THE POETRY OF KAROL WOJTYLA

By William Markiewicz

Five basic qualities characterize a solitary bird:
First, it flies in the highest spheres; second, it doesn't
suffer though lacking company, even of its own kind; third,
its beak is raised to the heights; fourth, it doesn't
display dazzling plumage; fifth -- it sings in a quiet voice.

(Saint John of the Cross -- from the "Words of Light and Love")
Through Karol Wojtyla -- poet, we recognize Karol Wojtyla -- the man. Baudelaire wrote, "I know only three professions worthy of man. They are poet, priest and soldier." The Pope, martial and father figure, seems a personification of all three. With soft voice and simple language he speaks about eternal truths that preoccupy philosophers and all of humanity. Wojtyla doesn't caress words; he uses them as a tool and raw material to transmit his message, and the poetry emerges, with a universal scope. Wojtyla speaks like a philosopher, like a sage for those who are ready to surround their master as, once, disciples surrounded Plato. I permit myself to illustrate this with some phrases I've selected to translate from his Polish cycle, "THOUGHT IS A STRANGE SPACE", not doubting that somebody else's choice would be as eloquent and to the point as mine.

Words Resist Thoughts
... because we feel, simultaneously, that no word, no gesture, no mark --
can carry the whole picture, 
which we have to enter alone, to struggle like Jacob.

What does the poet tell us here? That struggle is a normal thing. God has to be reached through struggle. This truth illustrates our day to day life, from the struggle for existence to interior conflicts. It gives new sense to the difficulties of life: an award, like "titre de noblesse"; a rule, old as the world, discovered in the cradle of culture, and actualized for the modern human by the poet-pope.

And the next verse of Chapter One which simultaneously opposes and completes the previous chapter? How many of us, and how often, realize that words and thoughts are not identical but each possesses its own existence and they often collide with each other? The gift of putting thought and word together, the poet calls "vision."

Thoughts Resist Words
If he suffers from lack of vision -- and he has to struggle through signs
Toward that which weighs in the depth like fruit ripens in the word
Does it have to be this weight that Jacob felt
When fell in him the stars, tired, like the eyes of his sheep?

How do you like the wonderful metaphor contained in the last line? The beauty of the metaphor is like the dot on the 'i', like a spice that shouldn't be used excessively. Wojtyla, poet who doesn't caress the words, knows it.

Let's take now, the second verse of Chapter II, which impressed me deeply.

Jacob
And it was Jacob the shepherd who, within the earth's power,
Never felt like a stranger. He simply stuck in it.
Then, without being  inspired, a mass of quiet knowledge grew in him 
and he was aware of the thoughts even if the words were lacking.

I don't know a poet who so clearly and in so few words grasps the mystery of silent knowledge in which we simply embed ourselves. The knowledge enclosing such diverse phenomena as instinct, inspiration, or mysterious psychological states that Jung called 'subconscious' (individual) and 'superconscious' (collective). Jacob the shepherd, nature, human genius -- everything takes root in the silent mysterious omniscience. God?

The fifth verse of Chapter II,
"Jacob"

... then he bent from its weight -- and thus made it easy for the thoughts
to catch, in everything, the simplest equilibrium.

Let's bend, let's be humble, and we will catch the simplest equilibrium. Let's look down for the sowed grain of wisdom, which simultaneously opens our eyes to the limitless horizon, bestows on us the feeling of limitless knowledge. This wealth the poet shares with us, if only we possess and want to use the gift of vision.

III
The Space Needed for the Drops of Spring Rain
Throw a glance on the drops of fresh rain
In them is concentrated the radiance of spring leaves

The philosopher of the East said that "infinity is contained in the finiteness of each passing moment." Isn't it curious how the philosophers, through their own observations, come to analogous conclusions? Meaning that they come to the truth: "Don't look for more light than what you have around you." The important thing is to get into depth, not quantity.

In the third verse of Chapter III, "The Proper Weight", the poet speaks about "reality" with "thought gravitating to the depths of the human" and "cannot fragment further" and so realises "the proper weight of the world and of (our) own depth. ..." This is the entrance into the fourth chapter.

To the Comrades at Arms
                  2.
...
... (in spite of everything) we keep alive the certitude that 
(empty) gesture will fall apart and our deeds will show
that which really is.

Is this a mystical consolation for human that "non omnis moriam", that this "depth which contains the proper weight of the world" is the immortal soul. And only those who enter (in themselves) will remain themselves."

It is not easy poetry, but said with simple words and direct from the heart.

"Isn't it true, oh Lord, that the highest homage
we can offer from the depths of our dignity
is the powerful sob that rolls from age to age
And dies on the threshold of Your Eternity."

Baudelaire, atheist, who, like all of us, broke under the weight of the human condition, wrote those words.

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