Gałczyński was one of the most singular figures of Polish literature. His work is difficult to ascribe to any particular movement popular at his times (futurism, cubism, surrealism, experimental poetry, and neoclassicism), yet it moves swiftly between each of them. Throughout his life, he was associated with literary magazines from both ends of the politcal spectrum. In the interwar period, he collaborated with the extreme right wing Prosto z mostu, antisemitic and fascist. After the war, among his other artistic activities, he would create some of his works following the rules of socialist realism, the aesthetic doctrine of the times of the communist regime in Poland.
During his life, Gałczyński would often give completely different accounts of his biography. Some facts, however, are certain: Gałczyński was the son of Konstanty and Wanda Cecylia. His brother, Zenon, was born just eleven months after the poet and died early, in 1921. In 1914, during World War I, the family moved to Moscow, where young Konstanty Ildefons attended a Polish school and started to write his first poems (no record of them is preserved). In 1918, the family came back to Warsaw and continued his education. He debuted in 1923, at the age of just 18, right before entering university.
He was familiar with Latin, German, French, and English poetry and could easily read in all of these languages. In the interwar period, Gałczyński was studying classics and English at University of Warsaw. He did not graduate from neither of the courses. It was already then that he assumed a position he seemed to be particularly fond of – the prankster. He decided to give an oral presentation (although some sources claim it was an essay, or even an MA thesis; this is dubious as no written record survived) about a 15th century Scottish poet, Morris Gordon Cheats. Gałczyński presented a detailed analysis of his works, including numerous quotations he beautifully recited. The only issue was that Morris Gordon Cheats never existed.
For some time in the late 1920s / early 1930s, Gałczyński was part of the literary avant-garde group Kwadryga, established in 1926. In 1930 Gałczyński married Anna Awałow, who was also a writer, author of children's book and translator of Russian literature. The ceremony took place in The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy and Equal-to-the-Apostles Mary Magdalene, a Polish Orthodox cathedral. In 1931 Gałczyński left Poland to work at a diplomatic post in Berlin – this was the only 'proper' job other than writing that he had in his entire life. He came back to Warsaw in 1933 and left soon, in 1934 – he and Anna went to Vilnius, where their daughter, Kira, was born. During the stay, Gałczyński started to work intensely and collaborate with different literary magazines. In 1936 the family returned to Warsaw, where he started writing for Prosto z mostu.
In the beginning of World War II, Gałczyński had to join the army. He took part in the Polish September Campaign of 1939. He was very soon taken captive by the Russians, and later – Germans. Subsequently, he was a prisoner at a German prisoner-of-war camp. After the war, having visited Brussels and Paris in the meantime, Gałczyński came back to Poland. At that time, he started to co-operate with Przekrój magazine.
His work was incredibly versatile and saturated with imagery drawn from different sources (including poetry and art of the past – Gałczyński was generally well-read and educated), often put together in a surprising or even seemingly senseless manner – hence some literary scholars describe Gałczyński's work as being on the intersection of the avant-garde and neoclacissim.
Nowadays, the poet is best remember for his absurd cycle Green Goose Theater (Teatrzyk Zielona Gęś), printed in Przekrój between 1946 and 1950. This series of very short dramatical forms is notable for grotesque and absurd humour. Already at his time, Gałczyński was considered to be the master of the 'cabaret' form in poetry, meaning creating works that would switch their mood and imagery often and vividly. Curiously enough, he is the author of the Polish translation of Ode to Joy, which became the Polish version of the European Union's anthem many decades later.
Gombrowicz, another Polish writer notable for his use of grotesque and mockery, valued Gałczyński's work very much and wrote
Gałczyński's pieces are more edible to me than the work of others, because they contain a solid portion of prose, anecdote, psychology, politics even – so strongly merged into an organic whole with poetry that can only be treated as proof of the author's absolute skill.
Unfortunately, Gałczyński's work remains largely untranslated into English.
To find out more about the poet's multifaceted work and troubled life, see our article:
Written by NS, April 2018