For the memory of "the soldier, poet, dust of time"...
Monika Ałasa The above-mentioned words come from an introduction to my MA thesis. I am honoured to share with the readers of the SPPW website a part of my thesis (the one concerning Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, his life and his works), a front page of which is this: The two big wars of the 20th century reflected by For the memory of Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński
Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński has always been my favourite poet, my hero, my love. Where to find the reasons? Firstly, in my deep interest in World War II, especially the Warsaw Uprising 1944. Secondly, in my romantic nature. Also, in my devotion to poetry in general.
I eagerly repeat after Lesław W. Bartelski, "I'm reaching out for his works and simultaneously I see this serious boy with a beautiful face, a peer of the scouts who - in the area of Arsenal - set free his friend, Jan Bytnar1. Baczyński was one of them, although he did not participate in this action under the code name "Meksyk II." He joined them a bit later. He had to join as these were his schoolmates. He could not have been absent. This was his happiness but also his tragedy. He could have evaded those duties, but would it have protected him against the fate? His life was, though short, as if from a novel: love and poetry, fighting and war, fame and death. The fate arranged it as if it wanted to prove the world that it can give everything and confiscating everything at the same time."2
Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński is regarded by many Polish people, not only by scholars, as one of the greatest Polish poets of the 20th century. "Many would rank him alongside Czesław Miłosz, Zbigniew Herbert, and Wisława Szymborska as one of the Polish writers most deserving of a place in the pantheon of world literature. Yet he is virtually unknown to English-language readers; he has rarely appeared in translation (...)"3 My aim, therefore, was to change the status quo.
I did a Master's at the Catholic University of Lublin in June 2006.
"Hedd Wyn" Ellis Humphrey Evans
and "the soldier, poet, dust of time"
Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński
- a comparison
To my beloved Parents
and Friends - Mrs. and Mr. Shalem
("the soldier, poet, dust of time")
220.127.116.11. The biography
Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński was born in Warsaw on January 22, 1921. Krzysztof was the only child, "the son of a Warsaw family where socialism mingled freely with literary criticism."6 He attended the Stefan Batory Gymnasium, and was writing verse before he left school. He was endowed with extraordinary art skills and planned to study at the Warsaw Academy of Arts to become an illustrator and a graphic artist. He also thought of undertaking studies in France. "The outbreak of World War II, and the family tragedy - his father's death in July 1939 - shattered these plans for ever."7 As many of his friends Baczyński was an active boy scout and a member of the sports club. During the War he studied Polish literature at the underground university. He was also affiliated with the socialist group Płomienie (Flames) and the "Droga" publishing house.
While studying at the underground university he met Barbara Drapczyńska, his first love and future wife. According to the critics Polish poetry owes her extraordinary love poems created by Baczynski. They were married in 1942 in the Church at Solec Street in Czerniakow (Cherniakov). A Polish novelist, Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, describing the ceremony wrote, "On a glorious June day in 1942, I attended Baczyński's wedding. That year the lilacs bloomed more profusely than ever, and I appeared at the ceremony with a huge bouquet of these flowers. After the service was over, I remember remarking to someone that the whole thing seemed more like a First Communion than a wedding. Both Baczyńskis, very young, appeared even younger because of their small height. They really looked like two children kneeling at the altar."8 ""So you fell in love with a fragile warm body" - wrote Baczyński in a poem characteristically entitled Two Loves. One - to Basia - he felt the most truly, the other - to the country - was to be shared with his young wife. Because she was not an obstacle to his plans, conversely - she would agree on all dangers he was exposed to when he became involved with the military underground."9 His love for Barbara added an emotional intensity to the startling precision of his words and feelings. "He loved language, nature, Poland, the good times, and his 'Basia' in equal parts; and he deplored the war and the pain of not loving enough. Above all, he felt a strange and powerful premonition of the apocalypse to come. It would give him the reputation of being a visionary, the prophet of his generation." 10
Awkward and asthmatic, "he was already assuming the guise of a fatalistic, romantic, tubercular soldier-poet before he joined the Home Army and its Parasol Battalion."11 Before that, Baczyński joined the Scout Storm Groups, a part of the Grey Regiments - the underground Polish Scouting and Guiding Association. Before entering the Grey Regiments, Krzysztof Baczyński passed his Matura exam and had to overcome the shock of September 1939. As Lesław Bartelski recalls, "His [Baczyński's] leaving school after Matura was almost simultaneous to the war outbreak. The subsequent Grey Regiments' generations quite carefreely left a building in Myśliwiecka street, not supposing what would happen in the near future. "The four weeks of September 1939 were a huge shock. For Krzysztof Baczyński, like for all of us, upbringing in ferment ideas and patriotism, not a military defeat but a feeling of disaster was something worst. The world of ideas taught and learnt in bright classes of the Batory school collapsed, the only reality from now on was poetry."12 In this poetry Krzysztof Baczyński eagerly put his fears, doubts and dreams.
