Anna Świrszczyńska, also known as Anna Swir wrote poems in direct, evocative language that spoke passionately and directly to the heart. She wrote affectionately about the female body, love, pain, loneliness, terror, war, childbirth, child-rearing and the passing of time. She focused a lot on the flesh – its elasticity and potential while young, along with its cumbersome burden as the body ages. Like the writing of Anais Nin, Swir’s writing is incredibly emotional, intimate and sensual. Her themes are universal for all women and also all men.
“The quick, decisive strokes in which she registers moments of meeting, coupling or parting are almost abstract in their lack of surface detail, but they give us glimpses of a turbulent, even ferocious internal life.”Eva Hoffman in the review of Happy as a Dog’s Tail in the New York Times.
Born in Warsaw to a poor family in 1909, Anna worked to put herself through university, where she studied Medieval Polish literature. She joined the resistance movement during World War II and was a military nurse during the Warsaw Uprising. She survived the war and lived in Krakow until her death of cancer in 1984.
Look in the mirror. Let us both look.
Here is my naked body.
Apparently you like it,
I have no reason to.
Who bound us, me and my body?
Why must I die
together with it?
I have the right to know where the borderline
between us is drawn.
Where am I, I, I myself.
Belly, am I in the belly? In the intestines?
In the hollow of the sex? In a toe?
Apparently in the brain. I do not see it.
Take my brain out of my skull. I have the right
to see myself. Don’t laugh.
That’s macabre, you say.
It’s not me who made
I wear the used rags of my family,
an alien brain, fruit of chance, hair
after my grandmother, the nose
glued together from a few dead noses.
What do I have in common with all that?
What do I have in common with you, who like
my knee, what is my knee to me?
I would have chosen a different model.
I will leave both of you here,
my knee and you.
Don’t make a wry face, I will leave you all my body
to play with.
And I will go.
There is no place for me here,
in this blind darkness waiting for
I will run out, I will race
away from myself.
I will look for myself
till my last breath.
One must hurry
before death comes. For by then
like a dog jerked by its chain
I will have to return
into this stridently suffering body.
To go through the last
most strident ceremony of the body.
Defeated by the body,
slowly annihilated because of the body
I will become kidney failure
or the gangrene of the large intestine.
And I will expire in shame.
And the universe will expire with me,
reduced as it is
to a kidney failure
and the gangrene of the large intestine.
I’ll Open the Window
Our embrace lasted too long.
We loved right down to the bone.
I hear the bones grind, I see
our two skeletons.
Now I am waiting
till you leave, till
the clatter of your shoes
is heard no more. Now, silence.
Tonight I am going to sleep alone
on the bedclothes of purity.
is the first hygienic measure.
will enlarge the walls of the room,
I will open the window
and the large, frosty air will enter,
healthy as tragedy.
Human thoughts will enter
and human concerns,
misfortune of others, saintliness of others.
They will converse softly and sternly.
Do not come anymore.
I am an animal
The Door is Open
The Door Is Open
No, I don’t want to tame you,
you’d lose your animal charm.
Your wiliness and nervousness
they belong to your exotic breed.
You can’t escape me
because the door is always open.
You can’t betray me
because I don’t demand fidelity.
Give me your hand,
through the laughing darkness.
With sacred bells
on our arms and legs,
the movement of the dance
as supple as ancient Arabic writing,
our hair singing
like a Greek chorus.
organised into a mystery play.
Only just domesticated,
The Greatest Love
She is sixty. She lives
the greatest love of her life.
She walks arm-in-arm with her dear one,
her hair streams in the wind.
Her dear one says:
“You have hair like pearls.”
Her children say:
I actually went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum in Warsaw two years ago (a few years after I originally wrote this post) and saw a huge photo of Anna hanging from a banner on the ceiling, it made me so pleased to see her there, inside I sent her a salute of love and recognition. For her beautiful and timeless poetry, her immense courage and strength of character to get through the Warsaw Uprising, one of the bloodiest civilian insurrections in history. To come out of that in one piece was a miracle in itself. I’m glad that she lived a long life afterwards and I really hope it was a happy one.