Easter Vigil and Other Poems by Karol Wojtyla;
Translated by Jerzy Peterkiewicz
(Random House, 1979, 82 pages)
The poems in this collection were written before Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II in 1978. In the introduction, Jerzy Peterkiewicz notes that the poems “indicate different stages in the spiritual growth of the future Pope” (x). They were written between 1950 and 1966, and they reflect on Marian themes, the mystery of natural elements (like water and stone), the nature of work, the nature of the Church, and the surprise of the Resurrection.
Wojtyla was writing in the context of the Communist government of postwar Poland, and there is a requisite heaviness to many of these poems. Despite the serious and sometimes bleak quality of some the poems, one of the themes that came through the clearest to me as I read them was the way in which work, even hard labor, can reveal the dignity of human beings. In “Inspiration” Wojtyla observes that “man matures through work/which inspires him to difficult good” (28).
Wojtyla is also capable of creating some striking images, as in, “The Samaritan Woman” where he depicts the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at a well. The well mediates the encounter between the two, and the woman reflects on the meeting: “No one between us but light/deep in the well, the pupil of the eye/set in an orbit of stones” (12).
These poems are quite beautiful, and they afford a fascinating look into the early artistic life of one of the twentieth century’s most important public figures.