God and Man in The Poetry of Karol Wojtyła – John Paul II – chapter II

II. Discovering God in the Poetry of Karol Wojtyla

The juvenile poetry of Karol Wojtyla comprising the war years up until the time when the author decided to join the Religious Seminary in Cracow, is characterized by a search after God. At the beginning of this road one finds the experience of God’s presence in the world, in the beauty and greatness of nature, in the natural phenomena and in the infinite depth of the human spirit. From taking delight in the stream of light, the poet passes to asking questions about its beginning and ultimate goal. He discovers God who is the beginning of everything and towards whom all of creation is striving towards. He takes up the existential issues in his post-war poems, in which he tries to describe his own experience of the encounter with Jesus and His Mother.

Young Karol Wojtyla passes from describing the general human experience of God, to describing his own personal encounter with Christ who goes through the experience total emptying of himself. In the Savior’s helplessness on the cross, he discovers his own life. He identifies himself with him and courageously takes up his own plight. He becomes immersed in God who is present in the Eucharist. From the union with Him, he derives strength for his own life.
The poetry of Karol Wojtyla written during World War II comprises the following collections: Song of the Hidden God, Song of the Brightness of Water, Mother, Thought – Strange Space . The above poems clearly illustrate the process of the poet’s maturing; they reveal how the poet boldly takes up his own life and decides to approach it as a task to be fulfilled by him.

1. Conversation with God in the Song of the Hidden God

The poem Pieśń o Bogu ukrytym /Song of the Hidden God/ bears the date 1944 and it clearly indicates that work was written during the war, when Karol Wojtyla decided to join the Higher Religious Seminary in Cracow . The above event put an end to the phase of experimentation in the life of Wojtyla and it led to his decision to choose the priestly vocation. Such a radical decision taken by the poet, may seem somewhat surprising, yet the topics of his earlier poems already point out to the fact one is dealing here with the same search leading to a profound transformation of the author which had taken place in his life during the Second World War.
The poem consists of two parts: the first one is entitled Wybrzeża pełne ciszy /Shores of Silence/, whereas the second bears the title Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/. The poem is, as it were, a great prayer, understood as an internal dialogue with God experienced within the soul. The poet – the little creature, stands before God – the Creator entering into a profound dialogue with Him on the issue of the mystery of existence, the beginning of life and the fathomless eternity.

