She cried that night, but not for him to hear
By Stanisław Barańczak
Translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh
She cried that night, but not for him to hear.
In fact her crying wasn’t why he woke.
It was some other sound; that much was clear.
And this half-waking shame. No trace of tears
all day, and still at night she works to choke
the sobs; she cries, but not for him to hear.
And all those other nights: she lay so near
but he had only caught the breeze’s joke,
the branch that tapped the roof. That much was clear.
The outside dark revolved in its own sphere:
no wind, no window pane, no creaking oak
had said: “She’s crying, not for you to hear.”
Untouchable are those tangibly dear,
so close, they’re closed, too far to reach and stroke
a quaking shoulder-blade. This much is clear.
And he did not reach out — for shame, for fear
of spoiling the tears’ tenderness that spoke:
“Go back to sleep. What woke you isn’t here.
It was the wind outside, indifferent, clear.”
I have always known Stanisław Barańczak as a great translator of Polish poetry into English. He along with Clare Cavanagh translated the poetry of the great Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska which finally led her to win the Nobel Prize. I had forgotten the fact that Stanisław Barańczak himself was a hugely admired Polish poet. Yesterday I was reading Adam Zagajewski's essay collection titled “Slight Exaggeration” and came to know that Wislawa Szymborska once read the above poem of Stanislaw Barańczak in a literary function. That is how I located the above poem.
Baranczak was a prominent representative of the Polish "New Wave" and is generally regarded as one of the greatest translators of English poetry into Polish and Polish poetry into English. He received the PEN Translation Prize with Clare Cavanagh in 1996. Stanisław Barańczak died at the age of 68 after prolonged battle with Parkinson's disease in Massachusetts on December 26, 2014.
The above intimate and poignant poem was written during his bedridden days. How subtly and beautifully he conveys the muffled sobbing of his wife dispelling it as “breeze’s joke “and the tapping of a branch on roof. Everything is minified in this one but enough to convey an ocean of anguish and helplessness.