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Abstract

Without question Tadeusz Nowak reached the height of his poetic powers in a series of poems he called psalms (Psalms for Home Use, 1959; Psalms, 1971; and New Psalms, 1978). Although they form a distinctive group with common characteristics, it is hard to see what could possibly connect them with the lofty verses of the Book of Psalms. Having said that it can be argued that they belong to a Polish tradition of psalms developed by Kochanowski, Kochowski and Krasiński. The Polish psalms come in two varieties, those with sweeping visions of national history and identity, and the homely, or more personal, in focus and tone. Nowak rarely mentions the grand themes, yet when he does so his utterances are pregnant with meaning (though with no touch of the messianic fervour typical of the Polish psalms). His Psalms for Home Use are decidedly ‘homely’ in the sense of being personal and private (even autobiographical), and because they exhibit a mind of the common people from the country. If there is any connection between Nowak’s Psalms and their Biblical prototype it is maintained not so much by the occasional literary allusion as by the casting of the characters in the poems in the role of modern psalmists. Like King David, they know they are sinners, and that knowledge imparts to their ‘psalms’ the candidness of a cry from the depth.
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