In 1943 he became a cadet in the underground Grey Ranks' officer cadet school "Agrykola". Until July 1944 Baczyński was a soldier of Zośka (Zoshka) Home Army battalion. He was participating in sabotage missions like derailing trains. Baczyński was moved to the Parasol (Umbrella) battalion just before the Warsaw Uprising in July 1944.
It was not clear at the end of the war whether the poet 'Krzysztof' was alive or dead. In fact, he had been buried in the ruins of the City Hall on 4 August, on the day he died. But his family did not know his fate; and numerous false sightings had been reported. "In January 1947 cadet "Krzysztof" was found in the ruins of the Warsaw Town Hall; his grave was in the place where nowadays a Nike monument stands. His mother recognized him thanks to his golden chain on the neck."13
Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński "lived shortly, but he left much."14 A similar opinion was expressed by Lesław Bartelski, a poet, and prose writer, Krzysztof's friend. During an evening devoted to Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński's memory, 60 years after Krzysztof's death, i.e. on August 4, 2004, in Warsaw, Bartelski said, "He was a poet of my generation, the one that, according to his words, was sleeping through the time of great test with head on a rifle. He was writing poems and fighting. He perished; the poems survived. And nowadays they are, not only for us, his peers, a great diary of those times. Also young people reach for them [...]"15 Plaques in several places in Warsaw, among others, at Blanka Palace, where Baczyński was killed, are undoubtedly a sign of respect and admiration the poet is thought with by the Polish people.
In the year 1984 Ludmiła Niedbalska directed a film entitled "Dzień czwarty" ("The fourth day") in which she managed to give a real picture of the first four days of the Warsaw Uprising. The main hero, Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, was presented as a young, sensitive person who is conscious of the tragism of history. Many flashbacks show Barbara, the poet's wife. What is stressed here is a natural, normal, everyday life. Krzysztof Pieczyński performed as Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński in an excellent way, which was confirmed by critics. The Uprising was shown without unnecessary pathos. However, this does not mean that the film is free from dramatic scenes.
In his last period of literary creation, Krzysztof expressed his thoughts by writing the poem entitled "Rodzicom"("To my parents"),
A otóż i macie wszystko.
Byłem jak lipy szelest,
na imię mi było Krzysztof,
i jeszcze ciało - to tak niewiele.
I po kolana brodząc w blasku
ja miałem jak święty przenosić Pana
przez rzekę zwierząt, ludzi, piasku,
w ziemi brnąc po kolana.
Po co imię takie dziecinie?
Po co, matko, taki skrzydeł pokrój?
Taka walka, ojcze, po co - takiej winie?
Od łez ziemi krwawo mi, mokro.
Myślałaś, matko: "On uniesie,
on nazwie, co boli, wytłumaczy,
podźwignie, co upadło we mnie, kwiecie
-mówiłaś- rozkwitaj ogniem znaczeń."
Ojcze, na wojnie twardo.
Mówiłeś pragnąc, za ziemię cierpiąc:
"Nie poznasz człowieczej pogardy,
udźwigniesz sławę ciężką."
I po cóż wiara taka dziecinie,
po cóż dziedzictwo jak płomieni dom?
Zanim dwadzieścia lat minie,
umrze mu życie w złocieniach rąk.
A po cóż myśl taka jak sosna,
za wysoko głowica, kiedy pień tną.
A droga jakże tak prosta,
gdy serce niezdarne - proch.
Nie umiem, matko, nazwać, nazbyt boli,
nazbyt mocno śmierć uderza zewsząd.
Miłość, matko - już nie wiem, czy jest.
Nozdrza rozdęte z daleka Boga wietrzą.
Miłość - cóż zrodzi - nienawiść, struny łez.
Ojcze, broń dźwigam pod kurtką,
po nocach ciemno - walczę, wiary więdną.
Ojcze - jak tobie - prócz wolności może i dzieło,
może i wszystko jedno.
Dzień czy noc - matko, ojcze - jeszcze ustoję
w trzaskawicach palb, ja, żołnierz, poeta, czasu kurz.
Pójdę dalej - to od was mam: śmierci się nie boję,
dalej niosąc naręcza pragnień jak spalonych róż.
To my Parents17
And so this is all you have, then.
I was like the linden's rustle;
Krzysztof was the name I was given,
and my body - so very little.
