cover image In Praise of the Unfinished: Selected Poems

In Praise of the Unfinished: Selected Poems

Julia Hartwig, , trans. from the Polish by John and Bogdan Carpenter. . Knopf, $25 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-307-26720-7

An admired poet and sometime bestseller in Poland—and an important translator of poetry from English into Polish—Hartwig (now age 85) has also led a memorable life, fighting with the resistance in WWII and taking part in the Solidarity movement. This set of limpid, quotable, often bittersweet lyrics and prose poems makes clear that she could become as acclaimed here as her Nobel Prize compatriots Milosz and Symborska. Countryside landscapes and artifacts from the classical past come to Hartwig as emblems of human endurance, compassion and humility. The same virtues illuminate her poems on public occasions, from 9/11 to the era of Polish martial law: “Lord we aren’t the only nation tormented this way,” she prays, “don’t let us take pride in it.” Later poems speak to the international legacy she favors, especially to the French modernist Apollinaire. For all her topical interest Hartwig is finally a poet of enduring consolation, measured reassurance and scenic clarity, who may also appeal to fans of Mary Oliver. After the poet’s death, one prose poem announces, she “would like to be a statue looking at the sea,” with “darkness behind me.” (Feb.)