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65th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising: Warsaw poets Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński and Tadeusz Gajcy

Contrary to the Latin proverb: inter arma silent Musae (the muses are silent amongst war), during World War II a lot of young poets manifested their outstanding talents in the occupied Warsaw. Born between 1921'1922, highly gifted, they decided to fight, even though they knew they were facing death, like 'stones tossed onto the ramparts', as Słowacki, a great Polish romantic poet, once put it. The most brilliant ones were Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński and Tadeusz Gajcy. Both were born and died in Warsaw.

Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, who used the penname of Jan Bugaj, was born in 1921. He graduated from the famous Stefan Batory Secondary School in Warsaw in 1939 and intended to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1942 he became a student of Polish Philology at the underground University of Warsaw and a coeditor of the underground literary monthly Droga [The Road]. In 1943 he joined the so'called Assault Groups, an armed resistance formation rooted in the scouting movement and subordinate to the Home Army. He graduated from the secret Infantry Non'Commissioned Officer School 'Agricola' and left it with the title of officer cadet in the rank of senior rifleman. He took part in the operation of derailing a German train in Tłuszcz'Urle sector, north'east of Warsaw. Initially, he served in 'Zośka' battalion (in the rank of corporal in platoon 'Alek', company 'Rudy'), and later in 'Parasol' battalion (as deputy commander in 3rd platoon, 3rd company). Surprised by the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising and unable to make it to his platoon, he joined the unit of 'Leszek' (Lesław Kossowski) fighting in the area of Teatralny Square. He was killed on 4 August 1944 in Blank's Palace.

Baczyński's poems, referring to the romantic tradition, are a record of accelerated maturity, tantalising choices and moral dilemmas faced by the poet himself and by the whole generation. Full of symbolic visions and apocalyptic premonitions, the poems reflect the quandary of the artist embracing the obligation to fight the occupants, they speak of the horror of death, but also of this world's beauty. Some of his most famous poems are subtle love lyrics addressed to Barbara Drapczyńska, whom he married in 1942. The same year saw the publication of his poems in two underground anthologies: Pieśń niepodległa [The independent song] and Słowo prawdziwe [A word that does not lie]. He also published two volumes: Wiersze wybrane [Selected poems] (1942) and Arkusz poetycki [A sheet of poetry] (1944). Earlier on, he had personally designed and hand'made a number of copies of the volumes Zamknięty echem [Contained by echo] (1940), Dwie miłości [Two loves] (1940) and Modlitwa [The prayer] (1942). His literary legacy, preserved in manuscripts ? approximately 500 lyrics, short stories and a verse drama ? reveals a poetic talent that can be assessed as equal to those of Słowacki or Norwid.

Tadeusz Gajcy a.k.a. Karol Topornicki was born in 1922. He attended the Secondary School of Marian Fathers in Bielany. In an attempt to join the army in September 1939, he left Warsaw and headed east, eventually reaching Włodawa. When he returned to Warsaw, he passed his final secondary exam (1941) in the underground education system. He then enrolled to study Polish Philology at the underground University of Warsaw. He was connected with the resistance organisation called the Confederation of the Nation and its literary monthly Sztuka i Naród [Art and Nation], of which he became the editor in November 1943. Risking his life, he took part in the famous operation of lying a wreath at the statue of Copernicus in 1943. During the Warsaw Uprising he served in a motorised transport unit and then in the group of 'Ryszard' (Jerzy Bondorowski). He most probably died on 16 August 1944 in the rubble of a tenement house at 1/3 Przejazd Street, blown up by Germans. He was accompanied by his poet friend Zdzisław Stroiński, who also died that day.

Gajcy created vision'based lyrics, rich in metaphors, combining elements of fairy tale, dream and reality. He referred to the tradition of catastrophists. He chose to be active, seeing the role of the poet as the teacher of the nation. His narrative poems Z dna [From the bottom] (echoing his 1939 experiences) and Widma [Spectres] (published in 1943 in his debut volume with the same title) were permeated with catastrophic imagery. He authored a drama Homer i Orchidea [Homer and the Orchid], prose pieces, literary critical articles and a grotesque stage performance Misterium niedzielne [Sunday Mystery Play]. The tragic predicament of an artist who loses the 'purity' of art when he chooses to engage in battle found the fullest expression in the poems collected in the volume Grom powszedni [The daily thunderbolt] (1944). The poem Do potomnego [To my descendant], written shortly before the Warsaw Uprising, became his poetic testament.

Neither of the young poets was born a soldier. It was the moral and patriotic duty that stopped them from locking themselves up in the sublime world of art. The heavy loss to Polish culture which was caused by their death is best epitomised by the famous phrase: 'We belong to a nation whose lot it is to shoot at the enemy with diamonds'.

Elżbieta Szymańska
Museum of Literature