Poet, soldier, translator, author of revolutionary and romantic poetry, and threnodies. Born in 1897 in Płock, died in 1962 in Warsaw.
Poet, soldier, translator, author of revolutionary and romantic poetry, and threnodies. Born in 1897 in Płock, died in 1962 in Warsaw. After 1989 Broniewski’s poems gradually disappeared from the academic curriculum and reading lists. Today, the poet is being rediscovered by the artists and critics of the young and middle-age generations who mostly value his skill of expressing emotion.
Władysław Broniewski was born on the 17 December 1897 in Płock into a family of the intelligentsia, strongly vested in patriotic traditions. The poet expressed socialist views at an early age and established a semi-legal scout team and a clandestine paramilitary group. In 1915, Broniewski left school and joined the Polish armed forces in the Polish Legions. Following his refusal to pledge allegiance, Broniewski was interned in a detention camp in Szczypiorno. Upon his release, the future poet completed his high school graduation examination on an extramural basis and entered the Philosophy Department at the University of Warsaw. After the outbreak of the Polish-Bolshevik war, he enlisted in the army and participated in military actions. Broniewski was honoured with the Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari and four times with the Cross of Valour. He returned to civilian life in 1921 with the rank of captain.
In the 1920s Broniewski’s political views and aesthetic beliefs finally had room to crystallise. He joined the left-wing Życie Association of Independent Socialist Youth. Broniewski's literary debut came with the publication of a translation of Mayakovsky’s poem Poeta Robotnik / Poet Worker (1924) in the communist journal Nowa Kultura. Broniewski worked as a translator throughout his entire life and provided translations of poems by Blok, Yesenin and Pasternak, tales by Chukovski and songs from Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera and Mother Courage and Her Children.
In 1925 Broniewski – together with Stande and Wandurski – published the poetry bulletin Trzy Salwy / Three Salvos, a manifesto of revolutionary poetry supporting the pursuits of the proletariat. In the same year, the poet released his first collection of poetry, entitled Wiatraki / Windmills, and was offered the prestigious post of a secretary of the Wiadomości Literackie / Literary News journal editorial board, which he held until 1936. At the same time, the poet cooperated with a literary monthly Miesięcznik Literacki / Literature Monthly. In 1931, he was arrested along with other members of the editorial board after publishing a protest against torturing political prisoners.
Broniewski’s works were closely related to his biography and ideological beliefs. The poet is best known for his 'proletariat' poetry, such as: Czerwony Sztandar / The Red Banner, Ballada o Placu Teatralnym / Ballad of Theatre Square or Na Śmierć Rewolucjonisty / On the Death of a Revolutionist. Still, the poet’s oeuvre also comprises intimate and love poetry as well as stirring poems praising the beauty of landscapes (e.g. the poem Mazowsze / Mazovia and the impressionistic Hawrań i Murań / Hawrań and Murań named 'the most beautiful poem on the Tatra mountains'). Broniewski’s poetry is highly emotional, encompassing the entire spectrum of feelings, beginning with euphoria through melancholy and dejection to depression (a recurring motif of death, also suicide).
In April 1939 Broniewski wrote a famous poem-manifesto Bagnet na Broń / Bayonet On. In September 1939, he volunteered to join the infantry in Zbaraż but did not participate in military action. After the September defeat, Broniewski settled in Lviv where he was arrested in 1940 (under the pretext of drunkenness and instigating a fight) and first sent to Zamarstyniv prison, and next to Moscow’s Lubyanka. As soon as he was released, Broniewski entered Anders’ Army (April 1942) with which he reached the Middle East. In Jerusalem, he would work as an editor for the journal W Drodze / On the Way (1943), where he also published his works. At this time, the poet would write anti-Soviet poems, including Homo sapiens, addressing the issue of the Katyń massacre, a topic which was banned in Poland until 1989.
The poet returned to Poland in November 1945. First, he lived in Łódź and then moved to Warsaw. Pampered by the communist authorities (on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his career, he received a villa in the Stary Mokotów district where his museum is now located), Broniewski wrote subservient and propaganda poems (e.g. Byt określa świadomość / Existence Determines Awareness and Słowo o Stalinie / A Word About Stalin). And yet, he never joined any political party. Asked by Bierut to write a new national anthem, he adamantly refused. In response, he was apparently to hand in a note to the President of Poland which read as the incipit of the Polish national anthem: 'Poland has not yet perished'.
Aside from poems addressing current political affairs, Broniewski’s post-war works include moving intimate poems and threnodies rooted in family tragedies, that is, the death of his wife Maria (Maria Zarębińska, actress, prisoner of the concentration camp in Oświęcim, d. in 1947) and his beloved daughter Anka (Joanna Broniewska-Kozicka, director, d. 1954). Anka died from gas poisoning (it might have been a suicide) while working on the film Wisła / The Vistula (inspired by her father’s poem by the same title). The poet dedicated his final book of poetry 'Anka' to her (1956).
Broniewski died from larynx cancer on February 10, 1962; he was buried in the Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw. Broniewski is one of the lesser-known poets of the 20th century. His poetry was censored both in the times of the Second Republic of Poland and post-war Poland. Communists who wanted to see him as the worshiper of the system marginalized his intimate poetry and disregarded his criticism of the Soviet Union. His service in the Polish Legions and the Anders’ Army was also deleted from the poet’s biography.
