Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska (1891–1945) is one of Poland’s greatest poets. Czesław Miłosz called her ‘the Polish Sappho’ and she is best known for the wit and lyrical beauty of her love poetry. Her expression of female eroticism broke taboos, and she did this to the end, recording the realities of her own terminal illness. She died shortly after the end of the Second World War in Manchester.
She grew up in Kraków, in a bohemian family of painters and writers. For her, as for other poets in the newly-united Poland, the years between the First and Second World War were a time of remarkable creative optimism and self-expression, rebuilding culture in a country that had regained its independence after over a century. Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska was part of a circle who actively championed women’s rights. She was also a playwright and on 2 September 1939 her satire on Hitler premiered in Warsaw even as the German armies invaded. She escaped from Poland with her husband, a pilot in the Polish Air Force, and with great difficulty they made their way to Britain, where he served alongside the RAF.
In exile Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska felt stripped of language, her milieu and her identity, yet she kept writing. She was published in the émigré press where, however, her passionate pacifism created enemies: she condemned the war for its destruction of everyday life.