a) Journey into the internal realm of the spirit – Shores of Silence
The poem Wybrzeża pełne ciszy /Shores of Silence/ is an account from a journey into the internal realm of the spirit, where man experiences Life . In this reality from which there is no return, the Poet meets Someone with whom he enters into a profound dialogue. It is a conversation with a Person who is close but at the same time quite mysterious: “Meanwhile you always step aside for Someone/ from beyond,/ who closes the door of your small room./ His coming softens with each step/ and with this silence strikes/ the target of the depths./” (Pieśń o Bogu ukrytym) /Song of the Hidden God/ 1, p. 77. The presence of the Person- Friend is difficult to describe. Sometimes, this person is so far away that one has to strain one’s eyes to notice him. At other times, he is so close that one may literally sense His presence in one’s interior. His presence is experienced like a slight tremor and a surprise which is the content of eternity.
The subject of this internal dialogue is man who is able to open himself up to the boundless reality, as if to “receive the sea into his open eyes”. Experiencing the proximity of God is brief and similar to the breath of eternity. In this boundless reality, mysterious like the sea, man is merely a tiny drop which is being carried by the strong “current”: “…but your foot touches a wave/ and you think: it is the sea/ that dwelt in me,/ spreading such calm around, such cool./” (Pieśń o Bogu ukrytym /Song of the Hidden God/, 3, p. 78). In the above situation one experiences infinity and at the same time one’s own limitations, which remind one of the fact that human life is finite.
The experience of God is for the poet like a ray of light which penetrates man internally. By its very nature, the light penetrates man’s very depth: “Look into yourself: here is your Friend,/ a single spark, yet Luminosity itself. / Encompassing this spark within yourself / you see no more, / no longer feel/ by what Love you are embraced” (Pieśń o Bogu ukrytym /Song of the Hidden God/, 4, p. 79). A tiny spark of light consumes the whole of man becoming his nature. The nature of light is very similar to Love which permeates everything and transforms man internally.
Love casts a light on the Poet’s life explaining all mysteries to him . It removes his fears and anxieties filling his heart with good. In this experience God becomes very close and His presence can be felt all along within the soul: “Locked in such an embrace, / a gentle touch against my face: / then amazement falls, / and silence, the silence without a word, / which comprehends nothing, and the balance is nil./ And in this silence I lift/ God’s gesture/ above me still.” (Pieśń o Bogu ukrytym /Song of the Hidden God/, 6, p. 80). The experience of light and love leads the poet to the discovery of God within his soul; the latter is like a flower “longing for the warmth of the sun”. Its presence is also similar to the dark which envelops man even tighter than light, as “in the dark there is as much light as there is life in the open rose”.
In this experience of light and dark, the Poet also experiences the paradox of “nothingness” which in the apothatic theology of Pseudo-Dyonisius Areopagita is a way of getting to know God. The poet strives more and more after nothingness, so as to open even more to love. In his striving after nothingness, he touches upon death and at the same time, upon eternity. It is a paradox which is continually being experienced in the mystery of the Incarnation. Ordinary hay “cuddled a barefoot baby”, the wood of the cross “covered His shoulders”, and a piece of “wheat bread” encompasses the eternity of God in the Eucharist. This is the truth about God’s “kenosis”; it is a truth about God who came so close to people that He did not reject man’s simple existence: “God has come as far as that, / stopped but a step from nothingness, /so near our eyes. / It seemed to simple hearts, / to open hearts it seemed / that He was lost amidst the ears of corn” (Pieśń o Bogu ukrytym (Song of the Hidden God), 12, p. 82). God who is present in a piece of bread is for the Poet a paradox that is more real than the entire cosmos. Man experiences this paradox when he receives Christ in the Eucharist opening his heart to the “universe”.
In Pieśń o Bogu ukrytym /Song of the Hidden God/, the Poet moves away from the experience which was given to the Slavic soul that predominated in Renesansowy psałterz /The Renaissance Psalter/, where God was the primordial experience. He experiences His closeness in the mysteries of faith, especially in that of the Eucharist, where “a morsel of bread more real than the universe” becomes a great surprise for the Poet, as the mysteries that take place here are greater than the ones occurring in outer space: “And you, pale light of wheat bread, I adore./ In you eternity dwells but for a while, / flowing in to our shore / along a secret path.” (Pieśń /Song/, 11, p. 82). In the Eucharist, Christ, the Son obedient to the Father, effects the salvation of the world. Whereas by becoming united with this mystery, man becomes a part of eternity.
The Eucharist constitutes an extraordinary paradox for the Poet, as in it “God stopped but a step from nothingness”. At the same time, He stood so close to man’s eyes, and so near to his senses, as a morsel of bread. The infinite God is concealed in the “grain of wheat” and together with the entire cosmos, He rests in a man’s heart. The Poet’s wonder at the miracle of the Eucharist is even greater than all the studies of the Greek masters: “I bring you good news of great wonder, Hellenic masters:/ it is pointless to watch over existence/ which slips out of our hands, / for there is Beauty more real/ concealed in the living blood./ A morsel of bread is more real / than the universe, / more full of existence, more full of the Word – / a song overflowing, the sea, / a mist confusing the sundial – / God in exile.” (Pieśń o Bogu żywym /Song of the Living God/, 13, p.83). Through Christ who is present in the Eucharist, man reaches out to the mystery which the philosophers have been looking for for centuries but have never able to really attain. Through Christ who is present in the Holy Communion, a Christian becomes united with the whole world created by God.
The delight over the mystery of the Eucharist gives way to an internal dialogue with the Father and Son. The Poet realizes that there will come a moment of departure, of death, “annihilation”, of “surrendering” everything to the earth. Yet, he is not frightened by it as he is aware of the fact that God is present within him. With the eyes filled with God, and not always aware of who is present in it, he surveys the fathomless world. At moments such as this, his only wish is to believe and being aware of God’s infinity, he goes on to implore Him: “God, you are so near:/ transform our closed eyes into eyes open wide, / encircle the soul’s frail breeze,/ rose petals trembling / in mighty wind from every side.” (Pieśń o Bogu żywym /Song of the Living God/, 15, p. 84-85). At the moment of the union with God on earth, in the Eucharist, the Poet thinks about death which will give him an opportunity to look at the infinite Simplicity which gives birth to the world. In his heart, there arises a great longing after the moment when he will be able to “embrace all things” with love’s breathing.
The Poet’s prayerful dialogue with God who became close to man thanks to the “morsel of bread”, culminates in the form of the Poet’s urgent plea to God to take him to the reality which is full of silence. His prayer subsequently gives way to a thanksgiving to God for deciding to dwell within the Poet’s soul and is accompanied by a request to penetrate him to the end with His Being.