After 1989, Broniewski’s poems gradually disappeared from the academic curriculum and reading lists. Today, the poet is being rediscovered by the artists and critics of the young and middle-aged generations who mostly value his skill of expressing emotion. Broniewski’s vivid and uncommon biography has also aroused interest. Still, the poet is particularly appreciated as the writer of love poems. He devoted his works to the theme of unfulfilled love, and lovers separated by psychological barriers or historical events, such as List do Marii z Bejrutu / Letter to Maria from Beirut, Opowiadania Oświęcimskie/ The Auschwitz Tales, or by death, as in Do Umarłej / To the Deceased. Broniewski’s poems are often included in anthologies, mostly of revolutionary poetry, and collections of love poetry.
Broniewski is one of the most frequently translated Polish poets. His poetry was published mostly in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc; it was translated into, among others, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Mongolian, Russian, Romanian and Hungarian. Translations into English, French, Spanish, Vietnamese and Italian have also been published.
He passed away on the 10th of February, 1962 in Warsaw.
Major works of poetry:
• "Trzy salwy: biuletyn poetycki Władysława Broniewskiego, Stanisława Ryszarda Stande i Witolda Wandurskiego" / "Three Salvos: a Poetic Bulletin by Władysław Broniewski, Stanisław Ryszard Stande and Witold Wandurski". Published at the expense of the authors, Warsaw 1925.
• "Wiatraki" / "Windmills". W. Czarski i S-ka, Warsaw 1925.
• "Dymy nad miastem" / "Smoke Over the City". Księgarnia "Książka", Warsaw 1927.
• "Komuna paryska: Poemat" / "The Parisian Commune: a Poem". Księgarnia "Książka", Warsaw 1929 (confiscated by censorship).
• "Troska i pieśń" / "Sadness and Song". Wydawnictwo Ferdynanda Hoesicka, Warsaw 1932.
• "Krzyk ostateczny" / "The Final Cry". Wydawnictwo Jakuba Mortkowicza, Warsaw-Kraków 1938.
• "Bagnet na broń" / "Bayonet On". Wydawnictwo "W Drodze", Jerusalem 1943.
• "Drzewo rozpaczające" / "The Tree of Despair". Wydawnictwo "W Drodze", Jerusalem 1945.
• "Nadzieja" / "Hope". Książka i Wiedza, Warsaw 1951.
• "Anka". Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warsaw 1956.
• "Wiersze i poematy" / "Poems and Verses". Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warsaw 1972.
• "Wiersze i poematy" / "Poems and Verses". Foreword by Tadeusz Bujnicki. 3rd complete edition. Wydawnictwo Łódzkie, Łódź 1984.
• "Poezje zebrane" / "Collected Poems". Critical edition. Vol. 1-4. Edited by Feliksa Lichodziejewska. Towarzystwo Naukowe Polskie - Wydawnictwo Algo, Płock-Toruń 1997.
• Spanish: "Poemas y versos." Translated by María Dembowska. Arte y Literatura, Havana 1979.
• German: "Hoffnung: ausgewählte Gedichte." Translated by Max Zimmering. Dietz, Berlin 1955.
• Russian: "Izbrannoe: stichi." Translated by Mark Živov and others. Pravda, Moscow 1951.
Selected works of literary criticism:
• Feliksa Lichodziejewska, "Twórczość Władysława Broniewskiego. Monografia bibliograficzna." / "Works by Władysław Broniewski. Bibliographic Study". Instytut Badań Literackich Polskiej Akademii Nauk, Warsaw 1973.
• Stanisław Barańczak, "Broniewski prawdziwy i Broniewski z akademii 'ku czci' " / "The True Broniewski and Broniewski from School’s Celebrations ‘In commemoration of’". "Odra", 1976, no. 1.
• Tadeusz Bujnicki, "Władysław Broniewski". Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warsaw 1974. 2nd edition. "Portrety Współczesnych Pisarzy Polskich" / "Portraits of Contemporary Polish Writers" Series.
• "To ja - dąb": wspomnienia i eseje o Władysławie Broniewskim" / "‘It’s Me – the Oak’: Memories and Essays on Władysław Broniewski". Edited by Stanisław Witold Balicki. Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warsaw 1978.
• Ryszard Matuszewski, "Romantyk i rewolucjonista" / "Romantic and Revolutionist", [collected work:] Poeci dwudziestolecia międzywojennego / Poets of the Interwar Period. Vol. I. Edited by Irena Maciejewska. Wiedza Powszechna, Warsaw 1982.
• Tadeusz Bujnicki, "Wiersze Władysława Broniewskiego" / "Poems by Władysław Broniewski." Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne, Warsaw 1992. Biblioteka Analiz Literackich, vol. 72.
• Kazimierz Wierzyński dedicated a poem to the poet entitled "Na śmierć Broniewskiego" / "On the Death of Broniewski" (1962).
• In November 2005, an issue of "Lampa" journal on the current reception of Broniewski’s works was published (2005, no. 11).
• In 2006, a Warsaw-based art gallery Raster carried out a project "Broniewski" consisting of an exhibition of visual works of art (e.g. works by Zbigniew Libera and Wilhelm Sasnal) and a CD album featuring the poet’s works interpreted by contemporary musicians of the alternative stage such as Grabaż and Pidżama Porno, Muniek Staszczyk and Pustki as well as Andy (Broniewski, Raster 2006).
Author: Małgorzata Olszewska, December 2007. The article has been written for the purpose of the online project of "Antologia polskiej poezji od Średniowiecza do wieku XXI" / "Anthology of Polish Poetry from the Middle Ages to the 21st Century" based on the concept of Piotr Matywiecki. Translated by Katarzyna Różańska, February 2012.