Polish literature


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Polish literature,

the literary works of Poland.

Early History

The early literature of Poland was written in Latin: its chief figures included the historians Martin Gallus (12th cent.) and Jan Dlugosz (1415–80), the astronomer CopernicusCopernicus, Nicholas
, Pol. Mikotaj Kopérnik, 1473–1543, Polish astronomer. After studying astronomy at the Univ. of Kraków, he spent a number of years in Italy studying various subjects, including medicine and canon law. He lectured c.
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, and the poet Klemens Janitius (1516–43). The first book printed in Poland was issued in Wrocław in 1475.

The Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries

Under the impact of humanism, religious reform, and the increasing sophistication of the gentry, the 16th cent. became the golden age of Polish literature. Mikolaj Rej (1505–69) is considered the father of Polish literature; other writers of this period are the great poet Jan KochanowskiKochanowski, Jan
, 1530–84, esteemed as the greatest poet of the Polish Renaissance. Kochanowski assimilated the poetic traditions of Italy and France and created new rhythmic patterns, expressive phrases, and syntactic structures that were integrated into the Polish
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; the humanitarian Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski (1503–72); Piotr Skarga (1536–1612), a spokesman for the Counter ReformationCounter Reformation,
16th-century reformation that arose largely in answer to the Protestant Reformation; sometimes called the Catholic Reformation. Although the Roman Catholic reformers shared the Protestants' revulsion at the corrupt conditions in the church, there was present
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; the historian Martin BielskiBielski, Martin,
Pol. Marcin Bielski , c.1495–1575, Polish historian and poet. His history of Poland, the first historical work written in Polish, was completed by his son, Joachim Bielski.
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; and the political writer Stanislaus Orzechowski (1513–66).

After the mid-18th cent. there was a revival of classicism and a new flowering of the arts influenced by the EnlightenmentEnlightenment,
term applied to the mainstream of thought of 18th-century Europe and America. Background and Basic Tenets

The scientific and intellectual developments of the 17th cent.
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. Modern Polish journalism was born, and light drama flourished under the playwrights Wojciech Bogusławski (1757–1829) and Franciszek Zablocki (1754–1821). Ignacy KrasickiKrasicki, Ignacy
, 1735–1801, Polish satirist. He is noted for the poems Myszeidos, an allegory on political disorder, and Monachomachia, a witty inspection of monastic life, as well as for his novels, prose satires (e.g., Satyry, 1779), and fables.
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 wrote satire and fables. A disciple of Voltaire, Julian Niemcewicz, bridged the classical and romantic periods in Polish literature.

The Nineteenth Century

The romantic era, with its revolutionary and reform movements, was one of extraordinary productivity. Themes of nationalism and freedom predominated, developed by the patriotic poets Adam MickiewiczMickiewicz, Adam
, 1798–1855, Polish romantic poet and playwright, b. Belorussia. He studied at the Univ. of Vilna, where he was arrested (1823) for pan-Polish activities and deported to Russia.
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, Juliusz SłowackiSłowacki, Juliusz
, 1809–49, Polish writer, one of the foremost Polish romantic poets. A revolutionist, he joined the Polish expatriates in Paris and died there prematurely of tuberculosis.
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, and Zygmunt KrasińskiKrasiński, Zygmunt, Count
, 1812–59, Polish romantic poet. An ardent patriot and Slavophile, he lived much of his life abroad. His majestic works, often set in classical antiquity, include The Undivine Comedy (1833, tr.
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. Romantic novelists of note were Jozef Korzeniowski (1797–1863) and Henryk Rzewuski (1791–1866), and the major dramatist was Alexander FredroFredro, Alexander
, 1793–1876, Polish comic dramatist. From 1809 to 1814, Fredro served in the Polish regiments of Napoleon I's army, taking part in the invasion of Russia.
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 (1793–1876). In the 19th cent. much Polish literature was written by émigrés in Paris and other European centers; these included the poet Cyprjan Norwid (1821–83).

Positivism, stimulated by the revolutionary fiasco of 1863, marked an effort to gain national strength through literary attacks on ignorance and reaction. A notable representative of this school was Bolesław PrusPrus, Bolesław
, 1845?–1912, Polish writer, whose original name was Alexander Głowacki. Prus is considered a founder of the modern Polish novel. His articles and short stories exposed the prejudice and class pride in Poland and urged the creation of a sober,
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. The colorful historical novels of the Nobel laureate Henryk SienkiewiczSienkiewicz, Henryk
, 1846–1916, Polish novelist and short-story writer. The best-known of Sienkiewicz's vivid historical novels is Quo Vadis? (1896, tr. 1896), concerning Christianity in the time of Nero.
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 gained international popularity at this time. The last decade of the 19th cent. saw the appearance of the neoromantic school of Young Poland, influenced by French poetry and by Nietzsche. The poet and dramatist Stanisław WyspiańskiWyspiański, Stanisław
, 1869–1907, Polish poet, dramatist, and painter. As a painter Wyspiański created numerous murals, stained-glass windows, and theatrical costumes.
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, the novelists and dramatists Stefan ŻeromskiŻeromski, Stefan
, 1864–1925, Polish writer. Family tragedies and emotional troubles contributed to the pessimistic strain evident in his revolutionary idealism. Among his novels are The Homeless People (1900), which won a national prize, Ashes (1904, tr.
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 and Stanisław PrzybyszewskiPrzybyszewski, Stanisław
, 1868–1927, Polish novelist, essayist, and dramatist. He studied in Berlin, where his friendship with a socialist led him to prison.
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, and the novelist Władisław Stanisław ReymontReymont, Władysław Stanisław
, 1867?–1925, Polish short-story writer and novelist. Reymont's poverty-stricken farm childhood and his early manhood as a touring actor and worker in the provinces provided rich material for his writings.
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 were the outstanding writers of this period.

