Julian Tuwim

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Julian Tuwim

Julian Tuwim (September 13, 1894 – December 27, 1953) (the surname comes from the Hebrew "טובים," "tovim," "good"); was one of the greatest Polish poets, born in Łódź, Congress Poland, Russian Empire, and educated in Łódź and Warsaw where he studied law and philosophy at Warsaw University. In 1919 Tuwim co-founded the Skamander group of experimental poets with Antoni Słonimski and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. He was a major figure in Polish literature, and was also known for his contribution to children's literature.

Life and work

Tuwim was born in Łódź, into a family of assimilated Jews. Both of his parents, Isadore and Adele, were educated members of the Litvak intelligentsia and provided Julian with a comfortable middle class upbringing. He was not a particularly diligent student and had to repeat the sixth grade. In 1905 the family had to flee from Łódź to Breslau in order to escape possible repercussions following Isadore's involvement in the Revolution of 1905.

Initially Tuwim’s poetry, even more than that of the other "Skamandrites," represented a decisive break with turn-of-the-century mannerism. It was characterized by an expression of vitality, optimism, and praise of urban life. His poems celebrated introduction to the everyday life in a city, with its triviality and vulgarism. In his poems Tuwim often used vernacular language and slang as well as poetic dialogue.

The collections "Czyhanie na Boga" (In Lurking for God (1918)), "Sokrates tańczący" (The Dancing Socrates (1920)), "Siódma jesień" (The Seventh Autumn (1922)), and "Wierszy tom czwarty" (Volume Four of Poems (1923)) are typical of his early work. In his later collections — "Słowa we krwi" (Words in Blood, 1926)), "Rzecz Czarnoleska" (A Tale from Czarnolas) (1929), "Biblia cygańska" (A Gypsy Bible (1933)) and "Treść gorejąca" (A Burning Matter (1933)) Tuwim became restless and bitter, and wrote with fervor and vehemence about the emptiness of urban existence. He also drew more heavily from romantic and classicist traditions, while perfecting his form and style, and becoming a virtuoso of word and language.

From the very beginning and throughout his artistic career, Tuwim was satirically inclined. He supplied sketches and monologues to numerous cabarets. In his poetry and columns, he derided obscurantism and bureaucracy as well as militaristic and nationalistic trends in politics. His best satiric poem is regarded to be the burlesque, "Bal w Operze" (The Ball at the Opera, 1936).

In 1918 Tuwim co-founded the cabaret, "Picador," and worked as a writer or artistic director with many other cabarets such as "Czarny kot" (Black Cat 1917–1919), "Qui pro Quo" (1919–1932), "Banda" The Gang and "Stara Banda" The Old Gang (1932–1935) and finally "Cyrulik Warszawski" (Barber of Warsaw 1935–1939). Since 1924 Tuwim was a staff writer at "Wiadomości Literackie" (Literary News) where he wrote a weekly column "Camera Obscura". He also wrote for the satirical magazine "Szpilki" (Pins).

Tuwim displayed his caustic sense of humor and unyielding individuality in works such as "Poem in which the author politely yet firmly implores the vast hosts of his brethren to kiss his arse." Here, Tuwim systematically enumerates and caricatures various personae inhabiting European social scene of the mid-1930s -- 'perfumed café intellectuals', 'drab socialists', 'fascist jocks', 'Zionist doctors', 'repressed Catholics' and so on, and ends each stanza by asking each to perform the action indicated in the title. The poem ends with a note to the would-be censor who would surely be tempted to expunge all mention of this piece for its breach of 'public standards.' This stanza ends just like the others as the censor fulfills his role.

His poem "Do prostego człowieka" (To the Common Man), first published in October 7, 1929 in "Robotnik" (Workman), started a storm of personal attacks on Tuwim, mostly from antisemitic right wing circles criticizing Tuwim’s pacifistic views.

Julian's aunt was married to Adam Czerniaków, and his unce from his mothers side was Arthur Rubinstein.

World War II and after

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II and Nazi Germany's occupation of Poland, Tuwim emigrated first through Romania to France, and after France’s capitulation, to Brazil, by way of Portugal, and finally to the USA, where he settled in 1942. In 1939-41 he collaborated with the émigré weekly "Wiadomosci Polskie", but broke off the collaboration due to differences in views on the attitude towards the Soviet Union. In 1942-46 he worked with the monthly "Nowa Polska" published in London, and with leftist Polish-American newspapers. He was affiliated with the Polish section of the International Workers Organization from 1942. He was also a member of the Association of Writers From Poland (a member of the board in 1943).

During this time he wrote "Kwiaty Polskie" (Polish Flowers), an epic poem in which he remembers with nostalgia his early childhood in Łódź. In April 1944 he published a manifesto, entitled "My, Żydzi Polscy" (We, Polish Jews).

Tuwim returned to Poland after the war, in 1946, but was not able to create under the communism system. Under pressure he produced a few low quality texts to pacify the regime. Some of his late poems of better quality, which he kept to himself, were found among his belongings after the poet's death.

