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                                                                                    Anna Gąsienica-Byrcyn                                                                                                University of Illinois at Chicago



Halina Poświatowska is one of the most outstanding postwar Polish poets of love and death.  She is also one of the first Polish women poets who dared to voice her enormous hunger for life, her erotic desires and her passion for freedom of self-realization.  Poświatowska’s poems evoke her encounters with death, the tragic loss of her husband, her struggle to pursue her interests, and her craving for love.  Her poems are youthful, sensual, and delicate - like the poet herself who died at the age of 32 of congenital heart disease, remaining forever young, lively, expressive, and springlike in the memory of her friends, critics and readers.

The key to Poświatowska’s poetic vision and her aesthetic creation constitutes the mythos of the Great Goddess and her consort the Dying/Reviving God.  The lyrical subject of Poświatowska’s poetry is the poet herself who embodies the figure of Luna, in manifold configurations by intertwining the ancient archetypal figures with her personal biography and weaving stories of the great heroines of history and literature so that her mythos develops into a palimpsest.  The figures are layered one upon another, as for instance, Gaea/Nekhbet/Mary, Aphrodite/Eve/Madonna, Isis/Demeter/Cleopatra, Juliet/Desdemona/Isolde Columbine/Ophelia/Carmen, or Psyche/Hypatia/Héloise.  Moreover, they model the lifelong quest for individuation or self-formation and project poet’s inner world, the inward image of her psyche (Neumann 89). 

Poświatowska writes from the inside, from the spiritual space within herself.  She finds the roots of her poetry, her own music within herself.  From the inner voice, hues and fragrance come, offering the riches of her poetic imagination.  In her writing, as in a dance, which constitutes a metaphor for her poetic creation, Poświatowska unveils her inner true self, her cravings and her emotions, chanting her own tunes, prayers and incantations created from her heart’s beat, her blood’s rippling, her irregular breathing, and her inner body which turns into a musical instrument that sings of love.  

Love, the greatest force, defined by Poświatowska as life, possesses a sacred aspect for the poet.  Above all, love saves one from death.  For the poet love is like a flame, it nourishes spiritually, destroys, transforms, and creates again.   Love is the most valuable gift that one being can offer another because it evokes feelings of need, warmth, intimacy, intensity and rapture.   In the dance of love, in its symphonic movements a man and a woman become the Sacred One, the poet reveals: “my fingers entwined into the flesh of his palm/ my lungs singing with his breath” (Oda 59), “you are my hand/ I am your hair”(Jeszcze 134).    

Song, music and dance are the expressions of Poświatowska’s aesthetics.  Music is the poet’s soul and a song is her body, the Logos made flesh.   In her quest for magical and numinous power the poet/ dancing goddess often proves her existenc through dance, a ritual that has the power to heal one’s soul and body.  Dance, the symbol of élan vital  and panta rhei is a flirtation, and invitation to love leading to the knowledge of the other and the world.  The poet who favors a kinetic philosophy of cognition promises: “you will gather your infinite knowledge/closed in the rhythm of my dancing blood” (Hymn 68); and she warns: “if my lips are not light/then you will live all of your days/with your closed eyes” (Oda 54).    In another poem the dancing goddess assures: my love/I’ll dance for you/in words and among butterflies   (Wiersze 372-373). The dancing goddess glides in the joy of the moment: “on the tips of her toes her body dances” (Dzień 8), “her earrings are dancing” while “her bracelets sing softly” (Jeszcze 24), “red blood dances in the blue alleys of her body” (Oda 11). And she affirms firmly: “I want you/and that is a dance/in the blind alleys of my veins” (Oda 44).  The desire itself means a movement toward knowledge as the poet claims in another poem: “desire exists to know” (Jeszcze 214).

In the poem Mokra Ofelia, the Shakespearean figure is portrayed as a dancing Ancient Bacchante.   Ophelia/Isis dances wildly, wearing the great moon.  She performs her dance of love “once golden once saint/she danced” (Jeszcze 26), or dance of adoration known as alarippu (Bowers 48).  Flowering out, she unfolds spiritually like a rose worshipping her god in the madness of her creative powers.

