Julian Tuwim

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Julian Tuwim, 1894-1953

Julian Tuwim (September 13, 1894December 27, 1953) was a Polish poet of Jewish descent; born in the city of Łódź in Poland, educated in Łódź and Warsaw (studied Law and Philosophy at Warsaw University). Co-founder and leader of the Skamander group of experimental poets with Antoni Słonimski and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz in 1919. He was a major figure in Polish literature, mostly known for his contribution to children's literature.

Initially Tuwim’s poetry—like that of other Skamandrites—was a decisive break-up with the turn-of-the-century’s mannerism and decadent language. It also was an expression of vitality, optimism, and praise of urban life; introduction of everyday life in a city, with its triviality and vulgarism, to poetry. In his poems Tuwim often used “regular” language as well as dialogue. Characteristic for this period are collections Czyhanie na Boga [Lurking for God] (1918), Sokrates tańczący [Dancing Socrates] (1920), Siódma jesień [The Seventh Autumn] (1922), and Wierszy tom czwarty [Poems. the Volume Four] (1923).
Missing image
Grave of Julian Tuwim in Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw

In his later collections of poetry: Słowa we krwi [Words Bathed in Blood] (1926), Rzecz Czarnoleska [The Czarnolas Matter] (1929), Biblia cygańska [Gypsy Bible] (1933) and Treść gorejąca [Burning Content] (1933); Tuwim becomes considerably restless and bitter, he writes with fervor and violence of the emptiness of urban existence. He also tends to draw more from traditions of romantism and classicism, at the same time perfecting form and style, becoming virtuoso of words and language.

Since the very beginning and troughout his entire creative life Tuwim was satirically inclined. He supplied sketches and monologues to numerous cabarets. In his poetry and as a columnist he scoffed obscurantism and bureaucracy as well as militaristic and nationalistic trends in politics. Burlesque Bal w operze [Ball in the Opera House], written in 1936, is considered his best satiric poem.

In 1918 Tuwim co-founded cabaret Picador and cooperated as writer or artistic director with many other cabarets like Czarny kot [Black Cat] 19171919, Qui pro Quo 19191932, Banda [Gang] and Stara Banda [Old Gang] 19321935 and finally Cyrulik Warszawski [Barber of Warsaw] 19351939. Since 1924 Tuwim was staff writer of Wiadomości Literackie [Literary News] where he wrote weekly column Camera Obscura as well as for satiric magazines: Cyrulik Warszawski [Barber of Warsaw] and Szpilki [Pins].

At a party, sometime during 1930s, Adolf Nowaczyński, writer and columnist, known for his sharp tongue as well as nationalism and strong antisemitic views, proposes following toast:

“There would be no Polish literature without Mickiewicz, there would be no Mickiewicz without Pan Tadeusz* and there would be no Pan Tadeusz without Jankiel* — hurray for Tuwim!”

To which Tuwim replies:

“There would be no Polish literature without Mickiewicz, there would be no Mickiewicz without Pan Tadeusz, nor Pan Tadeusz without Jankiel. And there would be no Jankiel without dulcimers* — hurray for Nowaczyński!”

Pan Tadeusz — a 1834 epic poem by Adam Mickiewicz about Polish gentry in Lithuania during Napoleonic War
Jankiel — Jewish innkeeper and musician playing on dulcimer in Pan Tadeusz
dulcimers — in Polish, the name of musical instrument cymbały is a plural form of cymbał, which means, somewhat humorously but not vulgarly, a stupid person.

Missing image
Portrait of Julian Tuwim painted by Stanisław Ignacy Wikiewicz, 1929, Literary Museum in Warsaw.

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II and Nazi Germany occupation of Poland, Tuwim emigrates first through Romania to France then, after France’s capitulation, to Portugal, Brazil, and finally to USA, where he settled in 1942. During that time he wrote Kwiaty Polskie [Polish Flowers], outstanding epic poem in which he remembers with nostalgy his early childhood in Łódź.

Returned to Poland after the war, in 1946.

Tuwim’s other works include a collection of poems for children Lokomotywa [Locomotive] (1938, tr. 1940)—Julian Tuwim and Jan Brzechwa are two most famous authors of children poems in Poland—and brilliant translations of Pushkin and other Russian poets.

Although Tuwim is known mostly for writing poetry for children and satiric works, he has also written many serious works. Probably the most important example is Do prostego człowieka [The Common Man] poem from 1929, written ten years before the World War II started. First published in October 7, 1929 in Robotnik [Workman], it started a storm of personal attacks on Tuwim, mostly from antisemitic followers of Polish right wing criticizing Tuwim’s pacifistic views.

External links

de:Julian Tuwim pl:Julian Tuwim


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