Although Tuwim was well known for serious poetry he also wrote poetry for children and satirical works, for example "Lokomotywa"" (Locomotive) (1938, tr. 1940). Tuwim along with Jan Brzechwa are the two most famous authors of children's poetry in Polish. He also wrote well-regarded translations of Pushkin and other Russian poets. Russian Soviet poet Yelizaveta Tarakhovskaya translated most of Tuwim's children's poetry into Russian.


# Czyhanie na Boga (Lurking for God, 1918)
# Sokrates tańczący (Dancing Socrates, 1920)
# Siódma jesień (The Seventh Autumn, 1921)
# Wierszy tom czwarty (1923)
# Czary i czarty polskie (Sorcery and Deuces of Poland, 1924)
# Wypisy czarnoksięskie (The Reader of Sorcery, 1924)
# A to pan zna? (And do you know it?, 1925)
# Czarna msza (1925)
# Tysiąc dziwów prawdziwych (1925)
# Słowa we krwi (1926)
# Tajemnice amuletów i talizmanów (1926)
# Strofy o późnym lecie
# Rzecz czarnoleska (1929)
# Jeździec miedziany (1932)
# Biblia cygańska i inne wiersze (1932)
# Jarmark rymów (1934)
# Polski słownik pijacki i antologia bachiczna (1935)
# Treść gorejąca (1936)
# Bal w Operze (1936, published 1946)
# Kwiaty polskie (1940-1946, published 1949)
# Pegaz dęba, czyli panoptikum poetyckie (1950)
# Piórem i piórkiem (1951

English translations of Julian Tuwim’s poetry

Polish Flowers

A box with paints from childhood's time:
The colors of town are earth and grime.
An old worker at a dark doorway squats,
The spuds in his bowl are powdery dry.
It's a face of yellowish and gray spots
In the midst of hunger, cold, dirt and slime.

The Common Man

When plastered billboards scream with slogans
'fight for your country, go to battle'
When media's print assaults your senses,
'Support our leaders' shrieks and rattles…
And fools who don't know any better
Believe the old, eternal lie
That we must march and shoot and kill
Murder, and burn, and bomb, and grill…

When press begins the battle-cry
That nation needs to unify
And for your country you must die…
Dear brainwashed friend, my neighbor dear
Brother from this, or other nation
Know that the cries of anger, fear,
Are nothing but manipulation
by fat-cats, kings who covet riches,
And feed off your sweat and blood - the leeches!
When call to arms engulfs the land
It means that somewhere oil was found,
Shooting 'blackgold' from underground!
It means they found a sneaky way
To make more money, grab more gold
But this is not what you are told!

Don't spill your blood for bucks or oil
Break, burn your rifle, shout: 'NO DEAL!'
Let the rich scoundrels, kings, and bankers
Send their own children to get killed!
May your loud voice be amplified
By roar of other common men
The battle-weary of all nations:

The Dancing Socrates

I roast in the sun, old wretch…
I lie, and yawn, I stretch.
Old am I, but full of pep:
When I take a slug from the cup
I sing.
My ancient bones bask in the sun's glow,
And my curly, wise, grey head.
In that wise head, like woods in spring
Hums and hums a wiser wine.
Eternal thoughts flow and flow,
Like time.

The Saturday Night Song

Hooray, the echo will resound throughout the wide square,
When a sincere drunkard's song emanates from my throat;
Tonight I'll be lapping up a smoky pub's atmosphere,
I'm bloody well going to get sloshed, buzzed and somewhere float.

My spirit gorged, I'll bang the table with my strong fist,
Searching for a little brightness from these gloomy days-
Take no more you soft touch! Liberty! May the vile twists
Of my ricketed brats in the garret rot away.

I'll drink-smash everything in sight but never mind,
I'll pay myself! Can I not afford to break a glass or two?
I can, you bastards! With the rubles from my black grind
I could even have two dozen mistresses to woo.

I smash-because I feel like it! Hang it all! Freedom! I've power!
Run, spirit, till dawn. Out of the way. Today we rule!
And when I leave the pub with hands in the pocket of my trousers
I'll stagger wide down the drunken street, nobody's fool!


Grass, grass up to my knees!
Grow up to the sky
So that there won't seem to be
Any you or I

So that I will turn all green
And blossom to my bones,
So that my words won't come between
Your freshness and my own.

So that for the two of us
There will be one name:
Either for both of us - grass,
Or both both of us - tuwim.


My husband is idle, is dumb and spends money.
He either stands still at the window or runs about town like a bunny.

He stares and he stares, at a tram, at the sky.
He mutters, he whistles: he rummages over the house like an amateur spy.

And then he reads books: he turns their pages at least.
There are books in the kitchen and cellar; folios mixed with the yeast.

But what is he thinking about? what does my husband mumble?
When he tries to speak he gets nervous: piles of words flurry and tumble.

In the evening he drinks, and I feel angry enough
When I see his dear eyes getting misted up with that stuff.

His eyes are misted. He takes one more dram.
He kneels down beside me and lays his head on my arm.
It is only then that I learn for the first time who I am.

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