b) The Closeness of God – Song of the Inexhaustible Sun

In the poem Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/, the internal conversation with the Master takes place within the Poet’s soul; the latter clearly experiences His closeness. The Master’s eyes are fixed on the soul, as the sun whose rays lean on a leaf; thanks to it, life’s processes become possible in the leaf. The Master’s delving into the human soul is the foundation without which man is unable to live . A deep internal relationship is struck between the Master and the soul: “Your eyes fixed on the soul, / as the sun that leans on a leaf, / making sap rich for blossom./ The good is transparent, / centered in the ray, a current. / But, Master, what will become / of the leaf and the sun? Look, / evening approaches.” (Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/, II, 1, p. 86). In the ray of the sun, there is “good” thanks to which the leaf exists. The soul is something more than the leaf, as it continually strives towards the Sun; even when it is far removed from it, it looks for a contact with Him. It is like a planet circling around the orbits of the sun. Even death cannot separate it from the Sun.
A leaf has no influence on the sun which revives it with its rays. An existential type of relationship is formed between on the one hand, man-creature and God-the Creator on the other; thanks to this relationship, the soul may participate in the life of the Sun: “The soul is unlike the leaf:/ she can hold the sun at rest/ and go down with sun’s / diurnal arc in the west.” (Pieśn o słońcu niewyczerpanym) /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/, 3, p. 86). Man in his humanity becomes closely united with the Sun, as God assumed the human body in Christ and the Deity became united with the Humankind. It shares with him the “solar humility”, jsu like God and Man in the Person of God’s Son. God becomes united with man in death, which is a “long shadow”.
Christ – the Sun remains close to man in life and death, becoming his food and drink: “To leave me less lonely in my fear/ You took away the evening’s dread, / and to your own eternity/ You gave the taste of bread.” (Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym II /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/ 4, p. 87). God’s closeness to man has a personal and existential character. He has known man for centuries and is able to hear his “weeping” which expresses his longing after the Creator. Nothing is capable of quenching this desire to become united with God, for by creating man God inscribed in his soul His own image, which is referred to as an “eternal gaze”. In Jesus Christ, God lowered himself to man’s level assuming man’s nature and in this way, He responded to his longing after infinity. The Poet emphasizes that in Jesus Christ, God “lowered” himself, so as not to abandon man in his loneliness.
The basis of God’s “condescension” and of His lowering himself to the level of man is His love which expressed itself in simplicity, so that all people could have access to Him: “Then when He gave us love/ wrapped in its simple charms – /in poverty, poverty and hay, / the Mother took the baby / and rocked him in her arms, / and in a jerkin tenderly/ she tucked his little feet./ Oh, miracle, wonder of wonders, / that I with my humanity/ should shield God while his love shields me / with his martyrdom.” (Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym II /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/, 7, p. 88-89). God who became a small child is close to man in the Eucharist, in the “gentle Host”, in which man encounters the mystery of God. In the Holy Communion, the poet experiences the closeness of the heavenly Father, in whom he fearfully comes into contact with the mystery of the creation of the world: “My eyes/ like some discovered flower/ trembled before this gaze.” (Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym II /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/, 8, p. 89). In Jesus Christ, God’s Son, man discovers the mystery of creation, and even of what happened before this mystrrious moment. Thanks to the mystery of the Incarnation of God’s Son and the fact that He remained forever in the Eucharist, man is able to return continually to the moment from “before the creation” and at the same time, come into contact with nothingness and infinity.
It is with great surprise that the Poet discovers the infinite possibilities associated with becoming united with God the Creator and of discovering through Him the mysteries of the simplest forms of existence in this world. By becoming united with God in the Eucharist, in a single instant he is able to fathom the eternity of God and becomes united with the One who is a simple Thought: “I am at one with myself/ in the brightness that hides; / I become your Thought, and am fed / by the love inside the white heat/ of Bread” (Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym II /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/, 9, p. 90). The Poet, now united with God enclosed in a tiny morsel of Bread, forgets about the passing of time and about “his own nothingness”. He takes delight in the infinity which is symbolized by the rays of the Sun.
From the plane of infinity, the Poet passes onto the level of the existential relation towards God the Father who remains extremely close to man through His Son Jesus Christ. He experiences His closeness through love which expressed itself in the acceptance of suffering and the cross, in the complete isolation of His Son on the “tree of the cross”. He tries to fathom the mystery of the rejection which was experienced by Christ on the cross when the latter asked his Father: “For that cry: Why hast thou/ forsaken me, Father, Father – / and for the weeping of my Mother – / I have redeemed on Your lips / two simple words: Our Father” (Pieśn o słońcu niewyczerpanym /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/ , II, 10, p. 90-91). In the union with Christ, the Poet discovers a secret space within his soul which is “veiled in mist” and in which, in spite of the passing time, he is able to meet with his Creator. He fathoms this reality of his soul, where he carries the image of God, by whom he is “recognized” and whom in turn he is able to “recognize”. He is aware that above all darkness, deep within his heart, he hosts the One who is “the simplest of the cosmic suns”. God – the infinite brightness is experienced within the soul as a “transparent depth”, “veiled by a mist”. He is a “light” that floods the “darkened depth”.
Once again as a Pseudo-Dyonisius Areopagita, the Poet touches on the mystery of God who is at the same time a “light” and “darkness”, experienced within the depth of one’s heart. The play of light and darkness, which is a characteristic feature of apothatic mysticism, becomes a way of talking about the internal experience of God’s presence within one’s soul, where man is able to discover the image of the Creator: “…And everyone would see the light/ that floods the darkened depth./ Yes, all would see it in man’s heart, / the simplest of the cosmic suns” (Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym, II /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/, 11, p. 91). In the reality of the human heart, the Poet experiences the mystery of God, at the same time as darkness and light that blinds him.
