If I only could put my numb fingers
into the wounds of Man. These truly do not heal.
The rest is silence.
—Aleksander Wat, “On Good Friday”
These lines conclude a poem written by the dissident Polish poet and essayist Aleksander Wat less than two months before his suicide in 1967. They capture the central concerns of Wat’s life and art: the tension between a deep need for faith and an instinctive, pervasive doubt; the senselessness of most human suffering; and the failure of language. After the horrors of this century—many of which Wat experienced firsthand—he found belief in God all but impossible and the...