weapons.
His poems of 1949–1955, though unorthodox in form, could be printed because of his genuine abhorrence of atomic armament and his defense of peace, which he identified with the cause of the Communist bloc. They are often sentimental and inferior in quality to his other works…. Self-contradictory, an antipoet writing poetry, defending man, to whom he refuses dignity, Różewicz sees the poet as a carrier of protest for its own sake. (p. 464)
During the decade 1956–1966, his poetry, prose, and plays moved toward an ever darker vision. As a traveler in France, Italy, or West Germany, he seemed offended by "normal" life there. For him, it was but a surface hiding the horror of existence. Whenever he brings culture into his poetry by referring to specific masterpieces of literature or painting, his interpretations are usually a reversal of the accepted versions. For instance, "Nothing in Prospero's Cloak" ("Nic w płaszczu Prospera") shows a gentle, humane Prospero, from Shakespeare's The Tempest, as bearer of culture and, therefore, a deceiver of poor Caliban…. (p. 465)
Choosing the Second World War as a touchstone for European civilization, he went so far in his despair over modern man's condition that even Albert Camus's existentialist ethics struck him as unfounded…. "Falling, or On the Vertical and Horizontal Elements in the Life of Contemporary Man" ("Spadanie czyli o elementach wertykalnych i horyzontalnych w życiu człowieka współczesnego") will give the reader an idea of his train of thought…. (p. 466)
[The] poem is a good illustration of Różewicz's premeditated devices aimed against the "purity" of poetry: quotations from various writers and from press clippings, enumerations, polemical jabs, etc. "Falling" shows Różewicz, perhaps, at his most programmatic, because many of his short poems rely upon metaphors with many layers of meaning, a procedure which he repudiates in theory. But as we have said, Różewicz is ensconced in a permanent contradiction. Not the least paradoxical is his stance as an "antipoet," who invented a style that begot a crowd of imitators. He would be a thoroughgoing nihilist if not for the juxtaposition which, though seldom stated directly, permeates his whole work: "normal" existence is negated in the name of a postulated "full and authentic" existence. The first is the "nothing" which civilization offers to poor Caliban; the second is unattainable. Here lies the crux of Różewicz's conflict.
It was not accidental that after 1956 he became a mainstay of the Polish "theater of the absurd." His poetry, which programmatically oversteps the limits between genres, tended naturally toward monologue and dialogue, and his fury at "normal" existence found ample opportunity in the theater to lash out at the superficiality beyond which human beings are unable to go in their everyday relations. Some of his plays have been staged, some not; often they exceed the means at the disposal of even the most daring theater directors: here, too, Różewicz seeks to efface the lines between genres, in this case, between his antipoetry and his antidrama. His plays are not concerned with action in the traditional sense; his characters, as in medieval morality plays, are symbols of common humanity, everymen, although they move within a given time and place. Thus, the protagonist of Personal File (Kartoteka, 1961), who witnesses the whole of his phantomlike life, is recognizable as a Pole of Różewicz's generation, while human memory functions like the medieval post-mortem tribunal, sitting in judgment and passing sentence. (p. 469)
Różewicz is a writer in the process of evolving. In spite of his acquired mannerisms he is still changing, so it is too early yet to classify him. His boldness compensates for his faults, the chief of which is crudeness. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish whether his lack of taste is deliberate or not. Some critics have compared his poetry to collages made of paper scraps, rope, and other haphazardly gathered objects. What we mean, thus, by crudeness does not apply to his material, but to its organization, which is often not exacting enough. (p. 470)
Czesław Miłosz, "World War II and the First Twenty Years of People's Poland," in his The History of Polish Literature (copyright © 1969 by Czesław Miłosz; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Macmillan, 1969, pp. 441-532 (and to be reprinted by the University of California Press, 1983).∗
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[The traumatic experiences of World War II pervade all of Różewicz's writing], directly and indirectly. Of course, he is not the only Polish writer to explore this theme. But his treatment of it has seared itself on the minds of his contemporaries. As one of the most talented writers among them [Anna Kamieńska] has said:
We were all twenty-four then, and we all survived being led to the slaughter, but only Tadeusz Różewicz expressed this experience on behalf of the entire generation so graphically, so brutally, and so simply. His 'I' became the voice of his generation.
