Krzysztof Kamil Baczynski (1921-1944)
Krzysztof Kamil Baczynski died in the Warsaw uprising defending a house near the Wielki Theater, Warsaw, Poland.. All translations by Alex Kurczaba.

 

Elegy

Clouds of flight, sails of ecstasy, trees' companions
upon the firmament.
My head declines to knotted hands, a head in throes,
My arms hunger.
The tall dark bird that swims beneath you:
my heart.
How do I flee anxiety to golden woods
O bird-clouds?
How then do I return, in grief, undone,
to your fluidity and flight?
Hands pierced, the cross follows me,
the duty of death.
This unworked clay thus heaps up, hardens,
cities are ablaze.
On earth am I my own grave,
my own hope?
O silent clouds! You bypass me again, o lights afloat,
distant shades.
Faith I'll name you. Your name for me: grief's dust,
casket, man.

September 1942
originally published in The Sarmatian Review, September 1993.

 

Night
to Barbara

My Madonna full of sin,
framed in dream as in a broken mirror.
Sultry night, the stars' granite on your shoulders
and this terror, like you - immortal.

My Madonna in sin conceived,
those are no trespasses that lack tears,
A night like a beast nestled in fear,
a night that always remembers.

Mouth bitter and dry echoes
stalks burnt young,
eyes barren with fire -
a golden kernel.

How do I shell reverie?
Death done shall I keep faith?
I am your glow which sinks
in seas revolving like earth.

Madonna, how'll you redeem me from the night?
Will your lips, turned down, bring back the child,
let disklike dreams, waterfalls, and flowers
tumble through me?

Make an infallible motion, call back
chilly winds pouring out of pitchers
a flamelike lotion.
'tis night today, and I wake before I ripen
in the mirrors of your tears.

28 March 1942
originally published in The Sarmatian Review, September 1993.

 

Tropical dream

In this dream mosquitos bit through a tropical helmet
and wave on wave into the skull pours the night.
Raise up, raise up the palm's black leaves,
he sky blood-red from heat - a copper-yellow roof!
Crocodiles - elongated slabs of lead,
like lead thump the hoofs of anxious antelopes.
Where flows the river like a word unbounded,
on to seacoasts, antilles, sudans?
Waters burble, stagnate, below there is no room for breath.
Negroes dry out, propped on idols, ill with sleep,
heaving their slabs of air, washed by water like death.
Along white shores trundle the pale grains of leprosy.
Then weary hands will fast upend the drawer -
from it a waft of fever blows
and seething bubbles flow on hands.
Ever lower sinks the smoke of stifling marshes
and one hears: off lifeless Negroes fall white ashes.

11 March 1941, in hospital
originally published in The Sarmatian Review, September 1993.

 

O you, my silent sadness

You, my silent sadness,
the sadness of small stars,
I sought you, called you forth,
took you in my arms.

How is it that solid flesh
turns in my hands
to clay or sand
each wish to guilt.

How is it that the flower I touch
grows dark
trees' rustle deaf
clouds turn to thunder above me.

How is it that I elapse unseen
a trifle to myself,
and before I sculpt,
I fill the marble with fright.

How is it I give ear to
lightning in a heaven of fear,
Do I call God
my every deed?

Thus I, a splinter
from the tree of great equanimity,
to my own eyes an alien,
to my God a stranger.

Thus I hear myself
become ash and crumble.
Ever smaller in flesh
I gain faith in my soul.

1 November 1942
originally published in The Sarmatian Review, September 1993.

 

Where to?

Where to yet? This shadow stands in me
like an eternal icon of my ruin
the shield rusts and bitter grows the earth
under my double-edged musing.
Ah, for I am the sword of all injustice,
through my hands stretched out in sleep
sins wander like silent snakes
and spout through my fingers as songs.
And that which I touch is covered by a tear,
as by dew, only so salty,
so that not with my fist, but earth entire,
I beat my breast whose trespasses are never forgiven.
Oh, how to forgive indeed, as man has forgotten
his voice speaking in godly idiom.

And where I step, under my foot cracks
the last stone, and beyond darkness only,
and I'm like the first man after the flood.
who did wrong. So then above me
there is also no flash and my palm is void
as if the cross were removed and cleaver inserted,
and I'm the soul of sadness traversing bodies,
and I'm alone and earth's dull resistance.

