The Poetry of Julian Tuwim

Julian Tuwim lived from 1894 to 1953. He was a translator and dramatist but is best known for being one of Poland's most renowned poets.

Tuwim was part of a group of poets who met in a cafe called the Picador, where they formed a new movement called Skamander. Skamander championed a new type of poetry, a "poetry for the street."

According to an article by Barry Keane, "the subject matter of their early poetry focused on the man in the street and general questions of identity in the newly independent Poland. Whether they were ultimately successful was debatable, but attempts by Julian Tuwim, above all the other poets belonging to the circle, to place ordinary people in the arena of literature was both revolutionary for its time and remains one of the poetic highlights of 20th century Polish literature."

Tuwim was my great-grandmother's brother. During World War II, he escaped from Poland and lived with my great-aunt and her family in Manhattan. She apparently appreciated visits from the distinguished artists and members of the intelligentsia who came to see Tuwim but said that Tuwim himself wasn't exactly easy to live with. Such is the artistic temperament! Tuwim returned to Poland after the war.

I have always had a difficult time finding Tuwim's poetry because it has seldom been translated into English. I did discover this poem. Although it was written in 1929, it shows an eerie foresight into today's events.

—Ela Schwartz

The Common Man

When plastered billboards scream with slogans
“Fight for your country, go to battle”
When media's print assaults your senses,
“Support our leaders' shrieks and rattles...”
And fools who don't know any better
Believe the old, eternal lie
That we must march and shoot and kill
Murder, and burn, and bomb, and grill...
When press begins the battle cry
That nation needs to unify
And for your country you must die...
Dear brainwashed friend, my neighbor dear
Brother from this, or other nation
Know that the cries of anger, fear,
Are nothing but manipulation
by fat cats, kings who covet riches,
And feed off your sweat and blood—the leeches!
When call to arms engulfs the land
It means that somewhere oil was found,
Shooting “blackgold” from underground!
It means they found a sneaky way
To make more money, grab more gold
But this is not what you are told!
Don't spill your blood for bucks or oil
Break, burn your rifle, shout: “No deal!”
Let the rich scoundrels, kings, and bankers
Send their own children to get killed!
May your loud voice be amplified
By roar of other common men
The battle-weary of all nations:
We won't be conned to war again!

by Julian Tuwim, 1929



Copyright© P.O. Box 580 New York, NY 10113