Poland Literature Part IV

By | January 23, 2022

The reign of the two Saxons is the period of the greatest chaos of Polish literature: not a single important work was published under the reign of Augustus II; while during August III’s 28 years of misrule, literary history, apart from the scholastic-Jesuit comedies of Franciszek Bohomolec (1720-84), who among other things owes much to Goldoni, records only the reforming, ethical-political work and pedagogical, by the Piarist Stanislław Konarski (1700-1773). His O skutecznym rad marittobie(1760-1763) and the advent to the throne of Stanislao Augusto (1764) are, also in the literary field, the double sign of recovery. A few years later, around 1780, a literary fervor, which strangely contrasts with the stagnation of the last hundred years, pervades Poland again. Among the various European centers of the enlightenment movement, that of Warsaw becomes one of the most fervent and industrious. Political, historical, didactic, poetic works follow one another at a very short distance. In poetry, alongside the shrewd imitator of the French Stanislaw Trembecki (1735? – 1812), the remainder of dramatic works, also French, Franciszek Zabłocki (1750-1821), the sincerely sentimental lyric poet Franciszek Karpiński (1741-1825), predominates the eldest of all and the most active, the bishop of Warmia Ignacy Krasicki (1735-1801),Satires and Fairy Tales brings Polish poetry back to the level on which Kochanowshi had set it two hundred years earlier, and with his didactic novels also provides the basis for the renewal of prose. In the political literature, made richer and more acute by the prevailing need to quickly reach a radical reform of the unhappy conditions inherited from the past, in the midst of a crowd of orators, polemicists, pamphleteers, stand the figures of Stanisław Staszyc (1755- 1826) and Hugo Kołłątaj (1750-1812).

According to BEAUTYPICALLY, the first partition, awakening the dormant spirits, had given a strong impulse to cultural renewal; the second and third, while erasing Poland from the charter of Europe, could neither destroy nor arrest it: the high cultural and moral level reached by collaborators, direct or indirect, to the constitution of May 3, 1791, is transmitted intact to future generations. There will, of course, be a brief period of disorientation, and almost regression. Poetry, always under the influence of France, will sometimes crystallize in empty forms (but it will find accents of profound patriotism and moral elevation in Jan Paweł Woronicz, 1757-1829, and in Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, 1757-1841) and instead of political literature there will be the philological erudition (lexicologist Samuel Linde) and science (the Śniadecki brothers). In the meantime, while French thought and literature still dominated in Warsaw and in the other centers of Polish culture, a first contact with Germanic literature has already begun in the last decades.

The first translations of the most popular poets of English and German literature (Pope, Young, Ossian, Gellert, Gessner and others) arrive in Poland as a rule through their French adaptation to the dominant taste in the late 1700s, but the intensification of contacts direct (Goethe’s Werther, Schiller’s plays) slowly paves the way for the penetration of a new literature in spirit and form into Poland. In addition to the English and the Germans, Italian poets prior to the Renaissance (Dante and Petrarca) and contemporary French writers (Rousseau, Chateaubriand and others) also contribute to the creation of a literary atmosphere that slowly moves towards romanticism.

But, as also happened in other countries with a strong classical culture, romanticism won its battle only late, and Warsaw was still in full domination by the classicists around 1820 (tragedy Barbara Radziwi łł ównaby A. Feliński, 1771-1820). The poetic and theoretical work of the mild and ultimately conciliatory writer of Galician origin Kazimierz Brodziński (1791-1835) would not have been enough to move them from their positions, if from Vilna, which in those years became under the direction of Prince Adam Czartoryski the the most lively center of Polish culture, the passionate and brilliant poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), who confined to Russia for the his activity carried out in Vilna and then lived in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France, inaugurates that literature of emigration, in which for three decades the tormented spiritual life of tripartite Poland finds its poetic expression. A Mickiewicz echoes, almost simultaneously, a group of poets from eastern Poland: Antoni Malczewski (1793-1826), Józef Bohdan Zaleski (1802-1886), Seweryn Goszczyński (1801-1876), who brought a wealth of imagination to Polish literature, something melancholy and soft that appears peculiar to the land from which they came. In fact, these young poets all seek immediate contact with popular literature and psyche and almost all try to portray the past of their homeland. However, they do not always succeed, and sometimes they fall into a purely romantic and not exactly indigenous stylization (the main model is Walter Scott); but between the past and the present there was no such sharp gap on the margins of the Western world as elsewhere; so that the poetic revival of the past often succeeds without tripping over artifice. So too exoticism, elsewhere more or less the object of pure fashion, appears to be felt here more directly, even if sometimes through undeniable impulses and influences of foreign writers (Byron, Chateaubriand). Always profoundly sincere – whether she enjoys ballads and romances, or relives glimpses of Lithuanian-Polish history in poetic tales; which portrays, spiritualizing them, impressions of travel, or which, with a dramatic poem and biblical vision, rises to a poem of hope and recovery – the art of Mickewicz also develops in part outside the romantic schemes, although sometimes he does not disdain the purely external aspect. More intimately, Mickiewicz’s rival Juljusz Słowacki (1809-49) is essentially romantic: extremely sensitive temperament; avoiding any contingency, even if he often tries to insert his art in the political and social problems of Poland; all intent on listening and reproducing the continuous flow of poetic visions in his soul. The third of the great poets of romantic Poland, Sigismund Krasiński (1812-1859), despite being more of a thinker than an artist, created dramatic works of monumental grandeur, and despite being deeply rooted in the past, he was able to cast prophetic glances on ‘to come.

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