January 1981-January 1986: Poland

Returned to Poland in January 1981.

Immediately on his return accepted an invitation to join the editorial team of «Zapis» [Record], a periodical published outside the Censors reach, in which his poem Heraldyczne rozważania Pana Cogito [Mr Cogito’s Heraldic Meditations] were published.

On May 9 1981, he took part in an Authors’ Evening as part of a Days of Christian Culture event held in a Jesuit church, also attended a club meeting of the Polish Writers Union (ZLP).

On June 15 1981 Herbert, together with Solidarity activists, took part in a ceremony commemorating the 25th anniversary of the June 1956 Poznań Protests.

He became one of this great social movement’s spiritual leaders, gaining respect and a degree of authority which was probably why the authorities did not dare imprison him on December 13, 1981.

He stayed in contact with the leading Solidarity activists interned during martial law. Abandoned plans for his works to be published in the official press. In January 1983 withdrew materials to be included in his tome of essays Labirynt nad morzem [Labyrinth On The Sea] to be published by Czytelnik (a contract to publish the tome was signed in April 1965, and was subsequently renewed several times). In July 1983 Raport z oblężonego miasta  [Report from a Besieged City] appeared as his sixth tome, published in Paris by the Instytut Literacki [Literary Institute], containing poems translated into many languages and often invoked during the 1980s in foreign press articles written about the situation in Poland.

Took part in meetings with young people organised by opposition groups, amongst others in churches in Warsaw, Cracow and Gdansk.

Gave Jacek Trznadel a long interview in July 1985 (Wypluć z siebie wszystko [Throw Everything Out]; first printing appeared in November 1985, beyond the Censors reach in «Kultura Niezależna» [Independent Culture], in which he is critical of the Polish intelligentsia’s stance during Stalinism, and attacks some literary luminaries of the day by name. The interview added to the number of his protagonists and opponents, in equal measure.

People, obviously, though in fact astoundingly, brave and restrained (still). Occasions at times moving – like the one in remembrance of the Poznań June. You were there in spirit, they read your poem and you name from the honorary committee members list.
While I, band on arm, filled a not too pleasant role of keeping order, chasing away Wałęsa’s pilgrims.

(Excerpt from a letter to Stanisław Barańczak, Augustów, July 28 1981)

Well, I cannot imagine anything finer than a third debut (alle gute Digne sind drei [All good things come in threes]) and perhaps the last with you. Not only for reasons of sentiment, but also loyalty and devotion.
But for the moment I cannot imagine printing anything. The refusal is so clear cut, that I don’t even want to go into the ins and outs of whether it’s wise or foolish.

(Excerpt from a letter to Jerzy Turowicz, September 27 1982)

I spent Spring at the seaside in Gdańsk. Your excellent poem Przywracanie porządku [Restoring Order] was handed out in leaflets, in which i am proud to say i played a part. (…) I correspond with Adaś Michnik reasonably regularly, though letters from Lower Mokotów to Rakowiecka take 1-2 months to reach me.

(Excerpt from a letter to Stanisław Barańczak, Warsaw, December 6 1983)