In the inner space of the heart, the Poet discovers a joyful sensation which he refers to in a poetic way as a “transparent land”. In the reality which is defined clearly by Lake Genezareth, the boat and the mooring, he discovers the presence of God, who is no longer the mystery of darkness and light, but the presence of the Heart of the Master from Nazareth: “There is in me a transparent land / in the shimmering of the lake: / the boat, the mooring on Genezareth, / tied to the quiet waves..” (Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym II /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/, 12, p. 91). Jesus’ heart gathers around it other hearts and reveals itself in the mystery of the calling: “…and crowds, crowds of hearts, / each captured by One Heart, / by that one heart simplest / and gentlest of all- ” (Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym, II /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/, 12, p. 91). At Lake Genezareth, an extraordinary climate of dialogue of the hearts with the Heart of the One who calls, is created.
The internal dialogue within the Poet’s heart, marked out by the lake shore, becomes extended to include Nicodemus who comes to see Jesus. Within the space of Lake Genezareth, there appears the silhouette of the Master, which is distinctly outlined by the extraordinary beauty and appealing charm of the surroundings. The experience of the closeness of the Lord, comes back frequently as an experience of the sea shore, the lake, fishermen’s mooring and transparent “depth”. This experience is possible thanks to the encounter with Christ, the “white point” – enclosed in the Eucharist which ends the great mystery of God-Man and of all events which had taken place at Lake Genezareth. During the encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, we are dealing with an extraordinary space of internal experience: “Then, that evening with Nicodemus, / that land, the fishermen’s mooring, / the transparent depth, / and that figure so close, so near – / all this stems from a White Point, / a point of the purest white, / encompassed in the human heart / by the red flow of blood” (Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym, II /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/, 12, p. 92). Christ in the Eucharist who becomes a guest of the heart, permeates the entire reality of a man who accepts Him. He permeates all dimensions of the human life “by the red flow of blood” – like the blood which circulates within the entire human body.
From the experience of such a great closeness of God, who is both light and unfathomable darkness, and at the same time, who is so close in the “White Point” – the Eucharist, a prayer is born in the Poet’s heart. The Poet asks God to hide him within himself, in a place which is most inaccessible so as to protect him against evil which is symbolized here by the “dark”. He sings a song of request which is similar to the song sung by the Bride from the Song of Songs (Sg 2:14; 3:1; 8:6) and even more similar to the Spiritual Song of St. John of the Cross, where there dominates the symbolism of light and darkness: “I beg You: find me a hiding place / most inaccessible, / in the calm flow of wonder, / or at the dead of night.” (Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym II /Song of the Inexhaustibe Sun, 13, p. 92). The Poet discovers a mysterious place in God which is at the same time both light and darkness, and in which he wants to hide, so as to experience the proximity of God. This mysterious place is the Eucharist, thanks to which he is able to unite completely with his Creator and identify himself with Him: “Then a miracle will be, / a transformation: / You will become me, / and I – eucharistic – You” (Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerapanym II, /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/, 13, p. 92). Having experienced such a close unity with God, he asks as the Soul-Bride in the Song of the Spirit by St. John of the Cross, that God should depart from him, as he is unable to express his gratitude that Infinity has found its dwelling place within him. The Poet confesses with humility that he is unable to grasp the reality of God with his mind and that is why he wishes to express his thanks for the gift of union with God and for being able to get to know His secrets.
The Song of the Hidden God /Pieśń o Bogu ukrytym/ becomes a great hymn of gratitude for the possibility of coming so close to the mystery of God who envelops the Poet like sea waves and penetrates him like rays of sunshine. The Poet thanks the Lord for the “familiarity” which He has allowed in their relations and thanks to which he is able to speak to Him like a child. He thanks Him for God’s “defenselessness” thanks to which he is able to accept Him everyday in the Holy Communion; finally, he thanks Him for the fact that God looks for him continually when he loses his way among the everyday dangers.
In the end, the Poet asks for forgiveness, for not having always responded to such a great love and for having loved too little. Grateful for His love, he wishes to offer God “the wonder that leaps from his heart – as a brook leaps up from its source “. The wonder and admiration within the Poet’s heart are a sign of his opening himself up to God and they expresses the Poet’s sincere wish to reach out to the mystery. The poem ends with a prayer: “Oh, do not spurn this wonder of mine, Lord, / which to You is nothing; You are Entire/ in Yourself/ but for me now this is all, / a stream that tears at the shore/ in muted motion, / before it can declare its yearning / to the measureless oceans.” (Pieśń o słońcu niewyczerpanym II, /Song of the Inexhaustible Sun/ 16, p. 94). The admiration for God is the beginning of a great fascination with the Creator which confirms the Poet’s sincere wish to approach the mystery which is as unfathomed as the ocean.
The poem Pieśn o Bogu ukrytym /Song of the Hidden God/ reveals some profound changes which had taken place in the Poet’s heart during World War II. In the poet’s mind, there arose a distinct idea of coming closer to the mystery of God, expressing itself in his great fascination with light and darkness and in the discovery of the closeness of Christ strolling along Lake Genezareth. The Poet saw his heart close to the Heart of Jesus and was able to hear his calling, like Nicodemus who got to know the Master and experienced His nearness when he was strolling along the “sea shore”. The space within which the Poet continually comes into contact with the mystery of light and darkness and where he encounters the Master is the Eucharist – God’s greatest miracle which dwelled in a little “White Point”, enclosing in it all of infinity.

