A Poem for My Father

What do you give the person who’s given you everything? One idea is a gift of acknowledgment, thoughtfulness, or time. Thus, for my father’s seventieth birthday I decided to present him with one of his favorite poems—in an original English version translated especially for him. The poem is a philosophical, metaphoric, cathartic one about dying, written by Polish poet Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz mere days before his own death, in February, 1980. Now some might find this a somber, even morbid theme, but my dad is fearless and sentimental and totally impertinent, so ushering in his 70’s with a lyric about dying seemed both safe and fun. Here is my translation, next to the original with all its heart-wrenching quiet wonder.

by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz

Urania, pine tree, sister—I give you your name
For the way your trunk’s hand points at the sky
The wind gusting from your black mane
Quiets from under. Sister, I am calling you

As once did seers in mistletoe crowns
To stand guard at the door to my home
And watch over the flower, fruit, honey bee
And the hearts that fade here in hiding.

Urania, muse of the terminal day
Goddess of the end, goddess of permanence
Goddess of destruction and all that is wrong
Keep watch over home and over nothingness.

Take me in your manes, you who are crazed
Rip from me arms that will never regrow
Bury me, rescue me, give me your crowns,
Let me, too, be Urania, nothingness, and pine.

Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz

Uranio, siostro, sosno – tak ciebie nazywam
Bo palcem pnia swojego ukazujesz niebo
Wiatr co się w twojej czarnej grzywie zrywa
Zacicha dołem. Siostro, wzywam ciebie

Jak niegdyś wróże w koronach z jemioły
Abyś wytrwała w progu mego domu
I strzegła kwiatu, owocu i pszczoły
I serc co tutaj gasn
ą po kryjomu.

Uranio, muzo dnia ostatecznego
Bogini końca, bogini trwałości
Zniszczeń bogini i wszystkiego złego
Stójże na straży domu i nicości.

Weźmij mnie w swoje grzywy, ty szalona
Wyszarp mi ręce co już nie wyrosną
Pogrzeb mnie, ratuj, daj swoje korony,
Bym także był Uranią, nicością i sosną.

English translation by Natalia Osiatynska, 2015, dedicated to Wiktor Osiatyński (who is very much alive, in case anyone is wondering, and who even helped arrive at the final English version, above).

Note: I web-searched for other existing English translations of Urania—and found one by Philip Earl Steele, published as part of this intriguing treatise on the picturesque Masovian town of Podkowa Leśna.