Edward Stachura

Edward Stachura: Lifewriting

It is awkward to even contemplate writing a biographical sketch about Stachura for he strongly disliked the idea of recording life in such a format. Asked by a publisher to write a short biographical note for the cover of one of his novels, he reluctantly produced the following text:

I have always felt an aversion (just like the characters in this book, and I don't think we are alone in that sentiment) to writing down a biography in the form that is most frequently used and required, and that is in the factual-bureaucratic form.

The aversion, I think, comes from the realization of the coarseness of such a procedure. Coarseness of the fragmentary compared to the full days and nights, weeks, months and years. Coarseness of the dry compared to the fluid: a dry riverbed of laconic, stale expressions compared to the rushing flood of light, shadow, water, wind and the living blood in the veins.

If I had to write my own biographical sketch in the form to which I feel least aversion, I would like to write, most briefly and most exhaustively, one sentence: I was born in Dauphiné in August 1937 and so on.

It is with some hesitation, then, that I decided to include in these pages a short biographical timeline, for Stachura certainly would not have approved; and I would like to make amends by providing an alternative glance at his life for those who share the writer's aversion to dry sets of facts as a method of recording human life. It will be a glimpse of the beginning and the end of his life as seen by Stachura himself. The first is a brief autobiographical sketch submitted (as required) with his second application for admission to the Catholic University of Lublin; the second is a leave-taking poem written just before his death.

Autobiographical Sketch

I was born on August 18, 1937 in Pont-de-Chéruy (dep. Isère) in France. My childhood was peaceful and beautiful. When I was seven, I dreamt I had the ability to fly. At that time I started to attend the French elementary school and dreams began to change like new images in a magic lantern. The Second World War I only remember from the taste of chocolate we always got from the Americans. I also remember a spider on the ceiling in our basement, where we had to hide for two weeks.

When I was eleven, my parents decided that it's time to leave the sweet France and return to the even sweeter Poland. Then, I did not yet understand the word nostalgia. Only now do I know how much sadness there is in it. From people and books I learned about wolves prowling all over Poland. In November 1948 we came to Poland. I didn't see any wolves, but I couldn't expect how small my disappointment would be.

We settled down in the gloomy little town of Aleksandrów Kuj[awski]. Once it was a border town and was widely famous for contraband. There I finished grade school. Because I was showing unusual talents, I was sent to the "middle school" in Ciechocinek to be turned into "an engineer" or "a doctor." After three years I transferred to highschool in Gdynia, from which I graduated, and in which I am still surrounded with legends, as I read in the local school newspaper. One year, i.e.1956, I wandered all around Poland finding wolf trails everywhere but never the wolves themselves. Then I started studying French philology at CUL where I was deeply moved by the perfect goodness of a few people. Withdrawing from college was mostly my own fault, and maybe also the fault of fidelity to the traditions of my great "ancêtres."


A Letter to the Remaining

      I am dying:
      for my sins and my innocence
      for the lack which I feel with each particle of my body and each particle of my soul; for the lack which is tearing me to pieces like a newspaper covered with noisy meaningless words
      for the chance to unite with the Nameless, the Extraverbal, the Unknown
      for a new day
      for wonderful wilderness
      for the sight above all sights
      for the true apparition
      for the dot over ypsilon
      for the mystery of death
      in fear, in terror, in sweat of toil
      for the loss of the obvious
      for the lost keys of understanding
      with a tiny spark of trust that if the seed dies, it will bear fruit
      for the loneliness of dying
      since all body is always the corpse
      since it's hard, frightful and unbearable
      for the chance to transform
      for people's misfortune and my own which I bear on me and in me
      for it all looks like it's only a dream, a nightmare
      for it all looks like it's not true
      for it all looks like it's absurd
      for all here decays, rots and nothing is permanent but longing for permanence
      for I no longer am of this world and maybe never have been
      for it looks like there is nothing here that can save me
      for I no longer can love with earthly love
      for noli me tangere
      for I am very tired, indescribably exhausted
      for I have suffered much
      for I have already been, although it happened in madness, crucified in the most literal and most physical way and how deep and how real was my pain
      for I wanted to deliver from evil all people and the whole world and if it did not happen, I cannot call it my fault
      for it looks like there is no need for me here
      for I don't feel cheated which would help me rather stay than die; stay and search for the guilty one, maybe in myself; but I don't feel cheated
      for he who can stay in this world—let him stay and I wish him well, and when his time comes to die—let his death be light
      for I—I'm going to you, Father of the pastures
      to maybe at last find peacefulness, deserved I suppose, deserved I suppose, for I wasn't spared even from madness
      for everything hurts me terribly
      for I am suffocating in this cage
      for lonely is my soul until death
      for the last piece of paper ends on time and it's only a step and long Live Life
      for I have stood at the beginning, for the Father pulled me and I will stand at the end and I will not taste death.