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


Poetry accompanied Rev. Karol Wojtyla throughout his entire life becoming a means of expressing his personal feelings and experiences: his relations with God, with other people and his attitude towards the world. It revealed the process of his spiritual maturing and self-identification. In it, the Poet found space to express his personal experiences, doubts and problems which were encountered by him in everyday life. From issues concerning friendship, he passed to problems associated with his ministry as bishop presenting forever new aspects of life which confronted him as a young Poet.

Among the problems which found their reflection in the poetic works of Rev. Karol Wojtyla, and since 1958 of auxiliary bishop in Cracow, it is the issue of human labor and of man as the subject (The Quarry) as well as the issue of faith as man’s conscious act, through which he selects God (The Birth of Confessors), that come to the foreground. In Karol Wojtyla’s poetic works, one is able to hear an echo of bishop’s visitations in the parish, of meetings with the parishioners for whom the bishop represents Christ – the Shepherd bringing a strengthening of their faith. The poems dating back to this period also reflect the experience of Vatican Council II in which the young auxiliary bishop from Cracow participated. The poems reflect Karol Wojtyla’s personal involvement in the Council work and his bending over the mystery of the Church. One can also clearly distinguish the theme of maturing in faith at the time of Karol Wojtyla’s pilgrimages to the Holy Land (Journey to the Holy Places). A fascination with the Savior’s birthplace is accompanied by a deep reflection on faith and the experience of the closeness of Christ in man’s life.
The poet treats poetry as a way of revealing his own interior and of reflecting profoundly on the surrounding reality, in which he discovers the presence of God revealed in Christ who is continually present in another human being.

1. Constructive Character of Human Work – Kamieniołom /The Quarry/

The poem Kamieniołom /The Quarry/ was written in 1956 and it appeared in July 1957 in the “Znak” monthly, under the pseudonym Andrzej Jawień. It is a poem which takes up social issues, focusing on the problem of human labor as well as on the subject of man who is the subject of work. The poet refers to his own personal experience of work in the Cracow quarry during the Second World War. At the same time, the poet alludes to the situation which arose in Poland in June 1956, under the influence of a wave of worker protests in the city of Poznań. The poem is dedicated to the workers who initiated the street protests defending their rights, and particularly the right to work and fair pay.
Yet The Quarry is not a poem which is politically involved, but it is a sort of parable on the issue of man’s work . The poet makes frequent references to his personal experience of work in the German plant “Solvay” (1939-1944) during the Second World War. Young Karol Wojtyla was employed there as a helper in quarrying lime stone which was subsequently transported from the quarry to the plant. The poem strikes one with the freshness of memories associated with those times, with and the richness of reflection concerning work as well as with the recollection of the friendships which were struck up amid the commonly shared plight.
A special context of Karol Wojtyla’s poem are the discussions devoted to the issue to human labor which took place in communist Poland. The poem Kamieniołom /The Quarry/ is an important voice in the discussion on the role of work in human life. Under communism work was regarded as a supreme value, in pursuit of which a worker was supposed to devote all his strength, so as to be able to attain the glowing vision of the future. Yet by having the right to work, he became at the same time, its slave. For Rev. Karol Wojtyla, who represented the Christian point of view, workplace is where human character is shaped, and that is why man cannot be a slave of labor, even when what is at stake is a supreme value.
The poem Kamieniołom /The Quarry/ consists of three parts: Tworzywo, Natchnienie, Uczestnictwo /Material, Inspiration, Participation/; the fourth, untitled part is dedicated to the “Memory of a Fellow Worker”. Each of the parts takes up a different aspect of human labor and focuses on man who is the subject of work.
In the first part entitled Tworzywo /Material/, the Poet recalls the image of work in the quarry. He paints before us a realistic picture of the human effort, combined with the energy of an immense electrically-powered machine, thanks to which the huge blocks of stone are cut into small pieces. He defines work as a human effort which acquires sense thanks to human thought: “…listen now, electric current / cuts through a river of rock./ And a thought grows in me day after day: / the greatness of work is inside man. ” (Kamieniołom, I. Tworzywo /The Quarry. Material/, 1, p. 112). Thought is the beginning of man’s work. It is thought that gives shape to the human effort and subjugates the electric power so that it may become a source of good. Without thought, a machine can cut through a man’s artery and become a source of tragedy. Thought channels the energy of both man and machine leading to the creation of good.
Thanks to human thought, man’s energy may transform the world making it more human. Yet the strength of the human muscles – observes the Poet – may also be directed against fellow man, ultimately becoming a source of aggression or even death. Right at the beginning of the poem, one can hear an echo of the worker riots: ” Look, how love feeds / on this well-grounded anger / which flows into people’s breath / as a river bent by the wind, / and which is never spoken, but just breaks high vocal cords. – / Passerby scuttle off into doorways, / someone whispers: “Yet here is a great force” (Kamieniołom, I. Tworzywo, 1 /The Quarry. Material/, p. 112). Yet the poet encourages us not to be afraid of the energy of the human muscles, as all forces are subjected to the Creator. He is the Lord of the world and the subsequent plight of both man and the world depend on Him.
Thanks to the power of his mind, man is able to control his work and that of the machines. According to the Author of the poem, it is the power of the mind that gives sense to the energy that is concealed in mechanical tools. The poet sings a song in praise of the worker’s hands: “Hands are the heart’s landscape” (Kamieniołom, I. Tworzywo, 3 /The Quarry. Material/, p.113). It is the workers hands that transform into deed what is in the human heart. It is not only thought, but also feeling that constitutes a part of man’s work. For it is through work that the entire man can express himself most fully. Man is the subject when he suffers.
It is not only physical but also intellectual effort that is contained in work. Thanks to thought, the energy of the human hands transforms matter endowing it with shape: “No, not just hands drooping with the hammer’s weight, / not the taut torso, muscles shaping their own style, / but thought informing his work, / deep, knotted in wrinkles on his brow, / and over his head, joined in a sharp arc, shoulders and veins / vaulted.” (Kamieniołom, I. Tworzywo, 4 /The Quarry. Material/, p. 113). Thanks to the intellectual effort, a great physical exertion is able to transform matter into magnificent Gothic towers which try to represent the greatness of God.
