To celebrate International Women's Day 2017, Maria is featured as one of ten brilliant women poets by the leading journal Modern Poetry in Translation. Read more here:
A motif that ran through her poems and plays, and her paintings too, was the figure of a Woman-Butterfly. The wings being a symbol of freedom and imagination, and magic. Unsurprisingly, then, she responded deeply to the story of Madam Butterfly, writing two poems six years apart: one tragic, one transcendent.
As Butterfly lay on that mat made of straw,
like a fruit that hara-kiri had sliced open,
someone tore in, rapped at the paper walls
and let in the blazing vortex of destruction.
She heard his voice. Spellbound! Accursed!
So she convulsed - a caterpillar in a streaked cocoon -
on her elbows, on her side, to the closed door,
entwined in a dress of sky, peaches, and the moon.
In her haste she dropped face down onto the floor
and a wide exhausted wave rippled her on.
The Great Fan, black and foreboding, started to roar -
it blew away the walls and flowers, the world and Pinkerton…
MADAM BUTTERFLY IN PARADISE
in a black kimono
forgot about hara-kiri,
in the green dawn
over a carnation –
the spellbound Pinkerton…
Her breast touches the carnation,
her wings’ eyes,
and the ghouls and shrouds disappear
in this sweet paradise –
in the middle of the lawn…
In 1941, while in a refugee hostel in Blackpool, she wrote these poems:
DON’T KEEP SMILING
Oh let’s not seek oblivion, distractions,
Let’s not bare our teeth to fight the flow -
Laughing although our strength’s missing in action.
The jolliest lie spreadeagled here below
And the liveliest are dead now,
And the loveliest, like roses, are frozen to the bough.
There was a time for joy. Now it’s time to keep
God’s commandment to weep. Better weep.
THE WALL OF WATER
Ocean, you lie in front of me, a wall of water
Flattened, massive, without limits,
Cold grey granite turned to liquid.
And the heart is imprisoned here. And grief – without borders.
Don’t these poems resonate eerily in the atmosphere after Brexit?
MP-J was part of a circle who actively championed women's rights in early 20th century Poland.
They worked towards social and political changes aimed at women's enfranchisement and empowerment.
To find out more about the historical background to this aspect of her life, go to this article, published on International Women's Day 2016 by Polish Culture:
The Sound Of A Heartbeat –
a poetry reading and workshop.
Coleridge Room, Jesus College, 7 February 2016 at 5.00
Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska (1891-1945) is one of Poland’s greatest poets.
She is known as ‘the Polish Sappho’.
In her poetry and her life she set out to defy convention and to explore and express the many facets of love – lyrical, romantic, tragic, satiric, compassionate...
She was a playwright too: her last play, written in 1939, parodied Hitler and his Nazi regime. When Germany invaded Poland she escaped and ended up in England as a war refugee. As her wartime poetry shows, she was a brilliant observer of the English.
Today her work and the music she has inspired will be presented by her translator in a bilingual session including audience participation.
As the world spurned Sappho,
As her creations burned,
Rosy smoke blossomed;
A wild, heavy cloud turned
And flowed down time.
My lungs draw it in with the wind:
No waste of rhyme…
When I was approached by Warwick University’s Chantal Wright to take part in the event “Writing Home” within the Birmingham Literature Festival, I saw it as an opportunity to present a great Polish woman poet, Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska, whose work I have been translating for over two decades. MP-J was hailed by Czeslaw Milosz as “The Polish Sappho”. Tragically, this fascinating Bohemian figure became a WWII refugee, ending up in England, where she died in Manchester in 1945. Yet, her work and life story are barely known here. The invitation to BLT spurred my efforts to set up this website, which I launched at the IKON Gallery event on 15 October.
My thanks go to Chantal, who came up with the brave idea of organising this meeting of authors from very disparate parts of the world, at the time when at the top of the news agenda is migration and a refugee crisis. I also wish to thank the IKON Gallery, a beautiful venue, which hosted us with great warmth, attracting a generous audience prepared to listen and respond so sensitively to our communications – delivered in English but also Hindi, Bengali, Somali and Polish! And of course I feel extremely grateful to have met and worked alongside Chantal Wright, Rohini Chowdury, Shirin Ramzanali Fazel and Zaman Shahaduz. We spent hours together before and after the event, sharing in conversations which were incredibly inspiring and enriching.