Leopold Staff (1878-1957)

Looking over some of my quaint and curious attempts at translation, I found a version of a nostalgic sonnet by the Polish poet Leopold Staff (1878-1957). It seems to have been inspired by Baudelaire’s “Le Voyage,” with that beautiful opening stanza:

Pour l’enfant, amoureux de cartes et d’estampes,
L’univers est égal à son vaste appétit.
Ah! que le monde est grand à la clarté des lampes!
Aux yeux du souvenir que le monde est petit!

Staff’s poem is called “Childhood” (“Dzieciństwo”):

The poetry of ancient wells, of broken clocks;
the attic; cracked, mute violins without a fiddler;
a yellow book, where dried foget-me-nots
still sleep – were to my childhood an enchanted woodland…

First I collected rusty keys… A tale
whispered that one key was a wondrous gift of gifts,
which opened castles hidden in a mist
where I would go – pale prince out of a Van Dyck oil.

Then I collected butterflies, a magic lamp’s
charmed marvels that appeared upon a papered wall,
and also, for a long time, postage stamps…

For they were like a crazy journey through the world,
full of departures to the earth’s four corners…
Sweet dream, ridiculous, like happiness… like happiness…



3 thoughts on “Leopold Staff (1878-1957)

  1. A wonderful translation! I don’t really know Polish, but your English version reads beautifully. Looking at the Polish, I understand why you didn’t try to make the final couplet rhyme. Although there are other words (e.g. contentment) that might present themselves as a better fit for the prosody, “happiness” seems irreplaceable here. It’s one of English’s “core words”, like “love”, “life”, “hope”, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much indeed, Rawley (if I may)! I’ve long admired your translations of Baratynsky’s elegiac verse, so your approval of this wistful sonnet means all the more to me. And you’re absolutely right about “happiness,” of course. The more I translate, the clearer the value of those “core words” becomes.


      1. Thank you, Boris! Your praise means a lot to me. I’m a big fan of your work.


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