Work has its beginning in the human thought and feelings which originate in man’s interior. The effort of the mind and the beauty of love have still to be aided by the decision of will which strives towards good. The poet writes a treatise on the essence of work perceiving in it both a physical and an intellectual effort. He emphasizes the special significance of spiritual powers in the birth of human work – namely, of the mind, will and feelings: “Work starts within, outside it takes such space / that it soon seizes hands, then the limits of breath. / Look – your will strikes a deep bell in stone, / thought strikes certainty, a peak / both for heart and for hand.” (Kamieniołom, I, Natchnienie, 1 /The Quarry. Inspiration/, p. 114). Work not only transforms reality. Through work “man matures” shaping his interior in accordance with the principle of the “difficult good”.
According to the author of Kamieniołom /The Quarry/, when it becomes bread which is brought home for the children, work expresses love for another human being. It is thanks to work that the human effort is able to transform the world. Yet sometimes, when it becomes the reason for cheating and exploiting others, work turns into anger. Thus love and anger are inseparable: “Neither is ever exhausted in man, / ever ceases in the shoulders’ tension, / in the heart’s hidden gesture. / They partake of each other, fulfilling each other, / raised by a lever which joins movement and thought / in an unbearable circle”. (Kamieniołom, I. Natchnienie, 2, p. 114 /The Quarry. Inspiration/, p. 114). One has to be able to combine love and anger in the arms of a single lever, says the Poet – so that work could become a driving force of history and so that it would be able to unite people.
The third part of the poem, entitled Uczestnictwo /Participation/ is a recollection of the quarry and at the same time, the poet’s reflection on the nature of human work. The Poet expresses his solidarity with the former colleagues at work: “How splendid these men, no airs, no graces; / I know you, look into your hearts, / no pretence stands between us.” (Kamieniołom, III. Uczestnictwo /The Quarry. Participation/, p. 115). He remembers the railway track, the fence overhead and the pickaxes laid aside after work. He hears the explosions in the quarry and warns the children who are playing nearby of the danger.
This recollection leads the poet to a deeper reflection on the nature of work. The poet concludes that work is what allows man to express himself to give shape to objects and transform the surrounding reality: “The light of this rough plank, / recently carved out from a trunk, / is pouring the vastness / of work indivisible into your palms./ The taut hand rests on the Act which permeates all things in man” (Kamieniołom, III. Uczestnictwo /The Quarry. Participation/, p. 115).
Man is the subject of work. It is thanks to his effort that sharp blocks of stone are cut into pieces by means of electric power. His working hands are guided by love. It is the latter that is the driving force which allows one to combine man’s effort with matter and ultimately create magnificent things out of it: “There is silence again between heart, stone, and tree. / Whoever enters Him keeps his own self” (Kamieniolom, III. Uczestnictwo /The Quarry. Participation/, p. 116). Work not only transforms the world of matter, but also creates man. It allows him to maintain an internal equilibrium between love and anger.
The fourth part of the poem Kamieniołom /The Quarry/ is dedicated to a fellow worker who died tragically at work, crushed by a huge slab of stone. In a dramatic tone, the poet talks about the event he himself had taken part in. The man worked together with all the others exerting his muscles, until “a stone smashed his temples and cut through his heart’s chamber”. His colleagues took his body and laid it down on a “sheet of gravel”. His time had stopped like the hands of a clock. The stone which hit him, penetrated so deeply into him that he himself turned into a “stone”. While standing over the body of his colleague who died tragically, the poet asks whether all that remained was the anger at death which struck so brutally.
The poet is convinced that love is greater than anger: “The stones on the move again: a wagon bruising the flowers. / Again the electric current cuts deep into the walls. / But the man has taken with him the world’s inner structure, / where the greater the anger, the higher the explosion of love” (Kamieniołom, IV, 7 /The Quarry/, p. 117). The body of the dead worker was then transported in the wagon decked out with flowers. Work returned to its normal rhythm marked out by the monotonous hum of the electric engine. The man who died “took with him “the world’s inner structure”, where love is greater than anger. Love is the source of hope. It is love that gives sense to man’s work.
The poem Kamieniołom /The Quarry/ is a song which is dedicated by Rev. Karol Wojtyla to his work companion and colleague who died tragically. At the same time, it may be interpreted as a poem written in honor of the workers who died during the Poznań riots in 1956. The poet who hides under the pseudonym Andrzej Jawień, used these two occasions to express his opinion about human work, through which man is able to cooperate with God – the Creator, and at the same time create himself. In his presentation of the working man, the Author of the poem emphasizes the dimension of the human person who is capable of both loving and thinking; he draws attention to the fact that this person is also capable of feeling, and that among man’s feelings there is also the sense of anger at the exploitation, deception and ruthlessness of the system. Thanks to love and rationality, human work becomes a form of becoming and of giving oneself to another human being.
At the same time, the poem strikes one with a very personal approach to the problem of work. We are able to sense out that the Author personally experienced the hardship of physical labor, of tiredness, exhaustion and solidarity which is borne in the course of physical work. He remains very close to the colleague who dies in a tragic accident at work. He sympathizes with the family who have lost their father and husband. Despite the lapse of time, the Poet is still very close to people who he used to work with in the quarry.

2. Acceptance of the Mystery of the Cross – Profiles of a Cyrenean

The poem entitled Profile Cyrenejczyka /Profiles of a Cyrenean/ was written in 1957 and was subsequently published on the 30th March 1958 in the “Tygodnik Powszechny” weekly in the Palm Sunday issue. It appeared under the pseudonym Andrzej Jawień . The poem grew out of the experience of the celebration of the Way of the Cross which Karol Wojtyla experienced from his early childhood in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska walking the paths along the stations of the Cross, together with his father, and above all, participating in the services of the Holy Week. He returned to these places later as a priest, bishop and then cardinal.
