Tuesday, August 14, 2018

From 13 Polish Psalms by Alexander Janta Polczynski (vol. 9, no. 6)

Written in 1944 in a German prison camp and in a French military hospital, the 13 Psalms by Aleksander Janta Polczynski express the depths of pain and sorrow of Poles attacked by Germans and killed, killed, killed, while fighting for freedom. In August, Poland remembers the Warsaw Uprising that started on August 1, 1944, and ended on October 3, 1944. There are two museums dedicated to the Uprising in Warsaw, and the whole city stops for a minute to commemorate its commencement. Over 250,000 civilians were killed, and the city entirely emptied of residents and systematically destroyed, transformed into a sea of ruins by furious Germans, who could not forgive Poles their foolish bravery.  In September we commemorate the beginning of the war on September 1,1939 and the fall of the country on September 17, 1939 when Soviet troops came from the East to help Germans conquer the Polish nation and take apart its land. So this is a good time to read some of the 13 Psalms while listening to Chopin.

LISTEN:  Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude" Op 10, No. 12 by Evgeny Kissin.

Alexander (Aleksander Stanisław) Janta-Połczyński  was a veteran, playwright, historian, poet, journalist, and collector of rare books. Born on December 11, 1908, Poznań, Poland, he died on August 19, 1974, on Long Island, NY, but lived in many other cities (Paris, London, New York).  He studied Polish literature in Poznan, and became a second lieutenant in Polish Cavalry in late 1920s. He went to study in Paris, but did not complete his studies at the was in Paris when the war broke out, so he fought as a member of the French army, mostly serving in communications division. He was imprisoned by Germans, and escaped in 1942, to join the French Resistance and go to England. He became a member of the Polish Army Second Corps there, and participated in the campaigns mostly working in communications.  For his war efforts, he received Krzyz Walecznych and Croix de guerre.

In 1944 he was sent to the U.S. to spread information about the Polish war effort and worked in the Polish Information Center. After the war ended, he settled in New York and worked for the Kosciuszko Foundation. In 1948 published a report from a travel to communist Poland that made him many enemies. Since 1954 he was the president of the American Council of Polish Culture Clubs, and since 1960 he owned a bookstore dedicated to Slavica. He was also a board member of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America.

His articles appeared in emigre press: „Dziennik Polski, Dziennik Żołnierza”, „Wiadomości”, „Kultura”, „Związkowie”. Since 1960s he collaborated with the Polish division of Radio Free Europe. In 1972 he visited Poland again. He was very prolific as a writer, poet, playwright, collaborating with the Paris journal Kultura edited by Count Giedroyc, and with the emigre publishing houses in London. His last book, a history of Polish American music was finished posthumously by friends and published by the Kosciuszko Foundation in New York. 

LISTEN: Chopin's Etude Op. 25, No. 11, "Winter Wind" - by Evgeny Kissin

13 Psalmow Polskich / 13 Polish Psalms appeared in London in 1944, but the poems were written earlier, during Janta's imprisonment and his activities in the French Resistance. Organized in a cycle from "Psalm of Verdict Fulfilled" to "Psalm of Redemption" and "Psalm of Home Coming" these stark, dramatic poems express the shattered worldview of a survivor of war, someone who lost all he loved, someone who grieved and tried to make sense of the horrible reality.

The Psalms were translated into English by Sophie Ilinska, using an traditional religious form of language with "thou" and "thine."  In the reprints below, these are converted into "you" and "yours" more in keeping with modern sensitivity. 

The Psalms' titles are as follows:
1. Psalm of Verdict Fulfilled
2. Psalm of Defeat
3. Psalm of Revolt
4. Psalm of Terrible Disappointments
5. Psalm of Captivity
6. Psalm of War
7. Psalm of Our Destiny
8. Psalm of Mourning
9. Psalm of Daily Longing
10. Psalm of Love of the Land
11. Psalm of Warning
12. Psalm of Redemption
13. Psalm of Home Coming

LISTEN: Chopin's Sonata in B flat Minor, Op. 35 (with the Funeral March) by Yundi Li


1. Our sacrifice was rejected. Is there no place for us among the living?
2. Misfortune has crushed us - we are in misery, and lost.
4. The enemy rules at home, foreign masters trample theland'; what is the use of a home to exiles? What is the use of a land they call their own?
4. When in other people's courtyards they walk - vagabon - who have nowher to rest their head - liket he homeless ones - 
5. The roof was taken from them, the aquest of may years dstroyed, each small fragment of joy was taken away by the jealous.
6. Who tore way the last crumb of bread from their heands. They will tear out the toungue, they will reach deeper - to the heart they will reach.
7. Our calling sounds empty to the ears of the world, crying for help avails us not.
8. Our friends have forsaken us, given us up to destruction.
9. Dew before dawn will eat out the eyes of may, despair will burn their bowels.
10 We walk in rags of poverty and our oppressors and conquerors rejoice in plenty and safety in the place of our belonging. 
11. They crying of the innocent has spoilt and blurred the vision of justice; 
12. Since heartless and soulless men have thrust down the weaker into a sea of pain;
13. Since the blind rule of force endures, and the stubborn stiff-neckedness of violence.
14. We were people of goodwill, but the ignoble have conquered. 
15. We were the shield of peace - and broken by war it was.
16. We were fain to serve the time to come, but the depth of disaster opened and devoured th most faithful of servants.
17. Weighty words and great hopes rattle like broken pots, and tinkle like iron plates in the wind. 
18. Gladness dwelt within us; now even children know not what it is. 
19. The warmth of prosperity encompassed us: now there is no man colder than us.
20. We waxed strong in honor and glory, but now there is none in greater scorn than us, none as cruelly neglected
2. How then can we continue to live? how can we put our trust in any? 


