Friday, April 2, 2010


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Karol Jozef Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II)

Karol Jozef Wojtyla was an unknown Polish poet long before he became known to the world as Pope John Paul II. Some of the poems below were written when he was in his twenties. Others were written while he was a parish priest and auxiliary bishop of Kraków, during which time his work appeared in Polish journals under the pseudonym Andrzej Jawien. His poetry was later collected and published in The Place Within -- The Poetry of Pope John Paul II, with translations and notes by Jerzy Peterkiewicz.

"From dust you came, and to dust you shall return";
What had shape is now shapeless.
What was alive is now dead.
What was beautiful is now the ugliness of decay. And yet I do not altogether die,
what is indestructible in me remains!…
What is imperishable in me
now stands face to face before Him Who Is!
--From "Meditations on the Book of Genesis: At the Threshold of the Sistine Chapel"

Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, in an apartment that looked out on the Church of Our Lady where he would later serve as an altar boy. His birthday was May 18, 1920, an auspicious day for modern Poles, now known as "the Polish Miracle." On that day, Marshal Jozef Pilsudski won a major battle and seized Kiev from the Soviet Union. It was Poland's first major military victory in over two centuries. Wojtyla's middle name was chosen by his father in honor of Jozef Pilsudski.

It is here, beneath this wondrous Sistine profusion of color
that the Cardinals assemble —
the community responsible for the legacy of the
keys of the Kingdom.
They come here, to this very place.
And once more Michelangelo wraps them in his vision.
"In him we live and move and have our being."
The colors of the Sistine will then speak the
word of the Lord:
Tu es Petrus (Mt 16:18) — once heard by Simon, son of John.
"To you I will give the keys of the Kingdom."
During the Conclave Michelangelo must teach them —
Do not forget: Omnia nuda et aperta sunt ante oculos Eius.
You who see all, point to him!
He will point him out …
--From "Meditations on the Book of Genesis: At the Threshold of the Sistine Chapel"

Known to family and friends as Lolek (a nickname that translates as "Chuck"), the future John Paul II learned about suffering at an early age when his mother died of heart and kidney problems in 1929, shortly before his ninth birthday.

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--
--"Over This, Your White Grave"

The poem above and the one below, both written by the time he was twenty, show the heart of a motherless young boy through the pen of talented poet.

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.
--"John Beseeches Her"

When he was twelve, Wojtyla's brother Edmund, a 26-year-old physician in the town of Bielsko, died of scarlet fever. Wojtyla himself had two brushes with death as a youth. He was hit once by a streetcar and again by a truck. "The pope's youth wasn't happy," Father Joseph Vandrisse, a former French missionary and now a journalist, told TIME Magazine. "He has meditated a lot on the meaning of suffering..."

As a young scholar, Karol Wojtyla "drank in the suffering Poland" through literature and history. He loved the 19th century poets Slowacki and Mickiewicz, "in whom the beauty and pain of Poland was so alive." He memorized Slowacki's "The Slavic Pope," a prophetic poem (which proved to be truly prophetic!) about a pope from the East who "will not flee the sword ... Like God, he will bravely face the sword." [Readers of our Ronald Reagan poetry page will find highly interesting instances of things similarly prophetic: i.e., the Tampico double rainbow over Reagan's birthplace the day before he was elected president, an actual prophecy made by George Otis, and the parallels of Reagan's life to That Printer of Udell's by Harold Bell Wright. It seems the Evil Empire never had a chance, and that there were signs and miracles to that effect in the lives of a Polish Catholic pope and an Irish Protestant president!]

Karol Wojtyla in 1938Like Ronald Reagan, Wojtyla was an actor. And a dark-haired, ruggedly handsome actor at that, as his picture to the left attests. In the early 1930's, he met Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk, who would teach him (and isn't it an interesting "method" for a future Pope!) "the Living Word," a style of performance rooted in Polish songs and Polish poetry as sung and recited after dinner in country manor houses. In Pope John Paul II: The Life of Karol Wojtyla, Fr. Mieczyslaw Malinski recounts that it was during this time that Wojtyla first came to the attention of the Archbishop of Kraków, Adamo Stefano Sapieha. Sapieha was visiting his school and young Wojtyla gave the welcoming speech. Impressed, Sapieha asked whether Karol intended to become a priest. A priest replied that his interests seemed to lie with the theater, "an answer which disappointed the archbishop!" To make matters perhaps worse, Wojtyla later joined an experimental theater group known as "Studio 38." His love of the theater persisted, because later as a cardinal, he celebrated holidays with Krakow actors.

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?

In the fall of 1938, Wojtyla enrolled at Kraków's Jagiellonian University, where his primary studies were literature and philosophy. However, the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 changed everything, and Wojtyla was to write to Kotlarczyk: "Now life is waiting in line for bread, scavenging for sugar, and dreaming of coal and books." It is reported that Wojtyla was in church for when Nazi bombs first fell on Poland, September 1, 1939. [If you look closely at the first three digits of that date, 9-1-1939, you'll notice that Poland suffered a calamitous 9-1-1 long before the United States lost its twin towers.]

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.
--"Girl Disappointed in Love"

Wojtyla continued his studies until the Nazis closed the university. The Nazis also closed libraries and only Germans were allowed to attend plays and concerts. A Pole could be shot for going to the theater. In November of 1940 Wojtyla took a job as a stone-cutter at a quarry near Kraków.

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.

Copyright © Joe M. Ruggier, April 5th-9th, 2005


Kate Smedley said...

I learned a lot about his background that I didn't know, a very moving and beautiful tribute Zuzanna. The music is just perfect by the way!

Zuzanna Musial said...

Dear Katie,

The Tribute came in his fifth anniversary of his departure. I think he has done a lot for humanity during his papacy. As a man, he was one of a greatest man of his time. This is my Tribute to a great person and of course a Holiness John Paul II.

Thank you Katie for the wonderful comment much appreciated!

Hugs, Zuzanna

nothingprofound said...

Zuzanna-thanks for sharing this. I had no idea he was a poet and such a fascinating man.

Zuzanna Musial said...

Dear Marty,

Yes, Karol Wojtyla was a poet and a great student too. In addition, he was an Actor. All of that happened prior his entry to University in Krakow to study Theology. Many people do not know that so I have decided to use some of that information here so more people would learn those facts. Glad you enjoyed reading.

Thank you again for your time to place a comment, Zuzanna