Adam Mickiewicz


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Mickiewicz, Adam

 

Born Dec. 24, 1798, in Zaosie, near Nowogrodek, in present-day Byelorussian SSR; died Nov. 26, 1855, in Constantinople. Polish poet and a leader of the national liberation movement.

Mickiewicz was the son of an impoverished nobleman and lawyer. He studied at the faculty of history and philology at the University of Wilno (Vilnius) from 1815 to 1819 and taught school in Kowno (Kaunas) from 1819 to 1823. Mickiewicz published his first poem in 1818. His early works attest to his enthusiasm for the freethinking traditions of the Enlightenment, for example, his translation of an excerpt from Voltaire’s Maid of Orleans and his narrative poems Mieszko, Prince of Nowogrodek (1817) and Potatoes (1819), both published in full in 1948. Beginning in 1817 he helped organize the Philomaths and Aretophiles (Filareci), patriotic youth groups, for which he wrote a number of poetic manifestos, including the “Ode to Youth” (1820), imbued with youthful romantic ardor and dreams of struggle for freedom.

Mickiewicz’s first book of poems, Poetry (vol. 1, 1822), became the manifesto of romanticism in Polish literature. The second volume of Poetry (1823) included the romantic ballad Grazyna, which laid the foundation for the Polish “poetic novella.” Based on an event from Lithuanian history, Grażyna extols the valor and self-sacrifice of the heroic personality. The volume also contained parts two and four of the dramatic narrative poem Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve), in which Mickiewicz’s quest for a national subject and form, interpreted in the romantic spirit (the poem depicts a folk ritual commemorating the dead), was combined with an artistic rendering of a personal theme in the portrayal of a hero suffering the pangs of unhappy love and denouncing the society that tramples on the “rights of the heart.”

Arrested in 1823 for his association with the Philomaths and Aretophiles, Mickiewicz was banished to Russia in 1824, where he remained until 1829, residing in St. Petersburg, Odessa, Moscow, and again St. Petersburg. In Russia he became acquainted with the Decembrists K. F. Ryleev and A. A. Bestuzhev and several prominent writers, including as A. S. Pushkin, who greatly admired his poetry. These friendships inspired Mickiewicz’s idea of a revolutionary alliance between the peoples of Russia and Poland. His Sonnets were published in Russia in 1826. The collection included the cycle Crimean Sonnets, remarkable for its magnificent nature descriptions, impassioned lyricism, portrayal of the “pilgrim” hero grieving for his lost homeland, and Oriental motifs, an innovation in Polish poetry.

In 1828 the narrative poem Konrad Wallenrod was published, depicting the Lithuanians’ struggle against the Teutonic aggressors. The poem’s tragic hero is a lone fighter who sacrifices personal happiness for the salvation of his people. The poem had a revolutionary impact on Mickiewicz’s contemporaries. In his two-volume Poetry (1829) he included new lyrics, the narrative poem Farys, and ballads.

In 1829, Mickiewicz left Russia and traveled to Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. After an unsuccessful attempt to join the 1830 uprising in Poland he remained in permanent exile, living primarily in Paris and continuing his literary and revolutionary work. In the third part of Dziady, written in 1832, Mickiewicz appealed to his countrymen to continue their struggle. In this drama Mickiewicz contrasts the selfishness and collaboration of the social elite with the heroism and fortitude of patriotic young people (the work includes episodes from the interrogation of the Aretophiles). The play expresses Mickiewicz’s trust in the nation’s inner strength. Its Promethean hero, the poet Konrad, sympathizes with the people’s sufferings and challenges god, who is responsible for evil in the world, to a duel. The play has a loose and fragmented structure, and the action unfolds on two levels, the imaginary and the real. Dziady ends with the epic Fragment depicting autocratic Russia, an angry denunciation of tsarism; here the poet declares his solidarity with the progressives in Russia in the poems “The Statue of Peter the Great” and “To Russian Friends.” However, in the third part of Dziady and in his Books of the Polish Nation and Its Pilgrimage (1832), Mickiewicz expounds “Polish messianism,” the doctrine that Poland’s sufferings are part of its unique historical calling as the martyr-nation, the “Christ of the nations.” The poet summons the Poles in exile to the “general war for the liberty of peoples,” the European revolution. These ideas are also contained in his articles in the newspaper Pielgrzym Polski (Polish Pilgrim, 1832–33).

