AN EXPRESSION OF THANKS
This has been a labour of much love, at first casually undertaken to introduce my non-Polish speaking family, as well as any translation ever can, to the beauties of the work. It became an obsession that would never have been brought to a conclusion without the support and help of many to whom I am immensely grateful: my wife Philippa, who contributed the illustrations, to whom I read again and again the many progressive versions, and who, every time, laughed and cried when appropriate, and always encouraged; Irena Leszczynska, whose enthusiasm helped transform a hobby into a serious endeavour; my daughter-in-law Susan Weyland, whose patience transferred my pencil scribbles to a disc; Yvonne Wozniak, who encouraged, edited, proof-read, argued, questioned, criticised, praised, and pushed, until my English became everybody's English; Phillip Hinton, who undertook the final critical overview and whose many suggestions are incorporated, my publishers, whose professionalism and belief in the enterprise made the word become flesh; Marek Burdajewicz, for his many months of encouragement and effort during the pre-publishing period; and, as well as the above, other friends who 'word after word dropped into my song '.
Adam Mickiewicz was born on 24 December 1798 on a small country property near Nowogródek, then in Lithuania, now part of Belarus, and both then contained in a 'Greater Poland'. The most loved and celebrated Polish poet only spent, once, a mere two weeks in the 'real' Poland. His parents belonged to the lesser gentry. His father Mikolaj (Nicolas) was a not very successful lawyer, his mother Barbara the daughter of a wealthy landholder's steward. There is now much speculation that Barbara, a fervent Catholic, came of a family of Jewish (Frankist) converts. If this is so, and if Adam knew of this, it could account for his life-long interest in Jews, his sometimes expressed annoyance at their failure to embrace the true faith, and the peculiar circumstances of his death.
In 1812 the boy saw, marching through Nowogrodek, Napoleon's glittering Frenchmen and Germans, and among them the Polish corps led by Prince Joseph Poniatowski, later to die in the battle of Leipzig ('God has entrusted me with the honour of Poland and to God only will I surrender it'). He saw also the remnants of the Grande Armée straggling wearily back.
Both parents died in Adam's youth-his father in 1812, leaving no money, his beloved mother in 1820. Always an avid student of classics and history, he continued these studies at the University of Wilno (now Vilnius, and capital of Lithuania), and became a founder of a secret and patriotic, if not particularly revolutionary, club-the Society of Filomats. It was there that he published his first book of ballads, and his (local) reputation grew. In 1819 he accepted a teaching post in Kaunas. There followed a passionate and emotional involvement with a Maryla, both before and after her marriage to a count, and another, perhaps more passionate but less emotional, affair with the wife of a doctor, on whose account he nearly fought a duel with her husband and a rival admirer. Both involvements were curtailed by his arrest for seditious activities by Czarist police, but gave rise later to some lovely poems.
In 1824 Mickiewicz was sentenced to exile in Russia, and was never to return. His reputation preceded him; in Russia he was lionised and befriended by Pushkin. In 1828 appeared Konrad Wallenrod, a grand, dramatic, Byronic poem, which was a thinly-veiled appeal to Poles to destroy the Russian state from within, a message not (fortunately) comprehended by Czarist police.
He was allowed to leave Russia in 1829, and travelled to Rome, the last mile or two on foot to pay it homage. He was there when news came in 1830 of the Polish uprising against the Russians. The Poles appealed to the pope, but political considerations led Gregory XVI to side with the Czar: '...when they even see no hope out of heaven...' (the Epilogue). The Pope's negative encyclical was in fact partly drafted by Prince Gagarin, the Czar's envoy.
After much vacillation, and then too late, he reached western Poland, to be feted as a celebrity, to hesitate again, and to be dissuaded from joining the now hopeless insurrection. He went to Dresden instead, where he wrote the Third Book of Forefathers' Eve, which contains the very famous 'Great Improvisation'.
