Monday, May 24, 2021

Adam Zagajewski*

Adam Zagajewski (1945―2021) is one of Poland’s most celebrated poets. He was born in Lvov, Poland, but in the wake of WWII his family was forced to move west as territories shifted and Lvov became part of the Ukraine. His early writing was protest poetry, which led to his works being banned by Poland’s communist leaders in 1975. Later his focus transitioned to “night, dreams, history and time, infinity and eternity, silence and death.” He died on March 21st in Krakow, Poland.

Although he identified himself as a Catholic ― “a failed Catholic” ― he was not at home in the Catholic Church in Poland, which he called a disaster, where the majority of bishops are not even Christian, and where sermons bring political messages. In an interview with Catholic Herald last year he said:
----------But if you ask me what use can my readers make out of the
----------religious accent of my poems, well, it is not my business
----------to comment on this. If you are a serious poet you embark
----------on a search and you never know what you find at the end.
----------The idea of the search is for me the capital element in my
----------work. It is very hard to define oneself if the substance of
----------what you do is the quest, because it goes towards something
----------that you can’t define, something that does not have a strong
----------shape. Search is in searching, not in strong definitions.

The following poem is from Unseen Hand (2014, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) translated by Clare Cavanagh.

First Communion

Gliwice, Piramowicz Street

Dark gray houses and triangular bay windows,
near a little park with German statues
(pseudo-baroque from the thirties).
Mrs. Kolmer took my picture there
right after my First Communion
against the backdrop of a freshly laundered sheet:
I'm that chubby child. Earnest,
upright, candle in hand.
I'm a beginning Catholic,
who struggles to tell good from evil,
but doesn't know what divides them,
especially at dawn and dusk, when
for a long moment the light wavers.
The poplar leaves in the garden are black,
the light is black, the homes are black,
the air's transparent, only the sheet is white.
Color photos will come later
to mute the contrasts and perhaps permit
an ordinary life, splendid holidays,
even a second communion.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Adam Zagajewski: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.