1. The wailing of the first sirens was the farewell to all our vain hopes
2. And none was spared the horror of that un-earthly call
3. From which life came to be measured with the utmost striving of sacrifice and defeat
4. The muffled drums of explosions gave forth a deadly sound, the heart gave signals of fear
5. And motors of destiny are throbbing, and it will close its wings over the country like over a tomb
6. In the fields as on a drum-skin tightly stretched; the bombs are beating. 
7. The seeds of devastation on the earth look upon us like the craters of the moon- with great eye holes
8. From the frontiers comes deadly rattling, over the furrows of the fields it hastens, deeper - aiming at the art and on the map red serpents of attack creep into the midst of the land
9. Winds bind the landscape in long plats of smoke and the plumes of fires sit on the roots of the city. 
10 . Like locust they came - in multitudes, and no one could count their numbers; 
11. Two waves brought them and they were like the foreheads o two bisons going against each other to fight
12. And hard they knocked their heads and their hooves raised a gruesome tangle of blood-colored dust to the heavens.
14. O senseless element of bestial warfare, what have you left behind you?
14. The fields are trodden down, the walls of the houses torn by the pressure of your madness;
15. With sharp and rocky hardness in place of gardens shine the desert cemeteries - where was rich life and rich harvest.
16. Columns of searching streams of light still prop the red sky, but we know already that it will crash.
17. Waves arise mountain-high against us, as no one knows how to gain favour.
18. Only the curse moves in the emptiness of these days, and the darkness of the first hours of creation. 
19. It has now only the power possessed by grave diggers and those who work destruction
20. And doom will come from the grave over which they dance.
21. And this has been written in the hearts of the faithful who could see, and not in vain prophecies.
2. Let the word come true - from the blood and woe and steadfast will. 


1. Salvation I found among those who are young,and youth was to me the faith and the guiding star
2. The most beautiful apparition of my land, the most precious and durable
3. But you, my friend are no more in the light of tomorrow
4. You have been blown away in the night of times, and I have known suddenly whom I bewail.
5. O my fair-haired and glorious youth, my Promethean one and beloved of the gods.
6. They have appraised your passion, because the love of living throbbed in it loudly;
7. They have loved the splendid and mortal body in you, ready in the arena to fight for laurels and the highest reward of the victor.
8. Your eyes gleamed with the splendor of the whole generation, the unrepeatable charm of those beloved by fate. 
9. As one about to throw a disc so did you upraise your arm to the days to come, you did bracket your slim and well sculptured legs as if about to strive to leap the highest jump. 
10. Steadfast you were and clean of heart, and shame was unknown to you.
11. Death has shown you as an example and wonder to your comrades
12. And to those who followed you, and to me, when my presence is with you, as constant as my thinking. 
13. We sought a place for the best, but the desires of the young were rejected
14. To judge them only by the number of their years, turning away the head from the unbearable freshness of their eyes.
15. Hard it is for young and lovely birds to grow useless wings
16. When they are forbidden to fly, or to enrapture others with the strong infection of their daring
17. The deed has hardly saved you, revolt has freed you, raised you as the leader of hearts, the pilot of our longing. 
18. The fulfillment of dreams - incomplete yet perfect - is yours, for you live, fallen and scared.
19. The first mass of blood-drenched priesthood was ascribed to you
20. How hard to change to only youth of life, the temporal and perfect into the host of the communion with cold eternity.
21. The passionate and empty of illusions went to attack - as if to a tournament, the last joyful dance; 
22. Thus is shown what comes after yielding to the enemy - your utmost forbidding
23. When the capital was drowning and royal monuments with it
24. And he - the one with raised cross - the champion of a lost cause 
24. And that second one where the shadows of conspirators still wander
26. There is no more breath left and life is very precious, and the beauty of being chokes on the steps of departing. 


