July 12, 2014
Poems by Tadeusz Różewicz and Ewa Lipska
translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak
Two poems by Tadeusz Różewicz (1921-2014)


I was sitting in an armchair
I put away a book
suddenly I heard
the beating of my heart
it was so unexpected
as if a stranger had entered me
and was pounding with clenched fist
some unknown creature
locked up inside me
there was something unpleasant about it
pounding there without any connection
to me
to my abstract thoughts


I don’t believe
I don’t believe from the moment I rise
till the moment I fall asleep

I don’t believe from one shore
of my life to the other
I don’t believe
as openly
as deeply
as my mother did believe

I don’t believe
eating bread
drinking water
making love

I don’t believe
inside his shrines

I don’t believe on a city street
in a field in rain
in the open air
in the gold of annunciation

I read his parables
simple as a shock of wheat
and I think of a god
who did not laugh

I think of a small
god bleeding
in the white
shrouds of childhood

about a thorn which tears
our eyes lips
and at the hour of our death

Three Poems by Ewa Lipska

Study Death

Study death. Learn it by heart.
Following to the rules of spelling
dead words.

Spell it together
like commonwealth or toadflax.

Do not split it
among the dead.

You are the chosen of the gods
Study death early.

Love of country
can be mortal too.

Study death
in love.

Study death not just
to kill time.

Time can be suicidal
and hang from a tree for hours.

Quiz yourself.

A real live quiz.

Plum crumb cake

I pluck from your face
a crumb of plum crumb cake.
A tiny press of tenderness.

Away from all ideas
I set it on the fine china of the page.
Let it be recorded forever.

It’s hard to tell when
a draft has blown everything away.
Someone opened a window. Someone opened a door.

Years later
I still walk among the pastry shops.
It’s a shame I only think you up.
Even the night doesn’t realize…
when we are together.


In the palm of my hand I hold this landscape
I cover by tram. Line number one.
I feel the iron of wheels. Submissive strips of rail.
Like an educational toy.

A girl gives up her seat for me.
As we round the bend language overturns.
Syllables fall from a mouth.
A crude screech.

“Enjoy it while it lasts, child,
enjoy this moment. This tram. This further.”

But not the Furthest. This much I know.
Your gray hair is already waiting
at the end of the line.
I am still seated
as your white cane gets off
supporting my prophecy.

“I am talking to you, child”

The girl laughs. What a joke,
the passengers say: life love death.

And when the tram reaches the stop
its brakes are still laughing.

About the Authors

Tadeusz Różewicz is widely considered to be the most influential postwar Polish poet. Winner of the 2000 NIKE prize, Poland's top literary prize, and the 2007 European Prize for Literature, he has published over twenty volumes of poetry, and is a major playwright, essayist, and fiction writer. Among his works available in English translation are The Survivor (Princeton UP, 1977), Recycling (Ark, 2001), New Poems (Archipelago, 2007), and Sobbing Superpower (Norton, 2011). Różewicz died on April 24, 2014 at the age of 92, and was laid to rest in the mountain village of Karpacz.

A native of Kraków, Ewa Lipska has published over thirty volumes of poetry and has been translated into over a dozen languages. She made her début in 1967 with the critically acclaimed collection Poems, and since then has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Koscielski Fund, Robert Graves Pen Club, and the Gdynia Prize for Literature. She has served as Poland’s cultural representative in Austria and throughout the 1990s was Director of the Polish Cultural Institute in Vienna.

Joanna Trzeciak is Associate Professor of Russian and Translation Studies at Kent State University. She is currently on a Fulbright Fellowship at Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Her translations of Polish and Russian literature have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Times Literary Supplement, Harpers, The Atlantic, Paris Review, Field, and New Ohio Review, among others. Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Różewicz (W.W. Norton, 2011) was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize, and received the Found in Translation Award and the AATSEEL Award for Best Scholarly Translation.

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