Like dead leaves, floating on the surface of memory, Tadeusz Sławek’s poems inhabit a memory of love, lovers and the bridge across time that the poet seeks to cross into, stay and remind us of- here then is a poet, who talks to us through the entangled touch of humans, trees and their reflected shadows in water. The Bangalore Review is proud to present the translated poems of Prof. Tadeusz Sławek, from his poetry volume titled Staw -through the warm and detailed voice of the translators of the Femina Hodierna Collective.
Sławek is a Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Silesia, and between 1996 and 2002 he served as the President of this university. Staw was published in 1982 by the publishing house Wydawnictwo Literackie in Poland. Sławek’s most important publications include: The Typewriter. On Jacques Derrida’s Theory of Literature (with Tadeusz Rachwał) (1992); Calling of Jonah. Problems of Literary Voice (with Donald Wesling) (1995); Man, World, Friendship in the Works of William Blake (2001); Revelations of Gloucester (2003); Grasping. H.D. Thoreau and the Community of the World (2009); Reversing the World. Sentences from Shakespeare (2012); Departing (2015); Never without the Rest. On the Urgency of Incompleteness (2018).
The poems from the volume Staw are a manifestation of human connection with nature, which brings to mind eco-poetics. Sławek invites the reader on a journey to the origins, to the pond, to the roots (of a tree) and engages us in an intimate conversation with ourselves, to which nature is the only witness.
Getting closer to you
I will build a bridge over a vast indifferent river
—but there is no river anymore.
Looking at you
I prepare words, which are meant to lock you up
—but you are long gone from the cage.
There is only a difficult road to you;
I draw water from the stream
I ask after you—
the stream doesn’t know or doesn’t want to say.
I ask a stone which direction I should go;
It looks at me as if he doesn’t understand.
I wasted a whole day talking to him.
He taught me a lot.
I know now that you truly are when you are not here;
that’s when my memory quietens,
only dead leaves float on its surface.
Clouds that float in the water overlap every matter.
Then you are neither a human,
nor a shore, nor a tree reflected in the water;
you are the water of the pond, which reflects humans, trees and shores
—not being any of them herself.
I can touch you and so I touch humans, trees and the shore
while not entangled in their sly nets;
at most, they will gently wrinkle their transparent skin
and move further in a glow of floating circles
having my arm as an axis, elbow-deep.
That’s what you are—
you are a water surface that changes everything,
but does not change herself;
I know now that you truly are when you are not here.
The tree sinks into the water.
To meet you, I will walk on a thin footbridge,
though it bends and creaks
it won’t crack.
Poor are its edges
but its middle
nests my feet and allows my legs to move forward.
Don’t bury the pond with stones, don’t throw
yourself in, reaching for the depth,
which runs away with an animal cry.
Stand still and watch as halfway between you and the depth
you emerge, pure
freed from yourself.
If you don’t desert yourself,
you shall never see your own face.
I don’t wish to meet you like life,
which I watch from the outside:
stone against other stones,
house against other houses,
love against other loves.
I don’t wish to wrap you with a net of what you think of me.
I don’t wish to meet you like life,
so as not to lock you in the prison of my body
and let you out for a daily walk through my thoughts.
No, I don’t wish to meet you like life.
I wish to meet you like freedom
which would take us beyond ourselves,
like an open door, we would be for each other,
neither hospitably holding up
nor rudely telling to leave,
but welcoming those who enter,
and who gaze at each other before they leave,
Let’s be a pond to each other,
where movement becomes deceit,
though a pond is no stranger to the nature of the truth.
The trees on the shore froze,
in the water, they breathe,
wrinkling their faces like fish do—
which of these movements is true?
The trees on the shore yelp for a longer watch,
in the water, they stay silent, patiently, like sleeping babies—
which of these sounds is true?
Lonely-legged the trees on the shore remained,
into the dark water, a dream of themselves they sent,
but between the dream and the dreamer
the ice left a barrier of cold reflection—
which of these worlds is true?
So, be like water to me,
for I wish to meet you like freedom
which knows that once the thirst is quenched
no need to think of water anymore.