The poem is a meditation on the silhouette of Simon of Cyrene who was forced to carry Jesus’s cross on the way to Golgotha . In the dedication, the author quotes a short fragment from the Gospel according to St. Mark: “…they enlisted a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross.” (Mk 15:21). In the Gospels, the name of Simon of Cyrene is mentioned only once. For the second time, it is mentioned in the Letter to the Romans, at a place where St. Paul extends his greetings to his fellow workers (Rm 16: 13). The author of the poem treats the Gospel text as a starting point to a longer reflection on the experiences of Simon of Cyrene who for him is a symbol of everyone who meets Christ by accident and is forced to carry the cross. He also refers to the rich tradition of folk piousness which often took up the issue of the mystery of Simon of Cyrene’s union with the Lord Jesus.
The poem consists of three parts: part I: Zanim jeszcze potrafiłem rozróżnić wiele profilów /Before I Could Discern Many Profiles/, part II: Teraz już zaczynam rozróżniać poszczególne profile /Now I Begin to Discern Individual Profiles/, part III: Szymon z Cyreny /Simon of Cyrene/. The titles of the individual parts point out to a symmetrical structure of the poem which is determined by the point of view of the Poet. In the first part, there appears Simon of Cyrene who is perceived from various perspectives. In the second part, there appear characters whom the Poet calls with his own names, which create an impression as if they were taken from a Kalwaria Zebrzydowska mystery play; thus, we meet: a Melancholic, a Schizoid, The Blind, an Actor, A Girl Disappointed in Love, the Children, the Car Factory Worker, the Armaments Factory Worker, Magdalene, the Man of Emotion, the Man of Intellect, the Man of Will as well as the anonymous “Man’s Thoughts” and “Description of Man”. The characters enter into Simon’s situations and speak about their attitude to the cross. In the third part, the poet incarnates himself into the character of Simon of Cyrene who identifies himself with Jesus and carries His cross with total and complete dedication. In each of the three parts Simon of Cyrene is looms to us as a character who provokes us to ask the question: what is my attitude towards Christ today?
The starting point of the poem is the evangelical statement that Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry Christ’s cross. The poet assumes the position of an observer who from various perspectives surveys the procession marching along the streets of Jerusalem. He sees Jesus as if in a camera close-up taken from different angles: “A profile among trees, different among pillars / and different again in the street, melting into its wet surface. / Different is the profile of a man standing at his own door; / different a victor’s profile: a Greek demigod.” (Profile Cyrenejczyka, part I: Zanim jeszcze potrafiłem rozróżnić wiele profilów, 1 /Profiles of a Cyrenean. Before I Could Discern Many Profiles/, p. 118). Besides the “profile” of Chrust, the poet notices the profile of Simon of Cyrene who is always close to the Lord Jesus. Simon supports the cross and helps to carry it. It is a well-known and familiar “profile”; it symbolizes everyone who helps another person to carry the cross of life, miseries and hardships.
From the perspective of the Way of the Cross, the Poet passes to an ordinary country road overgrown with grass, which is trodden by people’s feet. It is the perspective of the ordinary, grey, everyday reality, in which there emerge the silhouettes of “artisans” and women-typists who type eight hours a day. All of them take part in and march in the Kalwaria procession. From Jerusalem, the Poet transfers us to the paths of the Way of the Cross in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, so as to put us next to Christ who is carrying the cross. He turns to Him with a request to accept these people as helpers who might help Him carry the cross: “Take a thought, make man complete, / or allow him to begin himself anew, / or let him just help You perhaps / and You lead him on” (Profile Cyrenejczyka, part I: Zanim jeszcze potrafiłem rozróżnić wiele profilów, 2 /Profiles of a Cyrenean. Before I Could Discern Many Profiles/ , p. 119). However, man does not always want to walk together with Christ, particularly along the Way of the Cross. The Poet asks Simon and Magdalene why it is so. He himself sets out on the journey and then he hears the reply: “You had better walk with the wave. Walk with the wave – don’t / hurt your feet” (Profile Cyrenejczyka, part I: Zanim jeszcze potrafiłem rozróżnić wiele profilów , 4 /Profiles of a Cyrenean. Before I Could Discern Many Profiles/, p. 119). It is at this point that there arises a temptation to follow one’s own way, to walk together with all the others and not to stick out from the crowd. But then, the traveler is swept by the wave which pulls him down and makes him drown. At this point Christ appears and passes on to us his yoke. The yoke is the last resort which is able to save us: “And then He comes. He lays his yoke / on your back. You feel it, you tremble, you are awake.” (Profile Cyrenejczyka, part I: Zanim jeszcze potrafiłem rozróżnić wiele profilów, 5 /Profile sof a Cyrenean. Before I Could Discern Many Profiles/, p. 119). By accepting the cross the Cyrenean – and every man – approaches Christ and in His arms he begins to understand his plight.
In the second part of the poem Profile Cyrenejczyka /Profiles of a Cyrenean/, the Poet presents the situation of contemporary Cyreneans – the people who carry the cross of their suffering together with Christ. There appear the silhouettes of a Melancholic, a Schizoid, of the Blind, an Actor, a Girl Disappointed in Love, Children, The Car Factory Worker, The Armaments Factory Worker, Magdalene, Man of Emotion, Man of Intellect, Man of Will as well as of the anonymous “Man’s Thoughts” and “Description of Man”.
The Melancholic reproaches himself for having unnecessarily engaged himself in the Cross of Christ. He flees from suffering being more interested in pleasure. He hesitates all the time as the cross constitutes a permanent attraction and a source of reproach for him: “I would not carry it. And now this pain – / how much longer is it to last- / feebly accepted at first, now like the moth / slowly eating its way through the fabric / of imagination, or like rust / wearing out iron.” (Profile Cyrenejczyka, part II: Teraz juz zaczynam rozróżniać poszczególne profile, 1 /Profiles of a Cyrenean. Now I Begin to Discern Individual Profiles/, “Melancholic”, p. 120). In the end, he wonders whether it would not be better for him to ultimately choose Christ.
