Poet, prose writer, playwright, essayist, and translator. Born on 20 February 1894 in the village of Kalnik in the Kiev region (now Ukraine), died on 2 March 1980 in Warsaw.
In 1902-1904, after his father's death, he and his mother lived in Warsaw, and in 1904-1912 - in Ukraine, where he graduated from a Kiev secondary school in 1912 and began law studies at the local university. In 1915 he debuted with the poem Lilith in the only-ever issue of the periodical "Pióro". In 1916-1918 he was an actor and literary manager of the S. Wysocka Studya Theatre in Kiev. He joined the 3rd Polish Corps in the spring of 1918, and after it was disarmed he went to Krakow. He came to Warsaw in October 1918, joined up with an artistic group affiliated to the "Pro Arte et Studio" periodical, became a member of a literary group that performed in the Pikador literary cabaret, and then joined the Skamander group. In 1919-1920 he was on the editorial staff of "Zdrój", and edited the art section of "Kurier Polski" in 1920-1922. He published poems, prose and reviews in "Kurier Lwowski" (1921-1922) and "Tygodnik Ilustrowany" (from 1922). In 1921 he and his friends founded the Elsynor experimental theatre which staged Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz's play The Pragmatists [Pragmatyści].
He married in 1922 and settled in Podkowa Leśna. In 1923-1925 he was secretary to Sejm Speaker Maciej Rataj, and belonged to the Trade Union of Polish Writers (ZZLP). In 1924-1939 he worked with "Wiadomości Literackie" (publishing poems, numerous articles and reviews). He was a secretary at the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts [Towarzystwo Zachęty Sztuk Pięknych], and a member of the Polish PEN Club from 1925. He was active in the European intellectual union and PEN Club. He published his literary works and reviews in "Pologne Littéraire" (1926-1935), "Muzyka" (1926-1937 with breaks), "Pamiętnik Warszawski" (1929-1931). In 1928 he moved to a new house in Podkowa Leśna that he named Stawisko. In 1927-1932 he worked in the Foreign Ministry's Press Department as head of the art promotion section. He was a secretary of the Polish mission in Copenhagen (1932-1925) and Brussels (1935-1936). He published poetry, prose, works of literary criticism in periodicals including "Gazeta Polska" (1934-1938) and "Ateneum" (1938-1939). He became vice-president of the ZZLP in 1939.
He lived in Stawisko during the Nazi occupation; together with Maria Dąbrowska and Jerzy Andrzejewski, he headed the literature section of the Department of Education, Science and Culture of the Polish Government Delegation at Home. He played an active role in underground cultural work, his home was a clandestine centre of artistic life (concerts, meetings with authors, discussions).
In 1945-1946 he was editor-in-chief of the Poznań biweekly "Życie Literackie", in 1947-1948 - editor of the weekly "Nowiny Literackie". He published poetry, prose and reviews in "Odrodzenie" (1945-1949), "Przekrój" (1945-1954) and "Kuźnica" (1946-1949). From 1945 to 1949 he was literary manager of the Teatr Polski in Warsaw. He was active in the ZZLP (from 1949 - the Polish Writers' Union - ZLP) - as its president (1945-1946, 1947-1949, 1959-1980) and vice-president (1949-1956). He was a member of the Board of the Polish PEN Club (its vice-president in 1950-1965). In 1948 (with Jerzy Borejsza) he helped organize the World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace in Wrocław, and in 1950 was a delegate to the 2nd World Peace Congress. In 1952 he became president of the Supervisory Board of the Czytelnik Publishing Cooperative.