Oh, that for a moment, a jug be offered
with crystal water, if only the curse be lifted,
and that my heart be heart, not wound,
and that the way even in agony be sacred,
and that heaven not cover me like earth's lid,
and even the snow is gone, which will cover me,
it but gropes to carve voices with tears
like a shadow, the tired shadow which lost man.

1942
originally published in The Sarmatian Review, Vol. XVIII, Number 3, September 1998.

 

White Magic

Standing before the mirror of silence
with her hands in her hair,
Barbara pours into her glass body
silver droplets of her voice.

And then like a jar
she fills with light and glasslike
filters stars through herself
and the white dust of the moon.

Through the quivering prism of her body
in the music of white sparks
minks will glide past
like fluffy leaves of sleep.

Hoarfrost will coat the bears in it
brightened by polar stars
and a stream of mice will weave through
flowing in a loud avalanche.

Until filled up with milk
she'll slowly sink into sleep
as melodically time will settle at the bottom
in a cascade of glare.

And so Barbara has a silver body. In it
the white mink of silence stiffens softly
under an unseen arm.

Originally published in Modern Poetry in Translation, 23-24 (Spring 1975), p. 15.

 

A Melody

Who'll give me back my musings
and the shadow that left after you?
Ah, these days like animals' murmur,
like plants are they - ever younger.

And before long - such little ones,
on a nutshell standing,
we'll sail against the seasons
as if to spite water rings.

The red of blood will be dreamt childishly
as puffed-out cheeks of a cherry.

The metal of storms will be discovered again
through a foamy blow-ball's head.

While the thunder of tears like an avalanche of stones
into little green beetles will change,
thus bending down to the water by turns
we'll incautiously sail to oblivion;
left behind by us on earth
only our shadows shall cry.

January 16, 1942
Originally published in Modern Poetry in Translation, 23-24 (Spring 1975), p. 16.

 

Erotic

In the torrent of your hair,
the river of your mouth,
in the forest dim as dusk,
cries are futile
idle the splash.

I'll wrap up even in darkness, in twilight crimson indeed
and the world will go by with a twig, a shred or a gesture;
then silence will tumble
pass the eyes in a streak
and I'll say: not being I am.

Thus flowing in you, your print
in my eyes or hung like a tear on my lids,
I'll hear in you the sea with a dolphin silver-engraved,
in the shell of your body which roars in sleep.

Or in a grove where you are
a birch, white air
and milk of day,
giant barbarian
heaving a thousand ages,
I'll burst through the rustle of the copse
in your boughs - a bird.

Dedication
One day - yet while yearning - an aeon,
one gesture - yet already the hurricanes march,
one step - yet here you are
forever - spirit waiting in dust.

To my dearest Barbie - Christopher, February 2, 1942
Originally published in Modern Poetry in Translation, 23-24 (Spring 1975)

 

The Glimpse

Nothing shall return. These the times
already forgotten; only darkness -
how evil and empty -
sets in mirrors on my own images.

O, I know, by heart I know and do not wish
to repeat; I cannot know my forms
in advance. Thus I die
with half-revealed God on my lips.

And now again we sit in a circle,
and planet rain rumbles at walls,
and the heavy gaze like a rope over table,
and clouds of silence stand still.

And one of us - that is I
came to love. The world blossomed for me
like a great cloud, a fire-dream
and I am straight as a tree.

While the second of us - that is I
conceived shivering hate
and that's a knife that glitters
from my eyes numb as water - that's no tear.

While the third of us - that is I
reflected in cried-out tears,
and my pain's like a huge darkness.

And the fourth whom I know
who will teach meekness again
these futile times of mine
and my heart very sick with the death
hatching in me.

Published in Modern Poetry in Translation, 23-24 (Spring 1975)

 

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Alex Kurczaba is an Associate Professor of Polish language and literature at the University of Illinois-Chicago. The originals of the translated poems: "Elegia" ("Elegy"), "Sen tropikalny" ("Tropical Dream"), "Noc" ("Night"), "O moj ty smutku cichy" ("O you my silent sadness") can be found in Krzysztof Kamil Baczynski, Utwory zebrane (Krakow: Wydawnictwo Literackie 1979). "Dokad to jeszcze?" ("Where To?"), Utwory zebrane. Edited by Aniela Kmita-Piorunowa and Kazimierz Wyka (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1994); "Biala magia" ("White Magic"), ibid., Vol. 1, p. 247; ("Pioseneczka" ("Melody), ibid. p. 263; "Erotic" ("Erotyk"), ibid., pp. 450-1; ("The Glipmpse"), ibid..

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