A different type of personality is represented by the Schizoid who is continually plunged in sorrow and reproaches himself for various things. Experiencing the hopelessness of his situation, he wonders whether he “will ever light up a thought, ever strike warm sparks from his heart?” (2. “Schizotymik” /Schizoid/, p. 120). The Schizoid is followed by the blind who are filled with sorrow at having missed the world of colors and shapes. They are sad as they are capable of experiencing only a fraction of the world. Like Simon, they keep complaining about their plight. They envy those who are able to see and would be willing to take upon their shoulders the burden of their problems. In the end, they ask Simon whether he will be able to teach them gratitude for the burden of the cross of blindness and to perceive happiness in being blind.
The Actor is aware of the fact that by playing different roles, he became as it were a “channel” who gives voice to different characters yet is never perfect himself. He is “only a man” who is far from the ideal. Side by side him, there stands a “Girl Disappointed in Love” who measures her pain and suffering with “mercury”. She focuses so strongly on herself and on her own pain that she forgets about others and shuts herself off from the world. Her only chance of coming out of this situation is to look at the suffering of Christ: “If you could only grasp that you are not the center of things/ the center is He, / and He, too, finds no love -/ (5. Dziewczyna zawiedziona w miłości /Girl Disappointed in Love/, p. 122). The girl is followed by the children, in whose hearts the whole world is focused. In them there germinates love and a great chance of growth. The poet asks with concern whether the world will not destroy this love? He asks whether they will ever mature and reach a state when they would be able to “separate the right from the wrong?”
The impersonal “Man’s Thoughts” may refer to every man – “mention no name” – who continues to fight with his doubts as to whether he should carry his cross and accept his suffering. The hero of this mysterious reflection is an egocentric who is totally focused on himself and is unable to open up to Christ; he carries the nails and the inner scar in his heart with surprise. He asks Christ to free him from the continual need to seek for himself: “Don’t allow me to seek my own self, let / the sand blow over all trace / of my steps / in my thoughts” ( 7. Myśli człowieka /Man’s Thoughts/, p. 123). The reflection from Myśli człowieka /Man’s Thoughts/ is continued by the poet in the part entitled Rysopis człowieka /Description of Man/; here the poet enters even deeper into the nature of man, in whom there teem various thoughts, feelings and decisions of will. In human thoughts, one can see a reflection of the entire universe: of man, the surrounding reality and of God. The Poet encourages us to “take care” of our will and feelings.
The place of the Cyrenean side by side Christ is now taken by the Car Factory Worker who is a hard working man. He makes beautiful cars, but he too is capable of asking very profound and difficult questions. He wishes to understand the surrounding world and learn “for whom he lives”. His meditations are subsequently continued by the Armaments Factory Worker. The latter one does not conduct wars, but participates in the production of the instruments of death. He too has doubts whether he is with Christ or against Him: “I cannot influence the fate of the globe. / Do I start wars? How can I know / whether I’m for or against?” (10. Robotnik z fabryki broni /The Armaments Factory Worker/, p. 124). He has a dilemma as he has no influence on the world and what happens in it. He would like the relations between people to be just, but he realizes that this does not depend on him.
Side by side Christ we also find the figure of Magdalene who has undergone an internal transformation but who has to work hard to change herself and the way of looking at her own body: “The spirit has shifted, my body remains / in its old place. Pain overtakes me .” (11, Magdalena /Magdalene/, p. 124). She suffers because she realizes that she is not quite ready for the love that Christ has endowed her with. She follows Christ amid her pain being aware of the fact that it is Him and not her who suffers “the drought of the whole world”. Side bu side Magdalene there stands the Man of Emotion who suffers because of outbursts of emotions. In response to his complaint he hears a simple word of advice: “Love and move inward, discover your will, / shed heart’s evasions and the mind’s harsh control” (12. Człowiek emocji /Man of Emotion/, p. 125). The Man of Emotion is joined by the “Man of the Intellect” who is bound by his formulas and who constitutes, as it were, a contradiction of the “Man of Emotion”. At the very end, there appears the “Man of Will” who is determined by his clear-cut will to always accept the cross. Each of the above mentioned features of character may become a burden to man if he is unable to preserve his inner balance. The cross gives one a chance to combine thoughts, feelings and will.
In a similar way as the fourteen Stations of the Cross, the cycle of fourteen poems, outlines to us the various possibilities of entering into the mystery of Christ, together with the Cyrenean. Each of the presented situations offers us a chance of internal growth and of maturing, thanks to the wisdom and greatness of the Cross.
In the third part of the work, entitled “Simon of Cyrene”, the Poet transports us back to the contemporary times, placing us side by side Christ – “Man” who is carrying the cross along the streets of the city. The contemporary man, who is walking along a street experiences a similar drama to that experienced by Simon of Cyrene. When he sees Christ carrying the cross, he does not want to become involved in His situation: “Nothing adventurous for me. I don’t want to offend; / let me keep myself to myself. / No beggar or convict will ever break into me; / neither will God.” (Profile Cyrenejczyka, part III: Szymon z Cyreny /Profiles of a Cyrenean. Simon of Cyrene/, p. 127). However thanks to the exchange of glances and compassion which was born in the heart of the passerby, he identified himself completely with Christ carrying the cross. Christ seen from the perspective of the carried cross, had changed the poet’s worldview completely and had made him perceive the “passing crowd made up of women, children and soldiers” in a totally different way. The Poet was now able to join his petty little world with the broad perspective of the “new world” seen from the Cross. He no longer rebelled, no longer looked for human justice, but boldly carried the cross.
The last verses sum up the whole drama of the modern man who is so very like the Cyrenean. This man often loses his way and does not know which way to go. Like in the case of all contemporary Simons of Cyrene, the encounter with Christ becomes for him a chance to change his life. The poem Profile Cyrenejczyka /Profiles of a Cyrenean/ is a parable on the situation of the contemporary man who carries the yoke of his plight against his will and gropes his way in the dark for God, while Christ who is carrying the cross is so near.

