Stanisław Jerzy Lec  

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"Last night I dreamed about Freud. What does that mean?" --Stanisław Jerzy Lec

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Stanisław Jerzy Lec (6 March 1909 – 7 May 1966) (born Baron Stanisław Jerzy de Tusch-Letz) was a poet and aphorist of Polish and Jewish noble origin. Often mentioned among the greatest writers of post-WW2 Poland, he was one of the most influential aphorists on the 20th century, known for lyrical poetry and sceptical philosophical-moral aphorisms, often with a political subtext.



He was born on 6 March 1909 in Lviv (then Lemberg, Austro-Hungarian Empire), the son of the Baron Benon de Tusch-Letz and Adela Safrin; both were Jewish eccentrics who converted to Protestantism. The family moved to Vienna at the onset of First World War, and Lec received his early education there. After the war the family returned to Lviv-Lemberg to continue his schooling at the Lemberg Evangelical School. In 1927 he matriculated at Lviv's Jan Kazimir University in jurisprudence and Polish.

As a result of his political activities – writing articles for socialist revolutionary periodicals, making speeches in the Technological Institute’s Yellow Hall – Lec had to leave his hometown Lviv for Warsaw. There his works quickly became popular, but the "literary cabaret" he founded in collaboration with Leon Pasternak (cousin to Boris Pasternak) was closed by the authorities after eight performances. Nor did his law-abiding image improve after he took part in a congress of cultural workers initiated by the Antifascist Popular Front.

Lec was in the Army at the onset of World War War Two and was imprisoned in a German concentration camp. He received a death sentence for his second attempt to escape, but managed to escape again after killing his guard with a shovel when taken to dig his own grave. This became the subject of his most famous poem.

According to Clifton Fadiman's introduction to Lec's book Unkempt Thoughts (Myśli nieuczesane):

Lec has led the strange (to us), hunted, haunted life of thousands of Central European intellectuals, their experience inexorably shaped by war and revolution. At the outbreak of the war he was imprisoned in a German concentration camp. There he stayed until July 1943 when the camp was liquidated by mass executions. Escaping in a German uniform, he succeeded in reaching Warsaw where he joined the underground fighters. After the war he continued his writing, varying his career by brief service as cultural attache of the Polish Embassy in Vienna. He has also spent two years in Israel.

The Embassy was Communist during the period of Stalinism in Poland, when the diplomats were carefully selected and controlled. Lec was a press attaché in Vienna. After disagreeing with the Communist government he defected to Israel with his wife, son and daughter, but returned to Poland after two years in Israel. The Polish authorities punished him by taking away any rights to write or publish. He was, however, allowed to publish again in the late 1950s. He gained a massive popularity and despite his anti-Communist and anti-totalitarian aphorisms he was given an official state funeral in Warsaw when he died in 1966.


Lec's early works were primarily lyrical poetry. In his later years, he became known for aphorisms and epigrams. He was influenced by religious (Jewish and Christian) as well as European cultural traditions. In his works he often modernized ancient messages, while preserving their universality. His notable poems such as Notatnik polowy (Field Notebook; 1946), Rękopis Jerozolimski (The Jerusalem Manuscript; 1950–1952, reedited in 1956 and 1957), and Do Kaina i Abla (To Cain and Abel; 1961) had a theme of exploring the world through irony, melancholy, and nostalgia. His later works, usually very short (aphorisms), through techniques such as wordplay, paradox, nonsense, abstract humor, and didacticism convey philosophical thoughts through single phrases and sentences. Collections of Lec’s aphorisms and epigrams include Z tysiąca jednej fraszki (From a Thousand and One Trifles; 1959), Fraszkobranie (Gathering Trifles; 1967); and Myśli nieuczesane (Unkempt Thoughts; 1957, followed by sequels in 1964 and 1966).

His work has been translated into a number of languages, including English, German, Slovak, Dutch, Italian, Serbian, Croatian, Swedish, Czech, Finnish, Bulgarian, Russian and Spanish.

Lec's aphorisms

  • Beyond each corner new directions lie in wait.
  • The exit is usually where the entrance was.
  • He who limps is still walking.
  • In a war of ideas it is people who get killed.
  • The mob shouts with one big mouth and eats with a thousand little ones.
  • Even a glass eye can see its blindness.
  • To whom should we marry Freedom, to make it multiply?
  • I am against using death as a punishment. I am also against using it as a reward.
  • You can close your eyes to reality but not to memories.
  • Optimists and pessimists differ only on the date of the end of the world.
  • Is it a progress if a cannibal is using knife and fork?
  • If a man who cannot count finds a four-leaf clover, is he lucky?
  • No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.
  • All is in the hands of man. Therefore wash them often.
  • Do not ask God the way to heaven; he will show you the hardest one.
  • If you are not a psychiatrist, stay away from idiots. They are too stupid to pay a layman for his company.
  • Thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man, but they don't bite everybody.
  • The first condition of immortality is death.
  • Suppose you succeed in breaking the wall with your head. And what, then, will you do in the next cell?

Main works

  • Barwy, poems (1933)
  • Spacer cynika, satire and epigrams (1946)
  • Notatnik polowy, poems (1946)
  • Życie jest fraszką, satire and epigrams (1948)
  • Nowe wiersze (1950)
  • Rękopis jerozolimski (1956)
  • Unkempt Thoughts (Myśli nieuczesane) (1957)
  • Z tysiąca i jednej fraszki (1959)
  • Kpię i pytam o drogę (1959)
  • Do Abla i Kaina (1961)
  • List gonczy (1963)
  • More Unkempt Thoughts (Myśli nieuczesane nowe) (1964)
  • Poema gotowe do skoku (1964)
  • Fraszkobranie (1966)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Stanisław Jerzy Lec" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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