Return to My Childhood Home
By Julia Hartwig
Translated by John & Bogdana Carpenter
Amid a dark silence of pines—the shouts of
young birches calling each other.
Everything is as it was. Nothing is as it was.
Speak to me, Lord of the child. Speak,
To understand nothing. Each time in a different
way, from the first cry to the last breath.
Yet happy moments come to me from the past,
like bridesmaids carrying oil lamps.
Julia Hartwig is considered in her native country as the “Grand Dame of Polish poetry” and ranks high among its leading modern poets. Thanks to the concise, elegant translations of John and Bogdana Carpenter, we have now access to the range of her impressive work. While her tonal control and philosophic resonance mark her as quintessentially central European, Hartwig’s poems are distinctive in their playful, eclectic spirit, which may in part result from the invigorating effect of her time spent translating poets as diverse as Apollinaire and Plath and teaching at the University of Iowa.
The poem seems to have sprouted upon a visit to her native home. There is a sense of a vanished life, disappearing in an instant that was fixed in fear, leaving a poetic mark on her as evidenced in this one. Somehow, all the visceral aspects of being, from early to late life, are subsumed into a sort of universal dream of being. In other words, life lived takes on the aura of existence deeper than waking.
Although Julia Hartwig, like her fellow Polish poets, suffered and survived the constraints that postwar communism imposed on personal freedom, the experience has not irrevocably darkened her poems, which continue to affirm natural beauty and childlike wonder. In “Return to My Childhood Home,” what is too painful to be understood is firmly held in counterpoise with remembered contentment: “Yet happy moments come to me from the past, like bridesmaids carrying oil lamps.”
“Return to My Childhood Home” begins with wonder and loss, moving to consolation and light. This is a great poem in the true sense of that word.
Courtesy : Rita Signorelli-Pappas ‘s review of in “Praise of the Unfinished” in World Literature Today