3. Maturing to Giving a Testimony – The Birth of Confessors

The poem Narodziny wyznawców /The Birth of Confessors/, devoted to the sacrament of confirmation, was written in the year 1961 under the influence of administering the sacrament of confirmation in a certain “mountain village” . Most probably the reference here is to the village of Witów, where as auxiliary bishop, Karol Wojtyla administered the sacrament of confirmation to the local youth on the 10th June 1961 . The poem consists of two parts which shed light on the sacrament of confirmation from the perspective of a bishop who administers it as well as from the perspective of a person receiving the sacrament: I. A Bishop’s Thoughts on Giving the Sacrament of Confirmation in a Mountain Village, II. Thoughts of a Man Receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation in a Mountain Village. The Poet embodies himself in these two characters so as to shed light on the mystery of the sacrament.
The Bishop’s perspective expresses the point of view and the opinion of the giver who is instrumental in conveying God’s mystery. He is aware that the power of the sacrament which he is administering, does not depend on him. In the world of nature, there are various types of energy, hidden in water, in a stone rolling down from the mountains, in the trees and insects. In the words of a Bbishop, there is a special power which expresses his thought and that of God who speaks and acts through man: ” I am a giver, I touch forces that expand the mind; / sometimes the memory of a starless night / is all that remains.” (Narodziny wyznawców, I. Mysli biskupa udzielającego sakramentu bierzmowania w pewnej podgórskiej wsi, 1 /The Birth of Confessors. A Bishop’s Thoughts on Giving the Sacrament of Confirmation in a Mountain Village/, p. 128). Remaining a mystery like a “starless night”, the grace of the sacrament of confirmation grows into one’s heart, like a “frail flower”.
A bishop touches the mystery of the sacrament in a two-fold way: from the point of view of God’s activity and that of the person receiving the sacrament. He observes the faces in which he is able to detect the feeling of trust. He touches people’s foreheads. He is aware that God’s mystery envelops man: “Shadow moves over their faces. / An electric field vibrates…” (Narodziny wyznawców I. Myśli biskupa udzielającego sakramentu bierzmowania w pewnej podgórskiej wsi, 3 /The Birth of Confessors. A Bishop’s Thoughts on Giving the Sacrament of Confirmation in a Mountain Village/, p. 129). Comparing the power of the Holy Spirit to “electricity” or an “electric field” is only a symbol which serves the Poet to express the mystery of God’s operation through giving signs. A sacrament itself remains the secret of the person who receives it. A bishop can only see the eyes “shining silently through the pupils”. He is certain that he will never “see the Spirit”, but it is enough for him to be able to see the shine of the eyes and sense the trust of the young people receiving the sacrament of confirmation.
The Holy Spirit which operates in the sacrament of confirmation is a great mystery, like the wind which sweeps through the grass or like the fruit which is formed in the flowers of an apple-tree: “Man meets Him who walks always ahead, / courage their meeting place, / each man a fortress.” (Narodziny wyznawców, I. Myśli biskupa udzielającego sakramentu bierzmowania w pewnej podgórskiej wsi, 8 /The Birth of Confessors. A Bishop’s Thoughts on Giving the Sacrament of Confirmation in a Mountain Village/, p. 130). What confirms the acceptance of the sacrament are the gifts of the Holy Spirit which will bear fruit in one’s mature life.
The sacrament of confirmation remains a mystery also to the person who receives it. In the second part of the poem, the Poet puts himself in the situation of the receiver of the sacrament. The poetic subject of the poem is now a young man who tries to comprehend the mystery which envelops him at the moment when the bishop anoints his forehead with the holy oil uttering the words: “Accept the sign of the Holy Spirit”. He asks how he is to be born again? What does the operation of Holy Spirit consist in?
For the Poet-Bishop, accepting the gift of the Holy Spirit is like following light which is similar to following the current of the river. On this road, there are various obstacles which have to be overcome, if one wants to reach the source: “Will I go with the light that flows / like a mountain stream, / saying: dry, dry, dry is the riverbed, / then, suddenly, stumble / like a child on a taut rope, / stumble over a thought, a threshold, / the water beating my heart and taking my peace away.” (Narodziny wyznawców, I. Myśli człowieka przyjmującego sakrament bierzmowania w pewnej podgórskiej wsi, 1. /The Birth of Confessors. Thoughts of a Man Receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation in a Mountain Village/, p. 130). The road to confirmation is best with hurdles and hardships as it is associated with going against the current and opposing certain commonly accepted opinions and convictions; nevertheless, it ultimately leads to the source from which there emanates a spiritual force.
Marching against the current is no easy task, but it gives one a unique chance to reach the source. The poet evokes the image of a mountain stream which one has to follow upwards in order to reach the source. The very hardship associated with the journey is a profession of faith in Christ: “Must I ask for a spring? Is it enough to walk / with the stream, never stop, never counter a wave – / And to counter – is it to confess? (Narodziny wyznawców, I. Myśli człowieka przyjmującego sakrament bierzmowania w pewnej podgórskiej wsi, 1 / The Birth of Confessors. Thoughts of a Man Receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation in a Mountain Village/, p. 130). Out of this hardship and meditation there originates the experience of the mystery of God’s presence through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Through his thoughts and feelings, man is able to touch his heart and in it discover God who acts as light and wisdom.
The thoughts and heart are a “footbridge” along which man walks towards the source. Both play an important role in experiencing God and His might through the gifts of the Holy Spirit: “I take my first steps on a footbridge. / My heart – is it a footbridge throbbing in each joist? / Is thought a footbridge? (My thoughts only trace what my heart is tracking. / Feelings, perceptions – but which fill me more?) (Narodziny wyznawców, I. Myśli człowieka przyjmującego sakrament bierzmowania w pewnej podgórskiej wsi, 4 /The Thoughts of Confessors. Thoughts of a Man Receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation in a Mountain Village [Thoughts About the Footbridge]), p. 131). Man experiences changeability within himself. He is like a footbridge which wobbles and sways in the wind. Yet, he exists thanks to the strength which he receives from God.
