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Adam Mickiewicz; Polish ( not Jewish) poet

Adam Mickiewicz; Polish ( not Jewish) poet
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Born: December 24, 1798
Zaosie near Nowogródek
Died: November 26, 1855
Occupation: Poet, Essayist

Adam Bernard Mickiewicz (pronounced: [miʦ'kʲeviʧ]; Belarusian:
Міцкевіч; Lithuanian: Adomas Bernardas MickeviÄ?ius; December
24, 1798
– November 26, 1855) is one of the best-known Polish poets and
writers, considered the greatest Polish Romantic poet of the 19th
century, alongside Zygmunt Krasiński and Juliusz Słowacki. They are
referred to as the three prophets (Polish: wieszcze), best translated
as messianic bards.

Mickiewicz was born at the estate of his uncle in Zaosie near
Navahrudak (Polish: Nowogródek, Belarusian: Ð?авагрудак,
Naugardukas, Russian: Ð?овогрудок) of the Russian Empire
(formerly in
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, now in Belarus). His father, Mikołaj
Mickiewicz, belonged to the szlachta (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
nobility, coat of arms Poraj). The poet was educated at the University
of Vilnius. There he got involved with a secret Polish-Lithuanian
freedom organization. Following his studies he worked as a tutor in a
regional school in Kaunas in 1819-1823.

In 1823 Mickiewicz was arrested and put under investigation for his
political activities (membership in Filomaci). Subsequently he was
banished to live in central Russia. He had already published two small
volumes of miscellaneous poetry at Vilnius, which had been favorably
received by the Slavic public, and on his arrival at St. Petersburg
found himself welcomed into the leading literary circles, where he
became a great favorite both for his agreeable manners and his
extraordinary talent of improvisation. In 1825 he visited the Crimea,
which inspired a collection of sonnets (Sonety Krymskie — The Crimean
Sonnets) with their admirably elegant rhythm and rich Oriental
coloring. The most beautiful are "The Storm," "Bakhchisaray," and "The
Grave of Countess Potocka". Crimea caught the eye of another famous
contemporary poet, Alexander Pushkin, who wrote about it in "The
Fountain of Bakhchisarai" two years before Mickiewicz.
In 1828 appeared his Konrad Wallenrod, a narrative poem describing the
battles of the Teutonic Knights with the heathen Lithuanians. In it,
under a thin veil, Mickiewicz represented the sanguinary passages of
arms and burning hatred which had characterized the long feuds of the
Russians and Poles. The objects of the poem, though obvious to many,
escaped the Russian censors, and the poem was allowed to be published,
complete with the telling motto, adapted from Machiavelli: "Dovete
adunque sapere come sono duo generazioni da combattere - bisogna
essere volpe e leone" — "Ye shall know that there are two ways of
fighting - you must be a fox and a lion." This striking long poem
contains at least two revered subsections including Alpuhara Ballad.

After a five year exile in Russia the poet obtained the permit to
travel; he had secretly made up his mind never to return to that
country, or to his native land so long as it remained under the
government of Imperial Russia. Wending his way to Weimar, he there
made the acquaintance of Goethe, who received him cordially, and,
pursuing his journey through Germany, he entered Italy by the Splügen
Pass, visited Milan, Venice and Florence, and finally established his
residence in Rome. There he wrote the third part of his poem, Dziady
(Forefathers Eve, lit. VÄ—linÄ—s), the subject of which is the
commemoration of their ancestors practiced among Slavic and Baltic
peoples, and Pan Tadeusz, his longest poem, considered as his
masterpiece. A graphic picture is drawn of Lithuania on the eve of
Napoleon's expedition to Russia in 1812. In this village idyll, as
Aleksander Brückner calls it, Mickiewicz gives a picture of the homes
of the Commonwealth magnates, with their somewhat boisterous but very
genuine hospitality. They are seen just as the knell of their
nationalism, as Brückner says, seemed to be sounding, and therefore
there is something melancholy and dirge-like in the poem in spite of
the pretty love story which forms the main incident.

Mickiewicz turned to Lithuania, firmly stating it as his "Fatherland"
— in so doing, he was actually referring to his native former Grand
Duchy of Lithuania — with the loving eyes of an exile, and gives some
of the most delightful descriptions of "Lithuanian" skies and
"Lithuanian" forests. He describes the weird sounds to be heard in the
primeval woods in a country where the trees were sacred. The
cloud-pictures are equally striking.

