senior Polish official close to the prime minister, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, was talking to a friend about the burdens of office following the imposition of martial law. There was one phrase in particular that stuck in his friend's mind. "You've no idea," the official complained, "how lonely we all feel."

A few days later, a Western journalist visited the headquarters of the Council of Ministers in Warsaw--the nerve center of decision-making now--and was struck by a different atmosphere. After weeks of despondency and gloom, officials seemed almost buoyant. In a conversation overheard while going up in an el-evator, one bureaucrat remarked how much easier it was to get subordinates to obey orders now than in the days when Solidarity vetoed everything.

At first sight, these two emotions--loneliness and buoyancy--may seem contradictory. In fact, they reflect the complicated situation in which Poland's Communist rulers find themselves. There is a feeling of triumph, mixed with relief, that they have gotten away with the first stage of their gamble. Contrary to many earlier predictions, the government has managed to win a showdown with Solidarity without widespread loss of life.

But, at the upper levels at least, there is also a mood of uncertainty about what to do next. The only hope of long-term economic recovery for Poland lies in major structural reform, and that can only be achieved on the basis of popular consent. Yet, having smothered Solidarity, the government now finds that it has no authentic representative of society with which to talk.

A Polish journalist commented privately, "The leadership believed that, once it successfully carried out its coup, a 'silent majority' in Polish society opposed to 'Solidarity extremism' would emerge. But it hasn't, the regime is more unpopular than ever, and the carefully orchestrated propaganda on television is no substitute for genuine public support."

Roman Machalski (not his real name) is a young and ambitious Communist Party official in Warsaw. He has hitched his career to that of the party's propaganda chief, Stefan Olszowski, who favors political and ideological orthodoxy combined with sweeping economic reforms to weed out all the dead wood in industry.

Machalski supports martial law as he believes it was the only way "to get things done." He has been appointed political commissar in a major Warsaw factory with the task of supervising the management and getting rid of "troublemakers" from the work force. But he says he is disappointed that a promised purge of inefficient bureaucrats has not gone far enough.

"Most of them are finding ways of holding on to their jobs. In some factories, the apparatchiks are getting the better of the military commissars, confusing them with economic jargon and contradictory regulations," he complained in a private conversation.

Like other party activists, Machalski now wears a Polish-made 9mm pistol for protection. He is not disturbed by the mass resignations of party members disgusted with martial law.

"We don't need a 3-million-strong party. One million tough, dedicated communists is enough to run this country," he said.

Adding to the government's sense of isolation during the first month of martial law was the strict censorship imposed on the dispatches of Western correspondents based in Warsaw. The result was to stifle independent, objective reporting of events in Poland.

The insecurity of Poland's rulers beneath the layers of bravado was reflected in some of the deletions from news dispatches passed through the censorship before it was lifted last weekend. Perhaps the most revealing was the censor's decision to delete, from the report of a West German television correspondent, the words of Karl Marx.

The passage the censor found so objectionable outlined Marx's views on censorship. The father of communism wrote: "The censored press has a demoralizing effect . . . . The government hears only its own voice, knows that it hears only its own voice, yet acts under the illusion that it hears the voice of the people, and demands from the people that they accept this illusion, too. So the people, for their part, sink partly into political superstition, partly into political disbelief or withdraw completely from civic life and become a rabble . . . . "

A similar sensitivity was displayed by the censor when he deleted, from a dispatch to The Washington Post, the remarks of the defense counsel at a trial of alleged strike leaders in Warsaw. The censored passage read: "The defense attorney told the court that the workers at the F.S.O. car factory, like other workers in Poland following the declaration of martial law, had been acting in defense of class interests in staging a strike . By the laws of Marxism, the defense of class interests cannot be a crime."

The censor also cut from the same dispatch a quote from one of the workers on trial describing how he had been sent to a prison camp at the age of 17 by the Nazis during their war-time occupation of Poland. Since that time, the worker added, he had dreamed of the return of a free society to Poland--a dream that had found fulfillment with Solidarity's birth in August 1980.

Poland's present military rulers regard as highly insulting even the most indirect insinuation that what is happening in Poland now may bear some resemblance to the Nazi occupation. The same evidently goes for any suggestion that Karl Marx would not have approved of martial law.

Intellectual and cultural life in Poland has been virtually frozen since the declaration of martial law. Theaters have been closed and writers complain they are unable to get hold of the basic tools of their trade--paper and ink--because of an official campaign to prevent the publication of underground bulletins.

