• RIP Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012)

The Polish poet Wisława Szymborska died yesterday in Kraków.  She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996 ‘for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality’.

A Note

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it’s not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble on a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,
mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark in the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important.

Notatka, translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak
from the collection Chwila (Moment, 2003)

• and a Bench for Tuwim too

It was only as I was researching my preceding post – on Henryk Górecki and his attachment to Julian Tuwim’s poem Song of Joy and Rhythm – that I came across what looks like a remarkable parallel between memorials to these two giants of 20th-century Polish culture.

In another post twelve days ago – A Conversation with Henryk Górecki – I reported on a whimsical yet thoughtful monument to him that had been unveiled on 10 September in Rydułtowy, the town in Silesia where he lived from the age of 2 until he was 22.  As you’ll see or have seen, Górecki is sitting on the right-hand end of a bench, reading a musical score.

Well, blow me down, Tuwim too has been honoured with a bench, in his home town, Łódź, in central Poland.  This is the work of Wojciech Gryniewicz and was unveiled in 1999.  Like Górecki, Tuwim is seated on the right-hand end of a bench that in his case is also sculpted.  The key difference here is the posture.  Tuwim is looking out, not down, possibly above and beyond the eyeline of any companion.  Maybe he’s ‘lying in wait for God’ (Czyhanie na Bogu, the title of the collection that included Song of Joy and Rhythm).

I must say that I’m rather taken by the modest, down-to-earth approach of these sculpture-installations.  Does anyone know of other examples in addition to Maggi Hambling’s A Conversation with Oscar Wilde in London?

• Song of Joy and Rhythm

A text message came through from Anna Górecka, at 08.24 on this day last year, to say that her father had died earlier that morning.  She was away on tour and went on to fulfil her commitment to perform Górecki’s Piano Concerto that evening in Szczecin.  Her husband left me a voice message.  Although I knew that Henryk Górecki was dying, it was still a shock.  The rest of the day was a blur.  I phoned his publishers in London, but the news was not yet public knowledge even in Poland.  At 10.30, a friend in Warsaw, whom I’d alerted as soon as I had heard, phoned to let me know that Górecki’s death had just been announced.

The phone rang off the hook: advice for a researcher on R4’s PM programme, an interview for the World Service’s The Strand, a live interview on R3’s In Tune, a call from R4’s Front Row and an unfulfilled promise “We’ll phone back”, an interview down the line to a live Polish TV tribute, plus writing a short appreciation for The Guardian.  The last was difficult to do.

Amidst this, I had a visitation at 10.20 from a blue tit, which flew in unannounced through a narrowly open window, stood immobile on the floor for a while, eyeing me keenly, before eventually finding its way back outside and to freedom.  I’m not given to fanciful symbolism, but even I found myself seeing a message in the bird’s arrival and departure.  They say that it’s good to open a window after a death to let the spirit free.

When I was writing on Górecki in the early 1990s, I came across the poem which inspired the title of his extrovert Pieśni o radości i rytmie (Songs of Joy and Rhythm, 1956/60).  This early work bears all the hallmarks of Górecki’s contrasting musical and personal temperaments.  The heart of the work is the contemplative third movement.  It is arguably here that Górecki principally evokes the wonderment of the poem from which he borrowed his title.

Pieśń o radości i rytmie was written by one of Poland’s best-known poets of the twentieth-century, Julian Tuwim (1894-1953).  Many Polish composers have set Tuwim’s verse, including Szymanowski and Lutosławski.  Górecki was particularly attached to Tuwim’s poetry, setting it in his early student days (3 Songs, 1956) and again for his five-year-old daughter (2 Little Songs, 1972).  His most striking setting, in a terse Webernian style, was in Epitafium (1958), for SATB choir, piccolo, D trumpet, five percussionists and viola.  The text is Tuwim’s last poetic fragment, written on a serviette in a coffee shop just an hour before his death.  Its enigmatic message – ‘… for the sake of economy put out the light eternal, if it were ever to shine for me’ – is evocatively captured by Górecki’s exploratory score.

A year ago today, I looked out Tuwim’s (singular) poem and read it several times, mainly because it immediately recalled Górecki’s boundless energy and the inner peace which he sought during his often difficult life.  So I offer it here, in my own raw translation, as a tribute to a composer and a man for whom I had enormous respect and affection and who miraculously returned the favour.   

Pieśń o radości i rytmie (Song of Joy and Rhythm)
from Chyhanie na Bogu (Lying in Wait for God, 1918)

The stars twinkled in the sky.
In space – billions of universes.

Resting my forehead in my hand and thinking.
I do not dream.
A big Reality has awoken me,
A truth that strikes the eye,
The truth that is being, visible, unique,

I – under this huge starry dome,
I – perceiving its entirety with my brain,
I relish it, I become one with myself
And slowly – inside – I am restored to myself:
To profound joy and perfect rhythm.

All my thoughts, words and deeds
Were only bringing me closer
To universal embrace:
Here I am resting joyfully in myself
Wrapped in deep silence on all sides
And my heart beats in the rhythm of
Everything that surrounds me.
Enough.  No need for words.

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