From 1952, for many successive terms (until his death), he was a member of the Sejm [parliament] of People's Poland. He published poems, prose and reviews in "Nowa Kultura" (1950-1956) and "Przegląd Kulturalny" (1952-1954). In 1952, 1954 and 1970 he received a State Arts Award First Class. From February 1955 until his death, he was editor of the monthly "Twórczośc". Between 1955 and 1979 he published a weekly column in "Życie Warszawy", titled "Rozmowy o książkach" / "Talking About Books", and also a review of translations from Scandinavian literatures (1955-1977). In 1955-1957 he was once again literary manager of the Teatr Polski in Warsaw. In 1960 he was elected to the Board of the European Writers' Community. In 1963 and 1977 he received an award of the Minister of Culture and Art, first class. He was president of the Polish-Italian Friendship Society from 1965, and chairman of the Polish branch of the Society for European Culture (SEC) from 1966. In 1970-1971 he lectured on Polish literature at Warsaw University (UW), received an honorary doctorate from the UW in 1971, and in 1979 - an honorary doctorate from Jagiellonian University. He was a foreign member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (from 1972). In 1973 he received the City of Warsaw Award, and was an honorary member of the Frédéric Chopin Society from 1976. In 1977 he was elected to the Executive Council of the SEC Congress, and from 1979 was an honorary member of the Academy of Polish History and Literature in Bologna, and received the Premio Mondello award in Sicily. He was a recipient of numerous awards and distinctions, both from People's Poland and from other countries (including the Righteous Among the Nations medal - 1991, posthumously). He was buried in Brwinów near Warsaw. The writer's home in Stawisko has been turned into a museum dedicated to his life and work.
The prose of Iwaszkiewicz is strongly tied to literary tradition and to changes in contemporary literature, but it is hard to place in any of the 20th-century trends or movements. His early works were written in the convention of a poetic fairy-tale lyrical novel (Zenobia Palmura, Ucieczka do Bagdadu / Escape to Baghdad, Wieczór u Abdona / An Evening at Abdon's); they are dominated by the modernist tradition which is subjected at the same time to attempts at redefinition that focus on the opposition of art and life. This motif also reappears in his novels stylised as autobiographies (Hilary, syn buchaltera / Hilary, Son of a Bookkeeper, Księżyc wschodzi / The Moon Rises). Starting from the novel Zmowa Mężczyzn / Conspiracy of Men, Iwaszkiewicz created his own original vision of the world, which came fully into its own in the stories Panny z Wilka / The Wilko Girls, [aka "The Maids from Wilko"]Brzezina / The Birch Grove, Młyn nad Utratą / The Mill on the River Utrata, and the novels Czerwone tarcze / Red Shields and Pasje błędomierskie / Błędomierz Passions. Iwaszkiewicz's mature prose is governed by the principle of juxtaposing opposites (life-death, love-hate, etc.) and giving them the philosophical dimension of generalizing the fate of characters who have a rich mental life and a sensitive awareness, set in a precisely studied world full of sensual charm that forms an active background for events. The characters entangled in these antinomies are almost always accompanied by a sense of tragedy, justified by the cruelty of the laws of nature (frequent motifs of premature death) or the defeat of individual rights in the face of historical processes. This tragedy takes on a broader dimension in works born of wartime and occupation experience: Kongres we Florencji / Congress in Florence (Italian stories), Bitwa na równinie Sedgemoor / The Battle of Sedgemoor Plain, Matka Joanna od Aniołów / Mother Joanna of the Angels (in the volume Nowa miłość / New Love), Stara Cegielnia. Młyn nad Lutynia / The Old Brickyard. The Mill on the River Lutynia, Kwartet Mendelssohna / The Mendelssohn Quartet (Opowieści zasłyszane / Second-hand stories), Kościół w Skaryszewie / The Church in Skaryszew (O psach, kotach i diabłach / Of Dogs, Cats and Devils), and also in the extensive, epic novel about the history of the Polish intelligentsia in the first half of the 20th century - Sława i chwała / Fame and Glory. Iwaszkiewicz's prose not only features an intellectual and moral anxiety, but also an accompanying belief that there exists in nature a human capacity for making the right ethical choices, and a link between experienced tragedy and a special intensification of aesthetic and sensual experience (Tatarak / Calamus, Kochankowie z Marony / The Lovers of Marona, Sny. Ogrody. Sérénité / Dreams. Gardens. Sérénité, Noc Czerwcowa. Zarudzie. Heydenreich / June Night. Zarudzie. Heydenreich).
Consciously - using the entire range of literary styles and conventions - Iwaszkiewicz developed and modernized the short story genre, gave a new shape to the historical novel, and enlivened epic narrative, enriching it with elements of reflection and lyricism.
As a poet, Iwaszkiewicz was the least typical representative of the Skamander group. What set him apart from the other members was a different cultural tradition and a greater degree of inner complexity. The characteristic and most lasting qualities of his poetry include: a strong sensual sensitivity allowing the poet to express the world's beauty with extraordinary intensity, a cult of art, and a clear awareness of the unattainability of happiness.
There is a kind of alternation visible in the development of Iwaszkiewicz's pre-war poetry, based on contrasts and opposites. After the studied aestheticism of the volume Oktostychy / Octostychs, the next volume, Dionizje / Dionysia offered a completely opposite, expressionist tone. Furthermore, after two volumes in which intimacy, privacy and an attitude of philosophical resignation dominated (Kaskady zakończone siedmioma wierszami / Cascades Ending in Seven Poems, Księga dnia i księga nocy / Book of the Day and Book of the Night), the next volume, Powrót do Europy / Return to Europe brought historiosophical issues, a discursive tone, and accents of pathos. After the volume Lato / Summer, a cycle of poems presenting the world of internal anxieties and metaphysical fear, there came Inne życie / A Different Life, in which the poetry of culture dominated - translating great paintings into poetic language. Iwaszkiewicz's poetry at this time usually steered clear of innovation, leaning more and more visibly towards classicism. In his post-war output, this trend was continued in Ody olimpijskie / Olympian Odes. After that his poetry developed in a different direction - towards rejecting traditional restrictions. After such transitional volumes as Warkocz jesieni / The Plait of Autumn and Ciemne ścieżki / Dark Paths, a decisive turnaround came with the volume Jutro żniwa / Harvest Tomorrow. It marked the beginning of a renaissance of Iwaszkiewicz's poetry - continued in the volumes Krągły rok / Year Round, Xenie i elegie / Zenia and Elegies and Śpiewnik włoski / Italian Songbook - which used modern, ascetic language to speak movingly of the ultimate matters of human life above all. One of the crowning achievements of Iwaszkiewicz's poetry is the volume Mapa pogody / Weather Map and the poet's last poems, in which he returned to a rich diversity of means of expression, to broad historical and cultural perspectives, and developed the topos of bidding the world farewell to the highest poetic mastery.
Iwaszkiewicz's dramatic works focused mainly on artistic motifs taken from literature (a polemic with Shakespeare's take on the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in Kochankowie z Werony / The Lovers of Verona), and biographies of great artists (Chopin - Lato w Nohant / The Summer at Nohant, Pushkin - Maskarada / Masquerade, Balzac - Wesele pana Balzaka / Mr. Balzac's Wedding) - in an approach offering an insight into the artists' mentalities and reconstructing the moral conflicts arising from an encounter with restrictions on creative freedom, and from the incompatibility between universal problems of art and specific needs of life. The main characters in the plays have been de-glorified, by being stripped of the exalted trappings of legend. Iwaszkiewicz also wrote plays on contemporary themes (Gospodarstwo / The Farm, Odbudowa Błędomierza / Rebuilding Błędomierz, Kosmogonia / Cosmogony), but these were slightly less good.
In his essays and columns, Iwaszkiewicz covered three areas of interest - music and theatre (monographs on Chopin and Bach, Spotkania z Szymanowskim / Meetings With Szymanowski, sketches on his Harnasie, publications on the S. Wysocka Theatre in Kiev and the Teatr Polski in Warsaw), reminiscences from his young years (Książka moich wspomnień / A Book of My Memoirs) and his travels (Pejzaże sentymentalne / Sentimental Landscapes, Listy z podróży do Ameryki Południowej / Letters from a Journey to South America, Ksiażka o Sycylii / A Book about Sicily, Gniazdo łabędzi. Szkice o Danii / Swans' Nest. Sketches on Denmark), enriched with reflections on culture and the customs of the communities he described (Podróże do Włoch / Travels to Italy, Podróże do Polski / Travels to Poland), and finally literary themes - numerous reviews, articles, columns and larger sketches and studies, some of which were published in book form (Gawędy o książkach i czytelnikach / Tales of Books And readers, Rozmowy o książkach / Talking about Books, Ludzie i książki / People and Books). A separate part of his output included sketches on Russian and Polish writers (Petersburg) and Szkice o literaturze skandynawskiej / Sketches on Scandinavian Literature.
Iwaszkiewicz's translation output includes works by French writers (Rimbaud, Claudel, Gide, Giraudox), Shakespeare (Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet), Tolstoy and Chekhov (short stories), Andersen, Kierkegaard.
Author: Bartłomiej Szleszyński, Department of Polish Philology, University of Warsaw, March 2003.