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Submitted by Marcin Bąk on Thu, 12/05/2019 - 08:18
Let the living not lose hope ever (The ethos of the romantic hero is the basis for the spiritual identity of Poles)

Jacek Malczewski. Melancholia 


We all grew up on Romantic literature. And on our patriotic traditions. These conditions have been established by the dramatic history of recent centuries. The November Uprising of 1830, that uprising of independence, in the heart of the Romantic literary era, caused unique mental and spiritual consequences among the Poles of that time.

               What were the beginnings of the drama? The defeat of the Kościuszko Uprising and the third partition of Poland for many years sealed the bondage of our nation. The Poles had already emigrated in great numbers to France to fight alongside Napoleon. Two years after the last partition of Poland, Polish Legions were created in Italy under the command of General Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, which soon numbered seven thousand soldiers - volunteers and those who came here from the Austrian army, previously incorporated into it by force. Another act of rebellion was the Wielkopolska Uprising, and as a result of Napoleon's victorious battles, the Duchy of Warsaw was established in 1807. Napoleon's triumph soon ended, the Duchy of Warsaw collapsed, but the myth of Napoleon, as an ally of the Poles, lasted long in the memory of the nation, awakening the desire to continue fighting for freedom. The November Uprising was the next stage of this fight. More than thirty years later, in the January Uprising, we suffered another defeat that ended with even greater repressions. So we had to wait one hundred and thirty years for the final liberation.

               After 1831, the Great Emigration began, and the attention of the enlightened representatives of our nation turned to those who fought for freedom now in the word of literature, mainly poetry. For many years Paris became a substitute capital of Polish thought and imagination. It can be said with all conviction that four great poets of that time - Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, Zygmunt Krasiński and Cyprian Kamil Norwid - laid the foundations for our contemporary literature. The term "bard", commonly used to this day in relation to these poets, cannot be applied to all of them in the same scope. Mickiewicz, Krasiński and to some extent also Słowacki, in the first place wanted to be the guides of the nation in song, only then artists... Norwid had neither such ambitions nor a predilection for proclaiming the idea of national struggle. His greatest desire was to protect every human person, every life. He was an intellectual who believed in the transformatory power of high art over the human mind, although his profound patriotism is undeniable. As a participant and witness of the life of all his peers, he constantly fought to “Give everything its fitting name!” And this poetic motto captured the desires of his successors for many years; to this day it is the guiding thought of poets who want to achieve the undeniable truth and power of artistic expression. 

               Norwid expressed his patriotism in an extremely innovative way, using means beyond the conventions of his time. He wrote for his contemporaries, but more often than not for his posterity (this idea was the guiding principle of all Romantics). A Funeral Rhapsody in Memory of General Bem is a tribute to a hero of the struggle for independence of Poland and Hungary, and at the same time a poem - an encouragement to remain in a state of readiness to fight for national freedom.  Małgorzata Baranowska, when writing the afterword to a selection of Norwid's poems for young readers ("Nasza Księgarnia", 1985), emphasizes that the poet "did not intend to be a soldier". However, knightly honour, regardless of the circumstances, occupied a prominent place in his thoughts and poems. The best example of this is the poem devoted to General Joseph Bem. Norwid did not forget about his most effective weapon: "...Not swords nor shields stand guard over Language / But masterpieces”

In all areas of his creative expansion - as an illustrator and engraver, playwright, prose writer and poet - he strived for a masterpiece. He left us masterpieces, which we still admire. As a poet, he used historical and mythical allusions and literary allegories to universalise and strengthen his patriotic message. He was able to manoeuvre the word in such a way that the effect of these actions is always clear. He does not avoid forms that are unusual for expressing lofty slogans: besides extensive poems, he writes short trifles. Here is an example entitled Their strength:

                                             Valiant commanders, armies fully trained,

Police-male, female, uniformed and plain-

Thus united against whom? -

A few thoughts . . . that aren’t new! . . .