The young man who is about to receive the sacrament of confirmation is aware that he is only a traveler whose life flows like a current in a stream. He comes out of the source and returns to it. The image of the source and the stream which appears also in Promieniowanie ojcostwa /Emanation of Fatherhood/ and in Tryptyk rzymski /The Roman Triptych/ symbolizes the mystery of the image of God which is carried by every man inside his soul. In it one can find the whole truth about human life – and about man who was created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:27). The sacrament of confirmation offers one a chance to return to the original image which man discovers in his heart and mind.
Narodziny wyznawców /The Birth of Confessors/ is a poem that touches the mystery of the sacrament of confirmation which is the operation of God inside the soul through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It reveals this truth through the perspective of the giver and a young man who receives the sacrament. The Bishop-Poet focuses on the mystery of faith which pervades man becoming for him a source of strength and at the same time turns him into a footbridge or link that joins him to the reality of the changeable world and the mystery of the unchangeable God.

4. Participation in the Mystery of the Church – the Church. Shepherds and Sources

The poem Kościół. Pasterze i źródła /The Church. Shepherds and Sources/ with the subtitle Fragmenty /Fragments/ was created under the influence of the participation of bishop Karol Wojtyla, at that time a vicar capitular in the I session of the Second Vatican Council which was held from October 11 until December 8, 1962. The poem was published a year later in the Catholic monthly “Znak” (1963) under the literary pseudonym A.J. [Andrzej Jawień] . In the subtitle, the Author indicated where the poems were written: “The Basilica of St. Peter, autumn 1962: October 11 – December 8”. Bishop Karol Wojtyla took part in all (four) sessions of the Second Vatican Council. He shared his current impressions from the Council in his sermons, each time he returned from Rome .
The poem Kościół /The Church/ consists of nine shorter sections, each of which constitutes an independent whole . The central theme of the poem is the Church understood here as a building made of stone, as well as a community of the People of God within which a liturgy is taking place. The temple which the Author is referring to directly is the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome where the sessions of the Second Vatican Council were held. The historical building provides a good opportunity to reflect on the nature of the Church, understood as a community of people joined by faith in Jesus Christ as well as by the sacraments.
The starting point of the reflection is the experience of the sheer immensity of the Basilica of St. Peter. The Poet sees the huge pillars supporting the dome of the basilica where the artist had placed the figures of saints: “…I see flat pilasters on either side, / with figures of saints stopped as they glide, / and in a single movement show / some vast movement sweeping through us / from the open books. (Kościół. Pasterze i źródła. Ściana /The Church. Shepherds and Sources. The Wall/, p. 133). The author delights in the magnificent proportions, thanks to which one is not overwhelmed by the size of the building. From the reflection on the sheer size and beauty of the basilica, the poet passes to the questions concerning man’s plight, his place in the world as well as his relation towards God. He comes to the conclusion that there is some great abyss which separates the creation from its Creator.
The theme of the abyss returns in the subsequent fragment of the poem which is entitled “Abyss”. The abyss is the space which surrounds man in cosmos – God is the fathomless reality which envelops man. It also exists within man’s interior as this mysterious place where man encounters God: “Now observe the abyss that glitters / in the eye’s reflection. / We all bear it in us. / When men are gathered together / they shift the abyss like a boat / on their shoulders.” (Kościół. Pasterze i źródła. Przepaść /The Church. Shepherds and Sources. Abyss/, p. 133). The abyss is the reality of the Church borne on the shoulders of the bishops participating in the Council and realizing itself within each man who is the temple of God. The Poet looks around and sees a negro – a brother bishop who is also attending the Vatican Council session. In him he sees the immense African continent and the message of faith which unites all participants of the Council – “I feel your thoughts like mine” (Murzyn /The Negro/, p. 134).
Looking at the floor of the Basilica, the Poet reflects on the foundations where the earthly remains of St. Peter had been laid to rest. Thousands of people who wander thoughtlessly around this earth, pace up and down this floor. It is on Peter – the rock who was buried underneath the marble floor that the entire faith of Christ’s disciples rests: “Peter, you are the floor, that others / may walk over you (not knowing / where they go). You guide their steps” (Posadzka /Marble Floor/, p. 134). Peter is the “floor” – the rock on which the Church has been built on – a “gigantic temple”.
The poet invites us to go below the marble floor to find the grave of Peter – the man who passed because he was a witness of the “Man who will never pass” – of Christ. Today people from all over the world come to this rock, listening to its mystery. The Council takes place at this grave. The “elders” – the Council Fathers gather above this rock in the Basilica; despite their frailty, they take part in the Council sessions with great dedication, taking responsibility for the Church and for the world at large: “They all start up again and again: / no graveyard for tiredness, even the very old, / hardly able to move on their knees, are prepared for the/ stadium. / Eyes both fading and young see what is whole: / the world which must come” (Synodus, p. 135). From the heated discussions, there emerges a big concern for the good of the Church and a great involvement in the problems of the contemporary world.
The bishop who participated in the Council sessions – the author of the poem – is an evangelical realist. He is perfectly aware of the fact that the truth must be painful. Thanks to the Council, the truth of the Gospel is to be revealed to the contemporary man, so as to lift him up from his weakness. The Poet talks about the great dedication of all the Council Fathers and about their concern for the Gospel truth: “Structures contract in the brain: raised in man / a building leans; we want to straighten / not its pediment but the ground resisting far beneath / as waves resist boats/ Truth support man. When he can’t lift himself…” (Kościół. Ewangelia /The Church. Gospel/, p. 135). The Council provided a sense of a joint authority and the experience of truth in the unity of faith, thanks to which a Christian is able to sail safely across the unknown contemporary seas.
The Council also provided a conviction about the continuity of faith and the uninterrupted Christian tradition. Thanks to it, a Christian is able to rely on the “words spoken long ago” being convinced that they are the same words which had once been uttered by Christ. What complements this immersion in tradition is the experience of Christ’s closeness: “For there are invisible hands that hold us / so that it takes great effort to carry the boat, / whose story, despite the shallows, follows its course” (Kościół. Źródła i ręce. /The Church. Springs and Hands/, p. 136). The presence of Christ in the boat of the Church gives the Council Fathers a conviction that the Church is going in the right direction and that it carries out the necessary changes and adjustments.
