A POET, A PATRIOT, A ROMANTIC
The first signs of romantism in Poland began to appear before the year 1795. The final loss of independence influenced the need of changing the role of literature and national art at all. The first half of the 19th century was a preview for severe fights and revolutions. In Poland it was the time of patriotic conspiracies and uprisings. It was the time of social spurts. Those were the years of peasants’ fights for liberation, as well as the time of hope and defeats from the years 1831 and 1863. So, it was not accidental that strengthening the national identity became a primary task for not only literature in Poland but also widely understood art.
The beginning of romantism is mostly considered as the year 1822. It was when the first volume of ‘Poetry’ by Adam Mickiewicz came out. This volume included the essential dissertation ‘About romantic poetry’ and also a series of ‘Ballads and romances’. It became an ideological and artistic manifesto. Briefly speaking: dialectics of the 19th century was based on counteracting an individual (sensitive and creative by assumption) against the society. A man, who is usually doomed to a defeat in a confrontation with stiff political or social coteries, could win only in moral issues and become the leader of a new order. This kind of man – and Mickiewicz was such, undoubtedly – goes beyond his time, setting forth his ideas into the future.
The epoch ends in 1863 conventionally, which – as it is known – heralds the defeat of the January uprising.
Home of the poet
In a humble house of the Mickiewicz family – in Zaosie near Nowogródek, there was atmosphere full of friendliness. His father – not very rich nobleman Mikołaj Mickiewicz (of the coat of arms Poraj) – dealt with advocacy. His mother, Barbara from the Majewski family, came from a poor court family. The greatest poet of Poland was born on the Christmas Eve in 1798. He was baptized on 12 February in 1799 in a church of the Transfiguration in Nowogródek. His father, the former soldier of Kościuszko’s army, taught his children (Adaś was the second of his five sons) to love homeland. He educated them to respect liberation traditions and mottos of insurrection, ennobled Bonaparte – having reach his middle age, the poet sometimes signed his letters to his friends jokingly as ‘Adam Napoleon from Nowogródek’. The duty of Mickiewicz was to rely on himself and his own skills from his early childhood, not on his noble origin or successions or any kind of inheriting property. Surely, it was also thanks to this poet that a strong need to believe in God appeared.
The time of studies and the first literary experiences
Having finished his education in a local school where the Dominicans taught, young Mickiewicz went to Vilnus for philological studies. As a student he was influenced by mentality and temperament of such professors as a theorist of literature Leon Borowski or a historian Joachim Lelewel. His education was extensive and comprehensive. He studied literature, history, ancient and modern languages. During his studies he also experienced an event which had an influence on the further life of the poet – establishing a Society of Philomats. A bit later the key achievement in the philomatic poetry was the ‘Ode to youth’. In this poem Mickiewicz appears as a classical writer and also an ideologist of a youth movement. In this literary work he is also a heir of the Enlightenment traditions – really useful customs, which reject all kinds of superstitions. During his studies our poet lived mainly on scholarship but this benefit had to be given back: after graduating from university in 1819 Mickiewicz had to pay it off, working as a teacher in a county school in Kowno.
During summer holiday, after graduating from university, the young poet was invited by his colleague Michał to his parents’ home in Tuhanowice. Here he met his sister – Maria Wereszczakówna. However, she had been already engaged to a young and rich earl Wawrzyniec Puttkamer – later he turned out to be a social activist. Maria, a year younger than Mickiewicz, was a sensitive and sentimental girl, who loved literature and music. She even tried to create her own music compositions. Mickiewicz’s love to her stopped being a personal matter, as the girl’s character and temperament influenced his literary works. It is seen in love lyrics of the poet. Adam Mickiewicz – briefly speaking – a man experienced by a feeling of love in its greatest intensity after bitterness and nostalgia, finally breaks the circle of isolation of his own suffering and opens up to others. Thanks to it, he opens up more and more to existence. To a more conscious life. It seems that the poet says: ‘Love irreversibly survives’.
Life of the poet in exile
Having taken over the reign in Russia by tsar Mikołaj I, there appeared political terrorism and pogrom. In the beginning of his reigns the tsar stifled an uprising of decembrists. There appeared repressions towards progressing Russian forces, with which Mickiewicz identified himself. In 1824 the poet left Lithuania forever and decided to be in exile in the central gubernias of Russia. Here he made friendship with artists and representatives of the Russian academic groups. He set off to Odessa and to Kremlin from there. The places and his journeys reflected in his poetry. It resulted in his series of ‘Kremlin sonnets’ (1826). Also in Russia he wrote ‘Konrad Wallenrod’ (1828), a poetic novel edited in Petersburg. Addressees of the book were Poles.
Growing defeatism and sadness – which resulted from the political situation in partitioned Poland – were often present at the end of the poet’s life. Thanks to lost of his friends’ efforts Mickiewicz managed to leave Russia. He went to Italy. He was travelling across Germany (where he met Goethe), Czech Republic and Switzerland. We can observe that in his life of that time he got converted. His conversion began a stimulus helping him overcome his frustration. When the poet was in Paris he was working on the national epic which he finished in 1834. In this year he got married to Celina Szymanowska and in 1839 he took over the management of the department of Latin literature in Lausanne in Switzerland in order to provide money to his family. A year later Mickiewicz became a professor of Slovak literatures in College de France in Paris. The most tragic time of the author of ‘Dziady’ were the 40s of the 19th century. At that time he was under influence of Andrzej Towiański – a mystic and a philosopher who introduced himself as a prophet of a new faith. Mickiewicz took part in the activity of a Club of Towiańczyk fans, for which he was exiled from the elite College de France. After the Spring of Peoples he got engaged in a political activity, as he was trying to create a Polish Legion for the Italian army. The idea of the Legion was a fight against the invaders. At that time in France there were revolutionary fights. The poet set off to Paris and with his cooperators from various countries he founded a magazine in French – ‘A Tribune of Peoples’.
The last day of the poet’s life was described in a book by Ksenia Kostenicz ‘Chronicles of life and work of Mickiewicz’. The author explains the causes of his death. I encourage you to get to know this book and the rich literature devoted to the poet and the epoch of Romantism. The poet’s life is an example of fates of the generation of Poles who were born in captivity. This generation of the 19th century enthusiasts who undertook an effort for a new precursory way of thinking about Europe and independence. They indicated directions of national culture anew as well as methods and tactics of a fight for liberation.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 51-52/2018 (23-30 XII 2018)