Hartwig, Julia (1921—)

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Hartwig, Julia (1921—)

Polish poet, essayist and translator who emerged as a powerful literary voice in the late 1960s. Born in Lublin, Poland, on August 14, 1921; married Artur Adam Miedzyrzecki (a writer and critic, b. 1922).

Julia Hartwig, born in Lublin in 1921, grew up between two world wars in a politically and economically unstable Poland, surrounded by a culture in which literature played a key role in defining the national spirit. Hartwig survived the terrors of World War II, during which she was a student in one of Warsaw's "flying" (i.e., underground and illegal) universities which was affiliated with the resistance movement. The immediate postwar years in Poland were scarcely easier to live through, and Hartwig and the overwhelming majority of the population suffered from both physical privations and the arbitrary repressiveness of a Stalinist regime subservient to the Soviet Union. At the same time, she worked to perfect her craft as a writer, observing, reading, and taking risks by publishing in a literary environment that was hypercritical and unsettled. As a student at the University of Warsaw, she studied Polish philology and philosophy. Also active in writers' organizations, she joined the Polish Writers' Union in 1945.

In 1967, Hartwig published her first collection of poems, Wolne rece (Unconstrained Hands). This volume was followed by several more works which culminated in both a selection of poems published in 1981 from various phases of her writing career and a poetry anthology published two years later. Although only a small selection of her verse has appeared in English translation (1991), non-Polish critics consider Hartwig to be a major contemporary poet in Poland, worthy of comparison to Wislawa Szymborska , the Nobel Prize laureate. Hartwig came to full artistic maturity in late middle age, and her major book of the 1980s, the 1987 verse collection Obcowanie (Relations), was viewed by critics as a significant artistic and spiritual breakthrough.

Rochelle Stone , writing in World Literature Today, notes that Hartwig describes the most fundamental aspects of life and living in her poetry through "calm, simple and concise language." A philosophically grounded writer who is also alert to mundane realities, she has written of daily existence in works like "What does one hear in the kitchen?" and "Portrait I, II, III" (of a cow). Hartwig's poems have been characterized as "paintings in words, saturated with color, filled with light and space," and she has been noted for an ability to portray emotional states without using symbol or allegory.

Julia Hartwig and her husband, writer and critic Artur Adam Miedzyrzecki, have both been active in organized literary life in Poland since the end of the Stalinist regime in 1956. Starting in that year, she became an active member of the Polish PEN Club, greeting foreign literary visitors and promoting international cultural exchanges. Her travel to France resulted in a number of books and articles on French writers, including Gerard de Nerval, Max Jacob, and Guillaume Apollinaire. A visit to the United States resulted in Dzienik Amerykanski (American Journal), a book published in 1980. With the demise of Communism in Poland in 1989, Hartwig became a leading personality of a reborn Polish Writers' Association and, in 1990, was an active member of the election committee of Tadeusz Mazowiecki. In November 1993, concerned about Poland's difficulty in achieving a balanced perspective about the Holocaust that had taken place on its soil, she maintained that books would continue to serve as important tools for remembering "the period of extermination, about which everyone would like to forget but about which no one is allowed to forget." A major poet, Julia Hartwig enjoys universal respect as one of Poland's most renowned literary artists.


Baranczak, Stanislaw, and Clare Cavanagh, eds. Polish Poetry of the Last Two Decades of Communist Rule: Spoiling the Cannibals' Fun. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1991.

Hartwig, Julia. Apollinaire. Translated by Jean-Yves Erhel. Paris: Mercure de France, 1972.

"Promotional Evening of Books Related to Holocaust Held in Warsaw," in PAP News Wire. November 16, 1993.

Pynsent, Robert, and S.I. Kanikova, eds. Reader's Encyclopedia of Eastern European Literature. NY: HarperCollins, 1993.

Stone, Rochelle. Review of Chwila postoju (Cracow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1981), in World Literature Today. Vol. 56, no. 4, 1982, p. 720.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia