02 January 2010

The Love Poems of Krysztof Kamil Baczyński

Krysztof Kamil Baczyński was a young Polish poet killed in duty during the Second World War. His love poems are addressed to Basia/Barbara--his pregnant wife, who was killed almost a month after his own death during the Warsaw Uprising. She died unaware of that he had been killed. Baczyński's poems address the horrors of war and how love can be a mystical redeeming force in the wake of immense catastrophe.


The scent of autumn leaves and of your hair,

fear's broken timepiece ticking. Summer's candles

blown out; the stars breathe down cold air

while my grief

like some dark beast runs nightly to your hand.

Do you know how to sleep? Dead alder trees

weep, howling long into the dome of night.

Without a goal, we roam on portless seas;

you know so well how sorrow lurks in wait.

The kindly dragon; now is the sleep of ghosts

frozen; night's lofty monument is waning.

Only a phantom cries, on pitchfork hoist,

only the mewling cats the moon is drowning.

Do you know how to sleep? The crazy poet

has hanged himself amid the pines' dark baying,

while rain drags by the hair a dead wax puppet

through endless streets, to windblown music playing.


all's quiet now.

The night rains on the windows, gathering power;

blinded like me, the wind kneels at our home.

Who stole from us this carefree time of ours,

my little one?

Night of September 10-11, 1940


Barbara stands at the mirror

of silence, and her hands reach

to her hair; in her body of glass

she pour silver droplets of speech.

And then like a water pitcher

she fills with light, soon

she has taken the stars within her

and the pale white dust of the moon.

Through her body's trembling prism

white sparks of music will leap

while ermine will creep through her

like the downy leaves of sleep.

Bears are rimmed in its hoarfrost

with polar starlight imbued

and a stream of mice pour through it

in a clamorous multitude.

Till slowly she drifts into sleep,

filled all with milky white,

while time melodiously settles

deep down, in a tumble of light.

So Barbara's body is silver.

The ermine of silence within

arches its white back softly

at the touch of a hand unseen.

January 4, 1942

Three o'clock in the morning


In your hair's torrent, your mouth's river, in

the forest dark as evening

a vain summoning,

a plash in vain.

I'll enwrap you in dusk, in night's rose-flower

and as a branch, scrap, or gesture, the world will turn,

then it will mutely stagger,

pass through the eyes like a blur

and I'll say: not being--I am.

Flowing into you still, and bearing your reflection

in pupils, or like a tear from eyelids hanging,

I'll hear in you silver seas etched by a dolphin,

like inside the shell of your body ringing.

Or in a grove, where you are

a birch tree, pure white air

and the milk of daylight,

a huge barbarian,

bearing a thousand centuries

I'll burst with the copse's noise

into your branches, bird-like.


one day--and a whole age in which to long,

one gesture--and endless storms at once come crashing,

one step--and here you are, and you alone

each time--a spirit waiting in the ashes.

To my darling Basia--Krzysztof

February 2, 1942


To Basia

"but you are a tree"

R. M. Rilke

In every transformation you are like the ring of time,

just like the year you turn in place and still from where I stand

I see you on the plains, the hills, the trees on the skyline,

in which you pour light for the vessel of your knitted hands.

And like the sea you bear reflections of all kinds of weathers

which flow and play upon the brazen cauldron of the clouds.

You wave your hand--it's winter; then you smile--and autumn comes

to make thorns of the mayflowers with a draft of copper feathers.

You ripen in the apples, fill the plants with yellow juices.

I lock my fingers round the air--then you are every bird

upon the larch, and every bush

or else a cloud of music

and the tree's gold cord.

Oh, logs are burning in the hearths, sleighs glide on powdery snow,

the purring cat stretches and swells into a supple bow.

You're in the river, and in your every move yours smile repeats.

Wake up as snow, as clearing, be the antlers of the deer;

by evening you'll be flesh, and in my flesh you'll fall asleep.

Come morning I'll awake, the weary people will pass by,

and find upon my breast a white and sleeping mayflower.

February 11, 1942


I'll open for you a golden sky

where the white thread of silence is,

like a great nut with sound inside

which breaks in two that it might live

through small green leaves, the song of lakes,

the music that the twilight makes,

until its milky kernel's shown

by the birdlike dawn.

I'll turn for you the unyielding land

into the soft and gracious flight

of thistledown; from objects rend

shadows arching their spines like cats,

fur glistening; they'll fold it all into

the hearts of leaves, into storm-hues,

the gray rains' tangled knot.

And trembling streams of air like smoke

from angels' cottages I'll turn

for you into long lanes; I'll make

the liquid song clear birches sing

until they play, like the lament

of cellos, in pink shoots of light,

an anthem of bees' wings.

Only from my eyes take out

this stabbing shard of glass--the days'

image, by which white skulls are brought

over meadows of blood ablaze.

Only change the cripple's time, cover

the gravestones with a cloak of river,

the dust of battle wipe from my hair,

those angry years'

black dust.

June 15, 1943

(Polish chanteuse Ewa Demarczyk does a marvelous interpretation of this poem--as well as others--of this last poem called Wiersze Baczynskiego/ War Poems.)

These translations are by Bill Johnston

from White Magic and Other Poems by Krysztof Kamil Baczyński

(Green Integer 138)

which is, unfortunately, out of print; but my library got me a copy via interlibrary loan.

I'd like to post some more at a later time.

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