The "experience" created a profound problem of faith among Polish writers. It was not the problem of faith in God, which had tormented European intellectuals in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but rather of faith in man and all man's works. (p. 72)
This feeling lies at the heart of all Różewicz's art. He has always had a deep suspicion of general ideas, of theories, of philosophies. He regards the entire cultural heritage of the Western world as a construct of semblances and deceptions that hides a colossal lie. Spiritual values to him are illusions, or, at best, projections of idle yearnings. Especially emphatic is his rejection of art. (pp. 72-3)
Life, not civilization, is the pervasive motif of Różewicz's poetry of the 1940's and early 1950's. And it is as gruesome a picture of life as can be found in any post-war writer, for it is largely drawn in terms of death. In these early poems, Różewicz is obsessed with the body—but it is a body brutalized and mutilated by war. Man often seems to be nothing more than an animal, or a mere mechanism supplied with a tube that facilitates the ingestion and excretion of food. If he has survived the war, he is indifferent to the sufferings of those who perished ("Waiter, the Check"). Yet Różewicz is no nihilist like Gottfried Benn (despite certain similarities of imagery). Man is not invariably a beast. Frequently he yearns for moral and ethical guides, for clear distinctions between good and evil, much as Chekhov's characters do. While Różewicz does not believe that such guides and distinctions can be found, he seems to think that man must at the very least avoid cruelty and insensitivity in human relations, and strive for sincerity and directness. Różewicz has often been dubbed a moralist; perhaps "qualified humanist" would be the better term. A character who turns up often in his work is an old woman, who embodies those positive virtues. She is set in contrast to the male, who is ever ready to strike poses, pursue chimeras, and drench the world in blood. (p. 73)
From the mid-1950's onward, Różewicz's poetry no longer treated the war so starkly…. The body continued to fascinate him. But now, carnage yielded to carnality. There was a growing emphasis on the themes of sexual obsession, pleasure-seeking, money-grubbing and playing at culture; they were seen as frenzied activities which served merely to mask the terrible boredom of a society whose principal value was the acquisition of consumer goods. (p. 74)
Poland had not yet achieved the affluence of her neighbors to the west; but Różewicz seemed to foresee the same fate for a people just emerging from Stalinism and thirsting for material goods. The subtitle of the play Witnesses, or Our Little Stabilization has become a proverbial expression for the new Polish petty bourgeoisie, whose only aspirations center around material objects and money, whose only moral imperatives are an easy adjustment to any situation and a refusal to seek out challenges lest the comfortable "stabilization" be shaken.
At the same time, many of Różewicz's men yearn for something more, for a kind of Arcadia. This theme appears as early as 1947 ("Mask"), but it is especially insistent from the early 1960's onward. It may be the Arcadia of pre-war Poland, with the moral, national and religious values that in retrospect look like verities; the Arcadia of innocent childhood; the Arcadia of foreign lands (Italy in particular); even the Arcadia promised by socialist realism. But there are no Arcadias. Indeed, it is such pointless and frustrated yearnings that create the tensions which confer a unity on many of Różewicz's poems. Man thirsts for values, yet distrusts all values. He seeks a paradise lost, yet knows it is lost beyond recall. He hopes to flee to exotic foreign climes, yet he cherishes the familiar surroundings of his provincial town and his simple home. He is uncomplicated, almost morally radiant, yet capable of cruelty, even savagery.
There is nothing distinctive about Różewicz's characteristic hero except his lack of distinction. He most likely lives in society's lower strata, perhaps running a newspaper concession or serving out his time as a minor bureaucrat. He speaks in the "voice of an anonymous man," to use the title of one of Różewicz's volumes of poetry (Głos anonima, 1961). He is a man who finds it possible to be and not to be simultaneously ("Précis")—the very antithesis of the hero of nineteenth-century Romantic poetry, who played such an important part in defining the Polish national consciousness, especially in the poems of Mickiewicz and Słowacki.