And we remember this master of words mainly as the author of excellent sentences, timeless messages of his own wisdom, such as "For while the song matures, sometimes a man will die, //
But before the song dies, a nation will first arise”.
The poet's faith in the power of the word was great. And even greater is the fact that its message will reach the right recipients only years later. The poem which begins with these words: “Its dexters with clapping swollen and crippled” ends thus: “Sons – shall discard my scripture, but grandsons – though / Shalt remember what (today’s hasty lection –) / Under the leaden letter’s stiff subjection; (…) Deception – then he’ll read what you’ve now read, / But shall remember me when I’m – … no longer!”

Mental shortcuts and abbreviations are the poet's tools used to focus and enhance the message. Norwid's innovative poetics were only fully appreciated by twentieth century writers. Norwid is certainly the spiritual (and linguistic) patron of our contemporary linguistic poetry, starting with the Krakow Avant-garde - Przyboś and Peiper - through later linguistic propagators, such as Zbigniew Bieńkowski, Tymoteusz Karpowicz, Krystyna Miłobędzka, Bogusława Latawiec or Krystyna Rodowska. Our greatest language revolutionary in contemporary poetry, Miron Białoszewski, was also undoubtedly guided by the Master's commandments in his creative, lexical and syntactic experiments, as well as in constructing the form of his works. Let us compare, for example, poetic fragments by Norwid and Białoszewski. First, Norwid, from the poem quoted above: Its dexters with clapping swollen and crippled:

                                             I write – now and again… on Babylonia

                                             Unto Jerusalem – letters arriving –

                                             At times – and caring not if I’m misguided only

Or no? … an artist’s memoirs inscribing  –

Scrawled, scribbled secrets in itself confiding –

Erring? – perhaps – but a true testimonial!...

And here is Białoszewski, a poem with the title: Between the 14th and 15th of December 1963:

                                            I shouted back to myself satisfied,

                                            So that he would hear. After three days

                                            of complete peace. Warm. Late.

                                            I mean, no enemy is looming. There is something

                                            to read, to smoke. I want to sign up. (…)

                                            And then there's the luxury that you can

                                            stop writing, start reading,

                                            stop reading, want to write,

                                            and not to sign up, (...) And finally.

                                            To enjoy all the shamelessness

                                            of confessing it to oneself with hope,

                                            that others will find out, and say it.

It seems that it is not the same, and yet the author's intention is similar: to write regardless of external circumstances, and at the same time with the intention of being intended for a potential recipient. And to write about the issues of the writer's writings! The two extraordinary poets were unanimous in this respect, they knew what it meant to "give everything its fitting name".

               The remaining three "poets" were not only outstanding artists, but also doctors of spirit, awakening and reviving our consciences. Famous historians of literature wrote volumes of professional studies about the poets of Romanticism. My notes are intended only to outline their achievements, which were reflected in the works of the next generations of writers in one way or another. Słowacki, Krasiński and, above all, Mickiewicz in poems, narrative poems, poetic novels and dramas conveyed their ideas about the ways and effects of the liberation struggles, but also about the causes of the disasters suffered in those struggles. Słowacki is remembered mainly for his dramas, some of which were compulsory school reading books: Balladyna, Beniowski and Kordian, as well as for his lyrical works, the most famous of which is his My Testament with this message to his descendants:

But I beg you – let the living not lose hope ever

And bear the torch of learning before their compatriots;

And when called, go to their death one after another,

Like the stones tossed by die Lord onto the ramparts...

The final metaphor of this poem became a combat slogan of the poets-soldiers of the Warsaw Uprising. Trzebiński, Gajcy, Baczyński and Borowski were amongst them. Słowacki also wrote works directly referring to the heroism and martyrdom of Poles, such as Sowiński in the trenches of Wola, about the tragic defence of Wola by General Sowiński. We will also remember the poet as the author of the words: "There is a column in Warsaw, / On which traveling cranes sit", from a poem which is a praise and remembrance of Warsaw by a wanderer, longing for his homeland. This longing was, after all, the source and creative stimulus of all the Romantic works. Krasiński expressed his most important artistic and libertarian ideas in his dramas Un-divine Comedy and Irydion. I will recall a short fragment of Un-divine: "...whoever took arms, forgot to complain". However, the poetic weapon was also a source of complaint for Romantic poets.

