Today is the 73rd anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, one of the most momentous acts of collective bravery and passion born of inspired hope and unimaginable heroism, yet not destined to succeed.
The first official memorial in the UK to the contribution made by Polish forces to the allied efforts in World War II was unveiled by His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent at the National Memorial Arboretum on September 19th, 2009.
About six months before the unveiling, the author and mastermind of the whole project handed me two poems written in Polish and rather peremptorily said, as is his style, translate these for me, will you, and went off, to mastermind some more projects! Why? When for, I muttered, totally flattered into it, as he was already out of the door. I read them through, momentarily panicked, and then I promptly forgot about them. A couple of months later he asked me how I was getting along. Fine, I lied, and then I took them out. And read them properly. They were very moving but would I be able to do them justice? Poetry works on many levels, and I had never done anything like this before. A straight translation would never do, but would I at least manage to keep the rhythm and the imagery, and somehow convey the emotion.
For the next few weeks it seemed I could think of nothing else. Phrases and images etched themselves on my waking and sleeping brain in both languages. When he finally told me they were going to be part of his book, my mind went into overdrive. And then one day I just sat down and began to write. That was the hardest moment to get to – too many linguistic and artistic decisions had paralysed me. When I eventually sat down it was a such a relief. I felt it was me crying for ammunition, appealing to London for help. My emotions were totally intertwined with the poet’s, after the months of getting to know him – and so the words flowed.
No, it wasn’t a case of stream-of-consciousness perfection – the editing took quite a while – but the elements were there.
These are the poems in their original Polish:
If you want to hear them read in the most beautiful voice, then Rula Lenska has recorded them on the DVD of the book, First to Fight.
First to Fight: Poland’s Contribution to the Allied Victory in WWII
ISBN-13: 978-0955782442 • Paperback • 296 Pages • £19.95
This post is dedicated especially to the memory of Wlodek Lesiecki, friend, teacher and poet, who quite unexpectedly said something very nice about my work.