Amid the everyday Council work, the Poet – Council Father remains constantly aware of the fact that he is taking part in the mysterious reality of the world experienced in his heart as well as in the reality of the supernatural world. These two realities – or two “cities”, as St. Augustine would put it – are mutually superimposed on each other, giving one a sense of partaking in the experience of the great Mystery of God. This mystery is being realized in the concrete reality of the “Third City” – Rome, in the dark of the evening (Kościół. Dwa miasta [Epilog] /The Church. Two Cities (Epilogue)/, p. 136).

5. Discovering the roots of faith – Journey to the Holy Places

An important place in the poetic imagination of Karol Wojtyla is taken up by the Holy Land understood here, above all as the land of the Savior, but also as the land of the patriarchs, the land of God’s promise given to man, the land of the flight of the Chosen Nation, and the Land which was trodden on by the Apostles. He traveled to this land as a pilgrim many times on the wings of his imagination, attempting to enter into a close relationship with Christ and with His Mother, as well as with the biblical characters.
The dream to visit Israel was realized for the first time in the life of bishop Karol Wojtyla after the completion of the second session of the Second Vatican Council. In the period between 5- 15 December 1963, Karol Wojtyla, accompanied by other foreign bishops went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. After his return to Poland, he shared his impressions from the journey in a letter addressed to the priests, entitled Dwa tygodnie w Ziemi Świętej /Two Weeks in the Holy Land/. He wrote that while working on the renewal of the Church during the Vatican Council II (aggiornamento), he wished together with the other bishops to touch the Savior himself and to see the places where He was born, where he taught, worked miracles, suffered and died on the cross and finally rose from the dead. He said he wanted to share his experiences with the priests and with the entire Cracow Archdiocese.
He described his experience of the encounter with the Holy Land in the collection of poems entitled Wędrówka do Miejsc Świętych /Journey to the Holy Places/ which appeared in the June issue of the “Znak” weekly in 1965, under the pseudonym A.J. In November 1964, Rev. archbishop Karol Wojtyla traveled to the Holy Land for the second time, hence one may assume that the second pilgrimage had also found its reflection in the above collection of poems. Wędrówka do Miejsc Świętych /Journey to the Holy Places/ is a typical form of poetry composed by Karol Wojtyla which gives way at a certain point to a philosophical-theological reflection characterized by strong literary accents.
The collection consists of five parts. The second part, entitled Pustynia Judzka /The Desert of Judea/ gives way to poetic prose and to the very end bears the character of a reflection describing the author’s personal experiences. One rarely comes across details describing the elements of landscape of the Holy Land, whereas on many occasions we witness the experience which arises in the poet’s heart and soul under the influence of the encounter with the places which were once visited by the Savior. The description of the sights serves as a starting point to a reflection on the issue of faith and one’s personal encounter with the Lord Jesus.
The collection opens with a poem entitled Oliveti /Mount of Olives/ in which the author describes his impressions from the visit to the Garden of Olives. The poet sees the garden through the trees and leaves, and at the same time, he looks at this place through “the thicket of time”, from the perspective of the many years which have passed since the times when the Lord Jesus had prayed there. He looks at the brook of Cedron from up above which looms to him as a “chalice” which was formed from a crack in the rocks. While looking at the ground and the dwarfed olive trees, he ponders the mystery of the encounter of his gaze with that of the Lord Jesus: “A fragment of earth seen still through You, / or is it through me?…/ Don’t be surprised. Here for one thousand nine hundred years each gaze passes / into that one gaze which never alters.” (Oliveti /Mount of Olives/, p. 137). A look at the Garden of Olives leads the author to a deeper reflection in which the figure of the Lord Jesus comes to life. The Poet comes to the garden for Him, so as to listen carefully to the words of His prayer to the Father.
In the second part, the Poet leads us to the Desert of Judea, from which people flee as there is no natural beauty in it, and one cannot live there. It is such a spot that the Savior chose as the place of His conversation with the Father, with the One “WHO IS”. Thanks to His presence, even the desert becomes beautiful, partaking in His existence. For it was in the desert that God, thanks to whom everything exists, revealed himself to the Patriarchs and to His Son, Jesus Christ. The desert became a special place where the encounter between man and God was effected: “Land of meeting, the one and only land, through which all / earth became this land, as everything became that which it is / through Him Who Is.” (Pustynia Judzka /The Desert of Judea/, p. 138). The poet wonders what is this earth which owes its very existence to God who always is.
The Holy Land participates in the mystery of the One who has no beginning or end. It is a witness of His birth and of this perspective of infinity which God-Man opened upon earth, thanks to His Incarnation: “Birth no longer knows the end; it knows of no parting” (Pustynia Judzka /The Desert of Judea/, p. 138). Thanks to the birth of the Savior, Palestine can participate in the mystery of “non-birth”, where “He Who Is became Father to us” (p.138). Despite the lapse of time and the destruction caused by the operation of the elements, this earth will forever remain a witness of the Mystery.
The Bishop-Pilgrim visits the places associated with the History of Salvation comparing what he knows from biblical accounts with reality. He is constantly aware of the passage of time and of its destructive force. He sees the drab everyday reality of Palestine: he sees the street vendors with the small “sacks of figs”, he sees the children running around and offering tourists photographs and stamps; he sees the shop assistants inviting customers to their shops. He finds places which are associated with the life of the Savior and of His Mother: “To these odd corners I find my way. A place, the place is important, the place is holy.” (Tożsamość /Identity/, p. 139). He touches things and objects and wishes to derive strength and inspiration from them. By treading on the stones which were at one time touched by the foot of His Mother in Nazareth, he wants to meet his Savior. He kneels on the ground with pious reverie confirming the mystery of faith. At the same time, he wishes to take this place with him, so as to become its witness. In this way, a geographical site becomes an inner space which he carried within himself: “Oh, corner of the earth, place in the holy land – what kind of place are you in me!” (Tożsamość /Identity/, p. 139). He hides this place in his heart and takes it away with him so as to show it to others. In this way, the Bishop-Pilgrim becomes a witness of identity, a link in the great chain of witnesses who confirm the Mystery of the Incarnation across the millennia.