Art is no more a solution to these problems in Różewicz's later works than in his earlier ones. If anything, his hostility toward "beauty" is even stronger. For instance, "Et in Arcadia Ego" (1960–61), a kind of gloss on Goethe's Italian Journey, attempts to destroy the myth of Italy as the epitome of beauty, serenity and spiritual equilibrium. Różewicz has nothing but scorn for writers who seek to practice "pure" art. The hero of "A Voice from Croisset" is Flaubert, whose entire life consists of a search for stylistic perfection and the mot juste; as far as Różewicz is concerned, it is a blighted, wasted existence. He is equally contemptuous of the trappings of "literary society" that are so dear to most of his fellow-writers ("Lyrical Classified Ads")…. (pp. 75-6)
The poet-figure who is prominent in Różewicz's poetry is himself an Everyman, an ordinary citizen who disclaims any special powers and even revels in his own limitations ("Stone Imagination"). He speaks, yet suspects that his voice is not heard, that he can work no real change in society, that he is really little more than a tape-recorder registering the babble of life ("It is Possible," "Way Out"). Shakespeare figures prominently in the elaboration of this problem. In "Conversation with the Prince," the poet contrasts himself unfavorably with Hamlet, who, though indecisive, at least is capable of imposing his concerns upon the world. In "Nothing in Prospero's Magic Garment," the modern Caliban is represented by the masses, who presumably thirst for an inspiring word from the humanist poet (a modern Prospero), but instead hear only the empty verbiage of press, radio and television. Różewicz obviously stands in awe of the complexity, energy, and efficacy of Shakespeare's heroes; but he is also fascinated by the less admirable personages. For example, he identifies Polonius with the man of today and even with the poet of today, seeing him as a petty, calculating rationalist who is incapable of posing the great existential questions, who can go no further than Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock, whose "overwhelming question"—"Do I dare?"—is addressed not to matters of life and death, but to the satisfaction of carnal lust.
Why, then, should the poet speak at all? It is not easy to say: Różewicz's attitude embraces yet another of the tensions that are so characteristic of his art. The poet ought to be at the same time a poet and a non-poet; he should speak in his own voice, yet involve himself in mundane life so as to be indistinguishable from the ordinary citizen. (p. 76)
The predominantly gloomy tone of much of Różewicz's art stands in marked contrast to the two most important schools of Polish poetry in the two decades preceding World War II: Skamander, and the Cracow Vanguard (also known as the First Vanguard). The poetry of Skamander, whose most outstanding representative was Julian Tuwim, is suffused with optimism and vitalism (which owes much to the then-fashionable Henri Bergson). The Cracow Vanguard—Skamander's younger contemporaries—were led by the theoretician Tadeusz Peiper and the poet Julian Przyboś. They too cultivated optimism, although in their case this attitude stemmed from a vague faith in socialism and from a belief, shared with the Futurists, in the salutary powers of technology and urban civilization. However, they rejected the poetic techniques of Skamander, which relied heavily on rhyme, meter, traditional stanzaic patterns, euphony, a lyrical, even sentimental strain, and a perceptible story-line in most poems. Instead, they cultivated a concise, often elliptical manner. For them, the poem was built on the metaphor, which was likened to the deployment of form in abstract painting: it was not designed to describe the world, but rather, was a means of creating an autonomous poetic reality through skillful arrangements of beautiful sentences.