In 1832 Mickiewicz left Rome for Paris, where his life was for some
time spent in poverty and unhappiness. He had married a Polish lady,
Celina Szymanowska (her parents came from Jewish Frankist families),
who became insane. In 1840 he was appointed to the newly founded chair
of Slavic languages and literature in the College de France, a post
which he was especially qualified to fill, as he was now the chief
representative of Slavic literature[citation needed], Alexander
Pushkin having died in 1837. He was, however, only destined to hold it
for a little more than three years, his last lecture having been given
on May 28, 1844. His mind had become more and more disordered under
the influence of religious mysticism.

He had fallen under the influence of a strange mystical philosopher
Andrzej Towiański. His lectures became a medley of religion and
politics, and thus brought him under the censure of the government. A
selection of them has been published in four volumes. They contain
some good sound criticism, but the philological part is defective, for
Mickiewicz was no scholar, and it is clear that he is only
well-acquainted with two of the literatures, Polish and Russian, and
the latter only till the year 1830. A very sad picture of his
declining days is given in the memoirs of Herzen. At a comparatively
early period the unfortunate poet exhibited all the signs of premature
old age; poverty, despair and domestic affliction had wrought their
work upon him. In 1849 he founded a French newspaper, La Tribune des
Peuples (Peoples' Trubune), but it only existed a year. The
restoration of the French Empire seemed to kindle his hopes afresh;
his last composition is said to have been a Latin ode in honour of
Napoleon III. On the outbreak of the Crimean War (1855) he went to
Turkey to organise Polish forces to be used in the war against Russia.
With his friend, Armand Levy, a Romanian Jew [1], he set about
organising a Jewish Legion, the Hussars of Israel, composed of Russian
and Palestinian Jews. During a visit to a military camp near
Constantinople he caught cholera and died suddenly in 1855. His body
was removed to France and buried at Montmorency. In 1900 his remains
were disinterred and buried in the cathedral of Kraków, where rest,
besides many of the kings, the greatest of Poland's worthies.


Mickiewicz is held to have been the greatest Slavic poet, with the
exception of Alexander Pushkin. Mickiewicz is little known elsewhere
in Europe, where the Polish language was considered unfashionable.
There were both pathos and irony in the expression used by a Polish
lady to a foreigner, "Nous avons notre Mickiewicz--nous." He is one of
the best products of the Romantic school.

The political situation in Poland in the 19th century was often
reflected in Polish literature which, since the days of Poland's
partitions took a powerful upward swing and reached its zenith during
the period between 1830 and 1850 in the unsurpassed patriotic writings
of Mickiewicz, among others. The writings of Mickiewicz have had such
a tremendous influence upon the Polish mind that they can not be

Because of the greater simplicity of his style and the directness of
presentation, Mickiewicz reached more Polish hearts than either
Krasinski or SÅ‚owacki and came to be regarded as the greatest
interpreter of the people's hopes and ideals. He is the Zeus of the
Polish Olympus and the immortal incarnation of Polish national spirit.
He wrote at a time when Romanticism prevailed in European literature.
His works bear the impress of that literary epoch, but they deal with
intense and palpable realities. His two monumental works, marking the
zenith of his power, are: Dziady ("Ghosts") and Pan Tadeusz. The
latter is universally recognized as "the only successful epic which
the 19th century produced." George Brandes says:

"Mickiewicz alone approached those great names in poetry which
stand in history as above all healthy, far healthier than Byron,
healthier, even than Shakespeare, Homer and Goethe."

The poetic serenity of the description of Lithuanian life at the
opening of the 19th century is the more remarkable when considered in
the light of the poet's volcanic nature and his intense suffering over
the tragic fate of his native land to which he could never return. His
passionate nature finds its truest expression in Dziady, which
undoubtedly constitutes the acme of poetic inspiration. It deals with
the transformation of the soul from individual to a higher national
conception. The hero, Gustavus, who has suffered great misfortune,
wakes up one morning in his prison cell and finds himself an entirely
changed man. His heart, given over to individual pain and individual
love, dies. Gustavus, bewailing his lost personal happiness, lives no
more, and Konrad, his divine ego, takes his place. All the creative
powers of his nation are concentrated in him. Here Mickiewicz bares
his own soul. He is filled with enough moral strength to challenge
even God. He feels for millions and is pleading before God for their
happiness and spiritual perfection. It is the Promethean idea, no
doubt, but greatly deepened in conception and execution and applied to
but one part of humanity, the Polish nation whose intensity of
suffering was the greatest in all mankind.

