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In Praise of the Unfinished

Selected Poems

In Praise of the Unfinished by Julia Hartwig
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Hailed by Czeslaw Milosz as “the grande dame of Polish poetry” and named “one of the foremost Polish poets of the twentieth century” by Ryszard Kapuscinski, Julia Hartwig has long been considered the gold standard of poetry in her native Poland. With this career-spanning collection, we finally have a book of her work in English.
The tragic story of the last century flows naturally through Hartwig’s poems. She evokes the husbands who returned silent from battle (“What woman was told about the hell at Monte Cassino?”) and asks, “Why didn’t I dance on the Champs-Élysées / when the crowd cheered the end of the war? . . . Why was I fated to be on the main street of Lublin / watching regiments with red stars enter the city.” But there is also a welcoming of new experience in her verse, a sense that life, finally, is too beautiful to condemn. She seeks a higher peace, urging us to hear other voices: “an ermine’s cry, moan of a dove, / complaint of an owl—that remind us / the hardship of solitude is measured out equally.”
Hartwig’s compassionate spirit in the face of destruction and suffering, her apparent need to live in the moment, make her poems monumental and deeply touching and the introduction of her work here long overdue.
Return to My Childhood Home
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,
innocent terror!
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.

From the Hardcover edition.
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group; November 2012
160 pages; ISBN 9780307496102
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: In Praise of the Unfinished
Author: Julia Hartwig; John Carpenter; Bogdana Carpenter
Tell Me Why This Hurry

The lindens are blossoming the lindens have lost their blossoms
and this flowery procession moves without any restraint
Where are you hurrying lilies of the valley jasmines
petunias lilacs irises roses and peonies
Mondays and Tuesdays Wednesdays and Fridays
nasturtiums and gladioli zinnias and lobelias
yarrow dill goldenrod and grasses
flowery Mays and Junes and Julys and Augusts
lakes of flowers seas of flowers meadows
holy fires of fern one-day grails
Tell me why this hurry where are you rushing
in a cherry blizzard a deluge of greenness
all with the wind racing in one direction only
crowns proud yesterday today fallen into sand
eternal desires passions mistresses of destruction


Why didn’t I dance on the Champs-Élysées
when the crowd cheered the end of the war?
Why didn’t I throw myself into the arms of a sailor
who walked down the gangway with a duffel on his arm
and ran toward me through the excited crowd
raging sounds of bebop
La Marseillaise” and “God Save the Queen”
blaring from the loudspeakers?

Why didn’t I break out a bottle of champagne
next to the two of them still dressed in English uniforms
not guessing one day I would stand at the end of their road?

Why was I fated to be on the main street of Lublin
watching regiments with red stars enter the city
crying with joy I would no longer hear the hated Raus! and Halt!
but torn by sadness this was the price for a lost dream
of a hero’s triumphant entry on a white horse
for the return of those who twice cheated
didn’t want to come back

So we stood–the ones who survived–
on the streets of Warsaw transformed into a desert
and today years later find ourselves
in the fading films of old newsreels
hard to recognize

A Message

Go to the park in the morning
before the sun’s chariot rolls to the top
You will be alone
you will be a lord
among the crowned heads of poplars oaks pines

Go to the park in the morning in autumn
you will be ruler of the season
gentle as a caress
between the terror of summer and winter

Go to the park on an autumn morning
It waits for you
its face hidden in shade

Translated from the Polish by John and Bogdana Carpenter.

From the Hardcover edition.