1944−1947: Kraków

The family settled in Proszowice, on the outskirts of Kraków.

Though Herbert gained admittance to both the Akademia Sztuk Pięknych [Academy of Fine Arts] and an acting school, he chose the Akademia Handlowa [Business Academy] and obtained an MA in Economics. He attended lectures at the Akademi Sztuk Pięknych [Academy of Fine Arts] (ASP), listened in on philosophy lectures and managed to complete two years of Law School at The Uniwersytet Jagielloński [Jagielloński University]. His parents moved to Sopot in May 1945.

I found myself in Kraków in 1945 pondering my future studies. True to my calling, though to a degree to endear myself to my father, I applied and passed the entrance exam to study at the Wyższa Szkoła Handlowa [Business School]. However I simultaneously applied to join the Academy of Arts. I got in as one of the first ten. I was also successful with my application to acting school, and also amongst the first ten.
I was well intellectually grounded in the humanities, having read extensively during the German occupation.
Osterwa said that I would be an actor. He told no one except me. He even told me that I would be an outstanding actor. Not a comic but a thespian. One that would play Hamlet rather than Fonsia.
“What are you doing?” he asked. I am studying economics, law and frequent the Academy of Arts. He responded: “you must choose”. And so I chose economics.

(Excerpt from conversation with Janusz Maciejewski, 1996)

1948−1951: Between Sopot and Toruń

Herbert followed his parents to Sopot in December 1947 where they lived together at 8 Bierut Street (presently Jan Jerzy Haffner Street). He worked for the Narodowy Bank Polski (NBP) [National Bank of Poland] for a short time (March-June 1948), then at the editorial offices of «Przegląd Kupiecki» [Merchant’s Gazette]. In 1948 he became a member of the Gdańsk branch of the Związek Literatów Polskich (ZLP) [Polish Writers Union], which he left in April of 1951, having been employed by the ZLP during 1949-1950. In the meantime Herbert continued his studies at Toruń’s Uniwersytet Mikołaja Kopernika [Nicolas Copernicus University]: from 1947, completing the studies he began in Kraków, with an M.A. in Law in 1949, followed by philosophy studies at the humanities faculty, run by professor Henryk Elzenberg; who was later to become Herbert’s spiritual mentor.

In September 1948 Herbert made his debut on the pages of the Szczecin weekly «Tygodnik Wybrzeża» [Coastal Weekly] with an article titled Exystencjalizm dla laików [Existentialism for the Layman], whilst exactly two years later he made his poetry press debut when the PAX weekly «Dziś i Jutro» [Today & Tomorrow] published his unauthorised poems: Złoty środek [Golden Centre], Pożegnanie września [September Farewell] and Napis [Caption]. In 1951 he published his poems in the Kraków based «Tygodnik Powszechny» [Catholic Weekly], as well as numerous articles and reviews in Warsaw based publications such as «Słowo Powszechne» [Universal Word], «Przegląd Powszechny» [Catholic Review], and «Dziś i Jutro» [Today & Tomorrow].

His time in Sopot and Toruń also heralded his ”first, adult love” Halina Misiołek – their relationship lasted until 1956, and his first meeting with Katarzyna Dzieduszycka, whom he later married.

I studied philosophy, and to the horror of my mentor professor Elzenberg, I had a great urge to things concrete, because art should be concrete.

(Excerpt from a conversation with Andrzej Babuchowski, 1971)

On completing my law studies in 1951 I was called up for military service. I turned up, but because I had suffered a wound earlier on my mates carried me in before the commission, naked. They told me to get up on my feet – don’t pretend – and assigned me to the military prosecutor’s office. It was like a door being slammed. I had to get away. It was then that I left Toruń. I reckoned that they would not look for me in Warsaw. I did not believe that they were bright enough, or well enough organised to find me.

(Excerpt from a conversation with Janusz Maciejewski, 1996)

1951−1958: Warsaw

In October 1951, Herbert moved to Warsaw to study philosophy at Warsaw University. Living conditions in the suburban borough of Brwinów were not easy until December 1952 when a friend from his student days in Toruń, Władysław Walczykiewicz, invited him to live in his three-room apartment on Wieksja Street. He stayed there until January 1957, after which he spent a year living in a former maid’s room on Jerozolimskie Avenue. In January 1958, thanks to Jerzy Zawieyski’s intercession, he moved into a studio flat on Świerczewskiego Avenue (presently Solidarnośći Avenue).

In 1955 he again joined the ZLP.

He wrote prolifically at the time, though only sporadically published a few of his poetic works in periodicals. He worked on his drama Jaskinia filozofów [Philosophers Cave] and tried his luck at prose (without success). His fees for articles (reviews and feuilletons) proved insufficient to live on, which led him to take on numerous other jobs such as a blood donor, (first half of 1955), a timekeeper at the Inwalidzka Spółdzielnia Emerytów i Nauczycieli “Wspólna Sprawa” [Disabled Retired and Teachers Co-operative ‘Common Cause’] (October 1953-Januray 1954), Senior Assistant at the Centralne Biuro Studiów i Projektów Przemysłu Torfowego “Torfprojekt” [Central Peat Industry Research and Planning Office ‘Peatproject’] (1954), and then, thanks to Stefan Kisielewski’s backing, as a Director of the Biuro Zarządu Głównego Związku Kompozytorów Polskich [General Management Office of the Polish Composers Union] (September 1956-March 1957).

The first major presentation of his poetry amounted to 20 poems that appeared in an Anthology published by PAX in 1954 titled “…każdej chwili wybierać muszę”, […At Every Moment Choices]; 1955 heralded the publication of further works in «Życie Literackie» [Literary World] and «Twórczość» [Creativity], whilst 1956 brought him greater recognition and fame amongst debuting poets, with the publication of a tome titled “Struna światła” [String of Light]. No less important a tome of poetry and poetic prose appeared a year later as “Hermes, pies i gwiazda” [Hermes, Dog and Star].

I befriended many in the literary world, mainly amongst the young, unofficial, those outside the ZLP. There was Zdziś Najder at whose Name’s Day I read poems. These were not Authors’ Evenings, God forbid, no. We gathered amongst friends. We knew each other well. And so I would sometimes write a clean copy of a poem, whilst at other times I would even have it typed. That was when it became a literary work. (…)
But those were informal meetings. When Janek Lipski asked me whether he could type something, I would answer: yes. I would not refuse, neither was I concerned that I might loose control over my work. Tyrmand went further, when he suggested that we had to reach out beyond our circle. He gave me to understand that he was a master and wanted no dealings with whippersnappers. He was quite simply older and would only occasionally come to Name’s Day meetings. But it is to him that we owe our first real poetry evening, at his instigation. That evening took place in Bohdan Tomaszewski’s apartment, a sports journalist, who was also an oppositionist. Suszko, also a journalist also helped. I don’t know what became of him. After that, in 1955, they forced me to take my compositions to «Życie Literackie» and «Twórczość». I did though without conviction. I didn’t expect anything to come of it. But something did come. Well then, soon afterwards, Czytelnik published Strunę światła [Chord of Light] in 1956.

(Excerpt from a conversation with Janusz Maciejewski, 1996)