Adam Mickiewicz was the main figure in Polish romanticism, the beginning of which has been established in 1822, when he published his first works. He is regarded as the national poet of Poland and one of the greatest Polish poets of all time, being compared to Byron and Goethe.
A few words on Mickiewicz and romanticism in Poland
Mickiewicz was born in 1798, in the Russian-partitioned territories of what once had been the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. His people’s repeated battles and struggles for independence instilled in him strong patriotic feelings and shaped a national consciousness, which will become pervasive in most of his poems.
Polish romanticism developed in accordance with the harsh reality of those times, establishing nationalist and patriotic feelings as its defining features, which is what offers Polish romanticism its distinct character.
Mickiewicz’s tumultuous life greatly impacted, evidently, his entire work, from which a strong nationalist spirit emerges. His first poetry anthology Poezje (“Poetry”), and especially the opening poem Romantyczność (“Romanticism”) are considered a manifesto for polish Romanticism, marking the starting point of this genre in Polish Literature.
Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve)
His most notable work is Dziady (“Forefathers’ Eve”), a poetic drama composed of four parts, written throughout a long period of time. He first wrote and published Parts II and IV of this poem (before the banishment in Russia), intending to continue it in further parts that were to be added. The title is in reference with the old pagan holiday celebrated by Slavic and Baltic people on All Souls’ Day, when they would make a feast to commemorate the dead – the forefathers.
Mickiewicz’s poem is a sublime example of Polish romanticism where folklore, mysticism and supernatural are intertwined with history and strong feelings of Polishness and nationhood.
The Third part was written at a distance of ten years, after the failure of November Insurrection, and Mickiewicz dedicated it to all people fighting for freedom of Poland and to those exiled to Siberia.
This part is considered the most significant. It is quite distinct to the previous ones, revealing a more mature, profound and dramatic dimension of the poet, on whom the life in exile has left its mark. The uniqueness of the Third Part consists also in the highly patriotic and messianic vision of the author.
The section Wielka Improwizacja (“The Great Improvisation”) is regarded as a masterpiece, quintessential to Polish poetry and romanticism, displaying Mickiewicz’s artistic genius at its finest. It is built as a monolog in which the protagonist, Gustaw, who metamorphosed into Konrad the poet, talks to God, confronting him about the tragic fate of the Polish people. He accuses God of his nation’s sufferance and of lack of response to his desperate call.
Konrad goes on challenging God’s grace, claiming that he, the poet, through his creations, is equal if not superior to God, so will fight against Him (more redoubtably than the Satan himself) in the salvation of his nation.
Such is the case with most Polish romantic works, Mickiewicz’s Dziady is an urge to not abandon fight (be it physical or spiritual), reminding Poles of their glorious past and sowing seeds of hope for a brighter future bringing along independence. In such unbiddable contexts, people need words of encouragement and prise, so that they not lost, but defend their Polishness.