Letter from Wacław Borowy written 29.05.1939

Warsaw, Św. Barbary St. 10
n      29.V.39


Dear Sir!
n           n        I have been holding on to the script you were sok ind as to send me for a really long time, and I might have held it even longer, if it were not for the fact that I am just starting my vacation and supposed to go to Paris (address: 6, Quai d’Orleans).
n              n     I have read the extensive article of yours with great interest and I am proud that I have, at least in part, provoked its creation. There would be a lot of points for discussion. Maybe when the item is printed it will be easier to hold this discussion. In any case, I find full satisfaction in two paragraphs that deal with the most important issues from the point of view of my polemic with Kridl (and later with you in our letters). In them, I would also summarize what, from this point of view, I consider to be the most important. Here they are: (1) “there is a significant difference between a poetic and a theoretical presentation” <p.32>; (2) “one should not prejudge that, just like other elements of a literary work so the very meaning of the general “maxim” can have an aesthetic value. The so-called “thought” contained in it can, for example, be characterized by …. the so-called “relevancy” etc. “<p. 34> It does not yet exhaust the issue of truth in art (or even thr issue of truth in poetry), but it satisfies my current needs. If you include the above-mentioned theses among the most important in your argument, the concern expressed in the penultimate sentence of the article (as to whether you “managed” to convince W. Borowy) is unnecessary. In general, W. Borowy is somewhat less of a supporter of gnomic poetry than he seems to be in your presentation: although I appreciate your loyalty and attention for precision, taking into account various possibilities and reserves. I understand that it is a necessary “simplification” when one operates within the polemic procedure. I will not then be arguing about this “simplification”. I would only ask you to consider one paragraph, in which I see a “thickening” of my intentions. You write in a footnote on page 23, initially in a very polite tone, that W. Borowy “does not do this”, what these and those practitioners do, i.e. does not attribute an isolated sentence from Aneas to Virgil as his opinion about the real world (incidentally, W.B. once explained to the polonists that even Gustav and Konrad’s opinions cannot be regarded as Mickiewicz’s statements), but immediately afterwards you express a concern that “his thesis that sensu stricto judgments exist in literary works is to allow for such behavior.” That is not the case. Due to the current circumstances, I have emphasized a certain element of literary works, however I have always kept in mind the poetic value of the cited works, and especially their fragments. As to why I thought it was possible to operate on snippets, it would be too long a write. I will say briefly: I followed the ancient tradition of criticism, which has its good reasons. Your reasoning that the a has full meaning only in connection with the whole of the composition etc. is basically correct. Every professor of poetic art, music or literature should teach such things at proseminars (I know they do not always do!). Still, there are exceptions: none of us know in full the great composition which Manon Lescaut is a part of (except for “professional” romanists), and yet we claim the right to admire this part in itself. This is a matter of weak compositions with strong elements. The issue of parts of cycles “detachable” and “non-detachable” from them is a different one. (I once composed an anthology of Polish lyric poetry and I explained in the preface why I could not cite some of the “most beautiful” Laments or Crimean Sonnets, and others I could). But, most of all, the main issue here is something else: criticism, not without reason, when talking about extensive and complex things, searches for more easily graspable details which, for one reason or another, are remarkably characteristic, “concentrate the inspiration of the whole”, “focus its dispersing rays”, represent” the closest”or “happiest”or “the most mysterious”moments. Which is why, among others, French criticism has been repeatedly focusing on Racine’s individual poems so many times (La fille de Minos et de Pasiphaé et al.) Hence it is is a rare thing for the English to have a study of Shakespeare, which whilst speaking of the “highest peaks” of his poetry would not pay attention to Othello’s verse, which sounds (if memory serves): It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul. Hence such considerations as, for example, whether this or that poem can be regarded as the maximum of the ability of poetic expression of a given poet. One English critic even claimed that sunt lacrymae rerum is the greatest poem ever written by any poet; presenting the matter in such a way is funny of course, but it would be a mistake to suppose that the said critic (Courthope, I think) is ignorant to literary compositions, or that he admires this poem for its “philosophicality” (which he, to top it all, identifies with Virgil’s “philosophy”). Similarly, a person who hang a reproduction of a head from a Ghirlandaio mural over a desk does not necessarily have to be deprived of a sense for the composition of a painting: the head can for them be a detail that is easier to reproduce in larger sizes, and which has – regardless of its role in the whole – its own charms (including the composition !!) and hence it is even “particularly instructive” (significant circumstance, if this someone is not only an art lover, but also has some analytical tendencies, it initiates yet another, and far from an insignificant, issue).
n             n      But enough of these remarks written on departure. I promise to read your work once again when it is printed (and then in relation to relevant paragraphs on the forms of cognition of a literary work; for now, because of an overwhelming amount of other readings I could not adhere to your instructions for this). Once again, thank you for kindly sending me the typescript and for the education and opportunities for reflection it provided.
n           n        A hearty handshake and bows from both of us.
n             n      A kiss for Madam’s hand


         n             n      P.S. I am to return to Warsaw in the beginning of August.

* I am sending it separately now