Transnationalism and the Poetry of Bronisława Wajs

Gypsy Song Taken From Papusza’s Head/ Gili romani Papuszakre szerestyr utchody

In the forest I grew like a shrub of gold,

born in a Gypsy tent,

akin to a boletus.

I love fire like my own heart.

The winds lesser and greater

cradled the little Gypsy

and blew her far away into the world…

The rains washed away my tears,

The sun my golden, Gypsy father,

kept me warm

and beautifully tanned my heart.

From a blue stream I didn’t take strength

only washed my eyes…

The bear wanders the forests

like a silver moon,

the wolf fears the fire,

he won’t bite a Gypsy.

Oh, how beautifully by the tent,

sings the girl,

the fire burns!

Oh, how beautifully, people, from afar

to hear the Easter songs of birds,

the whimpers of children, and the song, and the dance

of boys and girls.

Oh, how beautifully the forest rustles for us-

sings me songs.

How beautifully the rivers flow,

they fill my heart with joy.

How delightful to behold the water deep

and to tell her everything.

Because no one can understand me,

only the forests and streams.

What I’m telling here it has all long passed

and took everything, everything with it-

and my younger years.’

This is a poem titled “Gili romani Papuszakre szerestyr utchody”, which translates as “Gypsy Song Taken From Papusza’s Head”. It was written by the Romani poet Bronisława Wajs, who was also known as Papusza, meaning “doll”. This post will examine how the interaction between transnationalism and Roma culture is explored in this poem.

In some ways, Romani people can be seen as part of a transnational community; many of them live a nomadic lifestyle and regularly cross national borders. While this is partially a cultural choice, in more recent times decisions to move have been heavily influenced by economics. Many Romani people have to migrate to find work. This is an example of the interaction between Appadurai’s concepts of the financescape and the ethnoscape; economic circumstances influence where Romani people move, and they in turn influence of economies and diversity of the areas that they move to.

This poem appears to be about an individual who lived a nomadic lifestyle, which is suggested by the references to tents, and the wind blowing the speaker “far away into the world”. However, this poem also suggests that this time “has long past”, and seems to be infused with a sense of nostalgia. This nostalgia can be seen in the romanticised setting; the speaker describes the “silver moon” and the “golden” sun. It is perhaps relevant that in the period after World War II, many governments, including in Poland where Wajs lived, made a conscious effort to force previously nomadic Roma communities to settle. If this is to influence the interpretation of the poem, then it is possible that the speaker is saddened to have lost their traditional, nomadic, transnational lifestyle to government intervention.

The speaker also feels isolated; they state that “no one can understand me”. This could speak to a sense of alienation, perhaps stemming from being part of a community that often suffers discrimination. Alternatively, it might be due to the speaker not feeling accepted by their own community. While the speaker should not be conflated with the author, Wajs felt distanced from her community because she rejected traditional gender roles and was infertile. In her later years, Wajs was excluded from the Roma community, as it was believed that she had told secrets about their language, customs and moral code. Therefore, it is possible that just like The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, this poem evokes the struggle of an individual who does not conform to the ideals of their community, and so does not entirely belong there.  This reading is supported by the lines that state that only the forest and streams that understand the speaker.

Furthermore, the poem suggests that the speaker has a powerful connection to the natural world. They mention “how beautifully the forest rustles for us-/sings me songs”, and that the winds “cradled” them. The idea that nature is serving the needs of the speaker and their community suggests that there is a unique bond between them. Perhaps the speaker is attempting to link themselves and their community with nature. Nature in this poem is described in very vague terms that are not particularly geographically specific. Arguably, this vagueness positions nature a transnational force, as it in not contained within one nation. Therefore, it could be suggested that there is a connection between the transnational force of nature and the speaker and their community.

In conclusion, this poem presents some interesting ideas about transnationalism and belonging from the viewpoint of a member of a transnational community.

Note: “Gypsy” is generally regarded as an offensive term. Unfortunately, this was the only translation that I could find.


– Tanya Sheehan


One thought on “Transnationalism and the Poetry of Bronisława Wajs”

  1. Just wanted to leave a quick note about this post. I think I had a few issues with wordpress. Firstly, I posted it late on Friday, but it seems to think that I posted it on Saturday. Secondly, I can’t seem to format it to show the stanza breaks in the poem. They are after “far away into the world”, “beautifully tanned my heart”, “he won’t bite a”, and “of boys and girls”



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