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Polish Poetry of World War II (Part 3)

Updated on December 11, 2008

Andrzej Bursa

Dead from a heart attack at the age of twenty-five years, not much is known or widely published about Bursa.

He spent his life in his birth city of Krakow, where he attended Jagellon University. There he studied journalism and then Bulgarian. After graduating, he worked as a journalist for Dziennik Polski, a Krakow newspaper.

His poetic life was short but extremely influential. He published his first poem in 1954, just three years before his death. While he only received infamy in Poland posthumously, he did publish 37 poems during his life as well as a short story. Today there is a prestigious poetry prize in Poland named after Bursa that many present-day Polish poets have received.

Bursa’s first official poetry collection was published shortly after his death in 1957. This collection became an important milestone in the Polish world of poetry.

Bursa's Work

With a career cut short by his premature death, Andrzej Bursa never had adequate time to fully develop his writing style. His poems tend to be realistic, dealing specifically with people of the time and culture in which he lived.

In one poem, “On a Streetcar,” he uses repetition to convey his point. Without physically describing the people about whom he is writing, he effectively portrays the picture through emotions and dialogue. The poem points out the true sadness of apathy in a world that cares more about material things than emotional well-being.

There was a Polish language website dedicated to his poetry that has recently closed down. You can find an English translation of two of his (very short) prose pieces at this website.

Gombrowski's Works

Witold Gombrowicz

Witold Gombrowicz wrote novels, short stories, plays, and even a few autobiographical works. He was born in Maloszyci, Poland to wealthy, land-owning parents.

Gombrowicz was raised Catholic and studied at an aristocratic Catholic school in Warsaw. He followed his father in his law studies, graduating from Warsaw University as a master of law. He had no interest in this, though, and often sent his valet to attend lectures instead of going himself.

He then studied subjects in which he found more interest at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Paris, namely philosophy and economics.

Again, however, he neglected his studies. His father cut off his allowance, and he began training to become a lawyer once again. Due to the boredom that he associated with law, he began to write short stories in his free time. He found writing a pleasurable escape from his worldly duties.

His most well-known works were written after he moved to Argentina. Fatefully he moved there just one day before World War II broke out in Europe. He remained there for twenty four years, struggling with his identity after being labeled a Polish émigré writer. He documented these ordeals in Trans-Atlantyk, a book often described as nothing short of hilarious.

Much of his work was ignored, and he remained wholly unknown until 1957 when the Communist regime in Poland, for a short time, lifted the ban on his work. He became an overnight success, and other publications and stage performances of his work soon followed. His works were again banned in Poland in 1958, but other countries had taken notice of him by that time.

His works have been translated into thirty languages, yet he remains unknown outside of Europe. He won the International Prize for Literature in 1967 for his book called Cosmos. His second heart attack took his life in July 1969.

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Gombrowicz's Work

Most of Gombrowicz’s works, be they plays, short stories, or novels, are known for their experimental nature.

The novel for which he won the International Prize for Literature, also possibly considered his best piece, is an absurdist mystery. The intrinsic human search for meaning is the antagonist of the story, as it is in many of his other works, specifically Pornografia.

His writings often reveal the distortion of the human mind created by form. He dealt with the seduction of immaturity in culture due to its formlessness with potential for creation. Identity is a prominent question in much of his work, and the conflicts of his stories come about when the incongruity of what form truly is becomes public.

The tone of his writing style is often described as hilarious, and he is praised for his sardonic humor and dry wit. Much of his work lacks any typical novelistic lot, favoring alterations as a representation of the distorted and illogical world in which we live.

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