And up to my knees in the dazzle,
like the saint, I was to bear the Lord across
a river of animals, sand, people,
wading in earth to my knees.
Why such a name for a child?
Why wings shaped in this way, mother?
Why a struggle, father, for such a fault?
The earth wet and bloody from my tears.
"He'll bear it all," you thought, mother:
"he'll name the pain, bring understanding,
raise within me what's fallen; o flower -
you said - bloom with the fire of meanings."
Father, it's hard at the war.
You said in your longing, your pain
for earth: "You'll not know human scorn,
but you'll carry a cumbersome fame."
Why should a child need such faith, and why
a legacy like a house of flames?
Before twenty years have gone by,
life will die in his glittering hands.
And why a mind like a pine-tree, too high
the crown as the cut trunk crashes?
And how can the road run so straightly,
when the clumsy heart is all ashes?
Mother, I cannot name, the pain is too great,
death strikes too powerfully from every side.
Love - mother, I no longer know if it is;
From far away my flared nostrils smell God.
Love - what will it give birth to - hatred, streams of tears.
Father, I carry my gun in my jacket;
in the dark night I fight while the faiths all fade.
Father - like you - apart from freedom
maybe nothing else matters, or maybe my deed.
Day and night, mother, father, I'll endure
in the rifle-fire, I, soldier, poet, dust of time.
I'll go on - this have from you: I do not fear
death, as I bear desires like burned roses in my arms.
These were not only thoughts. Determined as he was, Krzysztof knew his poetry could not have been enough. He wished to fight.
18.104.22.168. The Warsaw Uprising and Baczyński's participation
""He was only 23. His name was Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński. He was one of many whose lot was to live through the tragic days of September, 1939, and not see liberation. He experienced - what he himself envisioned - a shower of bullets, grenades, hitting the dirt, and 'one charge only, straight up to heaven'. From this supreme sacrifice of countless such young daredevils was supposed to be born a mighty Poland free as a bird: '... We'll raise a house of iron - for nations, storms, and dreams', he wrote in January, 1943. Yet poets are often wrong, and so was Baczyński. Warsaw fell. A different Poland emerged. But whatever one may now say about the Warsaw Uprising, nothing can erase the sacrifice and heroism of the insurgents."18 Nobody can erase the sacrifice and heroism of "Krzysztof".
[. . .]
To fully understand the reasons for the outbreak of Warsaw Uprising and the degree of determination of the Warsaw citizens fighting for their freedom, one has to realise the extent of oppression to which Warsaw had been exposed in the years of the occupation.
Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński well understood the status quo, too. He wanted to participate in the fights together with his friends. Yet, he did not manage to accompany his friends from "Parasol." "The outbreak of the Rising surprised Baczyński and his four friends in a tenement house in Focha street. They were cut off from the rest of their platoon that fought in Wola."19
Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński was killed in action at the very beginning of the Uprising. It was only the fourth day of the Uprising, August 4, 1944. Zbigniew Czajkowski-Dębczyński, in his book Dziennik Powstańca, gives a detailed report of his death, "It was then that I saw Krzysztof for the last time, because they left for a new position at Pałac Blanka without me. That day I heard from a buddy that he was hunting Germans with great success from the ruins of the Opera House. The next day a call came for a first-aid patrol to come to help a wounded in the Pałac Blanka. Not having much to do I joined them. At his post, in a corner room, we found Krzysztof lying on a Persian rug with a huge wound in his head. He was dead. Nurses carried the body over to the City Hall (next door). That same evening the funeral was held. It was rather solemn. The grave was dug in the City Hall courtyard. Some sixty people, soldiers, officers, civilians, were present. Someone said a few words. The body was lowered to the grave. We all sang the National Anthem, then the grave was filled."20
On August 24, the poet's beloved wife Basia was wounded. She died on September 1, not knowing of her Krzysztof's death. In many of his poems Baczyński was prophetic. In a poem "A Little Song" ('Pioseneczka'), dated January 16, 1942, and dedicated to Basia, he wrote:
And so, leaning over the waters,
we will float away to oblivion
and on earth there will cry for us only
our own shadows which we left behind
Thus ends the story of the most heroic Polish upsurge. Krzysztof Kamil Baczynski did not witness the end of the Uprising, he came to rest among the ruins of his own native city just as he prophesied in his verse:
For us, one charge
- straight up to heaven
one medal only,
- a cross on our grave.
