Friday, 22 January 2016

Train and Little Drizzle


Pociąg (pronounced "po-chonk" ) meaning "train" is my favourite Polish word, in part because it is the sound the slow, village-connecting, trains make in Poland. They grumble over tracks talking about themselves (Po-chonk, po-chonk, po-chonk) like boring middle-aged women who think they are young. Eventually you long to escape the endless self-referential chatter, but if you are on the slow train, you cannot. You should have spent the extra money on a fast train, or taken the train to Warsaw to get the Warsaw-Krakow express.

Pociąg is also a 1959 film directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz. Its English titles are "Night Train" and "Baltic Express." It is about a man and a woman who find themselves in the same compartment of a sleeper car in a train to the Baltic Sea. The man--Jerzy--is mightily put out, but the woman--Marta--refuses to leave. Each of them has a secret, and their twin mysteries create a tension that is neither alleviated nor superceded by a sudden police investigation. Marta's secret absorbs her attention more than the ex-flame--Staszek--who follows her onto the train, threatens suicide and generally behaves like a madman.

Meanwhile, the sleeper car is populated by a band of Poles who all seem terribly interested in each other. Every time a woman walks down the narrow corridor, the men all risk whiplash. The only one who responds to them is a lawyer's very bored wife, who does her best to captivate Jerzy. There are two priests, one old and one young, a middle-aged misogynist, and a philosophical survivor of Buchenwald who suffers from insomnia. Everyone is in and out of their compartments all night, with the exception of a staggeringly beautiful girl and her young husband who, despite their beauty, are but bit players in the drama.

As neither Jerzy nor Marta talk very much at first, you don't need the subtitles to understand what is going on. However, once Staszek starts yelling, it is time to press the button. He is played by Zbiegniew Cybulski, "the Polish James Dean", and so is well worth watching.

Polish Cinema is quite fascinating, and American directors like Martin Scorsese borrowed quite a few ideas, angles, shots and plot devices from its films. It is fascinating because it depicts a country, history and way of life few outsiders know much about, and it illustrates the tension between artistic freedom and communist censorship. There is also the tension between the popular Catholicism of the majority of Poles and communism, to say nothing of the tensions between Polish Catholicism and Polish Judaism. And then there all the squabbles about who sucked up too much to the Commies when they were in charge. History judges Jerzy Kawalerowicz such a sinner.

It is also handy to know something about Eastern European film in case you find yourself at an oh-so-intellectual cocktail party, the kind in which philosophy graduate students share in-jokes about the King of France being bald and you are unhappy and would be desperate to escape were your crush object not expected to arrive any minute. If some hairy chap walks up to you and asks, "So what do you think of Deleuze (Lacan, Foucault, Kristeva, the whole dreary gang), you can say, "Print is dead; I get my intellectual kicks pure and unmediated from Polish cinema."  (Try to be dressed all in black and wearing long black fake eyelashes when you say this.)


The students of Polish 2.5 were directed to look at a poem by Julian Tuwim (1894-1953) and underscore all the diminutives. We were not required to translate it, which was fortunate as by then the security guard was  jingling his keys and even Google Translate has problems with "Little Drizzle."

Here is the original (with the diminutives underscored) and what Google Translate does to it. Sadly, I have not been able to find a proper translation, and it would take me at least an hour to do it myself.

Incidentally, Tuwim himself is considered politically dodgy as he loved himself a little too much Stalin.


Jak wesoły milion drobnych wilgnych muszek,
Jakby z worków szarych mokry, mżący maczek,
Sypie się i skacze dżdżu wodnisty puszek,
Rośny pył jesienny, siwy kapuśniaczek.

Słabe to, maleńkie, ledwo samo kropi,
Nawet w blachy bębnić nie potrafi jeszcze,
Ot, młodziutki deszczyk, fruwające kropki,
Co by strasznie chciały być dorosłym deszczem.

Chciałyby ulewą lunąć w gromkiej burzy,
Miasto siec na ukos chlustającą chłostą,
W rynnach się rozpluskać, rozlać się w kałuży,
Szyby dziobać łzawą i zawiłą ospą...

Tak to sobie marzy kapanina biedna,
Sił ostatkiem pusząc się w ostatnim deszczu...
Lecz cóż? Spójrz: na drucie jeździ kropla jedna
Już ją wróbel strząsnął. Już po całym deszczu.


How cheerful million small wilgnych flies,
As if the bags wet gray, drizzling poppy,
Hangs up and jumps rain watery cans,
Rosny dust autumn, gray drizzle.

This poor, tiny, just barely beats.
Even in the steel drum can not yet,
Oh, the young drizzle, fluttering dots,
What would terribly wanted to be an adult rain.

They would like downpour pour down in a thunderous storm,
City network on the bias projectile flogging,
The gutters to rozpluskać, spill in a puddle,
Peck tearful windows and intricate smallpox ...

So, he dreams of kapanina poor
Strutting last ounce of strength in the last rain ...
But what? Look: on the wire runs drop one
Even the sparrow shook. Already around rain.

Thanks in advance to any reader who can supply a good English translation.

No comments:

Post a Comment