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||Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855)|
Poet, playwright, and political activist, the leader of Polish Romanticism. Mickiewicz's best-known works include Forefathers' Eve, Grazyna, Konrad Wallenrod, and the long narrative poem Pan Tadeusz. Much of Mickiewicz's work was written in exile in Russia, where he was banished in 1824. After release he spent the rest of his life in Western Europe, where he became the spiritual leader of Polish emigrés.
"Litva! My country, like art thou to health,
Adam Bernard Mickiewicz was born in Zaosie, near Nowogródek, in the
former grand duchy of Lithuania, into an impoverished noble family. Now
western Belarus, it was a recently acquired province of the Russian
Empire. According to one of Mickiewicz's friends, the poet claimed, "My
came from Mazovian stock, my mother Majewska from converts; I'm thus
half Lechite and half Israelite, and I'm proud of it." Little is know
of his early years, which he spent in Nowogródek.
His father, Mikołaj Mickiewicz, practiced law; once he was badly
beaten as a result of his involvement in a divorce proceeding.
Mikołaj's family owned little or no land, but they had two houses in
Mickiewicz grew up in peaceful times until 1812,
when Napoleon's army marched in June into Lithuania bound for Moscow. Later he wrote enthusiastically
in Pan Tadeusz
about the "spring of harvest". Until the age of ten, Mickiewicz was
educated at home, and then went to a school run by Dominicans. Betweenthe years 1815-1819
he studied at the Imperial University of Vilnius. During his first
year, he became involved with a certain Aniela, but his first great
love was Karolina Kowalska, whom he met in Kowno. She was the wife of a
regional doctor; they often invited him to supper, and on weekends they would make excursions to the countryside.
"Imagine if you can," he wrote to his friend after spending a night
with her, "a goddess with hair playing down her shoulders, amidst white
muslins, on a magnificent bed, in a beautiful room."
Though Mickiewicz passed his qualifying exams, he never
actually graduated: his master's thesis was not accepted because of
"ortographic errors." In 1819 he was appointed to a teach literature,
history, and law in the distric school of Kowno. With the exception of
the 1821-1822 academic year in Vilnius and summers in the Nowogródek area, he lived there until 1824.
early interest in the French Enlightenment
philosopher Voltaire soon changed into admiration of the two great
Romantic writers, Schiller and Byron. In Vilno he took part in a
semisecret group known as the Philomaths (Lovers of Knowledge), founded
in 1817, and Philarets (Lovers of Virtue), which protested
Russian control of Poland. Mickiewicz wrote for the society a drinking
song: "Hey, let's live life to its fullest! / After all, we only have
one life to live. . . . " Following a confrontation between students
and Russian officers, Prince Czartoryski initiated a secret
investigation of student societies. He also put Mickiewicz and some of his friends under watch of the local authorities.
In 1823, Mickiewicz was arrested i with many other Philomaths by the Russian police. After a six-month prison term, he was exiled to Russia. Mickiewicz never saw his home again. He lived in Odessa, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. During this period he was befriended by many leading Russian writers, including Aleksandr Pushkin, who translated some of his ballads. While in Odessa Mickiewicz had a short affair with Karolina Sobanska, the daughter of Count Adam Rzewuski; she was a talented musician, who was also a Russian intelligence agent Tchaikovsky's symphonic ballad The Voyevoda (1891) had its literary source in Pushkin, who had brawn inspiration from Mickiewicz.
After spending the summer of 1825 in the Crimea with Sobanska and Count Jan Witt at the latter's villa, Mickiewicz was transferred to Moscow, where his improvisations caused a sensation. "What a genius!" was Pushkin's reaction. "What sacret fire! What am I compared to him?" Mickiewicz considered his colleague "very witty and impetuous in conversation; he has a profound knowledge of contemporary literature, and a pure and elevated understanding of poetry."
As a poet Mickiewicz gained first attention with Balady i romanse (1822), which had on its background a disappointment in love. The book included ballads, romances, and a preface about western European literature. With this collection Mickiewicz opened the romantic era in Polish literature. It was followed by the fantastic dram a Dziady (1823-32, Forefathers' Eve), in which Poland has a messanic role. The chosen nations would be in the oncoming kingdom of God, Mickiewicz believed, the Poles, French and Jews.
Dziady was inspired by the unsuccesful November Uprising of 1830. The title of the play was taken from an ancient folk celebration in Belorussia, held on All Souls' Day; it honors the memory of the dead and was common in Lithuania during Mickiewicz's youth. The second part dealt with the theme of earthy suffering. Guslarz, who is a kind of a priest and witchdoctor, calls up the ghosts for a group of peasants-ill-treated tenants, children who cannot reach heaven because they have not suffered on earth, a virgin shepherdess who had experienced neither love nor grief. The peasants offer help and the ghosts vanish, except one, the Spectre. Part III was a patriotic piece, written after the suppression of the November Uprising of 1830-31. It depicted the martyrdom of Poland and presented a vision of the future country in which the sufferings are equated with the Passion of Christ. This vision concludes with a prophecy about a mysterious future savior, bearing the name "44." Part IV was a monodrama. The protagonist is the spirit of a young suicide victim, who appears in the parish house. He is consumed with a passion that leads to insanity and death.
