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This review is taken from PN Review 64, Volume 15 Number 2, November - December 1988.

NOT IN TIME'S COVENANT The Burning Forest: modern Polish poetry translated and edited by Adam Czerniawski, Bloodaxe Books, £7.95 pb.

'Poor Poland', wrote Coleridge shortly before the country was partitioned for a third time, 'they go on sadly there'. Yet, however sadly, they have gone on; and for over five hundred years (as the remarkable 1962 anthology of Pieterkiewicz and Singer demonstrated) preserved in poetry at least an identity all too often denied them by statesmen and politicians. Adam Czerniawski's focus falls on the last fifty years of difficulty, crisis and ultimate catastrophe, which have latterly been a matter of heroic fortitude in the face of yet further indignities. Obviously Czerniawski's prime concern has been to construe, and re-affirm, 'modern' as meaning 'within living memory'. But The Burning Forest also contrives to suggest that time is much less easily partitioned than space. Czerniawski has chosen as a graphic cover illustration of his title and early Florentine Renaissance masterpiece from the Ashmolean; 'Forest Fire' by Piero di Cosimo represents animals (two of them with human faces) fleeing from the flames that threaten to engulf them, and is quite as modern as its painter, whom Vasari describes as living eccentrically on an unvaried diet of hard-boiled eggs. This splendidly apt painting is reinforced with an epigraph taken not from any of the poets translated, nor indeed from the present century at all: a line from Juliusz SŽowacki (1809-49) - 'No time to mourn roses, when forests burn'. This has clearly lost none of its arresting force with the passage of time, as the situations to which it might be applied have ...


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