2. Getting to Know Oneself Through the Encounter with Christ – Song of the Brightness of Water

The poem Pieśń o blasku wody /Song of the Brightness of Water/ was written in the year 1950. It has the character of a dialogue which in all likelihood was inspired by Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob (c.f. Jn 4:1-26) . This is also confirmed by the quotation from St. John’s Gospel which precedes the poem as well as by the titles of the individual songs: Looking into the Well at Sichar, Words Spoken by the Woman at the Well, The Samaritan Woman Meditates. The poem consists of eight songs with a varied number of verses, which make up a dialogue between the Poet, the Master and the Samaritan Woman.
The Poet stops at the well at Sichar, along the Samaritan woman who came here to get a drink of water; but while quenching her thirst, she got to know the truth about her life, thanks to Christ. The well of Jacob offers an opportunity to enter into an internal dialogue with oneself, as the surface of the water reflects faithfully one’s face: “The well sparkles with leaves that leap / to your eyes. Reflected green / glints round your face / in the shimmering depth. /” (Pieśń o blasku wody /Song of the Brightness of Water/, Nad studnią w Sychem /Looking into the Well at Sichar/, 1, p. 95). In the reflection on the surface of the water the poet recognizes his facial features and “tired eyes” in which he sees tears that express an evening prayer.
On the surface of the water, the poet also distinguishes a reflection of Christ’s face – a signpost (“mirror”) for all people who stop at the well and find in it a reflection of their own face: “Multitudes tremble in you, transfixed / by the light of your words / as eyes by the brightness of water. / You know them in weariness. You know them by light./” (Pieśń o blasku wody /Song of the Brightness of Water/, Nad studnią w Sychem /Looking into the Well at Sichar/, 1, p. 95). This source discovered in the well, that is in every individual’s heart, is none other but Christ himself; here we can find a reflection of the faces of many people. As He knows everyone and His Word is for them a light that gives sense to their lives.
While contemplating the mystery of his encounter with Christ at the well, the Poet, like an observer, surveys the passers-by. Towards the evening, the crowd of people becomes like a human wall so it is difficult to distinguish the individual faces. It is only from time to time that someone breaks away from the nameless wall. What is needed are the eyes which would help perceive what is hidden deep inside one’s heart: “But I tell you, your sight alone / scarcely catches people as they flow / on the wave of fluorescent lights. / They are revealed by what is most concealed / within them, that which no flame / will burn out.” (Pieśń o blasku wody /Song of the Brightness of Water/, 2. Gdy otworzysz oczy w głębi fali /When You Open Your Eyes Deep in a Wave/, p. 96). The eyes of faith help one notice a new dimension of the world and of man; it is a world where the good becomes a distinguishing feature. A fresh opening of the eyes “reveals” another dimension of the world which leaves an indelible mark on man.
In the meditation at the well of Jacob, it is the woman who talks to Jesus that comes to the foreground. Thanks to the conversation with Jesus, she could look at the history of her life afresh: “From this moment my ignorance / closes behind me like the door / through which you entered, recognizing/ all I do not know. ” (Pieśń o blasku wody, 3 /Song of the Brightness of Water/. Słowa niewiasty u studni, które wypowiedziała odchodząc /Words Spoken by the Woman at the Well, on Departing/ p. 96). Her look inside her own soul helped many people to learn the truth about themselves. She meditates on what happened at the well and is able to perceive even better what role Jesus had played in getting to know oneself.
Christ offers the woman a fresh look into her own soul and at all the difficult issues connected with the human situation. He offers a new way of getting to know oneself without opening one’s eyes “He had a mirror – like the well – shining deep. /For him no need to come out of himself or / raise his eyes to guess. / He saw me in himself, possessed me / in himself. / He suffused me with ease ” (Pieśń o blasku wody /Song of the Brightness of Water/, 4. Późniejsze rozpamiętywanie spotkania /Later Recollection of the Meeting/, p. 97). His look inside the soul leads to shame and a wish to become transformed. The woman understands that the suffering associated with getting to know the truth about oneself could be borne thanks to love. Thanks to His presence, every type of suffering becomes love.
The Samaritan woman becomes for the Poet a witness of the internal dialogue which takes place between Christ and everyone who comes from the “wall of evening”. Thanks to the Samaritan woman, everyone has a chance to follow in her footsteps and enter into a deep dialogue with Jesus who reveals the truth about Himself: “-You don’t walk alone, ever. / Not for a moment, never / is my profile separate from you / and in you it becomes truth / it always becomes truth / and the tearing so deep, / of your living wave.” (Pieśń o blasku wody /Song of the Brightness of Water/ 5. Rozmowy które prowadził w niej On i ludzie ze ściany wieczoru /Conversations He Had Within Her: and the People from the Wall of Eveing/, p. 98). Christ assures us that man never walks alone and that the image of His face, marked by suffering is always within man. He encourages us to take up His cross. Tired with the everyday struggle with evil, the nameless heroes of the conversation with Jesus admit: “we have blood”. It is Christ’s blood that decides about the plight of man.
Jacob’s well is an image of the Samaritan woman’s deep look into her own soul, in which she discovers the image of Christ and of herself. From this discovery, there originated the experience of His presence and of the inner bond thanks to which man gets to know Him and He gets to know about man: “It joined us together, the well; / the well led me into You” (Pieśn o blasku wody /Song of the Brightness of Water/, 6. Samarytanka /The Samaritan Woman/, p. 99). In this experience of the inner cognition, the soul becomes elevated to a new life. It is no longer ashamed of its past, but is inebriated with the new life: “I was raised – how, I don’t know” (Pieśn o blasku wody /Song of the Brightness of Water/, 7. Rozważania ponowne /The Samaritan Woman Meditates/, p. 99). Christ took of her shoulders the burden of her old life which was marked with sin and introduced order and harmony into her soul.
The Samaritan woman concludes with surprise that thanks to the encounter at the well, she was not only able to get to know herself, but also that she became liberated and given a new life, thanks to the One whom she discovered within herself: “From this depth – I came only to draw water / in a jug – so long ago, this brightness / still clings to my eyes – the perception I found, / and so much empty space, my own, / reflected in the well” (Pieśn o blasku wody /Song of the Brightness of Water/ 8. Pieśn o blasku wody /Song of the Brightness of Water/, p. 100). Grateful for the gift of getting to know herself and of the One who made it possible, she implores Him to remain within her, like in the reflection on the water.
The poem Pieśń o blasku wody /Song of the Brightness of Water/ ends with a great sigh “Yet it is good!” and with a wish that Christ, whom the Samaritan woman discovered within herself could remain in her heart forever.