The attribute of the Great Goddess constitutes the image of the moon, a symbol of her luminous spirit.  The Goddess has lips carved from the waxing moon (Jeszcze 122), her face turns into a waning moon (Oda 26), on her head she wears the great moon (Jeszcze 26), and she shines with the green moons (Hymn 28).   Moreover, her words, her love and her yearning represent a desire that never dies and  is renewed like the moon: “quick stream carries my words/carries my words/and all of them tell about my love/my yearning/my desire renewed like the moon” (Jeszcze 100).

In her dance of love the poet undertakes a metaphysical journey within herself and into the “heart of darkness.”  Growing intellectually and spiritually, the poet conquers herself and turns into the Solar/ Lunar God or the Dying/Reviving God who searches for the golden bough or the fern blossom, the gifts of omniscience and the symbols of the poetic wisdom and creativity (Bodkin 131-136, Greimas 115).

The perilous journey through her contemplation, studies, and imagination leads the poet to the act of writing, the magical act of leaving a trace. Her verses anchored in her psyche are hewn from her inner being.  Poświatowska “writes herself” (Cixous and Clément 97) using the “script” of her own body, defined by Marija Gimbutas as “the language of the goddess” (3-64).  Poświatowska’s body becomes her logos, the language of her poetic creation.  In her sacred dance of life, in her writing the dancing goddess/poet unveils her body revealing her inner true self, presenting herself naked, making herself heard.

The poet describes her emotions, cravings and experiences by speaking about her breasts, lips, hands, eyes, heart, belly and hair, the “primordial script,” the language of her poetry.  Her body is the instrument of her being, her existence because she has nothing but her fragile, delicate body: “I only have my body/and my body is soft/and my hair is soft/and my lips” (Jeszcze 147).  Like Claudel, who carved woman’s body, especially hands, in marble with magnificent sensual detail, so Poświatowska creates beautiful, moving images with words, turning hands, arms and fingers into sunbeams, wings of birds and tree roots.  The lyrical subject/the poet metamorphoses into Daphne/Christ by presenting her vascular system as branches and roots, her inner self turning into a tree, the symbol of knowledge of good and evil, the metaphor of her poetics and her poetical tradition. Her ill heart, the light of her existence becomes in metaphor an imprisoned, captured bird that is unable to fly, it cannot lead its life to the fullest possibilities, confined by its affliction.

In the sacred dance of love the dancing goddess/the poet “writes herself” unveiling her body, casting rainbow veils of eternity: gold/green, red/gold, green/red, violet/gold, silver/red, white/green, and green/brown.  The colors in double and triple configurations carry symbolic meaning.  They reecho the different sounds of musical instruments.  For instance green and yellow invoke the music of violins, violoncellos, and bass; red and gold recall horns and trombones; while violet suggests the music of flutes, clarinets and oboes (Gide 51-53).  In addition, the colors evoke the fragrance of grass, trees, flowers, moss, wild strawberries and raspberries resonating Baudelaire’s Correspondances (20).    The connection between colors, sounds and fragrance create a synaesthesia or the sense of refinement, complexity and harmony of all sensations precious to the poet, who cherished life in its manifold aspects.

In writing as in  dance, the poet creates her self-portrait while seeking herself.  Writing signifies for her the eternal presence, the eternal dance of love with the readers of her poetry.  Poświatowska’s poems become paintings/sculptures evoking works of Frida Kahlo (Zamora 10, 77, 92, 112) and Camille Claudel (Paris 101,109,123).   Poświatowska like Kahlo and Claudel depicts a woman’s body in the primordial archetypes, the symbols of the primordial unconscious, creating images prevailing in every culture throughout the millennia as one aspect of the great Moon Goddess, or the Eternal Feminine.


