Between Dawn and the Wind
By Anna Frajlich. Translated and with an introduction by Regina Grol. Cover art by Rafał Olbiński. Austin, Texas: Host Publications, 2006. xii + 143 pages. ISBN 10: 0-924047-41-0. Paper. $15.00.
With the publication of a bilingual edition of Anna Frajlich’s Between Dawn and the Wind, readers of English can at last savor the intricate verse of one of postwar Poland’s important poets. Frajlich (aka Anna Frajlich-Zając) is a writer of exile, born in exile in the Urals and expelled from her Polish home in the wake of postwar anti-Semitism. Her loss of homeland and stability are transposed into a sense of yearning, an awareness of the ephemeral nature of life, and an attempt to use poetry to bring some order into her insecure world.
Regina Grol’s short introduction gives a history of Anna Frajlich’s life, providing a backdrop for the poems. Grol couples her brief biography with an introductory discussion of the poems and concludes with a chronology of Frajlich’s life events, professional and scholarly career, and publications. The poems-comprising seventy lyrics-form the body of the text. They are pierced with nostalgia, an awareness of painful loss translated into poetic beauty.
In Between Dawn and the Wind, Regina Grol places the Polish text on the left with the English text on the facing pages. Translations were done well and are accurate, even elegant, with only a very occasional typo (rather than a true error), such as “check” instead of “cheek” on p. 63. But even in such a case, the reader can readily make amends for any minor infelicities in this book. Frajlich “wanders” throughout, never settling anywhere except within the structural confines of her poems. “A z jakiego portu płyną do jakiego” (“From Which Harbor to Which”) shows a deracinated persona drifting, a theme that resonates throughout the collection. In “Kraj utracony” (“The Lost Land”) she specifically links wandering with her Jewish identity and with the homelessness of being a Jew in Eastern Europe-specifically in Poland-during the war and postwar period. “Home” rejects these wanderers, and return is possible only in the context of the dream. Frajlich picks up this theme repeatedly, as in “Emigracja” (“Emigration”) or “Aklimatyzacja” (“Acclimatization”), punctuated by a sense of “forgetting” what the poet actually remembers. Mother as a migrating bird (from “Ptaki,” “Birds”) becomes an imaginary mother (one of many) in “”O poezji” (“On Poetry”), and in death she stretches out her hands to a dearly-remembered daughter (“Odchodzi,” “She is Leaving”). Here the poet’s personal history, a sense of being part of one very small family flung to the Urals, back to Poland, and thence to America is captured poignantly in the image of a mother “wading in the dark waters of Lethe” and reaching out to a daughter who cannot help her.
The feeling of loss closely associated with exile and wandering, a loss painfully realized in the figure of a mother now on “the other side,” echoes throughout. This sense is underscored by the wind that scours this volume, blowing helpless human figures from place to place and contributing to a restless energy that electrifies Frajlich’s short, choppy lines, her terse turns of phrase, a downward thrust of her last lines. Not even the peaceful quiet of a lullaby (“Jesienna kołysanka,” “Autumn Lullaby”) can still the sense of being “on the road” in Long Island (in both Polish and the English translation), with only a temporary sense of peace. In “Sala dziecięca w muzeum męczeństwa Yad Vashem w Jerozolimie” (“The Children’s Room in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem”), Frajlich returns “home” to a cousin’s grave, a “home” attainable only, it seems, in death. Even apparently secure places are undermined: family “exists” as a tombstone. In the “gold and white” of “Jerozolima” (“Jerusalem”) where blood leaves no trace, a French tourist is knifed. Perhaps we may return here to the image of wind as related to a sense of violence that always threatens to disrupt-or actually disrupts-a would-be peaceful world.
Anna Frajlich’s verse strikes a balance between the angst of wandering and a sense of being part of a literary and cultural tradition that provides a degree of constancy in an otherwise unpredictable, untrustworthy, and uprooted world. In “Nad listami Brunona Schulza” (“Musings Over the Letters of Bruno Schulz”) Frajlich remembers the great Schulz but, except for the evocative word “cynamonem” (“cinnamon,” from Schulz’s title Sklepy cinamonowe, Cinnamon Shops), it is his moment of death she recalls, not his life; Schulz is evoked with “burned letters,” “buried letters,” and the final German bullet that killed him in Drohobycz. As with other poems in her collection, tragedy and poetry are intimately conjoined. Poetry emerges as the inevitable aesthetic outcome/product of tragedy, and tragedy in turn inspires poetry as an artistic response. The present reader senses that the poet-in a conceit extending back to Romanticism-must suffer in order to write. The Jew as an exile, homeless and constantly on the move, is echoed in the figure of the poet at once “universal” and culturally specific. Artistic creation empowers the artist, enabling him/her to survive. The poet, although homeless and expelled from her native Polish environment, belongs to a community of fellow artists, no matter what their medium. Thus we have not only the aforementioned poem honoring Bruno Schulz but also “Braque-wystawa retrospektywna” (“Braque-A Retrospective”). His wind-tossed canvas marks him as an exile, his world cast to the unreliable elements. Nor is Braque the only artist Frajlich mentions in this light: “Kobiety Renoira” (“Renoir’s Women”), “Georgia O’Keefe,” and “Po wystawie Chagalla” (“Upon seeing Chagall’s Exhibit”) round out this list.
Anna Frajlich’s collection is a most welcome and significant publication, made more accessible by Regina Grol’s bilingual edition. Frajlich’s verse is penetrating and beautiful, a moving testament and capstone to her years of wandering.
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Last updated 9/27/07