               Adam Mickiewicz, our most eminent poet of all time, was recognized after his death as a sign and symbol of Polish national identity because of the special role that his poetry played in the life of a nation suffering under the three annexations. In 1890, the poet's coffin was placed on Wawel Hill, near royal coffins. His works, created abroad, first in Russia, then in France and Switzerland, through their moral, emotional and spiritual message, as well as their voluminous breadth and diversity of artistic forms, are unique in the world. Ballads, sonnets, poetic novels, small lyrics, dramas, essays, lectures at the College de France, publications in the "Tribune of Nations", and above all the noble epic Sir Thaddeus, all these creative genres and literary genres became a permanent feature of our literature and collective memory, being for all of us a model of artistic greatness and spiritual heroism. Konrad Wallenrod became an example of an insidious fight, immoral from the point of view of the basic principles of human ethics. However, the response of the Wallenrod attitude has always remained positive in the imagination of Poles. As Jacek Łukasiewicz writes in the story of Mickiewicz's life and work in the And this is Poland series (Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, Wrocław 1996): "These songs about avenging Lithuanians have become a source of vengeance. Conspirators from the Cadet School, when they went to the Belvedere in November 1830, knew Konrad Wallenrod well”.

 There is no room for extensive quotations here, so I will limit myself to writing down a work which is not the most popular among the poems by the author of Ode to Youth and Forefathers' Eve: 

                                             You ask why has God adorned me with a little fame?

                                             For what I thought and wanted, not for what I did!

                                            Thoughts and desires – are poetry in the world:

                                            It blooms and falls, like a flower, in a summer.

               And the poet expressed his poetic will most fully in the epilogue of Sir Thaddeus: "Oh, if I had lived to see this child, so that these books would stray under the guards, so that the peasants would spin spinning reels, / If they sing their favourite stanzas, / Oh, this girl, what she liked to play so much,/ That with the violins, the goose lost, / About the orphan, which was as beautiful as the auroras / Chasing goose at night - / If they had taken it in their hands at the end / These books, simple as their songs.”

The already quoted Jacek Łukasiewicz, writing in his monograph on the rank of Mickiewicz's work, refers to Krasiński's letter addressed to Koźmian, in which we read: "What a Corinthian bronze poem by Adam! No one can equalise the eternity of the poem, which is a feature of his". This is how Łukasiewicz comments on Krasiński's words: "What do you mean by the "eternity" of Mickiewicz's poem? Where does the impression of its simplicity come from? From the close connection of this poetry with the nature of the Polish language: its permanent accent, its intonation, its hissing, rustling sonority - so bizarre for foreigners, sometimes; with the multiplicity and variety of diminutives, the richness of words, the flexibility of syntax. Mickiewicz reached to the layers of old Polish, using folk motifs. He was able to associate the poem with song, and with living, everyday conversation, and when necessary - equally aptly - with solemn pronunciation. And he combined this in one work, as in the third part of Forefathers' Eve, giving - with all the variation of forms - an impression of eternity, a differently resonating brazenness, and unwavering persistence.

               Wacław Borowy described the message of Mickiewicz's early poem To Joachim Lelewel as such: "Nationality as a shade of humanity". Jacek Łukasiewicz also introduces us to the contemporary reception of Mickiewicz's work. But he writes beforehand: "Poland was the heroine of his works and his messianic thought. Poland, the ‘Christ of nations;. Pre-partition Poland and the Poland of the future". No wonder that this future, that is today's Poland, does not forget his advice or prophetic slogans. Nor his mysticism, because he was also great in his deeply religious poetic raptures. We learn by heart his Ode to Youth and fragments of Sir Thaddeus we stage Forefather’s Eve, starting with a historical performance directed by Stanisław Wyspiański. We remember the performance, directed by Kazimierz Dejmek and directed by the censorship in 1968, which was also directed by Konrad Swinarski, who prepared the minds of Poles for the Solidarity uprising. We stage Sir Thaddeus; Andrzej Wajda's famous adaptation is shown on television. The school reading of Mickiewicz's works was prepared by such scholars as Juliusz Kleiner, Wacław Borowy, Konrad Górski, Kazimierz Wyka, Maria Janion. Great poets such as Julian Przyboś, Czesław Miłosz, Mieczysław Jastrun and Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz also took care of him.  In their works, they all became continuators of the leading features of Mickiewicz's poetry. And today, the rhythm and intonation of his verses and the universality of his message are manifested in many works by the youngest poets as well.

