Poland Literature – The Second Half of the 20th Century

By | December 30, 2021

The 45 years of Poland Popolare

This period was characterized in the first place by the division between an ‘internal literature’ (which could not be exempt from a confrontation, sometimes servile, more often conflictual, with the communist power) and a literature of emigration (also with obvious, but not always binding, political implications). The major centers of emigration were Paris and London in Europe, where the exiled writers published in periodicals and in volumes that later arrived more or less clandestinely in Poland. Starting from the second half of the 1970s, on the other hand, a clandestine publishing circuit arose within the country which, in addition to publishing dissident writers or writers not aligned with the regime, also reprinted works that had appeared abroad.

After the first period of adjustment of the new regime (1945-49), the literary history of Poland Popolare (and, with due distinctions, of the emigration literature itself) can be divided into three phases, marked by historical-political events which also had a decisive impact on cultural life: the first period (1949-56) dominated by the forced poetics of socialist realism, the canon of which was established by the Szczecin Congress of the Association of Polish Literati (1949); the second (1956-76) constituted by the phase of the ‘thaw’ and by a succession of openings and closings of the regime towards culture, and of consequent compromises and ruptures on the part of writers; the third (1976-89) marked by the progressive liberation of writers from the pressures of censorship (abolished in 1990) and by frequent experimentation,

In the prose immediately after the war, the themes of war, occupation and anti-Semitic persecution were obviously dominant, nor did they cease to be so at least until the publication of M. Białoszewski ‘s masterpiece Pamiętnik powstania warsawskiego (“Diary of the Warsaw Uprising”, 1970), later finding echoes in some novels by A. Szczypiorski. The short stories and novels first by Iwaszkiewicz, by Nałkowska and then by J. Andrzejewski, A. Rudnicki, G. Herling-Grudziński, R. Bratny, T. Borowski and H. Grynberg represent the best of Polish fiction on these themes, while the problems of post-war society were touched with subtlety alien to the dominant dogmatism in some works by I. Newerly and K. Brandys, the latter later evolving towards a very psychological narrative. it varies in forms and themes. In the same period T. Parnicki elaborated a new type of historical novel. In poetry, the dictates of socialist realism translated into a certain classicism of elegiac intonation in the verses of KI Gałczyński, already an excellent satirical poet in the period between the two wars, of Staff, J. Tuwim and other poets of the older generation, while among those of the following generation, T. Różewicz stood out, still considered among the greatest Polish poets. In the theater the main names were those of L. Kruczkowski and J. Szaniawski. For Poland 2011, please check internetsailors.com.

The thaw phase

In addition to giving rise to a ‘literature of reckoning’, which includes, for example, the famous Poemat dla dorosłych (“Poem for adults”, 1955) by A. Ważyk, the subsequent phase also led to a series of real or ‘delayed’ debuts: this is the case of the publication in Poland of the works of Gombrowicz, of the return to the poetry of the former futurist Wat, now a painful existentialist, and of the emergence on the horizon of the main triad of contemporary Polish poetry, formed by Miłosz, W. Szymborska and Z. Herbert. The names of later universally recognized writers, such as A. Kuśniewicz, also appeared in the prose, J. Stryjkowski and M. Hłasko. A phenomenon in itself is constituted by the success, also internationally, of S. Lem, master of science fiction literature, and of SJ Lec, with his biting and refined aphorisms. In the theater it is always in the thaw phase that two school heads such as T. Kantor and J. Grotowski began their experimentation, while in the cinema A. Wajda and R. Polański began to emerge. Dominating the dramaturgy of this period is S. Mrożek, who in his satirical-grotesque comedies manages to elevate the miseries and merits of contemporary Poland to universal allegories.

The 1970s and 1980s, if in poetry mark the return to linguistic experimentation, especially in the ‘rebellious’ verses of the poets of the Nowa fala group (“New Wave”), led by S. Barańczak and A. Zagajewski, also launched unexpected flashes This is the case of the religious and very human poetry of J. Twardowski and of the memorialistic prose of the old Wat, of the almost Italian Herling-Grudziński and of Miłosz himself. But also writers and poets of the younger generations have embarked on a path that is mainly memorialistic and ‘dialogical’, thus testifying their participation in the difficult process of removing the wounds of the recent past and building a very uncertain future.

Poland Literature - The Second Half of the 20th Century