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May 24, 2024

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Writings In Polish

When we take a book by an outstanding Polish writer and admire its richness and terseness of language, we never stop to think how young our literature really is. Outstanding works of Greek and Roman literatures were created many centuries ago. Meanwhile, the first written Polish sentence appeared only in the 12th century. We can find it in the so-called Ksiegi Henrykowskie.

  Polish literature was created on the basis of Latin. First there were chroniclers. The most famous chronicler today is Gall Anonim (11th-12th century), probably of French descent, who stayed on the court of Boleslaw Krzywousty. He left a vast chronicle, which is a source of historic knowledge and, at the same time, an outstanding literary work. At the beginning of the 12th century, Bishop Wincenty Kadlubek wrote his chronicles. He was a writer of a refined language and stylistics, a close observer of his times. But Kadlubek often exaggerated. Truth mixed with fiction, legend with reality. Kadlubek’s writings featured Amazons, knights fighting with dragons, saints. His works had much in common with apocryphal literature, which was popular in the Middle Ages. Chroniclers who came later were more down-to-earth. Goclaw Baszko gave a fine description of Polish legends, Janko from Czarnkow gave an account of life on court, including the less official one — gossip, intrigues. Jan Dlugosz, who was head above the other chroniclers, appeared in the 15th century. His monumental annals, which are a synthesis of Poland’s history, can be placed alongside most outstanding historic works of world literature of that time.

  The Polish language began to appear more boldly not in works on history and philosophy but in religious writings. This is connected with the fact that Latin was spoken only by the educated, while Polish was spoken by the masses. The first relic of literature written in the Polish language were The Kazania Swietokrzyskie (Swietokrzyskie Sermons) from the end of the 12th century. More rich in form were the later Kazania Gnieznienskie (Gniezno Sermons). An interesting source of information is also the Psalterz Krolowej Jadwigi (Queen Jadwiga’s Psalter) from the end of the 15th century. Worth mentioning is also the translation of the Bible in mid-15th century for Queen Zofia and Rozmyslania Przemyskie (Przemysl Medita-tions), the best Polish translation of apocryphal literature which describes the life of Christ and Virgin Mary.

  Bogurodzica (Mother of God) is a pearl of Polish poetry. The first writing of the song comes from 1408. Jan Dlugosz’s chronicles say that Polish knights sang it while fighting the Grunwald battle. There are hypotheses, however, that the first two verses were created in the 11th century.

  Till the end of the 15th century Polish literature was not numerous, and we do not know much about it. Its “golden age” came in mid-16th century. It was the time of Mikolaj Rej, Andrzej Frycz-Modrzewski, and Jan Kochanowski.

  Polish literature has been hampered not only by its difficult language but also by the ‘engaged’ character of its writings. The writers of the Enlightenment, of whom Bishop Ignacy Krasicki remains the greatest, and the 19th century romantics like Mickiewicz, Slowacki, Krasinski, symbolist poets like Cyprian Norwid, or even the Polish Dickens, Boleslaw Prus, made their work Polish national tragedy to be understood by their foreign contemporaries. Constant allusions to particular national events restricted the interest of such works to Polish readers who alone could appreciate the significance of specific topical references. No doubt modern readers, who are most familiar with the universal problems of liberty and oppression, are in a better position to appreciate the epic pages of Mickiewicz, whose Pan Tadeusz (Sir Thaddeus) is still the masterpiece of Polish literature, than the people who read it in 1850.

  Just as Polish literature was passionately and patriotically ‘engaged’ at the time of the Partitions and exile, so today it is correspondingly ‘disengaged’. To love your country when it no longer exists, and to speak of other things when it does exist seems perfectly natural to the Polish spirit. The masses is often exasperated at the stubborn refusal of Polish writers to produce work that is at least ‘constructive’ if not ‘socialist’. It must be said that Polish intellectuals seems to make it a point of honor to prove that they are expressive on every possible issue.

   Modern Polish literature of the 19th and 20th centuries is born of the abysmal and hopeless grief occasioned by the three arbitrary partitions of Poland and of the bitter disillusionment of French and English help withheld; yet never for a moment does it abandon the conviction that Poland is immortal and will rise again. It is a literature based on suffering that is both personal and national, a blend of patriotism, a passionate patriotism sublimated at times to a religion, and of mysticism. This inseparable bond between the nation’s historical life and its literature has made of the modern Polish poets a force far more cogent and decisive in the national life than those of any other country. It is mainly due to her poets that Poland emerged again in 1918 and, owing to the tragic similarity between today’s circumstances and those of hundreds of years ago, they speak with equal urgency and inspiration to this generation of the New Emigration.

  Today’s literary talents are explosive. The effects of the Solidarity movement will be felt for decades, written for centuries, and committed to the minds of our ancestors for another millennium.

  Brilliant intellectual figures such as the philosopher Adam Michnik and the historians Bronislaw Geremek and Andrej Gierowski are outspoken on every imaginable topic. Complement these waves of dissent with the Glasnost of Gorbachev, the reform of Lech Walesa, the poetry of Antoni Slominski, the movies of Andrej Wajda, and the writings of Czeslaw Milosz.

  These are truly exciting times!!!

  . . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .