Our King Spirit
“Juliusz Slowacki had to die and his works had almost to die with him before he began to be appreciated. In his lifetime, he was chilled and starved and treated with a neglect so deliberate and universal as to smack of conspiracy. Only his colossal pride and an unconquerable will to fame through poetry sustained him and gave him strength to play to the finish the role in which he saw himself cast.”
The above quote by Marion and Arthur Coleman is a capsule representative picture of a man who, undoubtedly, experienced a great deal of mental suffering — and as great as this suffering was — so, too, was the magnitude of his genius. I bring this master before you, my dear readers, because JULIUSZ SLOWACKI was a genius of drama. This man who captivated the annals of Polish history was born an only child, at Krzemieniec in Volhynia, on August 23, 1809. From his father, a professor of Polish literature and in his way a poet of some merit, he inherited a devotion to the works of the ancient world. His gifts may have come from the fact that he was initially brought up in the cultured atmosphere of a home whose master was a teacher of poetry and elocution in the local high school and mistress a woman of considerable social gifts, widely read and deeply interested in art.
Slowacki began by writing youthful, patriotic poems and these earned him a quick reputation. While Slowacki was still engaged in his studies at Wilna, the Polish romantic movement had reached its zenith. For Slowacki, Byron was the god of his literary universe; Goethe and Schiller made a humble second and third. He was in Warsaw when the famous revolt of 1830 flamed out, and his songs gave courage and inspiration to his heroic, hapless countrymen. After the Insurrection of 1831, this young genius was forced to leave Poland and at the age of 22, he went into exile. Thanks to the fact that he was financially independent, due to the wealth of his mother, he was able to wander at his will.
He went to France and wrote into his poetry a philosophy that stated, more or less, that Poland must suffer if she were to rise again, and that she would do so only with the appearance of a superman, or as Slowacki called him, a King-Spirit — the incorporation of the sum of the fine qualities and virtues of the great past of Poland.
Because of his so-called leftist view, Slowacki was looked upon with certain suspicion and he withdrew into himself and his psychological out was more extensive traveling which included Germany, England, Greece, Egypt and Switzerland. It was here that very probably the most beautiful love poem was ever written, definitely the finest in Polish literature. It’s entitled “In Switzerland” and the opening free verse stanza follows . . . .
“In the Swiss mountains is a waterfall, where the Aar plunges down in a blue cascade. Look, though it make you dizzy! Do you see that rainbow above the turmoil of water in the ravine? It hangs perfect in the silvery mist. There is nothing to shatter it, nothing to disturb it; only from time to time a white lamb will walk through it to nibble the budding roses and hazels at the verge of the valley or a thirsty pigeon, as though on purpose to show off its splendour, will dart through it and scintillate. There I saw her! and, fallen straightway in love, I began to believe, and shall believe to the end, that she had stepped out from the rainbow and the foam of the stream, so bright was she from the sunlight so brimming with angelic dawn, so aglow with the blue of her eyes! As my eyes traveled from her feet to her tresses, my sight fell in love with her, my heart followed this sense that compels one to love and after my heart went my soul. And so quickly began the weaving of my romance, that I wanted to fly across the cascade to her, for I was afraid lest, before my soul awakened from sleep could cry out, she should, like a phantom pale, fall into the precipice, into the rainbow and into the waterfall, and melt, and gout out, and vanish; and I was like those who feel afraid in this sleep, for already I loved her, already she was mine. Thus for the first time I met her alone, beneath the bright gateway of that iridescent rainbow. A bewitching gust of love blew about me I stood before her and lowered my eyes.”
But, Juliusz Slowacki continued his flirtation with the King-Spirit. It might have begun with his Warsaw Period (before the exile) where he wrote the drama ‘Marya Stuart’, a woman who betrays both husband and Church — but nevertheless a true, living woman. It might have continued with the drama ‘Kordian’, a romantic youth enthusiastic over the national cause; or ‘Mazepa’ the Polish Othello, a drama of the Poland historical past or ‘Lilla Weneda’ — a clash of the earth against its knighthood. Whatever the case, his King-Spirit (Krol-Duch) rose to glory and honor in the “Grave of Agamemnon” and the following excerpt will prove this out . . . .
“O Poland! as long as you confine your angel’s soul in a rude shell, so long will the executioner hack your ignoble body, so long will your sword of vengeance fail to be terrible, so long will you have the hyena on you, and a grave, and your eyes open in the grave. Let the nation in the north rise up from its silent grave and set the peoples aghast, that so large a figure should be of one piece and so tempered, that it breaks not in the thunder, but of the thunder-bolts has hands and a wreath, a glance that despises death — the flush of life.
“But, Poland, they fell you with tinsel! You were the peacock and the parrot of the nations, and now you are another’s handmaid! Yet I know that these words will not quiver long in a heart, where no idea lingers even an hour: I speak because I am sad — and myself filled with guilt.”
In 1848 he made a desperate attempt to return to Poland, where a fresh revolution was impending; but before he could reach his native country the insurrection had broken out and been in its turn broken, and nothing remained for him to do but to return disconsolately, a spirit likewise broken, to his exile in Paris.
Juliusz Slowacki was a bitter and fearless critic of his nation and his great tenderness and depth of feeling combined to make him un-rivaled in conciseness and brevity. He is, perhaps, Poland’s greatest prose writer. He died with the bulk of his work unfinished, but there was no doubt that he achieved his utter triumph — he not only entered the ‘poets land’ himself but also made it the common mans!
. . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .