Poet and translator, born on 13 September 1894 in Łódź, died on 27 December 1953 in Zakopane.
He graduated from a Łódź secondary school (1914), and studied law and philosophy at the Warsaw University (1916-18). He collaborated with the periodical "Pola esperantisimo" (1911-1914), where he published translations of Polish poems into Esperanto. As a poet, he debuted with the poem Prośba / Request in "Kurier Warszawski" (1913). From 1915 he translated from Russian as well as working with the Lodz cabarets Bi-Ba-Bo and Nowosci, and with the Urania theatre. He contributed to the Warsaw student periodical "Pro Arte et Studio" in 1916-1919. In 1918 he was among the founders of the Pikador literary cabaret, and then co-founder (1919) and leading representative of the poetic group Skamander, and a regular contributor to the monthly "Skamander" (1920-1928, 1935-1939) and the weekly "Wiadomosci Literackie" (from 1924). He published his works in "Zdrój" (1919), "Narod" (1920-1921), "Kurier Polski" (1920-1923), "Pani" (1922-1925). He was very active as a writer of cabaret texts and song lyrics (usually signed with a pen-name) for the cabarets Miraż (1916-1919), Czarny Kot (1917-1919), Argus (1918), Sfinks (1918), Qui Pro Quo (1919-32), Banda (1932-34), Cyganeria (from 1924), Stara Banda (1934-1935), Cyrulik Warszawski (1935-39). He collaborated with the satirical magazines "Cyrulik Warszawski" (1926-33) and "Szpilki" (1936-39), and also published his satirical texts in "Ilustrowany Kurier Codzienny" (1929-1933). He prepared the April Fool's Day issues of "Kurier Polski" together with Antoni Słonimski and Jan Lechoń (1920-1925), and wrote satirical political puppet shows with them as well (1922-1930). In 1925-1926 he published the illustrated magazine "To-To" with Mieczysław Grydzewski and A. Borman. He collaborated with Polish Radio from 1927 (he was artistic manager of the humour section from 1935). He was an editor at the monthly "Szpargały" from 1934. He was a founding member of the ZAiKS Association of Authors and Composers from 1919 (it was legalized in 1921), and a member of the board from 1932. A member of the Trade Union of Polish Writers (ZZLP) from 1920, he was also a member of the PEN Club.
He spent World War II in exile - in Romania, France, Portugal and Brazil, from where he travelled to New York in 1942. In 1939-41 he collaborated with the émigré weekly "Wiadomości Polskie", but broke off the collaboration due to differences in views on the attitude towards the Soviet Union. In 1942-46 he worked with the monthly "Nowa Polska" published in London, and with leftist Polish-American newspapers. Affiliated to the leftists in the Polish section of the International Workers Organization from 1942. He was a member of the Association of Writers From Poland (a member of the board in 1943).
He returned to Poland in 1946 and settled in Warsaw. He conducted literary, translation and editorial work. He published his works in "Kuźnica" (1945-1946), "Odrodzenie" (1945-1949), "Przekrój" (1945-1953), "Szpilki" (1946-1953). He was the artistic director of the Teatr Nowy in 1948-1949, and its literary manager in 1951. He took part in the World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace in Wroclaw in 1948. In 1949-1953, he collaborated with the monthly "Problemy", and from 1950 - with "Nowa Kultura". Awarded the Gold Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature (PAL) for outstanding work (1935), the literary prize of the city of Lodz (1928 and 1949), an honorary doctorate from Lodz University, the Polish PEN Club's award for his translations of Pushkin (1935), and a state award (1951).
In the initial period of his creativity (the volumes Czyhanie na Boga / Lying in Wait for God (1918), Sokrates tańczący / The Dancing Socrates (1920), Siódma Jesień / The Seventh Autumn (1922), Wierszy tom czwarty / Poems, Volume Four (1923)), he expressed rebellion against the form of poetry typicall of the Young Poland period (decadent moods and language mannerisms), instead propagating optimism and vitality, urbanism, introducing the city and its everyday life into poetry. He created a new lyrical hero - the urban resident, he brought poetic works closer to living everyday speech, with its vulgarisms and trivialities. He often incorporated such forms of expression as genre picture and conversation poetry into his poems. Just like all the Skamander poets, he aimed to popularize poetry and create a different model of its functioning than an elite and formalistic one.
