If recent predictions are borne out in deeds, the next few weeks may see the first hopeful turn in the Polish situation.
Over the weekend forecasts from London, Warsaw, and Washington have indicated:
* The early release of Solidarity chairman Lech Walesa.
* A lifting of martial law in the next few weeks. (But those of its safeguards deemed politically most ''essential'' will continue.)
* Expectation of some major gesture - primarily to Solidarity but by extension to the nation as a whole - when Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski addresses parliament Jan. 25.
It remains a big ''if'' - whether these words can be turned into action.
But, if they are, it will be the best news from Poland in five weeks of disrupted living, of hardships inflicted both by military rule and by a harsh winter that has loaded snow and floods on weary Poles.
Polish sources make other claims of some improvement in the situation. For example, it is said that coal production - which is perhaps the key to some economic upturn - is going well.
According to the official Polish news agency, Silesian miners cut a record 629,000 tons in a ''voluntary extra effort'' Jan. 16. Before martial law that would have been a ''free Saturday'' under the agreement with Solidarity. Coal, it was said, was being rushed to the flood-stricken areas, and a ''regular flow'' was going from Silesia to Gdansk for export.
The first two of the hopeful predictions came from the Polish ambassador to Britain, Stefan Staniszewski. They followed some confusion about Mr. Walesa's immediate prospects prompted by earlier statements in Warsaw.
There, no less an authority than Vice-Premier Mieczyslaw Rakowski said the union leader's release from house arrest could be expected in a matter of weeks. For years Mr. Rakowski has been known as a ''liberal'' member of the Communist Party's main committee; now he reputedly is General Jaruzelski's closest political collaborator.
Another minister, Deputy Premier Jerzy Ozdowski, said much the same thing about Walesa's likely release.
In each instance the inference was some time in early February. But doubts arose when a government spokesman subsequently excluded such a speedy move and even suggested the two ministers were misquoted.
In London Jan. 17 Ambassador Staniszewski reinforced expectations by stating that ''the decision (on Walesa's release) had been made''; it would be soon. He said martial law would be lifted in ''two or three weeks.''
Still further confirmation seemed to come from Sen. Larry Pressler (R) of South Dakota when he returned to Washington after a visit to Poland. The first US legislator to visit the country since the imposition of martial law Dec. 13, Pressler met senior Polish officials and had a long talk with the Roman Catholic primate, Archbishop Jozef Glemp.
The latter meeting focused on American food aid and the primate's concern about the suspension of US government assistance. US aid has been discontinued at least while Walesa and others on Solidarity's national commission are not at liberty to take part in union negotiations with the government.
Pressler appeared to anticipate some substantial early gesture to the union. He said the Polish government realized union cooperation was needed for any plans it makes to increase food and clothing supplies this winter.
Pressler said he got the ''distinct impression'' that Jaruzelski's Jan. 25 speech is going to signal ''a breakthrough'' in the differences between the government and the union.
Meanwhile, the official news media scolded Western politicians and newspapers Jan. 18 for either ignoring the past weeks' relaxations of emergency regulations or suggesting that they are - to use the words of US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. - no more than ''cosmetic touch-ups.''
Some 10 restrictions have been eased, ranging from reduced hours of curfew to resumption of the Sunday morning radio mass. High schools have reopened, but the universities remain closed until next month.
''The bans have been exaggerated as long as they were binding,'' a commentary from the official news agency complained, ''but are given scant attention when they are removed.
''The notion of cosmetic touch-ups has nothing to do with the facts. To call them so is a merely political trick employed by circles which are essentially opposed to the process of 'socialist renewal.' ''
Parliament is expected to vote on draft laws embodying concessions to the private farmers and raising the status of teachers.
A first installment of the economic reform package is likely, but the move toward the ''economic'' prices seen as central to reform has encountered the usual adverse reaction.
The price hikes will stand a better chance of being accepted if they are introduced gradually, and if Solidarity is in a position to influence final decisions. The price issue has touched off crisis after crisis ever since 1956.
Thus, the status of the union remains the main consideration. For it represents a test of the government's sincerity in any progressive dismantling of the military regime, and in its declared wish to continue the ''renewal'' process and solve the crisis by ''persuasion, understanding, and accord'' with the nation as a whole.