In 1834, Mickiewicz published his last major work, the narrative poem Pan Tadeusz. This Polish national epic, with strong realistic tendencies, is a compendium of old Polish life and customs and a masterpiece of verbal art, whose characters are both types and individuals. Mickiewicz portrays the world of the old nobility with humor and sadness, not softening its shortcomings and realizing its fate, yet admiring its colorfulness.

In subsequent years Mickiewicz almost entirely ceased to write (he composed a few lyrics in 1838–39), although he continued to be active in social and cultural work. In 1839–40 he gave a course in Latin literature at Lausanne, and thereafter until 1844 he held the chair of Slavic literatures at the College de France in Paris.

In 1841, Mickiewicz experienced a crisis in his world view, joining the sect headed by the mystic A. Towiański. He resumed his revolutionary work in 1848, organizing a Polish legion to fight for Italy’s freedom and in Paris contributing to the newspaper La Tribune despeuples (1849). His revolutionary-democratic articles revealed an interest in Utopian socialism and called for a revolutionary alliance of peoples. During the Crimean War (1853–56), Mickiewicz went on a political mission to Constantinople, where he died of cholera. He was buried in Paris, and in 1890 his remains were transferred to Kraków.

Mickiewicz’s poetry was of great importance for the Polish national liberation movement, the development of democratic thought, and the revival of Polish literature. He enriched the Polish literary language, versification, and the poetic genres. His Dziady and statements on dramaturgy influenced the development of the Polish theater. Mickiewicz became popular in Russia during his lifetime. His poems were translated by such Russian poets as A. S. Pushkin, M. lu. Lermontov, K. F. Ryleev, I. I. Kozlov, N. P. Ogarev, A. N. Maikov, M. L. Mikhailov, A. A. Fet, V. la. Briusov, and I. A. Bunin.

WORKS

Dzieta: Wydanie narodowe, vols. 1–16. Warsaw, 1949–55.
Dzieta: Wydanie jubileuszowe, vols. 1–16. Warsaw, 1955.
Dzieta wszystkie, vols. 1, 4. Warsaw, 1969–72.
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–5. Moscow, 1949–54.
Izbr. proizv. [With an introductory article, “Mickiewicz and Russia,” by A. V. Lunacharskii.] Moscow-Leningrad, 1929.
Stikhotvoreniia: Poemy. Moscow, 1968.

REFERENCES

Gorskii, I. K. A. Mitskevich. Moscow, 1955.
Zhivov, M. S. A. Mitskevich. Moscow, 1956.
Ryl’skii, M. F. Poeziia A. Mitskevicha. Moscow, 1956.
A. Mitskevich v russkoi pechati, 1825–1955. Moscow-Leningrad, 1957.
Jastrun, M. Mitskevich. Moscow, 1963. (Translated from Polish.)
Kleiner, J. Mickiewicz, vols. 1–2. Lublin, 1948.
Adam Mickiewicz: Zarys bibliograficzny. Warsaw, 1957.
Kronika zycia i twórczości Mickiewicza. Warsaw, 1966.
Stownik języka Adama Mickiewicza, vols. 1–7. Wrocław-Warsaw-Kraków, 1962–71.

B. F. STAKHEEV

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The earlier poets belong to a poetic tradition stretching back, most famously, to Adam Mickiewicz, who compared his country's eminently lamentable fate to that of the Lord's Passion: Poland's re-emergence out of total dismemberment (completed in 1793--maintained until 1918) at the hands of Russia, Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire would be for Europe what Christ's rise from the dead was for a Christian mankind.
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