Brzechwa, Jan

‘Pali Sie!’ (Fire!) is a very popular poem in Poland. It was written by Jan Brzechwa (pronounced ‘bshegfa’), author of a great number of children’s books that have been enjoyed, and still are, by several generations of readers. Brzechwa’s real name was Jan Wiktor Lesman; he was born in 1898 in Zmerynka, in the Podolia region, and died in Warsaw in 1966. He studied Law and specialised in intellectual property. For many years he worked in the Polish Society of Authors and Composers, of which he became the director. Under his real name he published books on law and used his pen name Brzechwa for his literary creations. Apart from his poems and short stories aimed at young readers, he also wrote satirical poetry and translated various works by Russian authors. The poem ‘Pali Sie!’ was first published as an independent work in 1946, with illustrations by his friend Jan Marcin Szancer; later, it was compiled in a book titled Brzechwa dzieciom (Brzechwa for Children), which, although it appeared in 1956, is still being reprinted today. Among Brzechwa’s works for children, at least two were illustrated by Franciszka Themerson (1907-1988), author of the illustrations in the book Through The Looking-Glass, recently published by our publishing house. Those two books, Tancowala igla z nitka (The Needle Danced with the Thread) and Kaczka dziwaczka (The Eccentric Duck), are dated in 1938 and 1939, respectively, which suggests that perhaps if World War II had not happened, both authors would have made other books together. In a Warsaw razed by bombs, Brzechwa must have witnessed many devastating fires; and in Paris, where she was living since 1937, Franciszka was forced to interrupt her work as an artist to serve the Polish Cartography Unit. In 1940, when France was invaded by the Nazis, she managed to flee to London, where she finally settled. But that is another story.

Vicente Ferrer