A.     Works of Halina Poświatowska


Poświatowska, Halina. Dzieła. 4 vol. Ed. Maria Rola. Kraków: Wydawnictwo

Literackie, 1998. 


- - - .    Dzień dzisiejszy. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1963.


- - - .    Hymn bałwochwalczy. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1958.


- - - .    Jeszcze jedno wspomnienie. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1968.


- - - .    Oda do rąk.  Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1966.


- - - .    Opowieść dla przyjaciela. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1966.


- - - .    Poezje zebrane. Toruń: Algo, 1994.


- - - .    Pomiędzy miłość i śmierć. Ed. Tadeusz Linkner. Gdynia: P.D.K. “MAG,”



- - - .   Wiersze nieznane, wiersze zapomniane. Bydgoszcz: Instytut     

Wydawniczy “Świadectwo,” 1993.


- - - .   Wiersze wybrane. Ed. Jan Zych. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie,




B.     Translations


Peretz, Maya: Indeed I Love. Właśnie kocham. A Selected Bilingual Translation.

Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1997.



C.  Cited Literature


Baudelaire, Charles. Les fleurs du mal. Kwiaty zła. Eds. Maria Leśniewska

and Jerzy Brzozowski. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie 1994.


Bodkin, Maud. Archetypal Patterns in Poetry. Psychological Studies of

Imagination. London: Oxford University Press, 1934.


Bowers,Faubion. The Dance in India. New York: Columbia University Press,



Caranfa, Angelo. Camille Claudel. A Sculpture of Interior Solitude. London:

Associated University Press, Inc., 1999.


Cixous, Hélčne, and Clément, Catherine. The Newly Born Woman. Trans.

Betsy Wing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.


Gide, André. La symphonie pastorale. Paris: Gallimard, 1997.


Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. San Francisco:

HarperCollins, 1991.


 Greimas, Algiridas. Of Gods and Men. Trans. Milda Newman. Bloomington,

            Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1992.


Neumann, Erich, The Great Mother. An Analysis of the Archetype. Trans.

Ralph Manheim. 2nd ed. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University

Press, 1963.


Paris, Reine-Marie. Camille. The Life of Camille Claudel, Rodin’s Muse and

Mistress.Trans. Liliane Emery Tuck. New York: Seaver Books Henry Holt and Comapany, 1988.


Zamora, Martha. Frida Kahlo. The Brush of Anguish. Trans. Marilyn Sode Smith.

San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1990.