Mickiewicz began writing Pan Tadeusz in Paris in 1832. He had apparently carried it within himself for years and wrote it, as Sienkiewicz later said about his Trilogy, for the 'lifting of hearts', as an evocation of a place and time lost forever, as an analysis of the Polish character, and as a call to national unity. All these aims are expressed in the Epilogue. He read completed sections to literary friends, accepted (sometimes) their criticism, and included (greatly altered), one friend's contribution to Book Four: '...And then my comrades assisted my tongue / And word after word dropped into my song' (the Epilogue). He wrote little of note thereafter.
In 1834 he married Celina Szymanowska who, on and off, suffered bouts of mental instability. To earn a living for his growing family he applied for and secured the chair of Latin Literature at Lausanne Academy; followed soon by one in Slav Literature at the Colle`ge de France in Paris. The creative urge seems to have dried up. He became an ardent member and co-leader of the circle led by the mystic, visionary, religious, patriotic Andrzej Towianski. He resigned in 1845 to become Master of a splinter group.
Mickiewicz played a part in the liberal uprisings of the 'Springtime of Nations'. He raised a Polish Legion in Rome with the motto: Ubi Patria, ubi male (where there is evil, there is our fatherland), a motto that antagonised all European governments. The legion fought in a battle or two, never crossing Italian borders, and was disbanded when the 'Springtime' faded away across all of Europe.
The Crimean war gave Mickiewicz, again, a chance to play a role in fighting the ancient enemy, Russia. He went to Turkey with the plan of forming a Polish-Jewish force, under a Polish flag, to fight the Czar. This project, probably doomed from the start, ended with Mickiewicz's sudden death, possibly from cholera, on 26 November 1856 in Constantinople. His coffin was borne with military honours. In 1890, his remains were transferred to Wawel Castle in Kraków to lie with Polish kings and heroes, near those of Tadeusz Kosciuszko. There are monuments to him in Warsaw and Kraków, and one, by Pierre Bourdelle, in Paris.
The Time and Place
Following the practice of the classical Greek drama, which Mickiewicz had studied, his poem follows its example of the unities of time and place. The place is a gentleman's country house in the region of Nowogrodek, where his father had his law practice and Adam his schooling, and which was located within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the latter having been united with Poland in a political union under a common monarch since 1569. The opening lines-Lithuania, my country-refer to this geographical region; they are not to be read as a statement of loyalties to a political entity other than Poland.
'Time' is the essence of the work. Pan Tadeusz is not a story played out merely against an arbitrarily chosen historical setting. Time and history are the very fabric of the poem and inseparable from it. The poet celebrates Poland's lost glories and mourns the dismemberment of his country by Russia, Prussia and Austria in the Partitions of 1772, 1793 and 1795 (after which, in effect, there was no independent Poland until 1989, except for the brief interlude between 1918 and 1939, during which time this translator was born). The poem is a dirge for a time lost forever, lost for the author personally and lost for the nation, a recherche de temps perdu. Significantly, the words 'the last' keep recurring like a sad echo: ...last Lithuanian usher... (Book One); ...the last monarch whom Witold's majestic cap graced... (Book Four); ...The old man all his art, once through forests renowned, Perhaps for the last time for the huntsmen's ears found (ibidem); ...Horeszkos' last warden... (Book Five); ...The last foray in Litwa thus came to a close. (Book Nine); ...perhaps the last who thus can the polonaise lead... (Book Twelve); and, with more humour: The old art of knife-throwing, for close fights perfected By then in Lithuania was somewhat neglected... (Book Five).
