Translated and introduced by Adam Czerniawski
Poland had to wait until the 19th century for her Elizabethan Theatre. Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, Zygmunt Krasiński and Cyprian Kamil Norwid, the four outstanding poets of the time, composed their plays in exile, mainly in Rome and Paris. With no theatre available, they all had to wait until 20th century to have them performed. Norwid’s themes ranged from ancient myths and history to Grande Dame’s Ring and his last play Pure Love at Sea-side Bathing, both set in contemporary Parisian society.
In his preface to Grande Dame he ‘wished in this play to try to complete a new type of tragedy – I wished for the kind of the tragic which did not end in deaths or blood-letting, would result in what I call a white tragedy’. Just a suspicious disappearance of a grande dame’s ring or in Pure Love, a delayed letter and a broken engagement. Norwid was a master of the implied, the half-said, the unsaid, and was therefore in trouble with his readers because it wasn’t all laid out in full. Julia, Marta, Walter and Osmond are members of the patrician society Norwid knew so well and satirised in some of his poems.
Whereas Mickiewicz set his plays in partly mythical Poland, Krasiński set his in ancient Rome, and Słowacki ranged from imitations of Calderon and Shakespeare to highlighting Poland’s contemporary tragedy, all these masters managed to incorporate Polish matters. Pure Love is a comedy of manners set in seaside France, with ferry links to Dover and glimpses of industrialised Britain. As in Grande Dame, Poland is completely absent and this places Norwid apart from the other three masters. Norwid’s reliance on the implied and the half-said anticipates Maurice Maetelinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Henry James’s late novels.
About translator Adam Czerniawski
Adam Czerniawski born in 1934 in Warsaw, now lives in Wales. Publications include a memoir Scenes from a Disturbed Childhood, essays Firing the Canon and Norwid’s Selected Poems. Recipient of the Norwid Foundation Medal and Poland’s Gold Gloria Artis Medal.
Pure Love at Sea-Side Bathing
Sea-shore in the distance, on one side, closer, a dairy in an arbour
Julia – Marta
Truly, Osmond says justly
(His every word is reasonable)
That humans are ruled by coincidences.
For would I wish to leave
So many days with no reply?
Especially to a letter from lovely Auntie Ola,
Auntie Ola, whom I respect so much!
It’s easy knowing the time and place
Where and when you write letters,
Not knowing how and when they arrive.
If a year ago Auntie had sent me
An oddity like the one she looks after,
I would have found time to take up the request
– though it’s strange and almost frivolous –
But a few days before that day, the eve,
The letter arrived and I welcomed the deliverer,
Who brought Aunt Ola’s most intimate love.
I perform everything and yet I’m guilty
Of not yet replying to her letter.
And so I’m guilty for not finding a moment,
When such moments before tomorrow are vanishing.
So, I don’t remember when I last
Spoke to you.
Hence many questions,
So many gathered forgotten questions.
What does Auntie want, who is the one she is bringing up?
Why do you call today the eve?
Each of these questions has a different nature.
One has to have the memory and the logic
– Which only Osmond has – so that
When, as happens after a silence which is too long,
Wishing to say everything, you say nothing.
Does Osmond really remember so well?
Another question – let’s rather return to matter in hand.
Auntie Ola is still one of those matrons,
Who insist that the kingdom of women
Is of this world, believing in their influence and power,
While she can’t cope with her rascal.
That prankster understands his position better.
Time and again when he gets up to mischief,
He furrows his brow, making Auntie
Cuddle her rascal, who every week dies for love.
But because of this trivial weakness,
Scandal might fall on our name,
Since, for the sake of some theatre star,
Walter himself wished to teach himself acting.
Auntie emphatically advised travel for seaside bathing,
Trusting that Walter’s daily examples and my “charms”-
For Auntie writes clearly “charms” –
Will have a good influence
On her rascal’s muddled head.
Oh, my charms, how publicly
You were judged by Walter
– How he still remembers the theatre –
When three days after his first visit
He offers a loggia for that very evening,
The day which – that is tomorrow’s evening –
The eve of my engagement. Now you know
I know enough to hug you,
But to whom?
