The emblem of the Commonwealth
during the reign of Stanislaw August
Polish poetry during the Enlightenment was to a considerable degree
influenced by French eighteenth-century neo-classical poetry. At the same
time Polish poetry continued the traditions of the Polish Renaissance,
with which it shared the ideals of moderation, the golden mean, and admiration
for ancient classical poetry, in particular Horace. On the formal level,
classicist poetry followed certain norms that were spelled out in a number
of theoretical works on the "art of versification" inspired by the Ars
Poetica of Horace and the French seventeenth-century codifier, Boileau.
The tenets of the classicist style were clarity, rigor, and order. They
were an extension of the Enlightenment's cult of reason. The strong moralistic
tendency of classicist poetry, expressed in the Horatian maxim prodesse
et delectare and echoed in the programmatic title of Games Pleasant and
Useful, accounted for the great popularity of didactic genres such as the
satire, fable, mock-heroic poem, odes and epigrams. They usually contained
a noticeable satirical element. Like its Horatian models, the classicist
satire had a universal character and was directed against types rather
against human weaknesses rather than vices.
However, the Polish poetry of the Enlightenment period was not uniform;
not all of it was contained within the bounds of classicist poetics. The
most accomplished of its poets, Krasicki, Naruszewicz, and Trembecki-all
of whom belonged to the King's entourage-represented classicism. On the
other hand, the poems of Franciszek Karpifiski and Dionizy Kniainin display
different type of sensibility known as sentimentalism. Under the influence
of Jean Jacques Rousseau, the sentimental poets stressed the importance
of the emotions rather than reason, and praised tenderness as well as sensitivity
to nature. In their pastorals they promoted an ideal of simplicity. By
endowing their descriptions of country life with a good dose of realism,
they continued the long, rich native pastoral tradition dating back to
Jan Kochanowski and Szymon Szymonowic.
In the late
seventeen eighties and nineties, the highly charged political atmosphere
and especially the heated discussions surrounding deliberations in the
Four-Year Diet gave rise to a wave of political poetry. Its emotional,
frequently polemical tone as well as its narrow topicality, personal allusions,
and accusations-often very thinly disguised-were all violations of the
classicist tenets of universality, detachment, and bienseance. This is
especially true of the virulent, pamphlet-like poetry of Franciszek Zablocki,
but also of poems such as Jakub JasiAski's "To the Nation" or Julian Ursyn
Niemcewicz's "A Building in Decay." While the politically aloof poetry
of Krasicki is artistically superior, the tragic overtones of Jasinski
or Niemcewicz, expressing genuine concern, as well as a deep sense of despair-remain
a moving testimony of the last days of the Old Polish Commonwealth.
THE LION AND THE ANIMALS
by Gerard T Kapolka
In the presence
of the lion there raged a debate:
were arguing about their greatest trait.
praised caution, the bison dignity,
moderation, the leopards bravery;
The bear put
forward strength, the horse a handsome frame,
The wolf the
use of cunning in capturing his game,
The lynx a
stylish coat, the doe a graceful form,
promoted nimble feet, the stag ornate homs,
The dog lauded
faithfulness, the fox a mind of wiles,
The lamb praised
the gentle, the donkey the servile.
But when they
asked the lion for the best trait in a beast,
He said, "In
my opinion, he is best who boasts the least."
The dandy is
a nice young man-this they all say.
I know him.
He talks much, eats with gusto and drinks well.
And what makes
this dandy so remarkably nice?
Is it his hair,
bristling up in a strange fashion?
he can whistle an Italian tune?
Or that he
is fragrant all over with perfumes,
Twists on his
heels, dashes around like a madman
to be a harlequin with fox tails?
because he sprawls on a couch like a boor
And puffs like
a camel before good company?
Or that he
displays his beauty in the mirror,
sugary notes, and then receives them himself?
he dresses in fashionable clothes,
at matrimony and steals the cards?
out any nonsense and will not be stopped,
innocent and honorable?
he walks with wide sleeves, proud expression,
with excuses, lies, and deceives others?
He takes things
on credit, and when his creditor
too much he flees town, incognito?
he drives horses, and when winter comes
whip with a studied pose over his sled?
Ohl If the
dandy is indeed such a nice young man
should be called stupid, dishonest, and vain?
TO THE NATION
0 my nation!
Once great, today by a sad tam
deprived of power, wealth, fame and hope.
Once your mighty
sword and eminence in learning
Made you a
wonder, victor, model for your neighbors!
the yoke of shame and slavery
You are plaything
to the proud, prey to anarchy.
You who once
conquered other countries with the sword,
See what your
domestic disputes have done to you!
sadness, with the gift of enlightenment,
You began to
rebuild the greatness of the past,
And your unworthy
neighbor could observe with fear
can do when they are united and free.
But alas, you
missed the mark of your destiny.
like a star and then perished like a spark!
You were condemned
to so many calamities,
friend, brother, and your beloved king.
Why did your
fate not spare you at least one thing-
To die by another's
sword and not your own hand.
