March 11, 2013

Jerzy Ficowski

Jerzy Ficowski [Poland]

Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski was born in Warsaw on October 4, 1924, dying in the same city in 2006. He was a major Polish poet and translator, from the Yiddish, Russian, Romani, and Hungarian.


     Growing up to face the German occupation of Poland in World War II, Ficowski became a member of the Polish resistance, participating in the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), and, after working with them, become imprisoned in the infamous Pawiak in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. With the codename Wrak, he fought in the Mokotów region, entering, after the war, a camp with other survivors of the battle.

      With the end of World War II, Ficowski returned to Warsaw, enrolling in the university there to study philosophy and sociology. In 1948 he published he first volume of poetry, Ołowiani żołnierze (The Tin Soldiers). In the Stalinist period in which this book was published,  the Armia Krajowa Warsaw soldiered were treated with great suspicion, and often subjected to arrest and even execution.

       Ficowski’s earliest works show the influence of poet Julian Tuwim, but gradually, in the years after the war, became infused with elements of fantasy and the grotesque. Later his work would express the increasing moral and social aspects of the country as it reacted to Soviet domination.

       In the late 1940s and early 1950s Ficowski became fascinated with Polish Gypsies, living and traveling with them, and, ultimately writing several books inspired by the Roma way of life, which included Amultety I defilacje (Amulets and Definistions, 1960) and Cgyanie na polskich drogach (Gypsies on the Polish Roads, 1965). Fascinated by Gypsy lore, he also translated the poems of Broonisława Wajs. Ficowski was also interested in several other international figures during this period, translating the works of Federico García Lorca as well as various Jewish and modern Hebrew poets, editing the Jewish poet anthology, Rodzynki z migdalmi (Raisins with Almonds, 1964).

       Besides his books of poetry proper, Ficowski also published volumes of poetic prose, including Wsponminki starowarszawskie (1959) and Czekanie na sen psa (translated into English as Waiting for the Dog to Sleep). He also wrote numerous others books of prose and historical texts, including Cyganie w Polsce. Dzieje I obyczaje (1989, translated as The Gypsies in Poland).

       Moreover, the poet devoted many of his years to the study and translation of the works of Bruno Schulz, in 1967 publishing the definitive biography of the fiction writer, Regions of the Great Heresey. Ficowski’s 1979 collection of poems, translated as Reading the Ashes, is considered the most significant account of the Holocaust written by a non-Jewish writer.

     In 1975, disgusted with Soviet leadership of Poland, he signed the so-called “Letter of 59,” which resulted in his works being banned in Poland; however his prose and poems grew known, through translation, in the West, and the gradual effects of the Solidarity movement, in which he was tangentially involved, brought his books back into press. Throughout the censorship of his books he continued to voice his concerns about censorship and the suppression of works and writers.

      After the fall of Communism, he continued to write new works and translate from Spanish, Romanian, Yiddish and Roma.


Ołowiani żolnierze (1948); Zwierzenia (1952); Po Polsku (1955); Moje strony świata (1957); Makowskie bajki (1959); Amulety I defilacje (1960); Pismo obrazkowe (1962); Ptak poza ptakiem (1968); Odczytanie popiołów (London: Association of Jews of Polish Origin in Great Britain, 1979); Errata (1981); Śmierć jednorożca (Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1981); Przepowiednie. Pojutrznia (1983); Inicjał (Łowicz: Galeria Browama, 1994); Mistrz Manole: I inne przekłady (Sejny: Progranicze, 2004); Pantareja (Kraków: Wydawn, 2006).

The Reading of Ashes (London: Menard Press, 1981); Waiting for the Dog to Sleep (Prague: Twisted Spoon Press, 2006)

For a selection of poems in English, click here:

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