A Poem for My Father

What do you give someone who’s given you just about everything? One way is to go with a gift of acknowledgment, thoughtfulness or time. Thus, for my father’s seventieth birthday I decided to make him a present of one of his favorite poems—in my English translation. The poem is a philosophical, metaphoric, cathartic one about dying, written by Polish poet Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz just 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 passing away might actually be pretty spot-on. Here is the translation—and, next to it, the original with all its quietly heart-wrenching 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 through 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 in fact helped arrive at the final version of the translation).

Note: I web-searched extensively to find any 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.