If you are not guessing,
If you haven’t known all this time, if you are asking me
In order to hear the secret words,
Remember that in time you will be like me today.
I will revenge myself and will remember
The blush on your surprised face
When I ask you clearly and loudly,
Who is to hand you the ring tomorrow?
Meanwhile I’m fulfilling my generosity,
Meanwhile, know that tomorrow evening
We will as planned entertain our circle,
Which has been longing for you for days.
I can’t play chess the way you play with Osmond.
Sir Osmond also plays other games well.
Do you feel hot?
Do you know,
Other bathers name you by this fan
And thus call you from a distance?
Chess players employ fingers
And no one is surprised, but I too
Don’t leave my hand idle.
I think I can hear bells and donkey’s feet,
The hour, my dear, when they drink milk.
I say goodbye, leaving you with memory of me.
Watching Julia departing
To-morrow indeed is important.
Departs in opposite direction
Walter – Osmond – Servant
Walking slowly from the sea
No, this would have been common,
Petty, mean and restricting.
Would be – let’s speak honestly – stupid,
If, when seeing one wonderful profile,
One were to imprison his feelings,
And turned others into a blurred background.
A medal may have several profiles,
Which cover each other like clouds
Silvered by the moon at the edges.
That doesn’t harm the landscape,
Rather adds life to nature.
Recalling a diva, it’s like the moon
– With a golden diadem on her brow,
When I last saw her – if
I regard one as a star, while others
As layers of light clouds,
May I not move through them?
Isn’t landscape a book of truth,
From which the mind has always learnt?
No, Donna Clara remains in shadow,
The more tragic since that one,
The fair-haired Julia, indeed served me tea
With her light hand.
Something was silvering cloud-like in the air.
I see her! And what colossal clouds
Of boring Osmond slouch from the north,
Carrying a downpour in their heavy bellies.
It’s turning cold, I’m looking for my umbrella
And think of closing my sad heart at home.
With a sigh
Yes! depart, lock up, these are but words.
Deluded, vainly will curse yourself,
Lose faith in your aims,
Return to her, anxious
Lest she is not there. Why so?
You will harm yourself with words
Revealed to you alone.
In thought you’ll hate her and love,
Returning doubting to find her. Why so?
Worse, others happily will come
And surround her, not a moment
For your honest sigh. Why, oh why?
Happy legion came with radiant looks.
You’ll outstay many, two will remain.
One at the door still has a question
And eyeing the clock, grows aggrieved.
I’ve learnt not to trust him.
He’ll return, drop his hat
And pull off his gloves. Why thus?
Perhaps it’s manifestly better
To leave than remain ignored.
I will rise and go in deep despair,
Will not stop in flight. Why thus?
The moon will as ever stay silent,
No star will leave her orb
Watching you with her glassy eyes
As if there were no soul in heaven.
As if none had told the Immortal
That here below so much agony
And none there in heaven cried, Why thus?
Servant enters with letter for Walter
Julia’s servant, a letter.
A letter from her.
To the servant
Who placed this letter in your hands?
Placing his hand on the servant’s shoulder
You must be satisfied with your service,
But if you were looking for another.
Remember me, and God bless!
Opens the letter hurriedly and reads
“My dearest Walter…”
Turns the letter over in his hand and hides it in his pocket close to his heart – then hurriedly
“My Dearest Walter”, that’s enough,
This is more than enough, that is everything,
Everything regarding anything I dreamt about so far.
“Dearest”, Julia writes with her own hand.
Writes “Dearest!” in the first line.
Saying “Dearest Walter”, that’s enough.
Heaven and earth, sea and rocks,
Sand and wind, and this my cane
And glove and hand and arm.
In my eyes, my heart and everything
As nothing to compare.
Presses the letter to his heart and leaves, not looking ahead and in a hurry he bumps into approaching Osmond
A good day, Walter.
How do you already know
That the best possible day is today?
You, who are cold, hard and unfeeling.
Maybe not your fault,
Maybe you can’t be different
Because no other woman said to you
Not so much pity,
Funny old Walter. This is the eve
Of my engagement.
And why the eve?
Why don’t you marry immediately whoever you choose?
Humanity would have gained one more live heart.