At first, critics tended to regard Różewicz as a follower of the practices of the Cracow Vanguard. There are some points of similarity. For one thing, Różewicz rejects the sort of poetic techniques cultivated by Skamander (although this is generally true of almost all post-war Polish poets). Like Przyboś, he scorns any suggestion of logical development, relies heavily on visual imagery, and works for understatement, not bombast. But here the similarities end. Różewicz is opposed to any poetry which—like that of the Cracow Vanguard as well as Skamander—is interested primarily in the niceties of form and in "beautiful" effects. As he sees it, the Vanguard's work is far too esoteric for most readers and is therefore deficient in the quality that any true poetry must possess: the ability to speak immediately and unambiguously to its audience. If we look for affinities with other poets, a more fruitful area would be the work of such French avantgardists as Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, and Blaise Cendrars, as well as their Polish counterpart Adam Ważyk (born 1905). The emphasis on physiology and the disgust with man's moral pretensions link Różewicz with the German expressionist Gottfried Benn. Unlike the surrealists, however, he is profoundly humanistic; unlike Benn, he is fundamentally a moralist.
The principles of Różewicz's own poetic work are contained in a statement he made in 1965: "I consciously gave up the privileges that accrue to poetry … and I turned to the banal truth, to common sense … I returned to my rubbish-heap." By privileges he means virtually all the "traditional" resources of the poetic art as employed by Skamander in particular. In their place, he puts a deliberately "unpoetic" diction, with a garden-variety lexicon and the rhythms of ordinary speech, which often seem to stutter. His aim is to create "not verses but facts." The result is what critics have called a "naked poem." He makes scant use of metaphor or hidden meanings: this is a deliberately anti-"symbolic" poetry, a poetry very much, as he put it, of the "here and now." It abounds in clichés from politics, journalism and literature (cf. the "cultivate your garden" of "A Voice from Croisset"), and it advances a "common-sense" outlook which sometimes resembles the homespun style of the copy-book, and frequently passes into banality.
At first glance, Różewicz seems to have achieved what some have called the "prosaization" of poetry. Often, in fact, he has been accused of eradicating the boundaries between poetry and the newspaper article. That is certainly the case with many of his imitators. But it is not true of Różewicz himself. His poems are carefully crafted. For him, the word (rather than the sentence) is the basic unit; this is pointed up by his heavy reliance on enumeration (e.g., "Following the Guide"). Unlike Mayakovsky's, his poetry is not intended primarily for declamation, even though it is built on the rhythms of ordinary speech. Rather, it is a visual poetry, which seems to reflect the roaming eye or the camera lens. There are no necessary connections between images, as the absence of punctuation emphasizes; yet the poems are held together by carefully created contrasts, particularly between a highly emotional (though seemingly restrained) tone and the "objective" presentation of seemingly factual data. The use of clichés and banalities is, of course, a conscious poetic device: it reinforces Różewicz's basic themes, particularly his anti-estheticism, while, ironically, renewing familiar material by setting it in unfamiliar contexts. Particularly in his later poems, he makes heavy use of a collage-technique (cf. "Continuous Performances"), which enables him to bring together advertising slogans, news items, headlines, quotations from prose fiction and poetry, and the like. This serves his idea that the world is a "rubbish heap," in which the "trivial" and the "lofty" may coexist because traditional hierarchies of value have been destroyed. Critics speak of "the Różewicz poem" as a special genre, or of the "fourth system" of versification in Polish poetry (the others being syllabic, syllabo-tonic, and tonic), and they have made Różewicz virtually a classic in his own time by devoting intensive study to his techniques. (pp. 77-9)
Magnus Jan Krynski and Robert A. Maguire, "The Poetry of Tadeusz Różewicz," in The Polish Review (© copyright 1975 by the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, Inc.), Vol. XX, No. 1, 1975, pp. 71-110.
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The translation [of "The Survivor" and Other Poems] is fine, though an occasional over-dramatization mars the earlier poems which tread a very subtle line between the effective and the melodramatic. Różewicz does better when he is not writing overt social criticism or trying to be philosophical, when he leans too heavily on his references, his Shakespeare or T. S. Eliot, and his poems return self-consciously to their beginnings to create an ending which is unnatural, pat. His philosophy lies in the smaller subjects—the artist-turned toymaker ("Méliès") or in the poem "Homework Assignment on the Subject of Angels."… He likewise succeeds less in his didactic proofs of modern indifference than in the words he heaps together—so carefully that the effect is actually terse, never lush. The colloquial rubs shoulders with the elegant, the movie-montage and bare newspaper reporting mix with the capricious and romantic, the conversational rhythms catch themselves against almost biblical repetitions.
