T WAS PETTY and mean of Gen. Jaruzelski to keep Lech Walesa of Solidarity from attending the christening of the infant daughter he has as yet not seen. The general was not acting without political calculation. A battle of wills is being waged by the two men. Gen. Jaruzelski, who disappeared behind dark glasses during the dark winter months, has detained the union leader since Dec. 13, offering him liberty only if he will undertake to form and lead a tame labor movement. Mr. Walesa, whose signature moustache has reportedly grown into a defiantly untrammeled beard, has held out for better terms. The general could not have wanted to be seen to be bowing to public pressure and to be releasing Mr. Walesa into a public setting, even for a morning. Mr. Walesa is Gen. Jaruzelski's prisoner. But the general is his.

If one thing is clear after more than two months of martial law in Poland, it is that the communist authorities have exchanged one set of frustrations for another. They no longer have to fear that they will be literally hustled out of power by the democratic spirit represented by Solidarity. They do have to recognize, however, that they cannot govern the country. They can rule it but they cannot govern it: they cannot make the people accept their legitimacy, and they cannot make them work.

Perhaps Gen. Jaruzelski thought, on Dec. 13, that there was a purpose to martial law beyond keeping people like himself in power. Perhaps he thought he was sparing the country a worse fate. That is an academic question now because the fate he brought upon the country is one of deadly stalemate, repression and misery. It is not simply that there are still some 4,000 "interns," like Lech Walesa. The general has interned Poland, and he seems not to have the slightest notion of how to release it. In this sense, by seizing control, he lost control. His rule is at a dead end. As one of the party's own newspapers put it, "we are facing the danger of irreversible frustration."

The only path that could lead to an improvement in the life of his country is the path that Lech Walesa and Cardinal Glemp and their responsible colleagues were trying to establish before the imposition of martial law. The general now represents only the guns--and the Soviets. Mr. Walesa and Cardinal Glemp represent the Polish people, the Polish nation, the Polish spirit. No one doubts that the general can act like a Soviet in Poland. The question is whether he can act like a Pole.