Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Poems of the Poles Who Were Taken to Siberia


February marks the 70th anniversary of mass deportations of Poles to Soviet prison camps in Siberia and other places in the USSR. Some 155,000 Poles were forced to work and live under dangerous conditions. Of those deported, only about 8,000 ever returned to Poland after the war.

Halina Ablamowicz has translated -- along with Kevin Christianson -- poems written by the Poles who were taken to Siberia and collected them in a book entitled Polish Poetry from the Soviet Gulags.

She has allowed me to publish three of them here in both English and the original Polish:

TO MY FELLOW POLES/Anna Rudawcowa (Sybir 1941)

A wicked fate cast us onto the steppes of Kazakhstan
A wicked fate forced us into exile into a world
Where each heart is an open wound,
Where each moment lasts for years on end.
A ghastly train took us across rivers
And across the serrated range of the Urals,
Our Homeland’s smile -- sad and distant
Grew paler and paler, and finally went out.
Life caught us in its iron gears,
In its steel wheels, entangled us in silver rails.
A host of exiles cast into Sybir
For a grave sin that was not committed.
No need for tears! No need for words of grievances,
Because each complaint will grate on the ear. . .
Oh my fellow Poles! People without a Homeland!
The night shall pass, and after it dawn will come!


DO BRACI/Anna Rudawcowa (Sybir 1941)

Zły los rzucił nas w stepy Kazachstanu
Zły los nas wygnał na tułaczkę w świat,
Gdzie każde serce jest otwartą raną,
Gdzie każda chwila jest szeregiem lat.
Upiorny pociąg wiózł nas poprzez rzeki
I przez Uralskich gór zębaty pas,
Ojczyzny uśmiech- smutny i daleki
Bladł coraz bardziej, wreszcie zgasł.
Złapało życie w swe żelazne tryby,
W stalowe koła, sploty srebrnych szyn.
Wygnańców tłum, rzuconych tu na Sybir
Za ciężki grzech nie popełnionych win.
Nie trzeba łez! Nie trzeba slów ni wyznań,
Bo każda skarga zabrzmi tu jak zgrzyt. . .
O bracia moi! Ludzie bez Ojczyzny!
Przeminie noc, a po niej przyjdzie świt!


LONELY GRAVE/Zofia Metelicka

In far off Siberia there is a lonely grave
Flower blossoms lean over it
While the rustling of the steppe’s tall grasses
Brings the quiet sound of grief with the wind.

To look for a cross or a name would be in vain
Nobody remembers whose grave this is
Many years ago flowers were placed there
And a memory lived in minds and hearts.

Those who preserved the memory in their hearts
Have returned to their distant Homeland
But their happiness was not complete, for a part
Of their souls they left behind upon the steppe.

Every year always on that same November Day
When votive candles are lighted in cemeteries
In their thoughts and hearts they’ll be there at the grave
Even though the clock of time has obscured its image.

On a sunny summer day perhaps someone young
Will stop and place a small flower there
And in reflection send a sigh to God while whispering
A prayer in the wind’s hushed sound.

SAMOTNA MOGIŁA/Zofia Metelicka

W dalekiej Syberii samotna mogiła
Nad nią się chylą kwiatów kielichy
A szum wysokiej trawy stepowej
Niesie wraz z wiatrem żalu głos cichy.

Na próżno by szukać krzyża lub imenia
Nikt nie pamięta czyja to mogiła
Przed wielu latami składano tu kwiaty
I pamięć w sercach i umysłach żyła.

Ci co tę pamięć w sercach zachowali
Do swojej dalekiej Ojczyzny wrócili
Lecz niezupełnie byli szczęśliwi
Bo cząstkę swej duszy w stepie zostawili.

Zawsze co roku w dzień listopadowy
Kiedy zapłoną na cmentarzach znicze
Myślą i sercem będą tam przy grobie
Choć zegar czasu przesłonił oblicze.