The war ended. Slowly Warsaw raised itself out of its shambles. Buildings, squares, streets, were re-built. Over the Old City King Sigismund reigns again as before from his lofty column. As said before, in January 1947 Baczynski's body was dug out of the ruins of the City Hall and Krzysztof and Basia were finally laid to rest together in one grave at the Insurgents' cemetery at Powązki.
22.214.171.124. Baczyński's works
The analysis of Baczyński's works is difficult. This is connected with "both the character of the language of his poetry itself and the lack of a critical publication of K.K. Baczyński's works."21 However, the task of doing the analysis seems to be a challenge.
The young Baczyński began writing poetry at an early age. By the time he was 18 he was producing mature work. As said before, in the summer of 1939 he graduated from the elite Stefan Batory Grammar School in Warsaw. A few months later war broke out. As we know from chapter 126.96.36.199., Baczyński continued to write copiously in the early years of the war and studied Polish literature in the underground university.
As an active member of the AK (Home Army) his underground name was Jan Bugaj. He was a prolific writer, his poems often appearing in the underground press. The first volumes of his verses were all printed in clandestine print-shops. "[...] Baczyński's talent was soon discovered by a group of writers who were at that time active in the underground and who became his friends. Jerzy Andrzejewski, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz and Jerzy Zagórski marvelled at works of a young, only 21-year-old poet [. . .] An admirer, like most of inhabitants of Warsaw, of the Old Town, Baczyński got his pen name from a street in the district that would become his grave three years later. With these Wiersze wybrane the young boy entered the Polish literature, by producing the poetry of dignified note, as his opponent, Tadeusz Gajcy, described beautifully."22
Throughout all these times Baczyński's mother Stefania carefully preserved his manuscripts. Eventually, in 1961 Baczyński's collected works were published for the first time. They were soon accompanied by a study of a Cracovian literary critic, Kazimierz Wyka. His assessment of Baczyński's poetry resonated with admiration. He was equally certain of Krzysztof's prowess as a wordsmith and of his crucial role as a continuation of the romantic strand in national literature. In conclusion, he quoted one of his Cracovian colleagues, "We belong to a nation whose fate is to shoot at the enemy with diamonds."21
Indeed, "the legend of the poet who had died on the fourth day of the Rising grew into a major literary phenomenon. It did not develop simply because a brilliant writer was cut down in the flower of his youth, but because it was the apotheosis of a much older tradition in which revolutionary poets were supposed to die tragically, but had rarely managed to do so."24 Polish history was filled with failed insurrections and with insurrectionary poets who had called their compatriots to battle. "But very few of those poets had lived up to expectations and perished in the accepted manner. But now, with a century's delay, Krzysztof could be Poland's Byron [...]"25 Many of his lines were eerily prophetic:
How good you did not live to see the day
When they will raise a monument to heroes like you
And your murderers will place flowers on your tomb.
Baczyński belonged to the so called "Columbus generation" (Pokolenie Kolumbów). An inspiration for this name was a novel by Roman Bratny entitled "Kolumbowie rocznik 20" (published in 1957). It described people who would get into their mature lives during WW II. "Kolumb" is, thus, a person who was born around 1920 who was confronted with difficult dilemmas and dramatic experiences and whose childhood and adolescence periods were cut. To this generation belonged Tadeusz Gajcy and Andrzej Trzebiński, as well.
The legend of Baczyński still grew. People were interested in his literary creation. "In Baczyński's case, however, it needs to be acknowledged that the facts of his life have simultaneously enhanced and obscured his reception as a poet. Fascination with his extreme youth, his passionate marriage at an early age, the tension between reflective poetry and military action reflected in both his life and his work, and his heroic death, have often taken precedence over an engagement with the poetry itself [...]"26 The poet's life, yet short, gave him themes to include in his poems. Despite a variety of subjects and plots of his poetry, "[...] there are also powerful thematic threads running through Baczyński's work. These include: an examination of the elements of religious faith; a series of meditations on history and how history will view the Polish experience in the war; works which chart Baczyński's own personal growth; and finally his love poems to Basia."27 These erotics become an important element of Baczyński's work. "Devoted to the beloved wife, Barbara, they go beyond the conventions of love lyrics; they show a woman's portrait in a noticeable distance from reality [...]"28 Poems like "Love poem", "Night" or "White Magic" can serve as examples. The love poems, so specific for Baczyński's work, are a proof that "in his literary work he takes up not only the problems connected with a dramatic situation of his generation and nation but he also guards threatened basic values like faith, love, hope. In Baczyński's poetry one can see a tragic struggle between good and evil as well as a deep relief that the flatter can be only defeated by love."29 That is why "Baczyński's lyrics are today something more than only a document of the times in which they were created. "They are testimony of dilemmas of human choices [...] Those works are testimony of a particular situation of an individual and their existential condition. They are an attempt at giving sense to the world of history and human reality."30 Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński lived in cruel times. That world was neither safe nor easy to live or create in. "The war reality forced a multitude and bluntness of details and metaphors upon poetry, but Baczyński avoided the danger of the subject master, this easy temptation of sentimented rhyming about painful matters which forced both tone and form of expression. He was a mature poet, even in his stumbles he was a superb poet, if one realises that he was only twenty years old. He belonged to the generation that matured extremely quickly, maybe even too quickly, but it was probably an one-sided maturity - to fighting, to a deed and sacrifice - to death, but not to life yet."31 For that reason, any manifestation of creativity, passion and eagerness to live beautifully deserves admiration. The young man wanted to do something more, to have an aim in his life, not just to come and go, unnoticed. In his works, Baczyński expressed experiences and longing of his generation.