The Twentieth Century

The regaining of Polish independence in 1919 after generations of partition inspired new literary activity. The Skamander group of urban poets, including Julian TuwimTuwim, Julian
, 1894–1953, Polish poet. A leader of the Skamander group of experimental poets, he was also a major figure in his nation's literature. In his principal collection of poetry, Slowa we krwi
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 and Kazimierz WierzyńskiWierzyński, Kazimierz
, 1894–1969, Polish poet and journalist. Wierzyński was a cofounder with Julian Tuwim of the Skamander group of experimental poets.
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, called for an end to nationalist preoccupation and for experimental freedom; other significant figures included the novelists Marja DąbrowskaDąbrowska, Marja
, 1889–1965, Polish sociologist and novelist. Dąbrowska worked as a militant publicist to further social and economic reform. Her works of fiction, including the epic novel Nights and Days (1932–34) and The Crossroads
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 and Zofia Nalkowska (1885–1954) and the dramatists Karol Hubert Rostworoski (1877–1938) and Jerzy Szaniawski. The period's greatest writing, which gained recognition only after World War II, was the prose and drama of Stanisław Witkiewisz, Witold GombrowiczGombrowicz, Witold
, 1904–69, Polish writer. Gombrowicz is recognized as an original satirist, an existential innovator who mingled the real with the unreal to convey a highly personal vision of the world. After studying law at the Univ.
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, and Bruno SchulzSchulz, Bruno,
1892–1942, Polish short-story writer and artist. Unrecognized until after World War II, Schulz is now considered the finest modern Polish-language prose stylist and a significant visual artist.
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. Notable postwar writers who focused on the anguish of the period include Tadeusz Borowski, Jerzy Putrament, Leon Kruczkowski, and the great expatriate Polish poet Czesław MiłoszMiłosz, Czesław
, 1911–2004, poet, essayist, and novelist, b. Szetejnie, Lithuania (then in Russia). Widely considered the greatest contemporary Polish poet, Miłosz was born into an ethnically Polish family, studied law in Vilnius and literature in Paris,
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, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981.

The advent of the Communist regime was accompanied by themes of socialist realismsocialist realism,
Soviet artistic and literary doctrine. The role of literature and art in Soviet society was redefined in 1932 when the newly created Union of Soviet Writers proclaimed socialist realism as compulsory literary practice.
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. Communist writers include the poet Constantine Galcyzynski (1906–53) and the novelists Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski and Kazimierz Brandys. In 1956 writers joined in the popular uprising against the Moscow-dominated regime, and subsequently there was some relaxation of literary strictures. The thaw (culminating in the rise of the "Solidarity" movement, the state of emergency, and the collapse of Communism) resulted in renewed contact with the West and a surge of literary experimentation. Many novelists continued to explore themes related to the war experience and its aftermath; others wrote works of psychological and political realism, reflecting current European trends.

Among the foremost postwar novelists are Wilhelm Mach, Leopold Buczkowski, Roman Bratny, Bohdan Czeszko, Julian Stryjkowski, Stanisław Dygat, Stanisław LemLem, Stanisław
, 1921–2006, Polish science-fiction writer. A doctor by training, Lem began his writing career as a poet before turning to the novel. In his many science-fiction works, including Return from the Stars (1961; tr. 1973), Solaris (1961; tr.
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, and Sławomir Mrożek also well known for his plays and short stories. Postwar poetry in Poland deals principally with philosophical concerns. The chief poets of the era include Stanisław Jerzy Lec, Zbigniew Herbert, Tadeusz Różewicz, and Wisława SzymborskaSzymborska, Wisława
, 1923–2012, Polish poet, b. Bnin, studied Jagiellonian Univ., Kraków (1945–48). Although highly acclaimed in her homeland, Szymborska was largely unknown in the West until she won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996.
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 (awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996). The works of Miron Białoszewsky, Jerzy Harasymowicz, and Stanisław Grochowiak are in a more lyrical vein. Notable among the writers who began as members of the Polish New Wave movement of the late 1960s is the expatriate poet and novelist Adam Zagajewski. Principal essayists and critics include Tadeusz Breza, Artur Sandauer, Jan Kott, and Jan Błoński.

Bibliography

See histories by M. Kridl (tr. 1967), J. Krzyzanowski (1978), and C. Miłosz (2d ed. 1983); M. M. Coleman, The Polish Land (1974); A. Gillon and L. Krzyzanowski, ed., Introduction to Modern Polish Literature (1982).

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