Anna Świrszczyńska’s “Building the Barricade” (excerpt)

Anna Świrszczyńska was born in 1909 in Warsaw, Poland, and spent part of her adulthood in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. During the Warsaw Uprising, Świrszczyńska served as a military nurse, witnessing some of the worst nightmares of the second World War. Her war poetry is brutal, lucid, full of simple descriptions of the events that occurred during the complete leveling of Warsaw in 1944.

…Though no one forced us,
we did build the barricade…

Świrszczyńska’s “Building the Barricade,” her chronicle of the Warsaw Uprising, is made up of many small poems that create a larger picture of the events of that atrocity in acute glimpses and snapshots. The “barricade” itself refers to the literal wall that Warsaw residents erected to stop the oncoming tanks and Nazi forces that were invading the city with flame throwers and machine guns. Like other poets who have witnessed war, Świrszczyńska’s poems allow the events to speak for themselves. Her poetic voice, however, is both spare and unsparing, “a naked style clinging to reality” as she put it, and is one of the most terrifying voices of the twentieth century.

Building the Barricade

We were afraid as we built the barricade
under fire.

The tavern-keeper, the jeweler’s mistress, the barber
all of us cowards.
The servant-girl fell to the ground
as she lugged a paving stone, we were terribly afraid
all of us cowards —
the janitor, the market-woman, the pensioner.

The pharmacist fell to the ground
as he dragged the door of a toilet,
we were even more afraid, the smuggler-woman,
the dressmaker, the streetcar driver,
all of us cowards.

A kid from reform school fell
as he dragged a sandbag,
you see we were really

Though no one forced us,
we did build the barricade
under fire.

3 Replies to “Anna Świrszczyńska’s “Building the Barricade” (excerpt)”

  1. This poem is trying to build a barricade under fire, and even though they were getting beat up they kept trying and also they weren’t forced to do it they kept trying till they made it. 🔥👏👌

    -This is a good war poem 🙊👌

  2. This poem is protesting about war about people dying and a barricade trying to save people but it’s not working because people are falling to the ground. 😥

    I thought this was a very well done protest poem. 😎

  3. (Maritsa Ibarra, per.5)
    It truly does captivate the horror these people went through. It’s a strong poem full of screaming voices.

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