0 my nation!
Do not trust others' promises,
You alone must
wager a ruin or salvation.
heavy shackles you are wearing,
people said, "I want to be free,"
Free it became!
Recall examples from the West:
What is the
might of tyrants-and of the people.
Rise, and try
your hand if it has still strength enough,
To wield again
the sword with which it fought before.
You will learn
what you ignored, that for your defense
courageous hearts, and learned counsel!
But know, also,
that before the time comes to rise
be great harmony-and still more despair.
He who rules
over the fate of nations and men
Will once again
kindle the beam of light for you.
fail to seize the moment you are unworthy
unworthy of rising again.
two nations, souls worthy of each other,
How they unite
their hearts in an eternal pact;
By brave endeavors
they will soon let the world know
What the light
of truth can do; or spite and blunders.
But you, although
under foreign domination,
Wait for a
hand stretched to you from someone's mercy-
you can still use the vestige of your strength,
to what you might win by yourself!
0 my homeland!
Dear country, will you have no more
the earth nor pity in heaven?
Does a Pole,
constantly kept under the grim ax,
No longer know
what it is to die with honor?
My Lord, is
it dream or reality that I see
A weapon in
Polish hands for a great campaign!
young men filled with holy virtue,
for our oppression and our disgrace.
Go, your country
demands that you slay both the one
Who has enslaved
you and the one who betrayed you!
In vain your
sly soul tries to scare you with impotence,
Only one thing
can bring defeat: your self-pity.
it is the wrong moment, virtue
honorjust as much as any crime.
When will Your
first great day shine for us 0 Father
Of the Flighest
truth, 0 Father of Your children?
It is time
that Your fingers, pressed now by our hands,
us from shame and our nation from the depths.
Let Your holy
voice from the sky and from the earth
Tell us what
we are, what we are able to do. And you,
waiting for our help,
You will know
if you still have children, and are saved.
Many were players
of that instrument
But none of
them would venture to perform
presence. (Since that night of storm,
spent the winter none knew where;
he suddenly had joined them there
with Poland's General Staff.)
All men could
testify, on his behalf,
that instrument without a peer
and taste and talent. So, sincere
They pled with
him to play and placed before him
but vainly they implore him:
his hands were stiff, he dared not play
due practice; and so great a day
him with men of mighty station;
many a bow, he shunned their exhortation.
Zosia saw this, she ran hastily
And with one
white hand offered, as her plea,
that his skill was wont to use
To sound the
strings; and lest he should refuse
courtesy for which she pled,
his old grev beard, and curtsying said:
kind; this is my wedding day;
for me, Jankiel. For you used to say
That at my
wedding you would play with pleasure."
Zosia greatly, beyond measure,
And bowed his
beard in token of assent.
the centre of the throng he went
And on his
knees the dulcimer they slide;
upon it with delight and pride,
some old veteran whom new battles call,
When his small
grandsons take down from the wall
His heavy sword:
the old man laughs to heft it;
years have gone since last he left it,
his hand will not betray the blade.
Two of his
pupils meanwhile gave their aid,
Knelt by the
dulcimer, tuned fresh the strings,
them as a test of readyings.
half-closed eyes in silence lingers
And holds the
hammers sleeping in his fingers.
them in a triumphal beat,
the strings again with brisker heat,
As with a shower
of rain: all were amazed,
Yet this was
but a test that he had phrased;
and raised both hammers up aloft.
He played anew;
the strings now trembled soft
light as though a fly's faint wing
Scunded a gentle
buzz upon the string.
gazed intently at the sky
with a haughty eye
He looked down
at his silent instrument;
both hands, dropped them with firm intent
And with both
hammers all the strings coerced.
Then all at
once from many strings there burst
A sound as
though a janissaries' band
bells and drums made glad the land.
that marked the Third of May"
forth! The rippling notes were gay
And in one's
ears they poured a breath of joy;
to dance and each impatient boy
Could not stand
still-but thoughts of older men
Into the blessed
past were borne again,
years when Deputies and Senate
On that great
day saw Liberty's proud tenet
in the reconciliation,
of May, between both King and Nation;
King!" then sang the dancing masses,
Diet people, and all classes!"
kept on quickening the time
And ever played
with power more sublime;
a false note sounded crass-
A snake?s hiss
or the scratch of steel on glass-
A shudder through
the listeners wandered free
with the general gaiety
foreboding, All alarmed,
if the instrument were harmed
Or if the player's
hand had made a blander.
With such a
master lay no cause for wonder!
kept touching that foul chord
To mar the
music with its note abhorred;
louder still its angry moans
Make plot against
the harmony of tones;
At last the
Warden understood the master,
face, in sorrow of disaster,
"I know, I know those notes too well;
of Targowica, foul as hell!"
the bad string hissed and broke;
to the high strings swept his stroke,
measure, left the treble race,
with his hammers to the bass.
[May 3rd Constitution EN]
[May 3rd Constitution PL]
[Before the Constitution]
[The era of reform]