"After the Storm"

The internet rarely tosses us a poem, so sometimes I will.

The internet rarely tosses us a poem, so from time to time I will translate one that I don’t think you would otherwise see. 

This one, translated from Polish, is in a style that might seem archaic, but perhaps brings a fresh thought. It is about trauma, so I thought it might be fitting for 31 May, which in the United States is Memorial Day. It is called “After the Storm,” by Maria Konopnicka, from 1902.

The titular storm is never actually described. It is between the stanzas, in the past.

Oh lord, who grants to his world the rainbow

Who lifts to bent flowers a cup from below

Who unfolds the wings of the chick in the nest

Who purples the clouds that escape to the west

By morning the village is free from all care

Here an apple tree's tended, a roof repaired there

And ere the young dawn can cast its first light

The good country folk have forgotten their fright

Oh lord, who every last trace of discord

Erases from earth by a merciful word

And stills forest's fierce cry and ocean's low moan

In the all-quiet heavens where you have your throne

Yet to the wrecked human heart, shattered by storm

Instead of the peace of the spectrum's calm glow

You give endless thunder without sound or form

Echoes of storms past, memory's woe.

Konopnicka is out of fashion now, even in Poland.  The painting by Józef Chełmoński, of the same era (1896), reminds us of the sensibility. 

Yet there is something sharp here: the confession in the last stanza. Her brave point is that a conceit of art, that nature expresses the soul, that outer appearances reveal inner experiences, is false.  A storm means one thing in nature, and another inside a person.

So this is a poem about trauma that acknowledges God, but as something other than consolation.  God and nature are on one side, and the person is on the other. The poem is not hopeless, though: by placing her predicament beyond God and nature, Konopnicka is taking responsibility for defining it herself.  She does so, I think, rather beautifully.