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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter III. The Nationalization of Space

Adam Mickiewicz: Pan Tadeusz

Adam Mickiewicz
Traduction de Kenneth R. Mackenzie

Texte intégral

1Title: Pan Tadeusz, czyli Ostatni zajazd na Litwie: Historia szlachecka z roku 1811 i 1812 we dwunastu księgach wierszem (Pan Tadeusz or the last foray in Lithuania: History of the szlachta from 1811 and 1812 in twelve parts)

2Originally published: First published in Paris in 1834 (in two volumes)

3Language: Polish

4Modern Polish edition: Adam Mickiewicz, Pan Tadeusz czyli ostatni zajazd na Litwie: Historia szlachecka z r. 1811 i 1812 we dwunastu księgach wierszem, ed. Konrad Górski, (Wrocław: Ossolineum, 1989). English edition: Pan Tadeusz or the last foray in Lithuania: History of szlachta from 1811 in twelve parts, translated by Kenneth R. Mackenzie (London: Polska Fundacja Kulturalna, 1986), the excerpts used are from pp. 3–6; 562– 568, and 578–584.

About the author

5Adam Mickiewicz [1798, Zaosie near Nowogródek (Bel. Novaharodak presentday Belarus) – 1855, Istanbul]: poet. Acknowledged as the greatest Polish poet, Adam Mickiewicz was born into a family of petty gentry in the Lithuanian part of the former Commonwealth. During his studies in Wilno (Lit. Vilnius), he coorganized a Polish patriotic Burschenschaft called the Towarzystwo Filomatów (Philomaths’ Society), in which young students from Lithuania learned together and read each other’s poems. The Russian authorities dissolved this ‘dangerous’ organization and the students were deported to Siberia and other parts of Russia. Before the collapse of the Towarzystwo Filomatów, Mickiewicz published his first volume of ‘Poetry’ (1822), which is considered to have opened the period of Romanticism in Polish literature (he also prepared a theoretical introduction presenting the program of romantic poetry, arguing that it has its origins in medieval lyric and in folklore). In his poems, Mickiewicz directed the usual romantic obsessions with agony, horror and death to specifically national subjects. After months of imprisonment in a former Basilian monastery (later adapted as the setting of the third part of Dziady), Mickiewicz spent several years in Russia where he met Pushkin, the revolutionaries Alexander Bestuzhev and Kondraty Ryleyev, and the intellectual elite of St. Peters-burg and Moscow. Starting in 1829, Mickiewicz began his travels throughout Western Europe. In 1830 he unsuccessfully tried to return to the ‘Congress Kingdom’ in order to participate in the uprising. In 1832 he moved to Dresden and finally to Paris, where he published a series of celebrated poems and radical political articles, and also delivered lectures on Slavonic literature at the Collège de France. He was radical in all these fields: his journalism advocated socialist ideas and his poetry canonized Polish Messianism, an inseparable mixture of religious, social and national beliefs bound up with Poland imagined as the ‘Christ of nations.’ His lectures were under surveillance by the French secret police and by agents of the Russian embassy, and were finally called off for their democratic tendency. In the 1840s Mickiewicz became a member of an Adventist sect— fashionable in émigré intellectual circles— led by Andrzej Towiański (1799–1878). The group was characterized by sophisticated religious speculations and professed the brotherhood of nations, which eventually led them to insert the actions of the partitioning powers into a scheme of universal salvation. What most shocked the émigré society was their appeal to forgive the tsar everything he had done to Poland. The Towiański affair cost Mickiewicz much of his authority among Polish exiles. Mickiewicz, however, remained active in the political and social life of Polish immigrants in France. During the revolution of 1848, he organized Polish forces to support the struggle for Italian independence and unity. He also tried to form a Jewish Legion. In 1849 he joined the radical democratic newspaper La Tribune des Peuples. After the ‘Spring of Nations,’ Mickiewicz lost his position at the Collège de France, and worked as a librarian. He died in Turkey, trying once again to organize Polish military units, this time to support the Turks in the Crimean War. Mickiewicz’s impact on Polish culture and collective memory can only be compared to that of Henryk Sienkiewicz. That he became a ‘cult figure’ after his death was partly due to the efforts of his son, Władysław Mickiewicz, who collected and selected documents and works of his father and prepared a gigantic biography (published in 1890–1895), in which Mickiewicz was presented not only as a brilliant poet but also as a patriot and a moral authority. Władysław Mickiewicz did not hesitate to destroy those documents that did not fit the image of his father as a national poet. In the inter-war period the poet and translator Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński organized a campaign against the ‘bronzers’ (brązownictwo), criticizing Władysław Mickiewicz for his attempts to turn the real personality of his father into a ‘bronze’ monument and paragon of all possible virtues. Despite the intellectual controversy surrounding brązownictwo, Mickiewicz still belongs to the mainstream of the Polish cultural canon, subscribed to by the full spectrum of intellectual movements from the anti-romantic positivists to Marxists and various branches of nationalists.