God bless, I’m looking to be alone,
I am looking for the harp above the head of sea waves,
Where I would in solitude read the handwriting,
Which I carry on my heart…
Departs, his hand on his breast
Marta – Osmond
I’m so glad I’m seeing you.
For the first time ever this doesn’t surprise me.
I would be so happy if I could
Project radiance on whom ever I met.
Whomever you met?
Justly describes the totality.
Well, I deluded myself that I’m an exception.
“Exception”, Madam, you an exception?
If it’s exceptionality and originality,
Then at this time when it’s not so hot,
When a breeze from the sea blows everywhere,
You, Madam, are indeed an exception.
This fan always in your hand.
I could hear bathers
Calling you a fan palm-tree.
This beautiful fan is a beautiful memento
From a person so magnanimous
That he forgets when and to whom he gives presents,
Or hides the memory with polite indifference.
Is that the fan? I do recall.
But who could think up such frivolity.
A frivolity which never leaves my hands.
It therefore acquired new importance for her,
No longer being a bagatelle,
That trivial item which a dancer gave her.
Especially since one doesn’t dance all the time.
Still you are right, it is a frivolity.
Dropping fan on the bench
It is an unnecessary thing – at this time
When, truly, the breeze blows from the sea.
Indeed, it’s cool, it’s cold and reason
– Whose value you know better than anyone –
But I’m dressed
As seasonal variations demand,
And here I wander
Thinking, Ah my Lady, thinking…
Now is the eve of my engagement.
Can I hear distant thunder?
I think lighting has struck.
It’s the carts
Striking the cobles on the way to the markets,
The hour when we hear them every day.
Looking casually at the bench
Madam, you are leaving your fan…
…It was once
Given to me by your gracious hand.
Julia – Osmond
Julia, writing in her apartment
Osmond enters with a little box
tenderly, to Osmond
Wait a second. I’m finishing my letter to Auntie.
I see you are bringing the ring.
I’m finishing my letter to Auntie.
Truly, if you were to perform
Everything at the right time, indeed,
And never hurry or wait.
When I do have to wait, I fill up my notebook,
So that truly taking matters strictly,
I neither hurry nor wait.
He pulls out a notebook and writes
For the moment,
I rather think that waiting,
And even hurrying, is necessary.
Sitting close by
Exceptions always prove the rule,
Although it doesn’t in the least affect the method.
But if, for the sake of continuity,
We have at times to suspend the method, So what?
It still remains and obliges.
I am able to bear and accept an exception.
However future generations, however,
My son for instance, would he not
Be faithful to strict method?
I would early instill in my son that acceptance
Of that sense which would embody in him
The order of hours, employments and punctuality…
Biting her pen
But I would at times carry over to my son
A light explosion of enthusiasm!…
Which could destroy the lad!
Fill him with a humanity of feelings and not a system.
To combine those streams in one nature
Seems difficult or even impossible.
With light irony
Yet my son would be close to you.
My son, I think, would not be foreign to her.
What does this doubting “I think” should mean?
Getting up and looking at his watch
Time to go to the sea. In a little while
The ferry will sail to the coast of England.
Are you in a hurry?
I like the English sense,
While here on the Continent
One has to wait through an Epoch,
Nothing so soothing as visiting factories.
And which factories would you advise
I should visit and value?
Surely, not gold,
Which we have yet failed to assemble.
Oh, if only this were available to people,
We could have factories of wedding-rings!
Madam, you need to finish your letter on time,
Since post-offices sending feelings
And heartbeats are just an office,
A machine and a factory. Fare well!
As he departs
Fare well, Osmond, good bye. I end.
Since Osmond left, Julia looks at the table at which she was writing and begins walking round the room..
I end. What do I end, a letter or my fate?
How strange are events in life.
What is it? what for? whence does it come?
Did I upset him, did he upset me?
That is, did we upset life’s atom
Of unknown weight and meaning. What is that?
She moves close to the seat with the box with a ring inside
The wretchedness of illusions and dreams.
Everything that people prepared, suddenly
Blown away, and why I don’t know.
It would be true that in the drama of getting together,
When people, unequal in body and soul,
Move closely, comes a moment
Which adds up the number of such steps
And the usurer demands a sum.