The entire action of the poem, in conformity with the Greek 'unities', takes place over four summer days in 1811 and two in the following spring. But we are made aware of three time-frames:
o the golden days of 18th century independence, followed by the dark days of the partitions and the Targowica confederacy, as recollected by the older personae,
especially the Judge, the Chamberlain and Gerwazy; o the time in which the events are set, i.e. just before Napoleon's invasion of Russia, which Mickiewicz recalls from his own boyhood: O Spring! Who had seen you then walk through our fields Spring of war unforgotten, spring of bounteous yields... Profuse with events, pregnant with hope unfulfilled! O fair phantom of dreamland, I can see you still! I, in slavery born, and then swaddled with chain, Only one such spring knew... (Book Eleven) o the period during which the work was written, which was shortly after Napoleon's death: his memory already dimming, the 1830 Polish uprising quelled, the Polish emigration disunited and quarrelsome. All the themes are touched on in the Epilogue, which brings them together, and makes explicit the poet's aim to unite, to reconcile, and to console. To these is now, necessarily, added the translator's own time-frame, as another 'overlay'.
Mickiewicz's language was the natural speech of his own day; though he would introduce the diction of the above earlier times as seemed appropriate; and so it also seemed right to use occasionally in the translation an expression peculiar to our own time. He frequently contrasts the old, formal, eighteenth century world with the modern, romantic age, which he recognises as having come in with the nineteenth century. In Books Four and Seven there are allusions to the thought of Rousseau who became so influential in the early nineteenth century. The past is personified in the Judge; in the Chamberlain, with his praise of days gone and distrust of innovation and modernity; in Maciej, an incarnation of the old Polish virtues; and in the terrible old man Gerwazy, clinging to old hatreds, to schemes of revenge for old wrongs, and his incitement to civil discord, with which he brings to naught the long wrought, patriotic schemes of the priest Worm. The older men wear the old-Polish 'kontusz'; the young men, and Telimena, are dressed in the 'modern' French fashion. The Notary changes from one style to the other (in Book Twelve), and is ridiculed for it.
The Theme of Expiation
Young Tadeusz may be the titular hero of the book, but it is Gerwazy and Worm who carry the dramatic burden of the tale. It seems to me that the poet intended Worm to be the personification of his nation: the earlier disreputable and roistering life, the blood on his hands, then the expiation of his sins by a life that is selfless, and committed to Poland. Although in the end his (somewhat questionable) methods and scheming prove ineffectual, and are thwarted by Gerwazy, in the apotheosis of the death scene he attains a kind of sainthood, losing his life in defence of his two enemies, and dies only after hearing the happy news that war with Russia is certain, but spared the knowledge of the disasters to come. (These are known only to Mickiewicz and the reader):
Just then night withdrew, over the milky dawn sky, Turning rosy, the first rays of sunshine now fly, Through the panes fell like arrows of gold on the bed, There reflected, they circled the dying man's head And adorned face and temples; and so they rained down That he shone like a saint in a fiery crown.
The Jewish Question
The dialogue between Mickiewicz and Judaism requires a scholastic study beyond the capability, and the intention, of this translator. There is no doubt that one finds, recurring in Mickiewicz's entire oeuvre, a fascination with, an attraction to, and revulsion from, Jews and Judaism. In Pan Tadeusz can be found lines such as '...And so, friends are respected as Jews gold respect' (Book One); and: 'who cried... Like a little child stuck by the Jews with sharp pins' (Book Eight), which are as repugnant as anything written in
the early twentieth century. It should be said that the first is uttered by the Chamberlain and represents the prevailing Polish, and European, prejudice. With regard to the second, the editor's notes to the 1955 'Czytelnik' edition of the 'Works' see it as a jocular reference to an old folk superstition, though in my opinion Mickiewicz did not make this intention sufficiently obvious. Certainly however, the Jew Jankiel is the only character whom Mickiewicz endows entirely with positive attributes, and with no negative ones. Jankiel's cembalo concert in Book Twelve is the last 'tour-de-force' of the poem, and it concludes with 'The good Jew, good Pole also, his homeland loved well'. It is the conclusion to the theme of the Pole, the Lithuanian and the Jew, being all citizens of the one fatherland.
