Wayne Rooney sent the Poles' morale sinking 15 minutes from half-time, heading in a corner from Steven Gerrard for his 30th goal in an England shirt.
Poland's answer came in the 70th minute, thanks to Torino defender Kamil Glik, courtesy of another header from a corner.
Conscious of their underdog image – they stand 54th in the FIFA rankings to England's fifth – Poland took the game to their rivals from kick off.
The game had been billed as a personal battle between Poland's Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski and England's Manchester City keeper Joe Hart, who recently did battle in the Champions League.
But with Lewandowski failing to shine in the half, it was midfielder Kamil Grosicki who first sent home fans' pulses racing in the 58 000-capacity Kazimierz Gorski Stadium in the eighth minute, though poor control stymied his effort.
England took their chance after 15 minutes but James Milner's lateral pass failed to find a team-mate before Polish goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton smothered the ball.
Working hand-in-hand with fellow midfielder, French-born Ludovic Obraniak, Sivasspor's Grosicki continued to seek weak links in the England defence, to no avail.
Manchester City's Milner fed Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe up front in the 26th minute, only for the latter to lose the battle with Poland captain Marcin Wasilewski, standing in for the injured Kuba Blaszczykowski.
Two minutes later, Poland powered back, with Grosicki finding Lewandowski in the box, only for newcomer Pawel Wszolek to fail to latch onto the pass.
A minute after Rooney's goal put England up, Grosicki again came up empty.
For the remainder of the half, both teams failed to capitalise on corners and free kicks, while strikes from Glen Johnson and Grosicki went wide minutes from the whistle.
After the interval, Poland upped the pace in a drive to close the deficit, with corner-taking stalwart Obraniak firing over the bar in the 49th minute, followed by Lewandowski 10 minutes later.
A lone run by substitute Danny Welbeck then found Tyton floundering, but Rooney failed to make it two.
Poland's traditionally unforgiving fans began to harangue their team, but were suddenly silenced when a 70th-minute Obraniak corner found Glik, who earned his second Poland goal, as Hart came for the ball and was left stranded.
Ten minutes later, they were inches away from pulling ahead, as yet another Obraniak corner found Glik.
Three minutes from time, Milner found himself free, only for Tyton to beat him, before Obraniak pounded at Hart twice, the second time forcing the England keeper into a lunging save.
The Poles had been aware that history was against then having been England just once – in the race to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, when they deprived the English of a berth at the finals – and drawn six times in a total of 17 previous meetings. – Sapa-AFP