6Main works: Poezje, vol. 1 (1822); Poezje, vol. 2 (1823); Dziady [The Forefathers] (1823–1832); Księgi narodu i pielgrzymstwa polskiego [Books of the Polish nation and pilgrimage] (1832); Pan Tadeusz, 2 vols., (1834); Konrad Wallenrod (1828); Les Slaves (1849).


7Pan Tadeusz reflects the bitter disappointment of Polish émigrés after the collapse of the ‘November Uprising’ (1830–1831). During the first years of their exile, they hoped that the independence of Poland could be restored within months, or at most a couple of years. As years passed and the hope of freedom for Poland receded, they became more nostalgic. Pan Tadeusz is a reevaluation of the national past, and in particular the heritage of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in all its splendor (though seen in a peripheral village) and comic traits. Unlike the bitter accusations against the archaic system of gentry republicanism raised by both enlightened and radical romantic critics, Mickiewicz wrote a profoundly nostalgic poem. The first readers of the story, the radical democrats, signaled precisely the social conservatism of Pan Tadeusz, manifested—according to them—in its idealized picture of the gentry and a lack of interest towards the masses. In this respect Mickiewicz offered a poetic appendix to the popular novel Pamiątki Soplicy by the ultra-conservative Henryk Rzewuski. Nevertheless, apart from creating an image of the bygone Rzeczpospolita, Mickiewicz sought to analyze the questions of Polish independence, the meaning of the national struggle and—last but not least—the destiny of the political émigrés.

8According to the plot of the poem, Tadeusz (evoking the name of Tadeusz Kościuszko) moves back home from university and meets two beautiful ladies: the young and innocent Zosia and the more experienced Telimena. His hesitation between the two women builds up the ‘love story’ within the poem. The second level of the plot describes the struggle between the two families, the Horeszko (Zosia is a poor relative of Prince Horeszko) and the Soplice (Tadeusz is the youngest Soplica). The third motif is the story of the priest Robak, who hides his identity and organizes (together with Jankiel, a Jewish innkeeper) a patriotic conspiracy to support Napoleon in case he invades Russia. These stories culminate in two ‘military actions’: the fight of Polish szlachta from Soplicowo against a Russian regiment, and Napoleon’s campaign against Russia in 1812.

9The selected fragments are among the best known and most popular. The invocation to Lithuania was traditionally interpreted as a canonical manifesto of Polish patriotism, and it was many times travestied by other Polish (and foreign, e.g., Svatopluk Čech, Antanas Baranauskas) poets. The tricky question, that a Polish poet declares his love for Lithuania (meaning Belarusian Novaharodak and its countryside), was often left aside. Thus Mickiewicz is also patron of those who, like Czesław Miłosz and Tomaš Venclova, do not identify themselves fully with any national state but declare their attachment to the heritage of the multinational Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The second fragment describes a concert given by Jankiel, whose improvisation symbolizes current political events: the partitions, the Targowica Confederation, the Legions of General Dąbrowski (see Józef Wybicki, Dąbrowski Mazurka) and the hopes attached by the Poles to Napoleon. Jankiel is a prototype of the ‘good Jew’ present in many Polish literary works and in the late-nineteenth century competing with the figure of the ‘parasitic Jew’ who exploits Polish peasants. The final fragment differs in tone. It contrasts the pictures of the Lithuanian countryside with foreign cities where Polish émigrés found their refuge. It also reminds the reader that the next generations were, as Mickiewicz put it, “black with mourning clothes,” and the whole story is only a nostalgic picture of the times that had already passed.

10Gradually, Pan Tadeusz became one of the crucial texts of the Polish cultural canon. It still enjoys popularity; it is read in school and students learn passages by heart. Its interpretation never demanded such a degree of theoretical sophistication as Mickiewicz’s Messianic poetry. It is filled with a lyrical serenity of universal appeal and is seemingly free from direct revolutionary connotations.


Pan Tadeusz or the last foray1 in Lithuania

  • 1 Foray (zajazd)—according to traditional regulations, the citizens of the Rzeczpospolita (that is, t (...)

O Lithuania, my country, thou
Art like good health; I never knew till now
How precious, till I lost thee. Now I see
Thy beauty whole, because I yearn for thee.

