Our Life Grows
NYRB Poets, $22.99 pb, 120 pp, 9781681371603
My poor son, forgive your mother,
my poor son, forgive me for giving birth to you,
I won’t do it anymore.
This poem, cited in its entirety, is ‘My Poor Son’ by the Polish writer Ryszard Krynicki, who will be seventy-five years old in June 2018. Likely the finest poet in the generation after Zbigniew Herbert, the dazzling philosopher of modern Polish verse who died twenty years ago, Krynicki was born in a Nazi slave labor camp in 1943. At Windberg in Sankt Valentin, Austria, his Polish parents were forced workers at a tank factory. These stern origins stayed with Krynicki, along with a certain loftiness and reserve. At university, his classmates reportedly referred to him as ‘Archbishop’. In Polish author Ewa Lipska’s novel Sefer (2009), a character generally accepted as being inspired by Krynicki appears at a party in Cracow, a ‘silent poet who was moving around the rooms like an empty city … I learned that he was born in Austria. His esoteric delicacy did not belong to any of the human elements.’