In 1835 Mickiewicz came under the influence of Towianski, a mystic,
and ceased to write. Toward the end of his days he freed himself again
of this peculiar thrall which Towianski was able to exert over him, as
over the two other poets, and became again a man of reality. As a
young man, Mickiewicz took a leading part in the literary life of the
university circles at Vilnius. When the societies were closed in 1823
by order of the Russian government he was arrested and exiled to
Russia. While in the Crimea he wrote his exquisite sonnets.
Subsequently he emigrated to France, where he spent most of his life,
and died in Constantinople in 1855, while organizing a Polish (Jewish)
legion against Russia during the Crimean war. His spirit was ever
imbued with exalted patriotism and his genius was active in pointing
toward a means of freeing the country from foreign oppression. He was
a champion of action and it is characteristic of the greatness of his
soul that he was ever above the petty strifes that were tearing apart
the Polish emigrants, and which absorbed their thoughts and energies.
At the time of the greatest intensity of that strife he wrote the
celebrated Books of the Pilgrims a work of love, wisdom and good will
written in exquisite style. They have been called "Mickiewicz's
Homilies" and have exercised a soothing and elevating influence.
Despite the fact that Mickiewicz's themes and heroes are connected
with Polish life, his writings still touch upon most of the problems
and motives of the world at large, thus assuring to his works
everlasting value and universal interest. The same in an equal measure
is true of the other two poets. They dealt with the most profound
problems of existence, looking at them always through the prism of
their ardent patriotism. Like Mickiewicz, the two other great Polish
poets - Słowacki and Krasiński, were compelled to live outside their
own country.

Beside Konrad Wallenrod and Pan Tadeusz, noteworthy is the long poem
Grażyna, describing the exploits of a Lithuanian chieftainess against
the Teutonic Knights. It was said by Christien Ostrowski to have
inspired Emilia Plater, a military heroine of the November 1830
Uprising who found her grave in the forests of Lithuania. A fine
vigorous Oriental piece is Farys. Very good too are the odes to Youth
and to the historian Joachim Lelewel; the former did much to stimulate
the efforts of the Poles to shake off their Russian conquerors. It is
enough to say of Mickiewicz that he has obtained the proud position of
the representative poet of his country; her customs, her
superstitions, her history, her struggles are reflected in his works.
It is the great voice of Poland appealing to the nations in her agony.

His son, Władysław Mickiewicz, wrote Vie d'Adam Mickiewicz (Poznań,
1890-1895, 4 vols.), also Adam Mickiewicz, sa vie et son Å“uvre (Paris,
1888) Translations into English (1881-1885) of Konrad Wallenrod and
Pan Tadeusz were made by Miss Biggs. See also Œuvres poétiques de
Michiewicz, trans. by Christien Ostrowski (Paris, 1845).


Adam Mickiewicz is generally known as a Polish poet, and all his major
works are written in Polish. Although his nationality is generally not
disputed among scholars, it is otherwise an object of endless popular

He is often regarded by Lithuanians to be of Lithuanian origin, his
name being rendered into Lithuanian as Adomas MickeviÄ?ius. Similarly,
many Belarusians claim his descent from a Polonized Belarusian family
and call him Ð?даÌ?м МіцкеÌ?віч. According to a Belarus
Rybczenko Mickiewicz's mother had Tatar roots. Also, some sources say
that Mickiewicz's mother was a descendent of a converted Frankist
Jewish family; however, other sources suggest the claim is
"improbable" albeit possible.[1]

The controversy largely stems from the fact that in the 19th century
the modern concept of nationality based on ethnicity had not yet been
fully developed and the term "Lithuania," as used by Mickiewicz
himself, had a much broader geographic extent than it does now, and
did refer to the historical Lithuania proper. Mickiewicz had been
brought up in the culture of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a
multicultural state that had encompassed most of what today are the
separate countries of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine.
His most famous poem, Pan Tadeusz, begins with the invocation "Oh
Lithuania, my fatherland, thou art like good health". It is generally
accepted that in Mickiewicz's time the term "Lithuania" still carried
a strong association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, part of
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and that Mickiewicz used it in a
political rather than an ethnic sense[2]. However, he was able to make
a clear distinction of the ethnic Lithuanian nation[3] and himself
could understand and write some Lithuanian[4]. Translation by Simonas
Daukantas of his poem Žywila into Lithuanian was first translation of
his poems ever[5]. It is regarded that his works had major influence
for Lithuanian national rennaisance.

Of different claims resultant confusion that is sometimes engendered
today is illustrated by a waggish report about a Russian encyclopedia
that describes Mickiewicz as a Belarusian poet who wrote about
Lithuania in Polish.