frontline: pope john paul II - the millennial pope

The Poems

Here is the transcript of two poems by Karol Wojtyla as they were read and discussed in FRONTLINE's interview with poet Lynn Powell. These poems were written by him when he was in his twenties. Read Ms. Powell's interpretive interview about these poems here.

Over This, Your White Grave

Over this, your white grave
the flowers of life in white--
so many years without you--
how many have passed out of sight?
Over this your white grave
covered for years, there is a stir
in the air, something uplifting
and, like death, beyond comprehension.
Over this your white grave
oh, mother, can such loving cease?
for all his filial adoration
a prayer:
Give her eternal peace--
[Krakow, spring 1939]

The Quarry

He wasn't alone.
His muscles grew into the flesh of the crowd, energy their pulse,
As long as they held a hammer, as long as his feet felt the ground.
And a stone smashed his temples and cut through his heart's chamber.
They took his body and walked in a silent line
Toil still lingered about him, a sense of wrong.
They wore gray blouses, boots ankle-deep in mud.
In this, they showed the end.
How violently his time halted: the pointers on the low voltage dials jerked, then dropped to zero again.
White stone now within him, eating into his being,taking over enough of him to turn him into stone.
Who will lift up that stone, unfurl his thoughts again under the cracked temples?
So plaster cracks on the wall.
They laid him down, his back on a sheet of gravel.
His wife came, worn out with worry; his son returned from school
Should his anger now flow into the anger of others?
It was maturing in him through his own truth and love
Should he be used by those who came after,deprived of substance, unique and deeply his own?
The stones on the move again; a wagon bruising the flowers.
Again the electric current cuts deep into the walls.
But the man has taken with him the world's inner structure,where the greater the anger, the higher the explosion of love.


OTHER POEMS

The following poems by Karol Wojtyla were written while he was a parish priest and auxiliary bishop of Krakow. They first appeared in various Polish religious and philosophical journals under the pseudonym "Andrzej Jawien." Many years later they were collected and published in THE PLACE WITHIN - THE POETRY OF POPE JOHN PAUL II translation and notes copyright by Jerzy Peterkiewicz, Random House. Copyright 1979, 1982 by Liberia Editirice Vaticiana, Vatican City.

John Beseeches Her

Don't lower the wave of my heart,
it swells to your eyes, mother;
don't alter love, but bring the wave to me
in your translucent hands.
He asked for this.
I am John the fisherman. There isn't much
in me to love.
I feel I am still on that lake shore,
gravel crunching under my feet--
and, suddenly--Him.
You will embrace his mystery in me no more,
yet quietly I spread round your thoughts like myrtle.
And calling you Mother--His wish--
I beseech you: may this word
never grow less for you.
True, it's not easy to measure the meaning
of the words he breathed into us both
so that all earlier love in those words
should be concealed.

I. Material

1

Listen: the even knocking of hammers,
so much their own,
I project on to the people
to test the strength of each blow.
Listen now: electric current
cuts through a river of rock.
And a thought grows in me day after day:
the greatness of work is inside man.
Hard and cracked
his hand is differently charged
by the hammer
and thought differently unravels in stone
as human energy splits from the strength of stone
cutting the bloodstream, an artery
in the right place.
Look, how love feeds
on this well-grounded anger
which flows in to people's breath
as a river bent by the wind,
and which is never spoken, but just breaks high vocal cords.
Passers-by scuttle off into doorways,
someone whispers: "Yet here is a great force."
Fear not. Man's daily deeds have a wide span,
a strait riverbed can't imprison them long.
Fear not. For centuries they all stand in Him,
and you look at Him now
through the even knocking of hammers.

2

Bound are the blocks of stone, the low-voltage wire
cuts deep in their flesh, an invisible whip--
stones know this violence.
When an elusive blast rips their ripe compactness
and tears them from their eternal simplicity,
the stones know this violence.
Yet can the current unbind their full strength?
It is he who carries that strength in his hands:
the worker.

3

Hands are the heart's landscape. They split sometimes
like ravines into which an undefined force rolls.
The very same hands which man only opens
when his palms have had their fill of toil.
Now he sees: because of him alone others can walk in peace.
Hands are a landscape. When they split, the pain of their sores
surges free as a stream.
But no thought of pain--
no grandeur in pain alone.
For his own grandeur he does not know how to name.

4

No, not just hands drooping with the hammer's weight,
not the taut torso, muscles shaping their own style,
but thought informing his work,
deep, knotted in wrinkles on his brow,
and over his head, joined in a sharp arc, shoulders and veins vaulted.
So for a moment he is a Gothic building
cut by a vertical thought born in the eyes.
No, not a profile alone,
not a mere figure between God and the stone,
sentenced to grandeur and error.

Actor

So many grew round me, through me,
from my self, as it were.
I became a channel, unleashing a force
called man.
Did not the others crowding in, distort
the man that I am?
Being each of them, always imperfect,
myself to myself too near,
he who survives in me, can he ever
look at himself without fear?

Girl Disappointed in Love
With mercury we measure pain
as we measure the heat of bodies and air;
but this is not how to discover our limits--
you think you are the center of things.
If you could only grasp that you are not:
the center is He,
and He, too, finds no love---
why don't you see?
The human heart--what is it for?
Cosmic temperature. Heart. Mercury.


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