Would it be true that a woman, at the moment
Of entering into marriage bonds, is enlightened
By the lightning blast of the event,
Which enables her to recognise the horizon,
Which reveals to her the play of characters
And she waits to decide what to do.
An inquisitive mind has often seen this.
But it’s a bitter truth, yes, often bitter,
That it’s easier to lose yourself than to observe
The landscape from above, whence you want to hurl yourself.
Glancing at the table
Oh, this letter will remain unfinished
Let everything tear and not be completed,
Neither unite nor find fruition.
Snatching her shawl and hat
Sea, you will be my only comfort,
Being a constantly live cemetery,
Where, if your depths were to enfold me early,
I would love the waves’ faithful embrace,
Preferring pale gleam of conchs to feelings
Of people. Let’s flee!…
…and never return.
She runs out
Marta – Walter – Julia – Osmond
Seaside storm approaching from a distance
Walter with letter in hand
On that first line, that treacherous line,
Why didn’t my eye stop there,
And with the eye, my life?
Walter, that loggia for this evening,
Although graciously offered us,
I cannot accept, since it’s the eve
Of my engagement”.
Let’s read on:
“Day of my engagement”, and I read on:
“Julia”, that’s all!
Walking towards the sea
Now sea come here,
Leap or jump on my breast like a wild animal,
And splash my eyes with foam. I am here, I am here,
Your loot. Sea! I am calling you, listen.
Watching the waves
It departs and returns and abuses the heart!
Looking around feverishly
Why haven’t I picked up that fan,
Leaving it to the amusement of fate?
I should have squashed it in my hand
And offered it to the betrothed,
Or written in it two last words,
Thrown it on the sand, yes, throw it
So that someone would pick it up,
Read the words, reveal them so that voices would call:
“Today, someone has thrown himself into the depths of the sea”.
Hearing these words Osmond or Julia
Maybe would have had a tender thought.
Noticing Walter walking towards waves
Is it deep?
For despair it’s shallow.
The all is abusive.
It reaches to my knee.
After a moment to Marta
There are moments when even depths betray.
This is not a fisherman or a commoner:
This is not a common wench,
It’s some mad woman.
Today I would have liked
To sail in a boat onto deep seas.
I have an interest there but no boat here.
Let’s be careful.
Today, no one dares sail.
But you are flinging yourself into the waves.
I’m searching for the pearl that is my obsession.
Obsessions, as you don’t know,
Are blind and what is blind doesn’t look
Into consequences. Reasonable men like Osmond,
Who I see is arriving in his mackintosh,
See matters differently.
Straining her eyes
Truly, someone is walking, but towards the port,
And looking back, he keeps stopping
As if meeting a friend. Yes,
I think that in order to plunge
Into the depths, such a swift passing moment is enough,
That those who do, always find themselves
The earliest. Such is my mathematical conundrum.
The sea often blows deep thoughts
Over those walking along the beach. However
Madam, you are too graceful and young
To furrow your brow. Here, I’ll apologise
If I have expressed myself too explicitly.
After a moment
He, who is arriving, is called Osmond,
Full of common sense and in this respect valuable
For wonderful Julia. He will approach
At a moment when, if I were to throw myself into the sea,
I would have time to complete the moral,
Which I started telling her. Such is
My mathematical assumption.
Gazing at Walter
What would Julia consider in this matter?
I so value and love her
That I could feel and think for her.
Allow me to shake your hand.
They shake hands and slowly move away
Osmond approaching, looking at his watch
A terrible storm has delayed the ferry,
So that indeed one perhaps needs to wait.
If a man performs everything on time,
He should either wait or must hurry.
But I see Julia is coming,
Searching for morning zephyrs.
Good morning, count.
Madam, here so early.
Are you boarding the ferry?
The ferry has been cancelled for today.
I came to throw myself into the sea,
Daily doing the same and awaiting the servant
With my clothes, and then I drink ass’s milk.
Supported by the Polish Cultural Institute
Animated illustrations included in this feature are by Emma Brierley: Temporary Commons, conceived & produced in partnership with Golden Hour Productions.