Roberta Tovey, "Brief Reviews: 'The Survivor and Other Poems'," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1977 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 176, No. 12, March 19, 1977, p. 34.
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Were I to recite in full detail all the elements which compose the play White Marriage I would still not convey its extraordinary quality….
It is at once satire, fantasy, poem….
What is pictured is bourgeois society (with peasantlike underpinnings), especially in regard to sexual relationships. The young are kept uninformed of such matters; most of the married women have been subjected to unions with men who treat them as properties. The men chase their female servants—cooks, maids and other such—like brutes. They reduce these women to wildfowl and they display little warmth to or understanding of their daughters. Thus, on the one hand we observe the silly decorum of pseudo-cultivated society (piano playing, amateur theatricals, poetry recitals); on the other, the manners and morals of the barnyard.
One might suppose, then, that all this would be transformed into a sort of women's lib parable, an earnestly fanciful denunciation of the old-time Polish bourgeoisie. Instead, along with hilariously phallic humor, deft stabs of ridicule, the play is suffused by a very special delicacy and tenderness, a kind of comic benevolence, a purity which dissolves derision and dispels any suspicion of preachment. There is an insinuating mockery here but it always remains joyous, sane and surprisingly touching. At certain moments a somber note is struck to provide a framework for and a contrast to the general airiness. The loveliness of both adolescent girls [the main characters] bathes the crudities inherent in some of the proceedings with a light which turns all to serene beauty.
Harold Clurman, "Theatre: 'White Marriage'," in The Nation (copyright 1977 The Nation magazine, The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 224, No. 17, April 30, 1977, p. 539.
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Rozewicz is not only a wonderful writer, he has a quality so precious that you are astonished when you sense its presence: he possesses a beautiful mind. So did Anton Chekhov, so did Heinrich von Kleist—it is a quality that adds grace to truth, that makes you love truth no matter how sobering or dark it is. "White Marriage" is about mortality, about youth and age and families and love and sex and human flesh and human spirit and the awakening of young people to the exquisite, erotic joy and sadness of life. It weds celebration and satire in a luminous theatricality….
The thirteen movements of this theatrical tone poem are brilliant in their effect and variety. You've never seen a play at once more sexy or more spiritual. Almost every moment is irradiated by earthy humor and a sweet wisdom: Grandfather bewailing his unaging horniness; Pauline stripping with impudent seductiveness as she and the flustered Benjamin rehearse a scene from Catholic martyrology for Bianca's wedding party; the wedding ceremony in which Bianca can only offer poor Benjamin a "white marriage"—an unconsummated union. Rozewicz treats with respect and irony both Pauline's urgent sensuality and Bianca's equally urgent chastity. With perfect empathy for male and female, he treats sexuality as a fate and a mystery, a glory and a joke, the thrilling tournament between ape and angel in man.
Jack Kroll, "Two Polish Girls," in Newsweek (copyright 1977, by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. LXXXIX, No. 19, May 9, 1977, p. 115.
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[Poezje zebrane is a collection of sixteen books of poetry by Tadeusz Różewicz and] marks the thirteenth anniversary of Różewicz's emergence as one of Poland's outstanding postwar poets…. Różewicz was the first poet of his generation to confront the moral upheaval, the shattering of reality caused by the Nazi holocaust. His Niepokój (Anxiety; 1947) was the most outstanding postwar poetic debut. Rózewicz "the witness" became the conscience, the voice of a generation who escaped death while "led to slaughter" and the voice of the "gray man with a small stone-like and merciless imagination," obsessed with recording accumulated war images, bringing humanity to trial.
