Bruno Schulz

Polish novelist and painter (1892-1942)

Bruno Schulz (July 12, 1892November 19, 1942) was a Polish writer and artist, considered by some to be the greatest prose stylist of the modern Polish language.

We are at the very bottom, at the dark foundations

His father

  • I have never seen the Old Testament prophets, but at the sight of that man floored by divine anger, widely straddling his enormous porcelain urinal and shielded by the tornado of his arms, a cloud of desperate contortions, above which his voice rose still higher, alien and hard—I came to understand the divine anger of holy men.
  • He occasionally placed two chairs back-to-back, and, supporting himself with his hands on the backrests, swung his legs back and forth, his radiant eyes searching our faces for looks of admiration and encouragement. It seemed he had become entirely reconciled with God.
  • Only today do I understand the lonely heroism with which he gave single-handed battle against the boundless element of boredom numbing the town. Bereft of all support, without acknowledgement on our part, that astonishing man defended the lost cause of poetry. He was a wondrous mill, into whose hoppers the bran of the empty hours was poured, bursting into bloom in its mechanism with all of the colours and aromas of oriental spices.
  • “Were I to cast aside respect before the Creator and seek to make a jest in criticism of creation, then I should demand, ‘Less content and more form!’ Oh, how that loss of content would unburden the world! More modesty in purposes, more restraint in claims, gentlemen demiurges, and the world would be more exquisite!” cried my father as his hands were laying bare Paulina’s white calf from the fetters of her stocking.
  • It is worth noting how, in coming into contact with that unusual man, all things withdrew, as it were, to the root of their being, rebuilt their phenomenon down to its metaphysical core. They returned to their primordial idea, only to betray it at that point and lurch into those dubious, daring, and equivocal regions which I shall here succinctly call, the Regions of the Great Heresy.

Adela (the domestic servant)

  • Adela returned on luminous mornings, like Pomona from the fire of the enkindled day, tipping from her basket the colourful beauty of the sun: glistening wild cherries, full of water under their transparent skins, mysterious black cherries whose aroma surpassed that which would be realised in their taste, and apricots, in whose golden pulp lay the core of the long afternoons.
  • An infernal storm-cloud of feathers, wings, and screeches flew up, in the midst of which, Adela, looking like a furious mænad, half-obscured by the spinning of her thyrsus, danced a dance of destruction.
  • Mother held no influence over [my father]; though he bestowed much reverence and attention upon Adela. When she swept his chamber, it was to him a great and momentous ceremony, one that he never omitted to witness, following Adela’s every movement with a mixture of fear and a shudder of delight. He ascribed to her every action some deeper, symbolic meaning, and when the girl pushed a long-handled brush across the floor, with youthful and bold thrusts, it was almost beyond his endurance.
  • ">“Sadly, Adela,” said Father, “you have never been able to comprehend matters of a higher order. Always and everywhere, you have thwarted my actions with your outbursts of mindless animosity. But today, clad in armour, I mock your tickling, by which you once drove one helpless to despair.”


  • Ah! And in writing down these stories of mine, arranging these tales of my father in the used up margin of its text, do I not yield to the secret hope that, someday, they will strike root imperceptibly between the faded leaves of that most magnificent, scattering book; that they will fall into the great rustle of its pages, which will enfold them?
  • I call it simply the Book, with no qualifications or epithets, and in this abstinence and restraint there is a helpless sigh, silent capitulation to the immeasurableness of the transcendent; for no word, no allusion, could glisten, scent the air, or drift with such a shudder of terror, with any inkling of that unnameable thing, the very first taste of which, on the tip of the tongue, surpasses the capacity of our rapture.
  • For ordinary books are like meteors; each has its moment, that instant when it flies shrieking into the air, like a phoenix, all of its pages ablaze. For that moment, that single instant, we love them; although they are mere ashes by then. Sometimes, late at night, we wander in bitter resignation through their congealed pages, whilst they go on insisting, with their wooden clattering, like a rosary, on their dead formulæ.
  • Have you ever noticed flocks of swallows flying past between the lines of certain books, whole verses of trembling, pointed swallows? One must interpret the flights of those birds...


  • “Too long,” said my father, “have we lived under the terror of the matchless perfection of the Demiurge. Too long has the perfection of his handiwork paralysed our own creativity. We do not wish to compete with him. We have no ambition to rival him. We wish merely to be creators in our own, lower sphere. We crave creativity for ourselves. We crave the joy of creation. In a word, we crave Demiurgy.”
  • “Demiurgus [said my father] was enamoured of refined, perfect, and sophisticated materials. We give precedence to junk. We are simply rapt by it, entranced by the cheapness, the paltriness, the tawdriness of the material. Do you understand,” my father asked, “the profound meaning of that weakness, that passion for gaudy tissue-paper, papier-mâché, coloured lacquer, straw, and sawdust? It is,” he said with a pained smile, “our love for matter as such, for its downiness and porousness, its unique, mystical consistency. Demiurgus, that renowned master and artist, hides it away, causes it to vanish behind life’s make-believe. We, to the contrary, love its abrasiveness, its unruliness, its rag doll ungainliness. Behind each gesture, each movement, we like to see its exertion, its torpor, its sweet ursinality.”
  • We are at the very bottom, at the dark foundations—we are with the Mothers. Here are endless infernos, those hopeless Ossianic expanses, those lamentable Nibelungs. Here are the great incubators of stories, storyteller factories, misty kilns of fables and fairytales.