1. Blessed be the brotherhood of all nations.
2. Blessed be eternal and unifying Poland.
3. And the redemption of the world by the spirit of work and creative struggle
4. Blessed be the sacrifice of the pure in heart and those who do not ask here is the name of greatness
5. For they fully know what is the price of glory.
6.The cursed small-heartedness thrusts aside those destined to highest office.
7. The vanquished bore the verdict of defeat with great ceremony, like the glory and dignity of fate.
8. But the labour of turning away destiny is most praise worthy.
9. Human reason and daring deeds are as the reflection of the highest will.
10. The end has come to the simplicity of peoples, to the time of miracles.
11. On conquered devastation they will build to the inhabitants of a common world - a country brighter than the former.
12. Only there is it time for the builders to pray for the peace of the family graves, for the un-extinguished warmth of home-fires.
13. In the great work of building again to fight for a roof over each head for a stone made house
14. For the bed to embrace each one's sleeping and loving.
15. For loving-kindness to the young and starting life.
16. For order and laws of justice, for work, for abundant yield, for freedom.
17. For the grace of honesty between people.
18. For reconciliation and peace in he heart and on the borders of each land.
19. For the rule of the fittest, for the kingdom of the wise.
20. For thought guiding as light guides.
21. For the one who strengthens and elevates the spirit.
22. For only those will lead us to the days to come on whose hand there is no one's blood. 

The following is a list of Janta's publications. Since he was an emigre who lost the ground under his feet and the support of his home country, his name disappeared from the annals of Polish literature. It is high time it is restored to a rightful place. 

1928.  O świcie, Ze wspomnień i tematów myśliwskich. 
1929.  As pik. Seans in three acts (play) and poetry Śmierć białego słonia 
1930. Krzyk w cyrku, volume of poetry
1933. Leśny pies, collection of stories.
1933.  Nonfiction stories, Patrzę na Moskwę, and  W głąb ZSRR
1935 Nonfiction stories in three volumes, Made in Japan, Odkrycie Ameryki and Ziemia jest okrągła as well as volume of poetry Biały pociąg, Wielki wóz 
1936. Nonfiction stories Stolica srebrnej Magii (1936)
1938.  Serce na wschód poetry volume.
1939. Nonfiction stories Na kresach Azji. Indie, Afganistan, Birma, Syjam, Indochiny, Chiny, Mongolia, Formoza, Japonia
1944. Two volumes of poetry, 13 Psalmow and Ściana milczenia  as well as memoirs I Lied to live. A year as a German family slave, published in Polish in 1945  Kłamałem, aby żyć.
1946. Volume of poetry Widzenie wiary 
1949. Nonfiction stories  Wracam z Polski. Warszawa-Wrocław-Kraków-Poznań-Szczecin-Życie-Polityka-Gospodarka-Sztuka-Ludzie i Zagadnienia.
1950. Dzieje pewnego romansu. Suita pod film rysunkowy na dwa głosy i osiem batut (1950) and Młyn w Nadolniku. Pamiętnik pomorski  
1950-1952. Three volumes of satirical poems Pisma przygodne
1954. Satirical poem Bajka o cieniu 
1957. Autobiography Duch niespokojny
1958. Znak tożsamości. Wybór z trzydziestolecia
1960. Short story Wielka gafa księżny Bałaganow
1961. Memoirs Losy i ludzie. Spotkania-przygody-studia, 1930-1960 
1963. Play Linia podziału
1964. Collection of stories Flet i apokalipsa 
1966. Godzina dzikiej kaczki, translations of Japanese poetry
1967. Memoirs Księga podróży, przygód i wspomnień 
1970. Memoirs Pamiętnik indyjski and a volume of translations of American poets, Robert Frost i inni poeci amerykańscy
1971. Essay collection, Przestroga dla wnuków
1972. Essay collections, Po samo dno istnienia  and Przyjemnie zapoznać
1973. Essay collection, Przestrogi drugie and memoirs Nowe odkrycie Ameryki 
1982. A history of Nineteenth Century American-Polish Music completed by Michał Sprusiński and John Głowacki, and published posthumously. 

Three volumes of selected essays and poems edited by Michał Sprusiński appeared in Poland: collections of essays Nic własnego nikomu (1977) and Lustra i reflektory (1982), as well as poems, Śnił mi się krzyk (1979).

Here's a fragment of his obituary in the New York Times: 

"Mr. Janta was best known here as the author of “I Lied to Live,” published in 1944. As a war correspondent with Polish forces fighting with the French armies in 1940, he changed from a Polish uniform into a French one when the Germans broke through to avoid the harsher treatment awaiting Polish prisoners. Speaking French to cloak his real identity, Mr. Janta was assigned as a farm laborer in Germany and eventually was able to get back to France, where he joined the Polish underground and made his way to London. He was sent to Washington as an assistant to the Polish military attaché.

In 1944, Mr, Janta was wounded in the Netherlands. His second book, “Bound With Two Chains” (1945), told of his experiences as a prisoner. In 1948 he returned for a visit to Poland under the Communist regime and published an account, in Polish, which initially shocked some of his fellow emigres as not painting a sufficiently bleak picture.

He settled in Buffalo in 1949 and for six years he was active in Polish‐American community affairs and served for three years as president of the American Council of Polish Cultural Clubs. In 1955 Mr. Janta came to New York as assistant to the president of the Kosciuszko Foundation, later serving as an executive of the Paderewski Foundation."