O Holy Maid, who Częstochowa’s shrine
Dost guard and on the Pointed Gateway shin
And watchest Nowogródek’s pinnacle!
As Thou didst heal me by a miracle
(For when my weeping mother sought Thy power,
I raised my dying eyes, and in that hour
My strength returned, and to Thy shrine I trod
For life restored to offer thanks to God),
So by a miracle Thou‘lt bring us home.
Meanwhile, bear off my yearning soul to roam
Those little wooded hills, those fields beside

The vari-painted cornfields like a quilt,
The silver of the rye, the wheatfields’ gilt;
Where amber trefoil, buck-wheat white as snow,
And clover with her maiden blushes grow,
And all is girdled with a grassy band
Of green, whereon the silent pear trees stand.
Such were the fields where once beside a rill
Among the birch trees on a little hill
There stood a manor house, wood-built on stone;
From far away the walls with whitewash shone,
The whiter as relieved by the dark green
Of poplars, that the autumn winds would screen.
It was not large, but neat in every way,
And had a mighty barn; three stacks of hay
Stood near it, that the thatch could not contain;
The neighbourhood was clearly rich in grain;
And from the stooks that every cornfield filled
As thick as stars, and from the ploughs that tilled
The black-earthed fields of fallow, broad and long,
Which surely to the manor must belong,
Like well-kept flower beds – everyone could tell
That plenty in that house and order dwell.
The gate wide open to the world declared
A hospitable house to all who fared.

Across the courtyard swung a coach and pair,
And drove up to the porch and halted there.
A young esquire alighted; left to wait,
The horses nibbled slowly towards the gate.
The house was empty and the doors were shut
And barred, and through the bars the bolt was put.
The traveller looked for none to let him in,
Unbarred the door and quickly ran within.
Since he had seen the house long years had past,
And now, his schooling over, he returned at last.
The ancient walls he hastened to behold
As tenderly as they were friends of old.
The hangings and the furniture that day
Were just as when a child he used to play,

  • 2 Tadeusz Rejtan (1742–1780), deputy of Nowogródek in the Polish parliament who protested against the (...)
  • 3 Jakub Jasiński (1761–1794), Polish Jacobin and leader of the Kościuszko insurrection in Lithuania, (...)
  • 4 Rajmund Korsak (1768–1817), poet and friend of Jasiński.
  • 5 Praga, a part of Warsaw on the right bank of the Vistula. In 1794, after a siege, Russian troops le (...)

But smaller and less beautiful withal,
And the same portraits hung upon the wall.
There in Krakovian coat Kościuszko stands,
Eyes raised to heaven, a sword in his two hands;
Thus at the altar steps he pledged his word
To drive the powers from Poland with that sword,
Or fall on it. Beyond him, Polish-dressed
Sits Rejtan2 mourning liberty suppressed,
Holding against his heart a pointed knife,
The Phædo lying near and Cato’s Life.
Next, young Jasiński3, melancholy, fair,
And Korsak4 his true friend – inseparable pair,
Stand on the walls of Praga5 laying low
The Muscovites, while fires about them glow.
There, too, beside the alcove in its place
He saw the chiming clock in wooden case;
With childish joy the young man pulled the string
To hear Dąbrowski’s old mazurka ring.

[...] Jankiel was very fond of Zosia, so
He bowed his beard his willingness to show.
They brought the dulcimer and fetched a chair,
And sat him in the middle of them. There
He sat and, taking up the instrument,
He looked at it with pride and deep content;
As when a veteran hears his country’s call
Whose grandsons take his sword down from the wall,
And laughs: it’s long since he has held the blade,
But yet he feels it will not be betrayed.

Meanwhile two pupils knelt before the Jew,
And turbed the strings and tested them anew.
With half-closed eyes he sat still in his chair,
And held the hammers motionless in air.

At first he beat out a triumphal strain,
Then smote more quickly like a storm of rain,
They were amazed – but this was but a trial,
He suddenly stopped and raised the sticks awhile.

He played again: the hammers on the strings
Trembled as lightly as mosquito’s wing
And made a humming sound that was so soft
‘Twas hardly heard. The master looked aloft
Waiting for inspiration, then looked down
And eyed his instrument with haughty frown.

He lifts his hands, then both together fall
And smite at once, astonishing them all.
A sudden crash bursts forth from many strings
As when a band of janissaries rings
With cymbals, bells and drums. And now resounds
The Polonaise of May the Third! It bounds
And breathes with joy, its notes with gladness fill;
Girls long to dance and boys can scarce keep still.
But of the old men every one remembers
That Third of May, when Senators and Members
In the assembly hall with joy went wild,
That King and Nation had been reconciled;
‘Long live the King, long live the Sejm!’ they sang,
‘Long live the Nation!’ through the concourse rang.

