Adam Mickiewicz

From Academic Kids

Adam Mickiewicz (December 24 1798November 26 1855) was one of the most well-known Polish poets and writers, considered as the greatest Polish poet, besides Zygmunt Krasiński and Juliusz Słowacki.



Mickiewicz was born in the Zavosse manor of his uncle near Nowogródek (Lithuanian: Naugardukas, Belarusian: Наваградак, Russian: Новогрудок) of the Russian Empire (former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, now the place is in Belarus). His father, Mikołaj Mickiewicz, belonged to the szlachta (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth nobility). The poet was educated at the University of Vilnius; becoming involved in a secret Polish-Lithuanian freedom organization there. After the studies he worked a tutor in regional school in Kowno (1819-1823).

In 1823 he was arrested and put under investigation for his political activity. Subsequently he was banished to live in central Russia. He had already published two small volumes of miscellaneous poetry at Vilnius, which had been favourably received by the Slavonic public, and on his arrival at St Petersburg he found himself admitted to the leading literary circles, where he was a great favourite both from his agreeable manners and his extraordinary talent of improvisation. In 1825 he visited the Crimea, which inspired a collection of sonnets (Sonety Krymskie, Crimean Sonnets) in which we may admire both the elegance of the rhythm and the rich Oriental colouring. The most beautiful are The Storm, Bakchiserai, and Grave of the Countess Potocka.

In 1828 appeared his Konrad Wallenrod, a narrative poem describing the battles of knights of the Teutonic Order with the heathen Lithuanians. Here, under a thin veil, Mickiewicz represented the sanguinary passages of arms and burning hatred which had characterized the long feuds of the Russians and Poles. The objects of the poem, although evident to many, escaped the Russian censors, and it was suffered to appear, although the very motto, taken from Machiavelli, was significant: "Dovete adunque sapere come sono duo generazioni da combattere ... bisogna essere volpe e leone." This is a striking poem and contains two beautiful lyrics.

After a five years' exile in Russia the poet obtained leave to travel; he had secretly made up his mind never to return to that country or Poland as long as it remained under the government of the Muscovites. Wending his way to Weimar, he there made the acquaintance of Goethe, who received him cordially, and, pursuing his journey through Germany, he entered Italy by the Splgen, visited Milan, Venice, and Florence, and finally took up his abode at Rome. There he wrote the third part of his poem Dziady (Forefathers Eve), the subject of which is the religious commemoration of their ancestors practised among Slavic nations, and Pan Tadeusz, his longest poem, by many considered his masterpiece. A graphic picture is drawn of Lithuania on the eve of Napoleon's expedition to Russia in 1812. In this village idyll, as Brckner calls it, Mickiewicz gives us a picture of the homes of the Polish magnates, with their somewhat boisterous but very genuine hospitality. We see the before us, just as the knell of their nationalism, as Brckner says, seemed to be sounding, and therefore there is something melancholy and dirge-like in the poem in spite of the pretty love story which forms the main incident.

Mickiewicz turned to Lithuania, firmly stating Lithuania as his Motherland, with the loving eyes of an exile, and gives us some of the most delightful descriptions of Lithuanian skies and Lithuanian forests. He describes the weird sounds to be heard in the primeval woods in a country where the trees were sacred. The cloud-pictures are equally striking. There is nothing finer in Shelley or Wordsworth.

In 1832 Mickiewicz left Rome for Paris, where his life was for some time spent in poverty and unhappiness. He had married a Polish lady, Selina Szymanowska, who became insane. In 1840 he was appointed to the newly founded chair of Slavonic languages and literature in the College de France, a post which he was especially qualified to fill, as he was now the chief representative of Slavonic literature, Pushkin having died in 1837. He was, however, only destined to hold it for a little more than three years, his last lecture having been given on May 28 1844. His mind had become more and more disordered under the influence of religious mysticism.

He had fallen under the influence of a strange mystical philosopher Andrzej Towiański. His lectures became a medley of religion and politics, and thus brought him under the censure of the Government. A selection of them has been published in four volumes. They contain some good sound criticism, but the philological part is defective, for Mickiewicz was no scholar, and it's clear that he is only well-acquainted with two of the literatures, Polish and Russian, and the latter only till the year 1830. A very sad picture of his declining days is given in the memoirs of Herzen. At a comparatively early period the unfortunate poet exhibited all the signs of premature old age; poverty, despair and domestic affliction had wrought their work upon him. In 1849 he founded a French newspaper, La Tribune des Peuples (People's Trubune), but it only existed a year. The restoration of the French Empire seemed to kindle his hopes afresh; his last composition is said to have been a Latin ode in honour of Napoleon III. On the outbreak of the Crimean War he went to Constantinople to assist in raising a regiment of Poles to take service against the Russians. He died suddenly of cholera there in 1855, and his body was removed to France and buried at Montmorency. In 1900 his remains were disinterred and buried in the cathedral of Cracow, where rest, besides many of the kings, the greatest of her worthies.


Mickiewicz is held to have been the greatest Slavonic poet, with the exception of Alexander Pushkin. Unfortunately in other parts of Europe he is but little known; he writes in a very difficult language, and one which it is not the fashion to learn. There were both pathos and irony in the expression used by a Polish lady to a foreigner, "Nous avons notre Mickiewicz,--nous." He is one of the best products of the Romantic school.

