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Polish Poetry of World War II (Part 4)

Updated on February 23, 2008

Halina Poświatowska

Poświatowska emerged in 1958 as a part of a transition in Polish poetry from social realism of a war and post-war world to a much stronger emphasis on the intangible things: courage to express irony, oneself, distance, emotion. An unusual phenomenon of the time, Poświatowska was just what Poland needed.

When she was young, the war front went through her hometown of Czestochowa. She spent a few days hiding with her parents in a cellar, which caused an illness, which was followed by complications that included a serious heart condition. Because of the symptoms of this unknown disease, she was unable to go to school. With her mother’s help, she studied on her own.

Even though she spent time in hospitals and sanatoria, her condition did not improve. At one of the sanatoria, she met Adolf Poświatowska, who would later become her husband. He was an aspiring film director and also had a heart condition. He, unfortunately, died shortly after they were married.

Despite this tragedy, her vigor for life never subsided. Since Polish doctors were unable to help her at the time, many people pulled together to earn the money for her to be able to visit the United States and undergo an operation there. There she made many friends with whom she stayed until she was granted a scholarship to attend Smith College. There she studied art and philosophy while she continued to write. While she was grateful for the life America granted her, she was also critical of the States and often wrote about them after her time there.

Poświatowska did not survive her second operation in the United States and died there in 1967. She was thirty-two years old.

Because her life was constantly under threat by her illness, she regarded death calmly, almost as an acquaintance, though she wanted to live as long as she could. While this certainly affected her poetry, it does not usually appear as a theme on its own.

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Poświatowska's Work

Poświatowska’s work serves as an early form of feminism. In a time when it was expected that women would write only about certain mundane subjects, Poświatowska openly admitted her erotic desires and sensuality. She remained a passionate person in life and on the page until her death, despite the warnings and recommendations of her doctors.

Poświatowska understood extremely well the relationship between love and death, and often dealt with it in her poetry.

In her poetry, Poświatowska never makes an attempt to reach beyond the mysteries that come beyond death. She saw death as a return to nature, writing about seeking, finding, and experiencing her deceased husband through the natural things around her.

While there are many references in her poetry to philosophy, it is not necessarily philosophical in nature. She often employed metaphors of imagination and emotions to convey her ideas, putting a sensual spin on the entire world.

Her work is scarcely mentioned by literary critics, though her words still echo in the minds of people across the world, specifically girls and women. She is included in countless basic anthologies with Polish poetry despite her deviating poetic style.

This website has links to many of Poświatowska's poems (in English translation) online.

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