He himself chose a way of life showing his devotion and his own tragedy. He realised that "to love [ ] this seems to be too little", so he wished to fight, poetry was not enough for him. But this participation in underground fighting was not so easy for him."32 In one of action Krzysztof took part in, two Germans were killed. "And then Krzysztof started to be full of remorse that he killed a man. "God, I killed a man!" - he screamed."33
As stated previously, during the Nazi occupation Baczynski took an active part in Warsaw underground literary life. He wrote a lot and published few volumes of verse. Each of his poems was dated, he even put an exact hour under the verses, as if he felt how fast his time was passing. His poetry is assumed to be The Second Avangarda also called the Catastrophism. At the same time his poetry is in fairy-tale current. He took a very visible turn to the Romantic Poetry. Many of his poems are military and patriotic. "This period's literature, similarly to Krzysztof Baczyński's literary creation (...) is treated like a direct answer to the then reality."34 Indeed, "poetry became the way for expressing emotions not known to people who live in times of peace."35
At that time Baczyński created unique and extraordinary poetry ranking him alongside Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska and granting him a remarkable place in the history of Polish literature. Today, Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński is widely recognized to be the greatest poet of his generation.
Baczyński is named the greatest one of many tremendous wartime poets. He was often compared to Juliusz Slowacki and called "the late grandson" of Romantics.36 Nevertheless, "[...] Baczyński rejects a traditional version of a romantic attitude, characterised by rebellion against reality [...]"37 He rather uses the motifs like: suffering, weariness, compassion, sorrow, feeling of inevitability of the end."38 It is worth mentioning that "the categories that are most closely and most often linked with Krzysztof Baczyński's poetry's interpretation are the concepts of historiosophic and generation catastrophism."39 Indeed, "Baczyński looked at his time understood as annihilation of all the human values made by History."40 Edward Balcerzan confirms this standpoint, writing, "Life - for a Baczyński's Hero - is life of an individual within history. Human fate is decided in earthly life, among people and because of people."41 This human history is presented by words most often used in the Baczynski's poetry, for instance: death - 128 times; time - 127; dark - 121; light - 12; love - 90; angel - 84; home - 78; cross - 59; mother - 59"42
Moreover, Baczyński's literary production is characterized by a noticeable dynamism of change - the evolution of attitude towards reality, which made him change the literary means of expression [...] In the first period he writes about a contrast between an idyllic view of his childhood and the tragic reality of war. In autumn 1941 one can notice a change [ ] in his poems; he comes back to the Romantic tradition [...] There are lots of methaphors, many symbols, key words [...] After becoming a member of the "Zośka" battalion (1943) themes of fight, soldier ethos and considerations about the choice that has to be made become vivid."43
To take into account the analysis of general themes of Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński's poems, one may quote an opinion of Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. "Admirable is the scope of this work and its maturity. It often happens that lives which are predestined to end prematurely are filled with such intensive work, blossom out so quickly, that during a very short span of time they seem to achieve completeness."44
The tragic death of the only 23-year-old poet did not interrupt his literary output. "Baczyński became mature so surprisingly quickly that his works are fully expressed and finished [. . .] But we, the readers, will be always surrounded by this persistent longing for all these poems that he wasn't able to write.45
[. . .]
In order to defend his homeland and cultural heritage, Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński created poems. It is a pity that he is hardly known worldwide. This author and his works definitely deserve recognition. So do the times he lived in.
The above-mentioned words come from an introduction to my MA thesis.
I am honoured to share with the readers of the SPPW website a part of my thesis (the one concerning Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, his life and his works), a front page of which is this:
The two big wars of the 20th century reflected by
For the memory of Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński
Copyright © 2004 SPPW1944. Wszelkie prawa zastrzeżone.