3. The Experience of Motherly Love – the poem Mother

The poem Matka /Mother/ constitutes a reflection on the mystery of Mary who occupies a special place in the History of Salvation, as it was her who brought God closer to man by becoming the Mother of Jesus Christ . The poem was completed in the year 1950, in response to the proclamation by pope Pius XII of the dogma on the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary (Nov.1, 1950). In the Cracow diocese, celebrations associated with this event took place on December 8, 1950. It was around that time that Rev. Karol Wojtyla published the poem entitled Matka /Mother/ in the “Tygodnik Powszechny” Catholic weekly. He did so under the pseudonym Andrzej Jawień. In his poem, the author tried to express in a poetic way the mystery of the Divine and human motherhood of Mary. Rev. Karol Wojtyla, poet and at the same time, theologian, tries to express the whole truth about Mary’s participation in the mystery of Redemption. In the first and third part, Mary shares her experience of motherhood with us; she talks about her emotions associated with the acceptance of God’s Son. In the second part, the Author becomes incarnated in the person of St. John the Evangelist, so as to show us a different perspective of the mystery of Mary’s motherhood.
The starting point of the poetic reflection is the primordial experience of the mother which every man bears in his heart from early child hood and which is associated with the word “mother”. This magical word is common to every man, including God-Man and His Mother. In Mary’s heart, it causes the most primeval experience of motherhood and triggers off a recollection from the past: “My place flows by in memory. The silence / of those distant streets does not pass away, / held up in space like glass which limpid eyes / break into sapphire and light. Nearest / are the child’s words on which silence takes wing: / Mamma – mamma – ” / Matka I / Mother/. Pierwsza chwila uwielbionego ciała /First Moment of the Glorified Body/, p. 101). From Nazareth, Mary brings back memories which are associated with narrow streets, the voice of her Son who was a small child as well as by many simple human gestures.
Yet in Mary’s experience brought back from the past, there appears a moment of surprise; it is associated with the moment when she first heard the words of annunciation (Lu 1:26-38), when the Word became Flesh: “This moment, a whole life experienced in the word/ since it became my body, was nourished by my blood, / was carried in elation – / rising in my heart, as the New Man, quietly, / when thought was held in wonder and the daily toil of hands” (Matka I, 2. /Mother/. Słowa, które rozrastają się we mnie /Words Which Grow into Me/, p. 102). From this moment onwards, the Mother looked at her Son whom she carried in Her womb in a different way.
With the Mother’s eyes, she was able to perceive a strange “light” which lingered through the life of little Jesus and she got to know the Mystery of God-Man: “There are such moments when the first flash / reveals deep in a mother’s eyes the mystery of man, / like a touch of the heart behind a thin wave of sight.” (Matka I, 4. Skupienie dojrzałe /Mother. Mature Attention/, p. 103). Having got to know the mystery of God, Mary perseveres in it as the Mother who has always access to her Son.
In the second part of the poem, it is St. John the Apostle, Christ’s beloved disciple, who had the privilege of leaning on the Savior’s breast during the Last Supper (Jn 21:20) and who was present at the cross during Jesus’ death (Jn 19:25-27) together with His Mother, that becomes the main focus of attention. When standing by the cross, he asks Mary to endow him with the same love she had given to her only Son: “Don’t lower the wave of my heart, / it swells to your eyes, Mother; / don’t alter love, but bring the wave to me / in your transluscent hands. / He asked for this.” (Matka II, 1. Prośba Jana /Mother. John Beseeches Her/, p. 104). John is referring here to Jesus’ testament which He proclaimed on the cross: “Woman, this is your son”. Then he said to the disciple: “This is you mother” (Jn 19:26-27). He implores Jesus’ Mother for love as she is able to give him strength to fulfill the Master’s last will.
John is aware of his weaknesses. He is only a fisherman and deep in his heart, he carries a recollection of the lake, and of the sand on the lake shore. Yet he wishes to fulfill the will of the Lord Jesus uttered on the cross till the very end.
The beloved apostle “returns” to the experience from the past thanks to his imagination and his memories. He sees the shape of His eyes and the features of His face and is able to hear the words that the Master had uttered. At the same time, he is able to touch Him in the “taste of bread”, in the Eucharist, in the Holy Communion: “Bow down with me and take – / Your Son is the taste of bread, / and beyond taste, ineffable is substance” (Matka II, 2. Przestrzeń, która w Tobie została /Mother. Space Which Remains in You/, p. 105). The Holy Communion becomes a new experience of the closeness of Jesus. It makes John experience a whole series of new sensations, which are witnessed by Mary. When he breaks the bread while administering the Eucharist, and looks at the Mother, he is able to see Jesus in her eyes, whom he got to know personally at the Lake of Genezareth.
In the third part of the poem Matka /Mother/, Mary speaks out yet again; this time she talks about her own life, which is like the song Magnificat. She sees herself as a woman who had shared her plight with the others. It is only when she sang the song of adoration in praise of the Only God at the moment of Annunciation – “My soul worships the Lord” – that she was able to realize what Her own mission consists in. Mary sings a song in praise of her Son, Jesus Christ, the Only God: “And when the song burst out and bell-like / embraced me, I saw how the words / discover your hiding place / as light melts at the center of thought. ” (Matka III, 1. Otwarcie pieśni. /Mother. The Song Opens/, p. 105). This song will be sung by people as a reminder of God’s great love for man and of man’s love for God.
Mary is also able to see her mysterious transition to glory. She awaits this moment with great joy, being convinced that she will become united with her Son forever. The moment of death will be a time of complete union with the mystery which was conceived within her at the moment of the Annunciation: “How attentive your stillness: it will always be part of me. / I lift myself toward it, will one day grow so used to it / that I will stand still, transparent as water vanishing / into a dry riverbed – though my body will remain.” (Matka III, 2. Objęta nowym czasem /Mother III, 2. Embraced by New Time/, p. 106). The moment of death will initiate a new dimension in Mary life, namely the dimension of life in glory. She will yet again sing a song of adoration and praise.
The poem Matka /Mother/ is a joyful hymn of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary which is sung in praise of her Son Jesus Christ, at the end of her life. It is at the same time a song of adoration in honor of Mary who received the Mystery of God into her heart and passed it on to the world, in this way becoming a participant in the Work of Salvation. The Poet assumes the position of John who is standing at the cross asking the Mother most humbly to let him come closer to the Mystery of her Son.