Być może ktoś młody w letni dzień słoneczny
Przystanie i kwiatek położy w zadumie
A potem do Boga pośle westchnienie
Szepcząc modlitwę w cichym wiatru szumie.


APRIL 13/Anna Rudawcowa

On the night of April 13...The world collapsed
And a new completely different horrible world was born
When in darkness a brutal paw outstretched
Destroyed our nest – our family home.

A knock on the door... Clenched and cunning,
Importunate hands yank the doorknob…
A flash of consciousness: this is the end, the end!
A quiet prayer “Defend us, O Mother of God.”

Thud of heavy boots... A flashlight flickers
In the window and then goes away...
In their little beds the awakened children cry,
And their hearts pound, pound, like hammers.

This child’s eyes insane with fear − pale trembling lips, frantic!
A shout in Russian from the other side of the door:
“Open up! This is the Soviet government.”
And the thought: all’s lost…no use trying...we’re done for…!

Now they’re inside the apartment − smiling, polite,
But something lurks in the depths of their eyes
And the heart senses danger −
The intended blow will fall any second.

13 KWIECIEŃ/Anna Rudawcowa

Noc trzynastego kwietnia…Świat się zapadł
I powstał nowy, straszny, całkiem inny
Gdy wyciągnięta w mroku chamska łapa
Zburzyła gniazdo nasze – dom rodzinny.

Stukanie do drzwi…Natarczywe dłonie
Za klamkę szarpią chytre i spreżone…
Blask świadomości: to już koniec, koniec!
Modlitwa cicha “Pod Twoją Obronę.”

Łomot buciorów ciezkich …W okno świeci
Błyskiem latarki i odchodzi potem…
W łóżeczkach płaczą obudzone dzieci,
A serca biją, biją im jak młotem.

Te obłąkane strachem oczy dziecka,
Usteczka drżące, nieprzytomne, blade!
Za drzwiami okrzyk: ”Atkroj! Zdieś właść sowiecka!”
I myśl: skończone…trudno…nie ma rady!

Już są w mieszkaniu – uśmiechnięci, grzeczni
I tylko w oczach czai się coś na dnie,
A serce czuje, że jest niebezpiecznie –
Cios wymierzony lada chwila spadnie.

__________________________________________

Dr. Halina Ablamowicz is Professor of Speech Communication at Tennessee Tech University where she teaches courses in public speaking, persuasion, semiotics, intercultural and interpersonal communication. Her book Polish Poetry from the Soviet Gulags: Recovering a Lost Literature, published in 2008 by Edwin Mellon Press (USA), focuses on the horrific experiences of the Sybiracy -- the nearly two million innocent Poles who were deported by Stalin to Soviet gulags between 1940 and 1941. This book contains twenty-five poems written by Polish deportees translated into English in collaboration with Kevin Christianson.

She and Dr. Christianson collaborated on several other Polish -to-English translation projects including a bilingual edition of Andrzej Bursa’s poems-- Wybór Wierszy / Selected Poems published in 2008 by Art-Park (Poland). Their translated poetry have appeared in New Letters, The Formalist, The Minnesota Review, Damn the Caesars, The Sarmatian Review, New American Writing, Guernica, The Bitter Oleander, Home Planet News, Passport, Poetry International, The Ohio Review, Stand, and The London Magazine.

3 comments:

oriana said...

In the first poem the title in Polish reads "To My Brothers." Toward the end, it's "Brothers! People without a homeland!" The "crowd of of those exiled" that the poem mentions consisted of many ethnic groups. I believe the poet realizes that she is now part of a larger group of the dispossessed victims. Oriana

oriana said...

I wish to add a general comment: these are very moving poems, and they are well-crafted. They are in meter and rhyme, but do not come across as old-fashioned. Rather, the form acts as a restraint placed on feelings that would otherwise be unbearable.

Danusha Goska said...

John, thank you for posting these poems. Halina, thank you for publishing them. Oriana, thank you for the illustrative comments.