               Let us perhaps reach back to the periods immediately following Romanticism. In the era of Positivism, which adhered to the principle of "working from scratch", the most important artists - Orzeszkow, Prus, and especially Sienkiewicz - entrusted their protagonists with cultivating national and liberation slogans, and through historical themes they maintained romantic traditions. A separate phenomenon is Stanisław Reymont and his rural saga The Peasants, which preserves the folk traits of our nationality and has no equivalents in the literature of any epoch. Żeromski also did not abandon the memory of the heroism of Poles, although he did not omit the motifs of social and civilizational progress. The period of Young Poland drew directly from the artistic achievements of Romanticism. Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer, Jan Kasprowicz and Leopold Staff alluded to the poetics of that period mainly by creating folk motifs and loving nature. Stanisław Wyspiański was the most "romantic" in his writing. It is enough to mention the dramatic masterpieces -November Night, Liberation and The Wedding - to understand his contribution to our national literature. He continued to fight with his pen for the freedom of his homeland.

               The interwar period resulted in such a great variety of themes, forms and styles in our literature that it would take many separate sketches to show all its trends. The regaining of freedom in 1918 manifested itself in the works of our writers primarily through emotional euphoria and passion in all areas of activity. However, the echoes of the romantic tradition must have resounded in the hearts of the writers at that time. After all, the First World War brought a bloody harvest. Poets gathered around the Warsaw group "Skamander" were the most faithful artists of the artistic will of the Romantics. Iwaszkiewicz, Wierzyński, Słonimski, Tuwim, as well as poets Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska and Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna recorded themes, forms, rhythmic and intonation measures used by Romantic poets in their poems, processed according to their own criteria. Many of them also wrote poems during and after the Second World War, so martyrdom motifs are frequent in their poems. In the interwar period, Bolesław Leśmian, the most creative "linguist" among Polish poets, also wrote. He created dozens, maybe hundreds of neologisms in our language. There are no works among his poems that would not be visionary and linguistically revealing to some extent. And in this respect, Leśmian is the direct heir to the Romantics. I think they would all be delighted with his poems and poems. Perhaps they are following the achievements of their successors from their eternal scene. I believe in the spiritual fraternity of all the great individuals of this world. Norwid's "Late Grandson" is a metaphor for this brotherhood. And this is the first stanza of Leśmian ‘s poem Mr. Błyszczyński:

                                             The garden of Mr. Blyszczyński is green on the outskirts, 

                                            Where a miracle grows into horror and lawlessness.

                                            He himself brought it out of the nothingness with the glitter in his eye.

                                            And he fixed it on the grass under the trees.

               The work of contemporary writers is too extensive to document its achievements here. Finally, I would like to recall only one poet, who gathers in his writing the traditional and modern cognitive and spiritual values of our literature. It would certainly be appreciated by our romantics. Wojciech Kudyba, because we are talking about him here, is not only a poet, but also an essayist and researcher at the Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw. I once wrote about his collection of Gorce of the Lord poems in a sketch entitled Poet - mystic: "Such poems are written out of love for the world and its Creator. These "songs", "fairy tales", lyrical stories about the miracle of existence, also about hardship, strife and sadness, but above all about the joy of life and overcoming suffering, evoke in the reader often today forgotten admiration for the uniqueness of God's work and enthusiasm for its eternal beauty and infinite vitality. The poet's consolidation of this admiration for the world goes hand in hand with the discovery of old folk wisdom and the creation of a simple and subtle phrase directly from the plebeian imagination and family sensitivity. A fragment of a poem entitled Excesses:

                                            Finally, to believe, to be carried away

                                            In the timothy-grass, in the mosses to the other side...

                                            In violins, in the basses and in rest.

                                            In the sedges, in buttercups of Jasień (…)

Listen to the long shadows fade away

Similar to winged ghosts.

In underground nests, deaf hollows...

Remain on the flowers for a while, on the bellflowers.

In the end to change entirely.

Wojciech Kudyba's visionary vision is close to mysticism, maybe even becomes one. Mysticism is, after all, the most perfect way to unite with God. The poets of Romanticism knew this well.


Adriana Szymańska