The music ever louder grew and faster,
Then suddenly a false chord – from the master!
Like hissing snakes or shattering glass, that chilled
Their hearts and with a dire foreboding filled.
Dismayed and wondering the audience heard:
Was the instrument ill-turned? or had he erred?
He had not erred! He struck repeatedly
That treacherous string and broke the melody,
And ever louder smote that sullen wire,
What dared against the melody conspire,
Until the Warden, hiding face in hand,
Cried out, ‘I know that sound, I understand;
It’s Targowica!’ Suddenly, as he speaks,
The string with evil-omened hissing breaks;
At once the hammers to the treble race,
Confuse the rhythm, hurry to the bass.

And ever louder grew the music’s roar,
And you could hear the tramp of marching, war,
Attack, a storm, the boom of guns, the moans
Of children, and a weeping mother’s groans.
So splendidly the master’s art resembled
The horror of a storm, the women trembled,
Remembering with tears that tale of grief,
The Massacre of Praga; with relief
They heard the master’s final thunder hushed,
As if the voices of the strings were crushed.

They’ve scarce recovered from their marvelling,
The music changes and a murmuring
Begins: at first a few thin strings complain
Like flies that struggle in the web in vain,
But more and more come up and forming line,
The scattered notes in troops of chords combine;
And now with measured pace they march along
To make the mournful tune of that old song:
The wandering soldier through the forest goes,
And often faints with hunger and with woes.
At last he falls beside his charger brave
That with his hoof-beat digs his master’s grave
A poor old song, to Polish troops so dear!
The soldiers recognised it, crowding near
Around the master; listening, they recall
That dreadful hour when o’er their country’s fall
They sang this song, and went to distant climes;
And to their minds came memories of those times,
Of wandering through frosts and burning sands
And seas, when oft in camps in foreign lands
This Polish song had cheered and comforted.
Such were their thoughts, and each man bowed his head.

But soon they lifted up their heads again,
The master raised the pitch and changed the strain.
He, looking down once more, the strings surveyed,
And, joining hands, with both the hammers played:
Each blow was struck so deftly and so hard,
That all the strings like brazen trumpets blared,
And from the trumpets to the heavens sped
That march of triumph: Poland is not dead!
Dąbrowski, march to Poland!
With one accord
They clapped their hands, and ‘March, Dąbrowski!’ roared.

The player by his own song seemed amazed;
He dropped the hammers and his arms upraised;
His fox-skin hat upon his shoulders slipped;
His floating beard majestically tipped;
Upon his cheeks two strange red circles showed,
And in his eye a youthful ardour glowed.
And when at last his eyes Dąbrowski met,
He hid them in his hand, for they were wet.
‘Our Lithuania has waited long for you,’
He said, ‘as Jews for their Messiah do.
Of you the singers long did prophesy,
Of you the portent spoke that filled the sky.
Live and wage war!’ He sobbed, the honest Jew,
He loved our country like a patriot true.
Dąbrowski gave the Jew his hand to kiss,
And thanked him kindly for his courtesies.

[...] To think of such things in a Paris street,
Where on my ears the city’s noises beat
With lies and curses, and with plans ill-fated,
And fiendish quarrels and regrets belated!

Alas for us who fled in times of pest
And, timid souls, took refuge in the west!
Terror pursued wherever we might go,
In every neighbour we discerned a foe;
At last they bound us up in fetters tight,
And bade us die as quickly as we might.

But if the world will not regard their woe,
If every moment fresh news strikes a blow,
Sounding from Poland like a funeral bell,
If gaolers wish them to an early hell,
And foes like hangmen offer them a rope,
If even in high heaven they see no hope –
No wonder that they hate the world, mankind,
Themselves, and by their torments reft of mind
They spit upon themselves, each other bite.

I longed to fly, a bird of feeble flight,
Beyond the thunder and the stormy zone,
And seek the sunshine and the shade alone,
The homely plot and endless childhood days...
One happiness remains: when evening greys,
You sit with a few friends and lock the door,
And by the fireside shut out Europe’s roar,
Escape in thought to happier time and tide,
And muse and dream of your own countryside...

But of those wounds that run so fresh with blood,
And of the tears that over Poland flood,
And of the glory that does yet resound,
The heart to think of these we never found...
For in such torments even Valour stands
And gazes, and can only wring her hands.

