COLLECTED POEMS by Karol Wojtyla


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We now have the Pope's entire poetic oeuvre in a single volume, and, as Dr. Johnson said of Paradise Lost, ""no man ever wished it longer."" The verse collected here spans 40 years, from a hymn entitled ""Magnificat,"" written in 1939, to ""Stanislas,"" which celebrates the martyred bishop and patron saint of Poland, and which appeared under a pseudonym in 1979. The 90 or so poems that John Paul II composed during this period are all competent enough not to be embarrassing, but for the most part they're flat, emphatic, and doctrinaire--one can't forget that their author holds twin doctorates in philosophy and theology. Sometimes Wojtyla writes in a simple, devotional vein (""I adore you, rough wood, because I find/no complaint in your fallen leaves;/I adore you, rough wood: you covered His shoulders/ with blood-drenched twigs""); more often the tone is ploddingly meditative and the diction a bit more complex (""Man grasps the light with both hands/ like someone rowing a boat:/ his very substance goes through the light,/ his words and his deeds""). No Polish originals are given, but except for one or two leaden touches (""such is the experience, and the obviousness therein""), the translator seems to have done a fair job. Good poetry and orthodox faith are obviously not incompatible (Dante, etc.), but the poet-believer must bring to experience more openness, sensory awareness, and sheer love of language than the Pope does. Undistinguished.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1982
Publisher: Random House