During his exile Mickiewicz wrote among others Konrad Wallenrod (1828), a philosophical poem, which inspired the Polish youth in the struggle against oppression. In the work a Lithuanian master in a Teutonic order undermines its activities. In 1825 Mickiewicz visited the Crimea and published his erotic Sonety krymskie (1826). Although he was inspired by the the steppe, and the rich, mystical landscape, he felt isolated and his Polish nationalism intensified. In his poetical works Mickiewicz expressed a romantic view of the soul and the mysteries of life, often employing folk themes. His approach was fresh and new-when writers had depicted with polished language the life of the educated classes, Mickiewicz used colloquial expressions and portrayed peasants.
In 1829 Mickiewich was permitted to leave Russia. He went to Bohemia, Germany, where he met Goethe, Switzerland, and Italy, where he met James Fenimore Cooper. The author had appealed to the American people to aid Poland during the rebel against Russia in 1830-1831. Mickiewicz tried to join the insurrection, but authorities stopped him in Prussian Poland. In Dresden he met refugees and used their hard fate as material in the third part of Dziady.
"Fair words and fairer thoughts are mine;
To thoughts and words I give birth each day -
In the poem 'To Muscovite Friends,' Mickiewicz mourned his Decembrist friends and said, aiming at Pushkin and Vasily Zhukovski: "Perhaps with mercenary tongue he praises his triumph / And rejoices in the martyrdom of his own friends, / Perhaps in my country he bleeds with my blood / And to the Tsar boasts of his damnation as of services." Pushkin's reaction followed in 1834: "Our pacific guest has become our enemy-and with poison / Fills, to please the violent mob, / His verses."
For a period Mickiewicz lived in Paris. He lectured on Roman literature at the University of Lausanne in 1839 and on Slavonic literatures at the Collège de France (1840–44). Mickiewicz's lectures attracted an international audience but his academic career ended when he was accused of using his position for political activities. For a time in 1848 he edited the radical newspaper La Tribune des peuples. He also became the center of enthusiastic followers, both Polish émigrés and French intellectuals.
Pan Tadeusz (1834), which is regarded as a monument of Polish national literature, expressed Mickiewicz's nostalgia for his homeland. Superficially the humorous epic of the Polish gentry in the early 19th century tells of the feud between two noble families, but against the "old country's" virtues Mickiewicz recounts the euphoria when Napoleon's troops liberated Poland and Lithuania in 1811-12. The masterpiece was born three year after Frédéric Chopin's famous 'Revolution Etude.' Chopin's ballads captured the same charm and fire typical for Mickiewicz's poems and his polonaises have been regarded in some respect as a national manifestation.
Soon after the publication of Pan Tadeusz, Mickiewicz married Celina Szymanowska. The marriage was unhappy. The family lived on the brink of poverty and his wife suffered a nervous breakdown. Mickiewicz's espousal of the mystical and political doctrines of Andrzej Towianski (1799-1878) caused his dismissal from the college.
In the revolutionary upheavals of 1848 Mickiewicz's idealism renewed. He attempted unsuccessfully to enlist Polish regiments to help Garibaldi in the Italian struggle against Austria. At the outbreak of the Crimean War, Mickiewicz went to Turkey to raise Polish armies in Turkey. He died during a cholera epidemic in Constantinople on November 26, in 1885. His body was first transported to Paris. In 1890 Mickiewicz's remains returned to Poland and were buried with the Polish kings in the national shrine in Crakow. After his death, his son Wladyslaw destroyed documents that might have been in contradiction to the public image of his father. During the Nazi occupation of Poland in the Second World War,Mickiewicz's poems strengthened the resistance and were used against the postwar Communist regime.
For further reading: Adam Mickiewicz, the National Poet of Poland by M. Gardner (1911); Mickiewicz by J. Kleiner (1948, 2 vols.); Palmira i Babilon by W. Kubacki (1951); The Poetry of Adam Mickiewicz by W. Weintraub (1954); Czytajac Mickiewicza by J. Przybos (1956); Adam Mickiewicz in World Literature, ed. by W. Lednicki (1956); Kronica zycia i twórczoski Adama Mickiewicza, ed. by S. Pigon (1957); Adam Mickiewicz, Poet of Poland by Manfred Kridl (1970); Adam Mickiewicz by David J. Welsh (1970; Adam Mickiewicz by Maria Gardner (1971); Swiat teatralny mtodego Mickiewicza by Michal Witkowski (1971); Adam Mickiewicz : Leben und Werk, ed. by Bonifacy Mizzek (1998); Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic by Roman Koropeckyi (2008) - Huom.: Mickiewiczin runoja on julkaistu Slaavilaisen kirjallisuuden kultaisessa kirjassa (1936), myös useita yksittäisiä runoja on suomennettu.