In later years - from the volume Słowa we krwi / Words in Blood (1926) through Rzecz czarnoleska / The Czarnolas Matter (1929), Biblia cygańska / Gypsy Bible to Treść gorejąca / Burning Content (1936) - elements of bitterness appeared and intensified in his output, and the poet reached for classic models (Jan Kochanowski) as well as those originating in Romanticism and Norwid's poetry. Anxiety came to the fore in both his personal poems and his socially oriented pieces. At the same time, Tuwim's increasingly skilful handling of form, his virtuosity in using words and images, became - in combination with his love of the great tradition - the source of a special poetic philosophy that focused on the issue of the word-sign and its relation to the designate, leading issues of language towards the fairy-tale etymology of words, their "poetic alchemy".
Satirical works are a separate part of Tuwim's output - rich, complex and multi-faceted, written from the moment of his debut. This is a non-uniform trend, both in terms of genre formula and due to the diverse nature of the works and the purposes for which they were written. Satires on everyday life were based on negating old models of morality as being a symptom of backwardness, and promoted the role model presented by the liberal intelligentsia of Warsaw. As the author of political satires, Tuwim evolved from a negation of certain elements of the political reality to complete negation of the governing elites when they began assuming increasingly rightist positions in the 1930's, bringing them close to groups with anti-Semitic and fascist programmes. The most important achievement of Tuwim the satirist was his 1936 Bal w operze / The Ball at the Opera, making use of the poet's previous experience with satire and introducing elements of the grotesque and expressionism.
Still before the outbreak of World War II, Tuwim wrote poems for children, infused with his poetic artistry, combining lyricism with humor (often of the pure-nonsense variety), making use of diverse qualities of language (Lokomotywa / The Locomotive, Słoń Trąbalski / Trąbalski the Elephant, Zosia Samosia). During the war the poet worked on his lyrical-epic poem Kwiaty Polskie / Polish Flowers, published in 1949, an invocation of the tradition of the Romantic digressive poem which, however, achieved the standard of Tuwim's pre-war poetry only in some passages.
Tuwim's poetry was extremely popular with readers and critics - in a survey by "Wiadomości Literackie" from 1935, "Who would you elect to the Academy of the Independents if such an academy existed?", he came first. He was attacked by younger writers (especially from avant-garde circles, who accused his work of sentimentalism and traditionalism) and also, for completely different reasons, by antagonists from nationalist circles - they reproached him for his family's Jewish origin as well as were outraged by those works of his which carried a blatant pacifist message, such as Do generałów / To the Generals and Do prostego człowieka / The Common Man.
Tuwim also translated numerous works, mainly from Russian - including The Tale of Igor's Campaign (BN 1928, new version 1950), works by Pushkin (The Bronze Horseman 1931, the volume Lutnia Puszkina / Pushkin's Lute 1937), classical works of Russian drama (including Gogol's The Inspector-General 1929), the poems of Lermontov, Mayakovsky, Blok, Pasternak and others (published in the anthology "Z rosyjskiego" [From Russian] vol. 1-3, 1954). He also translated Horace, W. Whitman, H. Longfellow, A. Rimbaud.
He was a collector of interesting titbits on culture and customs, publishing his findings in books such as Czary i czarty polskie oraz wypisy czarnoksieskie / Polish Magic and Fiends, and a Wizard Reader (1923), Polski słownik pijacki i antologia bachiczna / Polish Drunkard Dictionary and Bacchic Anthology (1935), the three-volume cycle Cicer cum caule, czyli groch z kapusta / Cicer cum Caule, or Hotchpotch (1958-63). His historical-literary interests yielded the anthologies Cztery wieki fraszki polskiej / Four Centuries of Polish Epigrams (1937, with preface by A. Brückner), Polska nowela fantastyczna / The Polish Fantasy Story (1949), Ksiega wierszy polskich XIX wieku / A Book of Polish 19th century Poems (vol. 1-3, 1954) edited with J.W. Gomulicki, a collection of sketches illustrated with a rich selection of poetic curiosities - Pegaz deba, czyli panopticum poetyckie / Pegasus Rearing, or a Poetic Panopticum (1958), humorous sketches, satires, jokes and parodies in pure-nonsense style, written with Slonimski and published in the volume W oparach absurdu / In the Fumes of Absurdity (1958). He wrote stage adaptations (including Gogol's story The Overcoat), musical vaudevilles - such as Żołnierz królowej Madagaskaru / The Soldier of the Queen of Madagascar based on S. Dobrzański (1936), or Labiche's An Italian Straw Hat (1948).
"Dzieła" [Works] vol. 1-5, Warsaw, Czytelnik 1955-1964
Author: Bartłomiej Szleszyński, Department of Polish Philology, University of Warsaw, April 2003