Those generations black with mourning clothes,
That air so pregnant with so many oaths,
Our thought dared not to wing its passage there,
Where e’en the birds of thunder fear to fare.

O Mother Poland, thou that in this hour
Art laid within the grave – what man hath power
To speak of thee today? Whose lips would dare

To boast that they will find that word so rare
That it shall melt marmoreal despair,
And lift the gravestone from the hearts of men,
And unlock eyes that brim with tears again,
And shall release the frozen tide of tears?
Those lips shall not be found in many years.

Sometimes when lions of vengeance cease to roar,
And trumpets hush and armies are no more,
When the last enemy shall make his dying cry,
Be dumb and to the world give liberty,
And when our eagles in their lightning flight
On Brave Bolesław’s boundaries shall light,
And eat their fill of flesh, and drunk with gore
Shall fold their wings to rest for evermore,
Then, then our knights with oak leaves shall be crowned,
And fling aside their swords, and sit around
Unarmed! the world shall envy them at last,
And when they hear us singing of the past,
Then they shall weep upon their fathers’ pain,
And on their cheeks the tears shall leave no stain.
For us unbidden guests in every clime
From the beginning to the end of time
There is but one place in this planet whole
Where happiness may be for every Pole –
The land of childhood! that shall aye endure
As holy as a first love and as pure,
Unshattered by the memory of mistake,
That no deceitful hopes can ever shake,
And that the changing tide of life cannot unmake.
How gladly I would greet in thought those lands,
Where I would seldom weep nor wring my hands,
The lands of childhood; everywhere we roved
As in a meadow, and the flowers we loved
Were sweet and fair; the harmful weed
We flung aside, nor would the useful heed.

That happy country, poor and small!
The world is God’s but that was ours – ours all,
And all belonged to us that lay around.
How we remember everything we found,
The linden with her crown magnificent,
That to the village children shadow lent,
And every little rivulet and stone.
How every corner of the place was known,
And far as the next house was all our own!

And only those who were its denizens
Remain my sure allies, my faithful friends.
And who are they? My mother, brothers, all
My kin and neighbours. And when one did fall,
How often was the name of him still spoken!
How many memories, what grief unbroken –
That land where servants more for masters care
Than wives do for their husbands otherwhere,
And where soldier mourns his weapons more
Than sons their fathers here; and where they pour
More tears, and grief is longer, more sincere,
For a dead dog than for a hero here.
And in those days my friends would oft afford
Help for my song, and threw me word on word;
As on the desert isle those cranes once heard,
When o’er the fairy palace they were flying,
From the enchanted boy a mournful crying,
And each one threw a single feather down,
And he made wings and flew back to his own.

Would I might live to see the happy day
When under the thatched roofs these books shall stray,
Where country girls with nimble fingers rove
The spinning wheel and sing the songs they love
About that girl, whom music so did please
That through her fiddling she lost all her geese,
Or of that orphan, fair as morning light,
Who went to fetch her geese at fall of night –
Would that some happy chance to them might bring
These books as simple as the songs they sing.

So at their country pleasures in my time
They sometimes read aloud beneath the lime
Justina’s ballad or Wiesław’s fable.
Meanwhile the bailiff dozing at the table,
The steward or the landlord deigned to hear,
And to the young folk made the hard things clear,
And praised the beauties and the faults would blame.

And young men envied then the singer’s fame,
Which echoes in their woods and forests still,
To whom the laurel crown on Jove’s high hill
Is less dear than the wreaths of cornflower blue,
Twined by the hands of village girls with rue.

12Translated by Kenneth R. Mackenzie (London: Polska Fundacja Kulturalna/Polish Cultural Foundation, 1986), pages 3–6; 562–568 and 578 – 584.


1 Foray (zajazd)—according to traditional regulations, the citizens of the Rzeczpospolita (that is, the gentry) had a duty to support the juridical system and punish the sentenced man by organizing a zajazd, i.e., a military occupation of his estate lasting as long as the host abides by the sentence. Pan Tadeusz describes a parody of a zajazd.

2 Tadeusz Rejtan (1742–1780), deputy of Nowogródek in the Polish parliament who protested against the first partition of Poland in 1772. He later committed suicide.

3 Jakub Jasiński (1761–1794), Polish Jacobin and leader of the Kościuszko insurrection in Lithuania, who died during the “slaughter of Praga.”

4 Rajmund Korsak (1768–1817), poet and friend of Jasiński.

5 Praga, a part of Warsaw on the right bank of the Vistula. In 1794, after a siege, Russian troops led by Suvorov murdered several thousands of its inhabitants.

© Central European University Press, 2007

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