4. The Shaping of Oneself – Thought is a Strange Place

The poem Myśl jest przestrzenią dziwną /Thought – Strange Place/ belongs to those works by Karol Wojtyla which were inspired by biblical characters and motifs; the latter have been taken from the Old Testament as well as from the Gospels . In the dedication to the poem, the author refers to an excerpt from the Book of Genesis (Gn 32) where patriarch Jacob wrestles with the Angel and suddenly is able to see God “face to face”. The starting point is a fragment of the Book of Genesis describing Jacob’s encounter with God. The above event is used as a spring-board to a wider reflection on the sense of man’s life and work. The poem appeared in a Catholic weekly “Tygodnik Powszechny” in the year 1952, under the pseudonym Andrzej Jawień.
The poem consists of four parts: the first and third one take up the issue of work, the second one presents the “story of Jacob” and his encounter with God, whereas the fourth one contains a message which is addressed to the contemporary man. The word “space” which appears in the title of the poem constitutes one of the key-words in the poetry of Karol Wojtyla and it denotes the inner space in man’s mind and soul, within which man, like patriarch Jacob, is able to experience the mysterious closeness of God. In the poem Myśl jest przestrzenią dziwną /Thought – Strange Space/, the Author takes up an issue which is extremely important for the contemporary man, namely that of man’s encounter with God and of the place where this encounter is taking place. In the History of Salvation, Jacob is the only human being who was able to see God “face to face”.
The poet begins by stating that man often confronts truths which are difficult to express by means of language. They are rooted somewhere deep in our imagination and they simply cannot be expressed by means of words. It is the whole reality of the spirit, in which man stands face to face with God: “Sometimes it happens in conversation: we stand / facing truth and lack words, /have no gesture, no sign; / and yet – we feel – no word, no gesture / or sign would convey the whole image / that we must enter alone and face, like Jacob” (Myśl jest przestrzenią dziwną I.1. Opór stawiany obrazom przez myśli / Thought – Strange Space. Thought’s Resistance to Words/, p. 107). Getting to know God and experiencing His presence is effected in isolation. It has the character of a struggle with the image, as the senses and imagination constitute an obstacle in the attainment of the very essence of the mystery. The Poet emphasizes that Man is constructed in such as a way that he is unable to break away from his thoughts, imagination and the senses. Consequently, the Poet asks whether man will be able to grasp the reality of his own interior and the mystery of God who cannot be fathomed by anyone.
From the level of general questions concerning the possibility of getting to know one’s own interior and the surrounding reality, the Poet passes to the sphere of experience which is shared by everyone. With his fingers, he touches his own pulse, he surveys the rapidly changing reality, the streets and the people who change. Man is a stream of consciousness and he has his own rhythm of life and of breathing. It is this rhythm that determines man’s identity: “For this rhythm is the widest contour, / embracing all in him, / you cannot rob him of this rhythm, / it is so much his own” (Myśl jest przestrzenią dziwną, I.2. Dawna rozmowa, z której teraz niektóre zdania zapamietane wyrywam /Thought – Strange Space. Sentences Snatched from a Conversation Long Ago, Now Recollected/, p. 108).
An important element of man’s identity is his suffering which takes place in a concrete historical context. In a dialogue with his interlocutor, the Poet makes an allusion to the reality of Stalinist Poland, emphasizing that this suffering always leads to “cardinal change” and that is why, it takes on a special significance. Thanks to this suffering, man “will awake in the depths of his hardest tasks”, will acquire a different outlook and will ultimately become a new person.
Yet, according to the Poet, the greatest suffering is a “deprivation of vision”, a lack of vision of oneself and an inability to answer the question who we really are. Man must undertake an immense effort to get to know oneself and to discover within his own interior the truth about who he really is. Such an effort was undertaken by patriarch Jacob: “If he suffers, deprived of vision, / he must tear through the thicket of signs / to the word’s very center, / its weight the ripeness of fruit. / Is this the weight Jacob felt, / pressing him down / when tired stars sank within him, / the eyes of his flock?” (Myśl jest przestrzenią dziwną, I, 3. Opór stawiany myślom przez wyrazy / Thought – Strange Space. Words’ Resistance to Thought/, p. 108). Man must himself discover what road leads to the truth and ultimately to what is most important – namely to getting to know God, his creator. Jacob is an example of man’s becoming truly human in the course of the struggle. He battled with the Angel at night. It was only towards dawn that he was able to understand that by battling with the Angel, he touched upon the mystery of God and got to know his Creator.
Jacob’s life is an example of a very special experience of God. Jacob lived close to nature, thanks to which he was able to experience the greatness of God as the Creator of all things and living creatures. He got to know God through nature: “He was Jacob the shepherd. Amidst the powers of the earth / he had never felt strange, being so much a part within, / and the silent tower of knowledge needed no inspiration / to grow. Aware of thought, he lacked the words.” (Myśl jest przestrzenia dziwną. II. Jakub, /Thought – Strange Space. Jacob./, p. 108). Thanks to his night reflection, Jacob was able to get to know God internally and this kind of cognition surpassed the natural process of getting to know God. He experienced the reality of God spiritually, as an internal strength which enveloped and overwhelmed him: “He bent under its weight” (p. 109). The Poet does not talk directly about the experience of God, but about experiencing a Power which engulfed Jacob. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, it is a cognition of God through omnipotence (per omnipotentiam). It is only on the basis of this experience that there arises a personal acquaintance with God who is the Father.
In the third part, the Poet changes the perspective and passes to a description of a personal experience of nature. He focuses on a drop of rain in which the surrounding green is enclosed. In the same way, in a single moment, the human thought is able to reach out to infinity: “Useless words, you feel. It is thought / that places you deep in the luminosity of things, / and you have to seek for them the ever-deepening space / in yourself.” (Myśl jest przestrzenią dziwną, III.1. Przestrzeń potrzebna kroplom wiosennego deszczu /Thought – Strange Space. Space Necessary for the Drops of Spring Rain/, p. 109). Thought travels somewhere far, until it reaches reality which totally surpasses man.
By entering so deeply into himself, the poet experiences the reality of his interior, up to the very “bottom” of his soul. Thanks to the thought which travels in unlimited space, man is able to reach out to the “luminosity of things”; he is able to reach out to what is external. So the poet asks whether man’s thought can reach out to the essence of things. For if the human thought was able to cognize only what is external, man would never be able to get to know the surrounding reality. Yet, there is a moment in cognition, when man enters entirely into himself and at the bottom of his soul, he discovers the presence of the One, through whom everything came to be: “But when reality’s weight leans over and collapses / then it fills with thought and subsides / into man’s deep pit / which I rarely tread – I wouldn’t know how. / But this I know: / I can’t fall apart any further. / Both the vision and the Object entire inhabit / the very same pit.” (Myśl jest przestrzenią dziwną, III. 3. Ciężar właściwy / Thought – Strange Space. Proper Weight/, p. 110). In the above experience, the Poet touches upon the boundary of his own existence, as well as on the presence of God – the “Object”, through which he exists as the “subject” of cognition.
The poem ends with the address “For the Companions of the Road”, in which the Author reminds his audience that one does not have to wander to Jacob’s homeland to find the place where he met God. It is enough to enter into oneself where every man carries the mystery of the Creator’s presence: “If you are looking for that place / where Jacob wrestled, / do not wander to the lands of Arabia, / not look for the brook / on maps – you’ll find the tracks much nearer.” (Myśl jest przestrzenią dziwną, IV, Dla towarzyszów drogi /Thought – Strange Space. For the Companions of the Road/ 1, p. 110). At the „bottom of his soul” every man carries an “image and likeness” of God (Gn 1:27) through which he can experience an encounter with his Creator. All one has to do – the Poet tells us – is to enter into silence and the solitude within and to surrender oneself entirely to them, in spite of the everyday duties and entanglements of the world.
Jacob was the only man who saw God face to face and that is why, the Poet chose him, to speak about the possibilities of experiencing God in this life. For the contemporary man, he serves as a model of someone who searches for God and undertakes an inner struggle with his thoughts that sow doubt in his mind whether one can really meet God. He marks out a spiritual trail of discovering God within one’s interior.

