August 1971-February 1975: Poland, Short Trips Abroad

After their return to Poland the Herberts stayed in Julia Hartwig’s and Andrzej Międrzejecki’s apartment (on Warsaw’s Marszałkowska Street), who were in the USA at the time. After much effort they ended up buying an apartment, and settled on Promenada Street.

Having thus far avoided engaging in public life or giving interviews, preferring to express his views in his writings, letters to friends, and during private meetings, the poet began to manifest his critical outlook on the reality that was the Polish People’s Republic (PRL).

On February 15 1972 Herbert became a member of the board of the Polish Writers Union ZLP.

At the turn of September and August 1972 he visited Yugoslavia and took part in the International Poetry Evenings Festival in Struda (near Skopje), met friends in Belgrade and visited Dubrovnik.

On his return to Poland he became involved in an attempt to obtain an amnesty for Jerzy Kowalczyk, sentenced to death after a famous trial of the time, following a bomb blast in the Wyższa Szkoła Nauczycielska (WSN) [Teacher Training College] lecture hall in Opole.

Worked intensively on his new tome of poems and on Labirynt nad morzem [Labyrinth On The Sea].

On May 3,1973, collected the Herder Prize in Vienna, where he stayed until August, resting in the Alps (Knoppen). Visited W.H. Auden in Kirchstetten near Vienna.

Left Vienna on August 11 for a month in Greece, sailing on the Ionian Sea on a yacht with the Czajkowski family.

Returned to Vienna and from there travelled to Germany (Munich, Stuttgart), on his way back to Poland, towards the end of September.

In the 1973/1974 academic year Herbert gave a series of monographic lectures on “Chosen Themes of 19th and 20th Century Poetry” at the Intytut Filologii Polskiej Uniwersytetu Gdańskiego [University of Gdańsk’s Polish Philology Institute].

The fifth tome of poems – Pan Cogito [Mr Cogito] – appeared in January 1974.

On December 15, 1974, Herbert signed the List 15 [Letter of 15],an appeal by artists and writers to the authorities to give Poles living in the USSR access to Polish culture.

From February 20 to 23 he took part in the XIX Reunion of the Polish Writers Union (ZLP) in Poznań – during which he claimed that attempts had been made to poison him, to prevent him (together with other writers) from taking over the Union. The hypothesis remains unresolved to this day.

Pan Cogito [Mr Cogito] did not appeal to the Censors. But after all I didn’t write it for them.

(Excerpt from a letter to Jerzy Turowicz, October 15 1973)

We reached the island of Corfu, the most northerly object of our journey. We will be here for a few days, and then sail onto Athens.

(Excerpt from a letter to his mother Maria, Corfu, August 28 1973)

I have lived here for several weeks. The windows look out onto a park. I have, for the first time in years, drawn out my books and manuscripts from numerous cellars. I hope that I will now be able to work in peace for a while. The Wanderjahre [Years of wandering] have ended – but for now I know not whether this is reason for euphoria.

(Excerpt from a letter to Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, Warsaw, September 18 1974)