I am of flowers

of  bird’s wing

the wind lives in me

when unfolded

I catch the wind

drops of green rain

awaken me with the spring

and I rub my eyes

of feathers and of flesh

of  earth’s thick fiber

I raise my head with my open eyes

I clench in my hand

a green shred of  sky

I hold in my strong teeth

a small bough

I am of smiles  - of pain

that carves a triangle

above my forehead

of light and of the moon

of  love straight as a  tree is straight

of earth that blooms golden in my hand




I tuned up my insides

they sing to me now


like a bird at dawn


my insides say

the most beautiful music is love

we learn to love


a bird says

the most beautiful time of day is dawn


at dawn the sun flies by

and with its warm wing

veils the earth




in your perfect fingers

I am only a shiver

a song of leaves

under the touch of your warm lips


your fragrance irritates – it says: you exist

your fragrance irritates – it takes the night away

in your perfect fingers

I am the light


I shine with green moons

above the dead darkened day

suddenly you know that my lips are red


 – with salty taste the blood flows up –




a bird of my heart lives

under my left arm

a bird of my heart throbs

with its strangled wings

in the warm nest


the torn out feathers

live in the wind


the king likes to hide his head

in the warm fragrant nest

under my left arm

as I know the king feared death


she stood outside

gathering thorn feathers

with her cold hand

she lulled the wind to sleep




             it’s due to the flowers

 I sent my lover to the South Pole

 and when he left my lips turned to stone

 I could no longer drink from that source

 though I bowed my head very low

 it’s due to the flowers

 that have not blossomed


 it’s due to the doves

 whose wings became so dark from sudden knowledge

 they lost their golden shine

 they turned black

 like a starless night

 blind from  birth

 it’s due to the doves

 my lover lost his fingers then his arms


 and he could no longer caress me


I wait in my home wrapped among the branches of trees

swaying in the wind – I wait

I look

as if he could still  return from there

and bring in his absent hands

the sunny bloom of flowers and doves


I wait and watch






if you die

I will not wear a lilac dress

I will not buy colorful garlands

with ribbons filled with the whispering wind

nothing of that sort



the hearse will arrive – it will arrive

the hearse will leave – it will leave

I will stand by the window – I will look

I will wave my hand

I will wave my kerchief

I will bid farewell

by that window alone


and in  summer

in furious May

I will lie down on the grass


and with my hand I will touch your hair

and with my lips I will touch the fur of the honeybee

the one biting as beautiful

as your smile

as the dusk

                        then it will be

silver – gold

maybe gold and merely red

for that dusk

that wind

that whispers stubbornly to the grass

love – love

will not allow me to rise

and go

simply so

to my accursed empty home




wet Ophelia


in redness

rising on her cheeks

she scattered herself like petals on water

she took the great moon into her sleeve

and then she put it suddenly on her head

and on her toes

on the tips of her hair

in this redness

once golden once sacred

she danced

as if possessed by the wind    




why have I washed my breasts

combed every hair

so carefully in the narrow mirror

empty are my arms

and my bed


the thin penknife of night

cut my wedding ring

it hangs like a crescent now

under the heavy buds of the apple tree


I toss and turn

the wild wind swells

my starched shirt


my belly is a smooth pond

my breasts  foaming water

caress them – caress – caress


day’s light, drunk with weakness

will find my dried lips

and reluctantly and strangely

                        will kiss them with mist – and leave






Greetings to you my palms, my grasping fingers, and my finger smashed by the car door.  My X-rayed palm looks like a sprained wing, like a tiny piece of bone drawn by its own contour.  My left hand’s ring finger once decorated by a band is widowed now, deprived of its adornment.  The one who gave me the ring long since has no fingers.  His arms are woven with the tree’s roots into one.

My hands have so often touched the frozen palms of the dead, and the warm, strong palms of the living.  They know how to caress unusually by touch losing the space that separates existence from existence, and heaven from earth.  My hands knowing the pain of helplessness cling to each other like two frightened birds, homeless, blindly seeking everywhere the trace of your hands.




the body of my garden

woven from the living and painful branches

cries at night

recalling the down of birds’ wings

the moon’s face wet among the leaves

it peers into a nest full of absence

the green fingers quiver

clenched in the throat of the wind



the seeing fingers dance

on black and white keys

I greet them with my breath

with my hand I touch the lips

with my smile I bring to life

the colors and I use the most beautiful of them

to write in red blood: myself




in our eternal departures

on outstretched wings

we are ever closer

to each other and earth


you are my hand

I am your hair

and that shadow behind us

is neither this nor that


the shadow – our united lips enclosing

all –


both love and death




I broke off the bough of love

I buried it in the earth

and look

my garden has blossomed


one cannot kill love

if you bury it in the earth

it grows back

if you toss it into the air

it grows leaflike wings

dropped into the water


it flashes with gills

immersed in the night

it shines


so I wanted to bury it in my heart

but my heart was home to my love

my heart opened its heart’s door

and it rang out with song from wall to wall

my heart danced on my fingertips


so I buried my love in my head

and people asked

why my head has blossomed

why my eyes shine star-like

and why my lips are brighter than the dawn


I wanted to tear this love to pieces

but it was supple it entangled my hands

and my hands are bound with love

people ask whose prisoner I am




The above is being posted with the permission of the author and the editor of Lituanus where it was published (LITUANUS, Vol 47:1, 2001)


The above is being posted with the permission of the author and the editor of Lituanus where it was published (LITUANUS, Vol 47:1, 2001)
© 2000 Polish Academic Information Center, University at Buffalo. All rights reserved.
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