Actors in Warsaw are allowed to rehearse plays, but military commissars have already announced that many of the more daring productions will have to be withdrawn from the repertoire when theaters reopen. Several films are also said to have been banned including Andrzej Wajda's "Man of Iron," which was devoted to the Gdansk Shipyard strike and won first prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival.

Television has reverted to a mixture of 19th century classic plays, war films glorifying the Army and gloomy discussions about the catastrophic state of the economy. The evening news is read out by a captain assisted by the regular announcers dressed in reservist Army uniforms without badge of rank. This strange sight has spawned the latest Polish martial-law joke:

Question: What is the lowest rank in the Polish Army?

A private?

Wrong . . . A television newsreader.

Despite the warning signs beforehand, Solidarity activists were shocked and totally unprepared for the crackdown when it came. Their self-confidence was reflected in the fact that reports of large-scale movements of troops and riot police on the evening of Dec. 12 were ignored by a meeting of the union's leadership in Gdansk.

The firm belief among many Solidarity officials that their arrests would spark a national uprising is reflected in a remark attributed to Jan Rulewski, the union's leading radical firebrand and the head of its Bydgoszcz regional chapter. When the police came for him, he is said to have turned to them calmly and asked, "Gentlemen, do you really understand the consequences of what you are doing?"

The anecdote is now retold with relish by party officials who looked upon Rulewski as a particular enemy. A 37-year-old mechanical engineer, he was expelled from a military academy for "agitation" in 1965 and at Solidarity's Congress in September demanded that Poland reconsider its military alliance with the Soviet Union.

After recovering from their surprise, which was apparently shared by their captors, the detainees lost no time in organizing themselves. At the internment camp for women at Olszynka Grochowska outside Warsaw, prisoners told visitors that they were attending dancing lessons given by a ballerina who was being held for her Solidarity activities.

Maciej Zembaty, a composer and satirist, spent Christmas in Bialoleka writing a carol entitled "God Is Being Born in 1981." The words were later smuggled out. The first lines went:

"While God is being born, Poles are imprisoned

For dreaming of an independent homeland.

United and brave, miner, farmer, and shipyard worker

Pray to you today: Give us freedom, Lord."

The 265 detainees at Bialoleka, who include some of the best-known names in Solidarity, also smuggled out a message complaining of more repressive prison discipline following the replacement of some of the wardens. They complained of lack of exercise, searches and restrictions on letters and visits by relatives.

"We are prisoners of war and entitled to better treatment. We have been imprisoned despite our innocence. Our only guilt is our refusal to accept the war declared on our own nation by a gang of traitors," the letter said.

The Bialoleka detainees were reported to have set up their own self-government inside the prison. By a twist of irony, the man they elected chairman was Bronislaw Geremek, the head of Solidarity's think tank, which worked out plans for a "self-governed republic."

Geremek's career parallels that of many intellectuals active in Solidarity who are now in internment camps.

An expert in medieval history, he was attracted to left-wing ideas in his youth but resigned from the Communist Party to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. He traveled widely abroad, lecturing in Washington and at the Sorbonne in Paris.

When strikes erupted in August 1980, Geremek delivered a message of support from Warsaw intellectuals to the Lenin Shipyard. Together with his friend Tadeusz Mazowiecki (a leading Roman Catholic journalist now interned at Drawsko in northwestern Poland), he joined a group of experts who helped hammer out the Gdansk agreement setting up independent trade unions. He later stayed on to become one of Lech Walesa's most valued advisers.

Geremek was regarded as a moderating influence within Solidarity. Since martial law, however, he has been singled out for particularly harsh attacks in the press. In language reminiscent of an anti-Semitic campaign launched in 1968, he was accused of having ties with "imperialist-Zionist circles" and masterminding "counterrevolution" in Poland.

Solidarity activists who were not picked up during the mass arrests in the first days of martial law are faced with a difficult choice. Some have gone underground, concentrating mainly on the distribution of illegal information bulletins, while others have decided to wait and see how events turn out.

Shortly after the military takeover, bulletins began appearing calling for the formation of "circles of social resistance." The main aim of these circles was to collect information about arrests and strikes and circulate it as widely as possible. "Let no typewriter stand idle," the bulletin said.

In fact, the organizational model of the underground looks more like a web of interlocking triangles than a circle. Each conspirator has two contacts. But he does not know their names and addresses or any of the composition of their triangles.

In this way the damage of any infiltration by police is limited.

Government officials insist that this underground movement will not present a major threat as long as it sticks to the distribution of information. Privately, however, they fear that there could be a spate of terrorist incidents such as took place in the late 1940s when the Communist Party was consolidating its power.

It is likely that any large-scale terrorism would be met with sharp countermeasures by the government in the form of heavy prison sentences and even executions.