TEA AND COMPASSION

After the Manchester terror attack: ‘Local hotels gave free rooms to those affected by the concert explosion, while locals opened their doors offering cups of tea.’ IndependentMay 23, 2017

‘Londoners responded in classic British fashion after a terror attack rocked their city on Saturday evening -- offering cups of tea to those affected.’ CNN June 4, 2017

These reports echo the cycle of poems, A Cup Of Tea, which Maria wrote in 1941 after the Manchester Blitz. Was she inspired by similar headlines at the time?

The poems were recently published in Modern Poetry in Translation (NO.3 2016), and you can find out more here:

http://www.mptmagazine.com/author/maria-pawlikowskajasnorzewska-5978/

http://www.mptmagazine.com/article/basia-howard-translating-maria-pawlikowskajasnorzewska-92/

Dedicating these translations to all those touched by the recent attacks, where a cup of tea again manifested the compassion of ordinary people, we include them here:

A CUP OF TEA

To the bombed, the homeless, the wounded... 

Who will weep for you? Not John and not Mary.
Neither Percy nor William. Not Gladys - nor Sybil
Hardened by the cold and tough as the seagulls.
But a sad woman from Krakow will. She was born next to Wawel castle,
In a country where we were taught to cry our eyes out by the birches,
By the robins in the park, by Chopin, by black cherries.
From a land with a culture of tears, a land of melancholy...

I raise a toast to you with a cup of tea,
I serve you with my grief– my country’s natural resource.

The Wartime Niobe

Alice, the Manchester Niobe, lost her
Entire family, survives alone amidst the rubble
Confused - as the Earth herself would be confused,
Confused and astonished, fazed and hapless,
To see the sudden absence of the sun, moon, planets
Swept from the sky by one brief and horrific tremor...

But this Niobe is no model for sculptors
Because as she strains not to upset or frighten the others
She holds back her gesture of despair and tries to smile,
And she rubs at her face with all her might
To hide the emotion betrayed by her pallor,
And from the hands of her nice friendly neighbours, in silence,
She accepts a cup of merciful tea... 

Ann

When the enemy parachutist after a doomed flight,
Wounded, broken and weak, landed in the meadow
Next to the small house that Ann owned - Ann, the farmer’s wife -
Ann took him prisoner, saying, ‘Sorry’.
She dressed his wounds by the fire and
Seized by mercy poured him a hot cup of tea.

Into the hell of anger, into the furious abyss of the nations,
An absurd ray of light burst, shining into the rubble
Of the Satanic scrapheap... and there arose the scent
Of Biblical balsam... nard from Palestine...

It’s beautiful, the aroma of English tea.

George

George shielded the dog and two children with his body.
Scottie and the babies are alive – but George is dead.

Such kindly arms, whose wide reach protected
Animal and human lives –
Prized so unequally in the world’s eyes –
In the humble wisdom that comes before death.

Someone took the children. Scottie, howling sadly, has been left behind –
Someone is running, bringing – carefully – a cup of tea for George.

(1941)

 

 

 

 

Maria was born 125 years ago in Kraków.

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. 

 

MADAMA BUTTERFLY

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…

[1924]

 

MADAM BUTTERFLY IN PARADISE

Madam Butterfly
in a black kimono
forgot about hara-kiri,
outstretched
in the green dawn
over a carnation –
the spellbound Pinkerton…  

Her breast touches the carnation,
she opens
closes
her wings’ eyes,
and the ghouls and shrouds disappear
in this sweet paradise –
in the middle of the lawn…

[1930]

 

 

Maria died 71 years ago today.

 
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 on International Women's Day

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:

http://culture.pl/en/article/saying-no-to-children-kitchen-church-the-pioneers-of-womens-rights-in-poland 

MP-J at Cambridge: John Hughes Arts Festival, Jesus College, Sunday 7 February 2016

The Sound Of A Heartbeat –
a poetry reading and workshop.

Coleridge Room, Jesus College, 7 February 2016 at 5.00

https://www.evensi.uk/jhaf-maria-pawlikowska-jasnorzewska-poetry-reading-jesus/169408114

http://www.polishculture.org.uk/nc/news/article/maria-pawlikowska-jasnorzewska-at-john-hughes-arts-festival-2915//nbp/1.html

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…