  • Everybody knows that, in the course of mundane and ordinary years, whimsical time will occasionally bring forth from its womb other years, odd years, degenerate years, somewhere in which, like a little sixth finger upon a hand, a spurious thirteenth month sprouts up; spurious, we say; for seldom will it grow to full size. Like late begotten children, it lags behind in its development, a hunchback month, a half-wilted offshoot, and more conjectured than real.
  • And then there is all this highly improper manipulation of time, these indecent dealings, sneaking into its mechanism at the back and tampering dangerously with its precarious secrets. Sometimes, one wants to bang on the table and shout at the top of one’s voice, “Enough of this! Keep your hands off time! Time is untouchable! It is not permissible to aggravate time! Space is for man. In space you may go where you please; you may turn somersaults, fall head over heels, leap from star to star... But for the love of God, leave time alone!”
  • Has our reader ever heard about the parallel strands of time, in two-track time? Yes, such branch stretches of time do exist, a little illegal, to be sure, and problematic, but when carrying such contraband as ours, such supernumerary, unclassifiable events, one cannot be too particular. And so, at some point in our story, we shall attempt to take such a branch turning, a siding, and shunt this illegal history into it.

Living things

  • On those shoulders of the garden, August’s unkempt and harridan luxuriance had expanded into silent hollows of enormous burdocks, holding sway with their flaps of shaggy, leafy tin plate, straggling tongues of fleshy green. Those distended rag dolls of burdocks bulged there like peasant women sitting around half-devoured by their own crazy skirts.
  • Ah, life, young and fragile life, sent forth from the dependable darkness, from the snug warmth of the maternal womb into a vast, unfamiliar and illuminated world! How it flinches and draws back, filled with aversion and discouragement! How it hesitates to accept the venture proposed to it!
  • And one of those plants, yellow and full of milky juice in pale stems, now puffed up with air, discharged only air from its hollow shoots, only fluff in the form of feathery, milky balls, strewn by the breeze and softly pervading the azure silence.
  • Only now did the scales fall from my eyes. For how great is the force of credulity, how powerful the suggestion of terror! Such incomprehension! But this was a man! A chained-up man, whom I, by incomprehensible means, in a simplifying, metaphorical, and comprehensive elision, had taken for a dog.
  • I came to understand why animals have horns. It was the incomprehensibility that could not be contained within their lives, a wild and obsessive caprice, their ill-judged and blind obstinacy. Some idée fixe—grown beyond the borders of their being and high above their heads, suddenly brought into the light—had solidified into palpable, hard matter. There, it had assumed its wild, incalculable, and incredible shape, twisted into a fantastical arabesque, invisible to their eyes, but dreadful nonetheless, the unknown numeral under whose menace they lived. I understood why those animals were disposed to ill-judged and wild panic, to startled frenzy. Herded into their mania, they could not extricate themselves from the knot of those horns, and so, lowering their heads, they looked out sadly and wildly from between them as if trying to find a pathway through their branches.
  • But even further from the light were the cats. Their perfection was alarming. Wrapped up in the precision and meticulousness of their bodies, they knew neither deviation nor error. They sank for a moment, far into themselves, to the bottom of their being; they froze in their soft fur and grew menacingly and ceremoniously serious, and their eyes grew as round as moons, soaking up the view into their fiery craters. But a moment later, cast out to the edge, to the surface, they yawned in their nihility, disappointed and without illusions.

The seasons

  • All springs begin in this way, from those enormous and astounding horoscopes, each beyond the scale of a single season of the year. And in each one—be it nevermore said, let me say it here—there is everything: endless processions and demonstrations, revolutions and barricades. And through them all at a certain moment, the hot wind of remembrance blows, that boundlessness of sadness and intoxication seeking in vain its counterpart in reality.
  • In July, my father left to take the waters; he left me with my mother and older brother at the mercy of the summer days, white from the heat and stunning. Stupefied by the light, we leafed through that great book of the holiday, in which the pages were ablaze with splendour, their sickly sweet pulp, deep within, made from golden pears.
  • Autumn! Autumn! The Alexandrine epoch of the year, gathering into its enormous libraries all the sterile wisdom of the three hundred and sixty-five days of the solar cycle! Oh, those aged mornings, as yellow as parchment, sweet with wisdom, like late evenings. Oh, those cunningly smiling mornings, like shrewd palimpsests, many-layered like old, yellowed books. Oh, the autumnal day, that old jester-librarian clambering up ladders in his slipped-down dressing gown, sampling the preserves of all ages and cultures!
  • filled with boredom, the winter days were here. A threadbare and patchy, too-short mantle of snow was spread over the reddened earth. It was too meagre for the many roofs, which remained black or rust coloured, shingled roofs like arks and thatched cottages, concealing within them the smoke-blackened expanses of attics—charred-black cathedrals bristling with ribs of rafters, purlins and joists, dark lungs of the winter gales. Each dawn uncovered new vent pipes and chimney stacks, sprung up in the night, blown out by the nocturnal gale—black pipes of the Devil’s organs.

The heavens

  • The moon was still high. The sky’s transformations—the metamorphoses of its multitudinous vaults in ever more masterfully described configurations—were unending. Like a silver astrolabe, the sky had opened up that night its bewitching internal mechanism, exhibiting in endless cycles the gilded mathematics of its cogs and wheels.
  • Sometimes, a whole bright day passes in explosions of the sun, in accumulations of clouds encircled by redness at their edges, luminously and chromatically, breaking off at every edge. People go about stupefied by the light, their eyes closed, exploding inwardly with rockets, Roman candles and powder-kegs. But later, toward evening, that hurricane fire of light softens. The horizon grows rotund, beautiful, and full of azure, like a glass ball in a garden with its miniature and illuminated panorama of the world, in a happily ordered composition, above which the clouds are arranged, its conclusive toppings, unfolding in a long row like rouleaux of golden medals, or peals of bells combining in rosy litanies.