The journey to the Holy Land constitutes for the Poet a way of searching for his own identity which he is able to discover in the identity of the stones, local roads and landscape. From elements of topography, he passes to his own interior, where he discovers the presence of the Savior: “I am on a pilgrimage to identity. Not on a pilgrimage to those stones embedded in the same corner of the house, the same pavement, the same hearth. This is the identity of finding one’s own self in landscape. Here I come on a pilgrimage. And this place is holy” (Tożsamość /Identity/, p. 139-140). The Bishop-Pilgrim climbs to Mount Tabor in Galilee, on the bank of Lake Genezareth and in spite of the passage of time, he is able to discover the identity of the place from which Christ once looked on. He picks up a small stone from the edge of a Galilee lake in Capernaum, or in Magdala, so as to present it to a “fisherman by the Noteć river” (in Western Poland). He is happy that he has been able to discover within himself the place where Jesus lives. He carried it within himself like an internal space which Jesus continually inhabits. The identity of a Christian is the identity of faith.
For the Bishop-Pilgrim, an example and model of a man of faith who discovers his identity is Abraham. He carried the inner space from Chaldean Ur to the Promised Land, which became a dwelling place for God. His journeyed across the desert of his own interior, in which he perceived a single tree. Through faith, Abraham perceived the tree of the cross, on which the Son of God died: ” Abraham was still looking for meadows; in the desert of his own self he saw only one Tree (tres vidit et unum adoravit) – he walked toward it.” (Jedno drzewo /One Tree/, p. 140). His road was the road across the desert. Every man who is looking for God passes through the road of faith.
Today – the Poet observes – the means of transport have changed. Man travels by airplane often covering great distances in a very short time. Yet he has to travel along the road of faith on his own. He has to climb Mount of Sinai so as to experience God there. At this point, the Pilgrim’s reflection gives way to a prayer asking God that every desert encountered during the journey of faith could become transformed into a blossoming garden where man could experience the presence of God: “Place of meeting, be a desert no more, become an oasis!” (Jedno drzewo One Tree/, p. 140). He asks God to allow man to blossom in the desert.
The place where man is able to fully realize his humanity is the cross: “Above all places of meeting this is the last and the first. Earth never parts from it” (Jedno drzewo /One Tree/, p. 140). The cross is the place where man is able to discover himself anew. In this place, man in Christ – the “new Adam” discovers the sense of his life: he attains the end and at the same time, he experiences the beginning. The cross is both a symbol of death – of the old man, and a place of birth of the new man, who is able to transcend his finiteness in the death of Christ.
The Pilgrim pauses in a place where the cross has been erected and concludes that one cannot even see the rock on which it stood. The buildings which were erected in and around the place of the crucifixion seem to be accidental. Yet it is precisely here that everything begins to make sense: “Architecture here is accidental and yet so full of sense. Everything that is a part or an aspect is explicable through the whole” (Jedno drzewo /One Tree/, p.141). The cross introduces order into everything that man builds. It becomes a new spring like Jacob’s well in the desert.
The Bishop-Pilgrim discovers an inner space within his heart which is the same as the mystery of the cross. In this reality, he finds himself face to face with Christ who died on the cross: ” My place is in You, your place is in me. Yet it is the place of all men” (Miejsce wewnętrzne /The Place Within/, p. 141). Every man can find himself in the cross, regardless of the passage of time. In it there is room for everyone.
The Poet goes down to the crypt to touch the slab on which there once rested the body of the Savior. This concrete place is identical to the human heart in which Christ rests in the Eucharist: “You chose this place centuries ago – the place in which You give yourself and accept me” (Miejsce wewnętrzne /The Place Within/, p. 142/. The places in the Holy Land which are visited by the Bishop-Pilgrim allow one to touch the mystery of the inner place, in which Christ reveals Himself, where He fills man and gives sense to his entire life.
The pilgrimage to the Holy Land allowed bishop Karol Wojtyla to get to know the inner space of faith, in which he was able to discover the presence of God. Coming into contact with the reality of the place allowed him to discover within his heart the inner space of the encounter which God had selected even before his birth.

The mature poetry of bishop Karol Wojtyla, which was written in the 50’s and 60’s of the 20th century, reveals a complex interior of the Bishop-Poet. The memories of personal encounters dating back to the war years, the experiences associated with the pastoral work of the young bishop in the Cracow diocese, recollections of his participation in the Second Vatican Council and the journey to the Holy Land, provide the background for expressing his own personal experience of faith. Amid the landscape of the quarry, there emerges human labor which shapes his interior, becomes a plane of friendship and a way of expressing himself. Work offers a plane for developing one’s personal relations with God, where man is able to discover God’s plan and shape the surrounding reality in accordance with it. It becomes a form of love of one’s neighbor, of participation in the plight of another man and of expressing solidarity among people.
In his poetry, bishop Wojtyla reminded people that man discovers the truth about himself through work and through accepting his own plight, like Simon of Cyrene who was forced to carry Christ’s cross. The cross offers one a chance of becoming united with Christ and through the union with Him, of discovering new possibilities which are concealed in the human heart. The mystery of the union with God was revealed by Wojtyla through the perspective of the sacrament of confirmation; Wojtyla emphasized that it is the experience of the closeness of God that constitutes the source of strength and determination in the process of testifying about Jesus.
The poet participates in the life of the Church, becoming immersed in its mystery, so as to discover in it the presence of Christ. The experience of the Council gives him a sense of being rooted in faith. This experience of faith is further confirmed by the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The encounter with the places associated with the life of Christ provide the Poet with an opportunity to inquire about one’s own personal relation with the Master and of discovering His presence within one’s heart.

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