Czeslaw Niemen: Jednego Serca (Muza, 1970)

26 Aug

Czeslaw Niemen’s 1970 album Enigmatic is a fascinating recording on many levels, not least for its inclusion of an extraordinary sixteen minute setting of the Polish poet Cyprian Norwid‘s 1851 funeral rhapsody Bema Pamięci Rapsod Załobny, a version of which I hope to add here at some future date. For today, though, it’s another song from Enigmatic that finds its way into the spotlight, Jednego Serca (One Heart). This song is particularly intriguing for its prefiguration of much that would later be considered as the signature sound of Pink Floyd on their mega-selling concept LP Dark Side of the Moon in 1973. The resemblance is so strong, and Niemen’s song appeared so far in advance of its Western reflection, that it seems highly unlikely that Jednego Serca was anything other than a primary but unacknowledged influence. Niemen’s music had already found some support in international markets by this stage and Pink Floyd’s members had sufficiently eclectic tastes (it appears to be fairly well known that their early signature freak-out Interstellar Overdrive borrowed its basic chords from Ron Grainer’s Old Ned, better known as the theme to 1960s sitcom Steptoe and Son) that it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that Niemen’s composition played a role in redirecting their sound a few years after Enigmatic appeared. Whatever the truth of that chain of influence, though, this is a powerful piece of work in its own right, its simple lyric by Adam Asnyk performed by Niemen with his signature soulful delivery, accompanied by Alibabki and some of Poland’s finest jazz musicians: Zbigniew Namysłowski, Czesław Bartkowski and Michał Urbaniak are all in the Enigmatic line-up. Jednego Serca itself can be heard here, accompanied by footage from a Polish TV performance, and a version of the original lyric can be read here.

Jednego Serca (One Heart)

(after Adam Asnyk/Czeslaw Niemen, 1970)

One heart is so small, almost too small to find on earth.
I need a heart that would tremble knowing the love I’d give.

I will not speak among the silent, but stay calm,
learn the handwritten paragraphs that mark out our time.

I need lips, to drain this potion of all its powers,
eyes that would see myself glimpsed as a saint among stars.

These are mine: one red heart and two small white hands.
Might another’s arms wrap me when I fall asleep?

I’ll dream of an angel who can lift me in his arms to the sky.
The heart I need is small, but still too much to ask.

7 Responses to “Czeslaw Niemen: Jednego Serca (Muza, 1970)”

  1. Blueshedthinking August 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Bloodlettingly intense.

  2. Ania Ostrowska August 26, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

    Thanks for that, very enlightening comparison! I’ve been indoctrinated by my dad with both Enigmatic and Dark Side of the Moon but Niemen for me was so quintessentially Polish (all the Big Poets he’s singing…) and ‘dramatic’ that I would never make this connection myself (as we say in Polish, it’s darkest under the streetlight).
    The first two verses though mean more:

    “(Just) one heart! So little! So little,

    One heart I need on this earth!” (as is translated under YouTube video)

    “Jednego serca” is Genitiv following “trzeba mi” (= is needed for me).

    • wayneburrows August 26, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

      I did consciously key down the rhetoric in the lines, especially at the opening, partly because it seemed to work better in writing, as opposed to heard sung, and partly because the other version sort of emerges at the end: but you’re right that it does misrepresent the words as they’re sung. Will have another look at how to do it… Sometimes, translating between song and written text seems every bit as challenging as moving things from one language to another!

      • Ania Ostrowska August 26, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

        Of course, and as I mentioned before the idea of posting here ‘variations’ on the lyrics as opposed to ‘translations’ is very original and works well.
        However, he’s singing the sonnet by Asnyk so the original was in writing (unless we assume that poetry is always written to be heard, read or sung, that is…)

  3. wayneburrows August 27, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    True, clumsily phrased, but meant that much in the original sonnet seemed slightly generic in English when transcribed more straightforwardly and written down without Niemen’s delivery – Asnyk’s poem seems a case where the words as written lack much of the intensity of the words as sung (perhaps revealing its c.19th origins and conventions more than Norwid’s poems do in the c.21st ear, at least when the images and allusions are moved into English?). Would you say this particular piece might need to be heard/sung to be properly affecting, or does it have other dimensions in Polish on the page? … But all that’s to say you’re absolutely right, and I’m wondering if it should read as something closer to the original line, eg: “One heart is so small, almost too small to find on earth./I need a heart that would tremble knowing the love I’d give…” instead of what was there. Still keyed down a few notches, rhetorically, but a bit closer.

    Incidentally, the text I started from (and worked on in the usual slightly roundabout range of ways) went like this:

    Jednego serca tak mało, tak mało.
    Jednego serca trzeba mi na ziemi
    co by przy moim miłością zadrżało
    a byłbym cichym pomiędzy cichymi
    i jednych ust trzeba skąd bym wieczność
    całą pił napój szczęścia ustami mojemi
    i oczu twoje skąd bym patrzał śmiało
    widząc się świętym pomiędzy świętymi

    Jednego serca i rąk białych dwoje
    co by mi oczy zasłoniły moje
    bym zasnął słodko marząc o aniele
    który mnie niesie w objęciach do nieba
    jednego serca tak mało mi trzeba
    jednak widzę, że żądam za wiele….

  4. Darek Dudziński/Przyzwoitość September 1, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    don’t want to be rude, but I guess Asnyk’s poetry doesn’t deserve so much debate from such fine individuals…contrary to Norwid though. Funny (I mean, not funny ha-ha) that you mention Niemen’s proto-prog leanings, as he always said that his major influences/heroes were Otis Redding and JamesBrown. And if I may add, Niemen himself thought Jednego Serca his best work ever, with BemaPamieci etc as No 2.

    • wayneburrows September 2, 2012 at 12:30 am #

      I don’t know much about Asnyk’s poetry beyond the one sonnet Niemen uses, but that certainly sounds better as it’s sung & arranged than it seems on the page – I wondered if I was missing something important that comes through in Polish but couldn’t see what it might be. You definitely hear the Redding/Brown influences in these tracks, too, but I guess at the time Niemen made Enigmatic those guys were often moving in this general direction too…Brown towards side long cuts and double LPs, people like Gaye doing ‘What’s Going On’, the emergence of Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield. I guess it was only because Redding died early we didn’t hear similar things going on with his work. But then Prog (especially before the mid-70s) was pretty eclectic in its influences, and I really hear the echoes of Niemen in DSOTM. I think the British band were almost certainly influenced by him (and Jednego Serca in particular) on the evidence of listening…

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