However, I believe that there is more to this love/hate relationship than that. It appears that his mother's family were converts to Catholicism; his (Jewish) uncle, with whom he boarded for a time in Wilno, is believed to have been a model for Jankiel. It would be highly probable at that time (and in fact up to the present) that his mother may have suffered because of the family estrangements that follow such conversions. In this light, much becomes understandable: his messianic Catholicism, his marriage to Celina Szymanowska whose own family had been Frankist converts, and his impatience with Jews for their obdurate refusal to accept Christ.
The final act of his life was the attempt, in the company of Armand Lévy, ex-Jew, lawyer, journalist, freemason, and also his secretary, proofreader and, ultimately, the guardian of his children, to raise and train a regiment of Polish Jews ('The Hussars of Israel', would you believe) to take the field against Russia in the Crimean War. The two men frequented synagogues together in France and in Turkey, which also makes this last, and fatal, attempt more understandable, although not very sensible. One shudders to imagine what such an attempt, if carried further, would have meant to the large Jewish population of Russia.
Mickiewicz uses a thirteen syllable line, the last syllable, as is natural to the Polish language, an unaccented one. A caesura, or pause, divides each line into two, always after the seventh (unaccented) syllable. There are four stressed syllables in each line: the 6th and 12th are invariably stressed, while the 3rd stress falls on either the 8th or 9th. The first stress can fall anywhere from the 1st to the 4th syllable. This device prevents monotony, allowing some lines to 'explode', while others have a ruminative quality. Flexibility is achieved, while the sense of an underlying structure is always preserved.
This translation attempts to preserve the caesura and the stress pattern. It most often omits the last unaccented syllable, common in the Polish language, and less usual in English. The intention was to reproduce as much as possible the actual rhythm of the original.
When Pan Tadeusz was published in Paris in 1834, it was not an immediate success. It had many critics: its 'hero' is no romantic hero; of the only two female characters one is a mercenary and immoral man-eater, and the other a school-girl; it was 'anti-Polish'; and, as the poet Cyprian Norwid pointed out, its one thoroughly fine character is a Jew. The printer lost money on the venture. But many prominent readers did quickly come to appreciate the work's greatness. It was, as it was bound to be, immediately banned in Poland by the occupying powers, but despite this, or because of it, the book was passed in Poland from hand to hand.
Its popularity was assured when Henryk Sienkiewicz, the writer of Quo Vadis, made it the subject of his 1893 short story The Lighthouse Keeper. There is now no Polish bookshelf without a well-read copy. It can, I think, safely be said that there is no epic poem in European literature so popular, and one which remains so dear to the very people to whom it affectionately holds up a very critical mirror.
I am aware of at least two previous translations: an early prose one by G. R. Noyes, and a post-war one by Kenneth McKenzie. The Noyes one is, in my opinion, neither fish nor fowl: there are enough vestiges of poetry left to prevent it being good prose; the charm and humour of the original have departed together with the poetry. I had read only as much of the McKenzie translation as is quoted by Simon Schama in his Landscape & Memory. Had I come across it years ago, it may have made me desist from proceeding further with my effort. But Mackenzie uses the iambic pentameter, typical of much English poetry. The insistent and invariable rhythm, the shorter line, and the omission of the caesura, speed up the poem and deprive it of the spaciousness, flexibility and variety which is so characteristic of the original-and so I persevered, despite 'most Polish scholars pronouncing it definitely untranslatable' (quoted by Simon Schama in Notes to the above), or, indeed, perhaps because of the challenge.
The translator's family fled Lódz, Poland, in 1939 just before its occupation by the Germans. After peregrinations through Lithuania, Soviet Russia and Japan, and internment by the Japanese in Shanghai, we found in 1946 permanent shelter in Sydney Australia, where I completed studies in architecture and law. I have now spent twice as many years as Mickiewicz had out of Poland, am a contented and patriotic Australian, with Australian wife, children and grandchildren; yet this book continues to speak to me as it always has spoken to all Polish expatriates. I began this translation as a modest attempt to show my family why this is so; and have finished it in the hope that it may also achieve this aim for a wider readership.