Różewicz's themes—martyrdom; the destruction of his small-town world, the center of stability; the guilt of man, stripped of humanity—required a new poetic idom. Różewicz's break with conventional poetics corresponds to the final break with the past. Stripped of metaphors and rhyme, his poetry "starts to live / in a primordial form." Each spoken word, endowed with "a hue of meaning," becomes a concrete building-block for a self-contained line of laconic monologue. Anxiety, the title of the first collection, is the underlying theme of Różewicz's entire oeuvre. Despite the unity of his poetic themes, creed and idiom, Różewicz's work does evolve. Later books show three variations of "anxiety" in response to "the rough embraces of reality."
Czas który idzie (Time Ahead; 1951), Równina (The Plain; 1954) and Poemat otwarty (The Open Poem; 1956) represent Różewicz's second phase, still moralistic and autobiographical but less obsessive, more objective and conciliatory. The anxiety-ridden hero of this phase seeks the stability of the vanished small town, clinging to the exoticism of artifacts at a fair but turning primarily to the center of his inner world. In "The Crystal Interior of a Filthy Man" we enter various layers of his soul, discovering progressively new moral and psychological contrasts. Irony, lyricism, grotesquerie and feeling accompany this process. In this landscape of his soul Różewicz's rare earlier moments of lyricism expand to lyrical events. The hero attempts to adjust to a normal life, creating himself and naming objects, much as did primordial man. Różewicz's block-like poetic idiom now becomes flexible enough to express a wide range of feelings.
The poet-moralist soon finds his hero's "stability" illusory. Anonymity threatens the hero, bringing the anxiety to its third phase, as in Głos Anonima (The Anonymous Man's Voice; 1961) and Nie w plaszczu Prospera (Nothing in Prospero's Cloak; 1962). Not finding "the center" of true stability at home, the hero ventures into the wide world, hoping to find at least the limits and meaning of life, thus breaking the umbilical cord to the past. Italy, the prototype of provincial beauty, replaces the loss of his hometown, returning him to childhood (cf. "Et in Arcadia ego"). Yet Różewicz confronts the modern dichotomy between Home and the World, now sharper than ever in history. He juxtaposes disintegrated values of Home with the artificiality of the West, whose exoticism and "Great Art" are like old decorations, finding common factors: both Home and the World are a heap of fragments and remnants. Modern man has exchanged ideology and passion for a "small stabilization" and anonymity. Man is manipulated by strings; his freedom of movement is illusory, like that of a pendulum or a circle. The anonymous hero assumes Różewicz's lyrical "I."
Having escaped provincialism, the hero expresses the shock of his Europeanization by a collage technique and a mechanical enumeration of various dictionary terms. The long poems have a mediumistic quality, mixing memoirs and journalistic observations in a hurried and breathless tone, dictated by the events of the moment. A seemingly chaotic flood of words replaces Różewicz's former conciseness, yet the words in the collage remain concrete. The mediumistic poetry seems to reflect the anonymous voice of the hero, though occasionally the poet's voice is discernable.
The hero's fourth stage of anxiety is caused by his tragic realization that one must not leave home, because everything must be interconnected (cf. "Non-stop-show"). Hence, he develops a yearning for a mythic lost paradise, rooted in Różewicz's biography. This yearning is expressed in Twarz trzecia (The Third Face; 1968), where everything is familiar, has its place and its name. Scared to swim into the future, he swims back toward the source, only to find that the source is within him. The movements of modern man are controlled; he can spit the hook out only together with his guts. Thus reconciliation and acceptance are the new reality of the modern antihero. The last mysterious region left for him is the human body, especially the microworld of female sexual organs (cf. "Regio"). Here the rhythm of the entrance and exit to the Vestibulum Vaginae corresponds to the pendulum movement of "the small stabilization" in the hero's life. "Cage 1974" compares the narrator's cage, full of excrement-like poetry, with a cage of silent birds. The narrator, like the visitors to his cage, describes his poetry as a secretion of blood and gall in stark, physiological language, extending the satire on the human condition. Skepticism distances the poet, giving him a wider perspective of the world and his poetry. He uses these stark, simple devices to return true meaning to the moral values.
