Norwid Speaks to the Truckers, and to Everybody

Cyprian Kamil Norwid, (1821-1883), Polish poet and exile, wrote what is known to us now as the “Ashes and Diamonds” poem.

I’ll transcribe it in four sort-of verses and interleave some translation. Following that will be a 1958 film clip and a 2008 song video.

Coraz to z ciebie jako z drzazgi smolnej
Wokoło lecą szmaty zapalone
Gorejąc nie wiesz czy stawasz się wolny
Czy to co twoje ma być zatracone

Extant translation for which attribution is hard to find:
“So, often, are you as a blazing torch
With flakes of burning hemp falling about you, flaming.
You know not if the flames bring freedom, or death,
Consuming all that you must cherish.”

My translation, more literal and less beautiful - translation of poetry is a fascinating game:
“Increasingly, with you it’s like a blazing torch (tarry splinter)
Around you fall burning shreds
Burning, you know not whether they will become freedom
Or whether all that is yours is to be annihilated;”

Czy popiół tylko zostanie, i zamęt -
Co idzie w przepaść z burzą.
Czy zostanie na dnie popiołu gwiaździsty dyjament?
Wiekuistego zwycięstwa zaranie?

Extant translation for which attribution is hard to find:
If only ashes remain, and want, chaos, and tempest,
You shall be annihilated.
Or will the ashes hold the glory of a starlike diamond?
The Morning Star of everlasting triumph?

My translation, more literal and less beautiful:
Whether ashes only remain, and chaos -
What goes over the cliff in the storm.
Or whether there remains in the bottom of the ash a starlike diamond?
The dawn of everlasting triumph?

Wiary dziś życzę Tobie, że zostanie
Bo na tej ziemi jesteś po to właśnie
By z ognia zgliszcza
Mógł powstać dyjament
Wiekuistego zwycięstwa zaranie

Czy wiesz, że jesteś po to właśnie?!

Faith today I wish you, that it remains,
For on this earth you are for exactly this:
So that from the fire-ashes
could arise diamond:
The dawn of everlasting triumph.

Do you know that you are for exactly that?!

Połóż rękę na sercu,
Otwórz oczy szeroko, i skacz!
Powiedz: Teraz lub nigdy
Zamiast: Będzie co ma być
I nie czekaj aż głód spełni
Twoje cierpienie! Tak!

Put hand on heart,
Open eyes wide and jump!
Say: Now or never!
Instead of: There will be what will be.
And do not wait until hunger completes
Your suffering. Yes!

Andrzej Wajda’s 1958 film Ashes and Diamonds is set in Warsaw just after WWII, at the height of the political and “kinetic” battle for Poland, between the Communists and the patriots wishing to re-establish the independent Republic. It has a famous scene in which the doomed protagonist and the lady find this Norwid poem inscribed on stone in one of the thousands of bombed-out and burned buildings in the city. The hero is in that all-too-familiar situation: with flames and ashes of his world swirling all around, he has to decide whether to fight, or go along to get along. If he fights, what will ensue, for him and for his country? He cannot know; he just fights anyway.

That scene starts below, where the video is loaded here at the 9-minute mark of the 12-minute video. Vade Mecum is an artistic biographical video of the life of Norwid, who was ignored in his lifetime but very much heard today.

And here is Stan Borys singing the first two verses, with visual imagery apt once you know the background.

What Stan Borys sings is Verse 1, then 2; 1, then 2; 1, then 2, after which he hums with the storm winds.

Czy zostanie na dnie popiołu gwiaździsty dyjament?