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Tadeusz Róewicz obituary

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Poet and dramatist haunted by the second world war and the suffering of Poland

The terrible experiences of his native Poland and of his generation were vividly expressed in the poetry and plays of Tadeusz Róewicz, who has died aged 93. The second world war haunted Róewicz until his death, but so did the moral obligation to write about it because, as he wrote in I Did Espy a Marvellous Monster: "At home a job / awaited me: / To create poetry after Auschwitz." His first two volumes of poetry, Anxiety (1947) and The Red Glove (1948), were revolutionary in creating a new idiom to express the horrors he had witnessed. What he wrote was so different from prewar Polish poetry that he was credited with creating a new prosodic system in Polish verse affecting not only the poets who came after him but established poets too. The writer Seamus Heaney called him one of the great European poets of the 20th century.

Róewicz's poems were ascetic, without metre, rhyme or metaphors, stripped bare of any rhetorical posturing and ornamentation or anything that could be considered aesthetically pleasing, to reflect the loss of absolute moral and cultural norms after the war. They attempted to answer the essential question of how to live in a post-Holocaust world. In what is probably his best-known poem, The Survivor, Róewicz wrote: "Virtue and crime weigh the same I've seen it: in a man who was both criminal and virtuous."

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