Imię wielkości: Wiersze o Józefie Pilsudskim (Name of Greatness: Poems about Józef Piłsudski), by Jan Brzechwa (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo J. Mortkowicza, 1938). (Jozef Pilsudski Institute of America. All rights reserved.)

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Brzechwa, Jan

(1898–1966), poet, satirist, and children’s book author. Jan Brzechwa (Jan Wiktor Lesman), a cousin of the poet Bolesław Leśmian, was born into a family of assimilated Jews; his father converted to Protestantism. Brzechwa fought on the Polish side in the Polish–Soviet War of 1920. After studying law in Warsaw from 1920 to 1924, Brzechwa worked as a lawyer, copyright expert, and legal author. He was a member of the literary circle around the poetry group Skamander and the journal Wiadomości Literackie, and also wrote for cabarets and composed song lyrics. Brzechwa cofounded the Union of Stage Artists and Composers. After World War II, he worked for UNESCO.

Brzechwa published several volumes of poetry, including Oblicza zmyślone (Invented Faces; 1926), Talizmany (Talismans; 1929), Piołun i obłok (Absinthe and a Cloud; 1935), as well as a novel and a collection of stories. His main genre was poems and stories for children, including Tańcowała igła z nitką (The Needle Danced with the Thread; 1938), Kaczka dziwaczka (The Eccentric Duck; 1939), Bajki i baśnie (Fairy Tales and Fables; 1954), and the trilogy Akademia Pana Kleksa (Mr. Blot’s Academy; 1946), Podróże Pana Kleksa (Mr. Blot’s Travels; 1961), and Triumf Pana Kleksa (Mr. Blot’s Triumph; 1965).

Brzechwa’s lyric poetry was mostly reflective and erotic, influenced by Skamander, symbolists, and futurists. He wrote also for cabaret and incorporated Jewish jokes and monologues (szmonces) in his cabaret pieces (e.g., Moryc; 1927). His chief artistic accomplishments, however, were his works for children. Brzechwa’s books gained enormous popularity and for decades remained part of the canon of children’s literature in Poland. In them, Brzechwa combined elements of grotesque, fairy-tale fantasy, absurd humor, and plays on words rooted in linguistic humor and the multiplicity of meanings found in colloquial speech. His works represent the linguistic trend in Polish children’s literature that relied on puns and quips, paradox, and desemantization and delexicalization of idioms and colloquial expressions. Along with Julian Tuwim, Brzechwa invented a modern style in children’s literature that, free of didacticism, appealed to children’s imagination, their worldview, and their propensity for playing with language.

Suggested Reading

Antoni Marianowicz, ed., Akademia pana Brzechwy: Wspomnienia o Janie Brzechwie (Warsaw, 1984); Anna Szóstak, Od modernizmu do lingwizmu: O przemianach w twórczości Jana Brzechwy (Kraków, 2003).



Translated from Polish by Christina Manetti; revised by Magda Opalski