Poet Julian Tuwim was born into a middle class Jewish family in Lodz, Poland, in 1894 and went on to become one of the major figures in Polish poetry, helping to found the experimental Skamander group in 1918. As a young man he wasn’t considered to be committed to his studies and even had to re-sit his sixth grade at school.
Living in an area of the Russian Partition, when the revolution started in 1905 the family were forced to move to Breslau because of his father’s political involvements with the government at the time. Tuwim settled more into his academic pursuits and went to Warsaw to study Law between 1916 and 1918.
By this time he had already worked on various translations of poetry from Russian and Esperanto and became involved in a number literary and artistic groups whilst studying in the city. His first poem was published in the Warsaw Courier in 1913 when he was just 19.
Tuwim’s poetry collection, In Lurking for God, was published in 1918 and Dancing Socrates came out a couple of years later. For a large part of his life he suffered from bouts of serious depression and his work reflects his satirical and often vehement approach to describing the world around him. Whilst his early work is full of optimism, later collections begin to show a greater despair about nationalism and politics in the first half of the 20th Century, particularly with the rise of Nazism and the Stalinist revolution.
In 1919, Tuwim married Stefania Marchew and they adopted a young girl but did not have any children of their own. Tuwim helped to found the cabaret Picador and wrote a number of sketches for it whilst also working for a range of weekly magazines including the satirical rag Pins. He also helped form the Skamander group with fellow young poets including Antoni Słonimski.
Throughout his career he had to contend with the possibility of being censored by the government of the time and anti-Semitics who often made personal attacks on him. One such case was when he published the poem To the Common Man in 1929 which caused right wing objections to his pacifism.
When World War II broke out, Tuwim moved to Paris after the German occupation of Poland, then headed to South America and finally the United States. It was while he was in America that he wrote his poem Polish Flowers that harked back to his childhood days in Lodz and his more political work We, Polish Jews.
At the end of the war, Tuwim moved back to Poland and became the artistic director at the Nowy Theatre in Warsaw. Despite winning the Lodz Literary Prize in 1948, he returned to a different world, under the control of Stalin’s reign as Soviet leader, and he did not write much during the remaining years of his life. His last poem Piórem i piórkiem was published in 1951.
Tuwim died of a heart attack in 1953 at the age of 59. He was buried in Warsaw at the Powązki Cemetery.