The poetry of the time of the Second World War as well as of the first years after the war, reveal a deep spiritual process which was taking place within the soul of the young student, cl;ric and subsequently priest, Karol Wojtyla. In his soul, he discovered an internal space of the encounter with God the Creator and Redeemer. He entered boldly into an intimate dialogue which allowed him to get to know himself and God better.
The Poet used the motif of the biblical heroes – Jacob and the Samaritan woman – in order to immerse in himself and to discover God within his own interior. The process of getting to know God is an internal struggle in which man becomes God’s partner and ultimately provides an answer to the question who he really is. He discovers that he is a work of God and that he was created in His image and likeness.
An important element in the process of getting to know oneself and God is the experience of Mary, who was so close to her Son, Jesus Christ. The encounter with Her gives man a chance to reach out to the mystery of the Lord Jesus, whom She always carries within her soul and it helps people in the discovery of His true face.
The entry into his own interior and the discovery of God in his soul, becomes for Rev. Karol Wojtyla a great adventure of the spirit which allows him to reach the boundaries of infinity. God discovered in one’s interior is sometimes very close and at other times, He is seen as if through a veil. Sometimes, He looms to one as a Friend, at other times as the Creator and Lord. The Poet assures us that it is worth following in His footsteps, up to the very boundaries of one’s soul, in order to discover God in whom there are no boundaries.

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