Despite the openness of the emotional structure, the form of Różewicz's poetry is remarkably closed. His verse is an architectural structure built block by block, layer by layer, each an autonomous unit. The rhythm of Różewicz's poetry represents a new system, based on the intonation of the spoken language. He combines the rhythm of a choked voice with restless, fragmented sentences exploding with anxiety. This collection [Poezje zebrane] represents a passionately humanitarian, controversial, radically innovative poetry whose form adapts to Różewicz's creed and reflects his anxieties over the modern anti-hero's facing the conflagrations of contemporary history. (pp. 644-45)
Rochelle K. Stone, "Other Slavic Languages: 'Poezje zebrane'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1977 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 51, No. 4, Autumn, 1977, pp. 644-45.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 398
[Różewicz] tends in his poems to reflect a cold fury, the rage of someone who has been personally betrayed…. [His poems] show the anguish of a person unable to relinquish the hope in which he no longer has the slightest faith. (pp. 119-120).
The dramatic directness of ["The Survivor"] is typical of Różewicz. It expresses the bleak self-reliance of his search, of what comes across in this collection ["The Survivor" and Other Poems] as a career-long attempt to find that "teacher and master" within himself. The world being what it is, he has nowhere else to look. Różewicz's lines are short, his syntax simple and severe. Only rarely does he allow himself the luxury of a metaphor. His poems are the utterances of a man who can no longer consider individual perceptions, sensory or intellectual, in and for themselves. For him, each impression and thought is a means of sustaining his sense of having survived. Moreover, there can be no letting-up in this effort. Time is too questionable for him to allow himself anything more than a strict and constant registering of essentials.
Różewicz's "In the Midst of Life" [is] … a stark illumination of the post-war perspective of Różewicz and his contemporaries…. The voice here is that of the survivor attempting with fearful care to reason and feel in a shattered world…. The survivor is hesitantly testing in a dialogue with himself his capacity to reestablish order with shreds of the familiar. "Let him once again name things and concepts" was the appeal in ["The Survivor"]. Now, however, there is no question of finding a teacher. Resuming life in a destroyed world is a personal process in which one moves toward complex awareness through a series of painful, halting steps, each of which links thought and observation. Something is defined and then seen in the world…. "In the Midst of Life" is a poem of inescapable power. In it acts of naming and understanding become matters of life and death. The poem itself becomes a crucial instance of the process it describes, defining and justifying its own extreme claim to necessity. In this and in many other poems …, Różewicz presents us with poetry as nothing less than a means of living. (pp. 120-22)
Jonathon Aaron, "Without Boundaries," in Parnassus: Poetry in Review (copyright © Poetry in Review Foundation), Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring-Summer, 1981, pp. 110-28.∗
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 216
Characteristic of Różewicz's poetry are the tensions which enclose his poetic material in a dense weaving: tensions between stories of his own life and instants from others' lives, reflected through biting humor or intense compassion; tensions between his search for values and his desacralization of art; tensions between a particular memory and broad frescoes assembled like surrealist mosaics. The forms of the poems [in Niepokój] also reflect Różewicz's lack of concern for a consistent rhythm: the tone and length of the poems change from page to page, not to mention the use of free verse next to prose poems. But through this poetical wandering which disobeys all the rules of versification, something like a timid confession appears: the poet's glos anonima, his anonymous voice, seeks to become a child's voice again. Short of reaching the promised lands he dreamed of, short of being reconciled with the real world he so often mocked, the poet seeks the eyes, the sensitivity and the freedom of a child in the hope of finding a new beginning for both himself and his poetry. This may well be the final destination of Różewicz's "naked" poetry.
Alice-Catherine Carls, "Other Slavic Languages: 'Niepokój'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1981 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 55, No. 3, Summer, 1981, p. 498.
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