Political situation in Poland in the 19th century was often reflected in Polish literature which, since the days of Poland's partitions took a powerful upward swing and reached its zenith during the period between 1830 and 1850 in the unsurpassed patriotic writings among others of Adam Mickiewicz. The writings of Mickiewicz have had such a tremendous influence upon the Polish mind that can not be underestimated.

Because of the greater simplicity of his style and the directness of presentation, Mickiewicz reached more Polish hearts than the other Krasinski or Slowacki and came to be regarded as the greatest interpreter of the people's hopes and ideals. He is the Zeus of the Polish Olympus and the immortal incarnation of Polish national spirit. He wrote at a time when Romanticism prevailed in European literature. His works bear the impress of that literary epoch, but they deal with intense and palpable realities. His two monumental works, marking the zenith of his power, are: Dziady (Ghosts) and Pan Tadeusz. The latter is universally recognized as "the only successful epic which the 19th century produced." George Brandes says that

Mickiewicz alone approached those great names in poetry which stand in history as above all healthy, far healthier than Byron, healthier, even than Shakespeare, Homer and Goethe.

The poetic serenity of the description of Lithuanian life at the opening of the last century is the more remarkable when considered in the light of the poet's volcanic nature and his intense suffering over the tragic fate of his native land to which he could never return. His passionate nature finds its truest expression in "Dziady," which undoubtedly constitutes the acme of poetic inspiration. It deals with the transformation of the soul from individual to a higher national conception. The hero, Gustavus, who has suffered great misfortune, wakes up one morning in his prison cell and finds himself an entirely changed man. His heart, given over to individual pain and individual love, dies. The Gustavus, bewailing his lost personal happiness lives no more, and Konrad, his divine ego, takes his place. All the creative powers of his nation are concentrated in him. Here Mickiewicz bares his own soul. He is filled with enough moral strength to challenge even God. He feels for millions and is pleading before God for their happiness and spiritual perfection. It is the Promethean idea, no doubt, but greatly deepened in conception and execution and applied to but one part of humanity, the Polish nation whose intensity of suffering was the greatest in all mankind.

In 1835 Mickiewicz came under the influence of Towianski, a mystic, and ceased to write. Toward the end of his days he freed himself again of this peculiar thrall which Towianski was able to exert over him, as over the two other poets, and became again a man of reality. As a young man Mickiewicz took a leading part in the literary life of the university circles at Wilno (now Vilnius). When the societies were closed in 1823 by the order of Russian Government he was arrested and exiled to Russia. While in Crimea he wrote his exquisite sonnets. Subsequently he emigrated to France, where he spent most of his life, and died in Constantinople in 1855, while organizing a Polish legion against Russia during the Crimean war. His spirit was ever imbued with exalted patriotism and his genius was active in pointing toward means of freeing the country from foreign oppression. He was a champion of action and it is characteristic of the greatness of his soul that he was ever above the petty strifes that were tearing apart the Polish emigrants, and which absorbed their thoughts and energies. At the time of the greatest intensity of that strife he wrote the celebrated "Books of the Pilgrims" a work of love, wisdom and good will written in exquisite style. They have been called "Mickiewicz's Homilies" and have exercised a soothing and elevating influence. Despite the fact that Mickiewicz's themes and heroes are connected with Polish life, his writings still touch upon most of the problems and motives of the world at large, thus assuring to his works everlasting value and universal interest. The same in an equal measure is true of the other two poets. They dealt with the most profound problems of existence, looking at them always through the prism of their ardent patriotism. Like Mickiewicz, the two other great Polish poets - Slowacki and Krasinski were compelled to live outside their own country.

Besides Konrad Wallenrod and Pan Tadeusz, attention may be called to the poem Grażyna, which describes the adventures of a Lithuanian chieftainess against the Teutonic knights. It is said by Ostrowski to have inspired the brave Emilia Plater, who was the heroine of the rebellion of 1830, and after having fought in the ranks of the insurgents, found a grave in the forests of Lithuania. A fine vigorous Oriental piece is Farys. Very good too are the odes to Youth and to the historian Joachim Lelewel; the former did much to stimulate the efforts of the Poles to shake off their Russian conquerors. It is enough to say of Mickiewicz that he has obtained the proud position of the representative poet of his country; her customs, her superstitions, her history, her struggles are reflected in his works. It is the great voice of Poland appealing to the nations in her agony.

His son, Władysław Mickiewicz, wrote Vie d'Adam Mickiewicz (Poznan, 1890-1895, 4 vols.), also Adam Mickiewicz, sa vie et son œuvre (Paris, 1888) Translations into English (1881-1885) of Konrad Wallenrod and Pan Tadeusz were made by Miss Biggs. See also Œuvres potiques de Michiewicz, trans. by Christien Ostrowski (Paris, 1845).


Adam Mickiewicz is generally known as a Polish poet and all his major works are written in Polish. Although his nationality is generally not disputed among scholars, it is a matter of constant disputes among common people. He is sometimes considered by Lithuanians to be of Lithuanian origin, and his name is usually translated to Adomas Mickevičius. Also, many Belarusians claim he was of polonized Belarusian family and call him Ада́м Міцке́віч. There are also (so far unsupported) claims that his grandfathers were of Jewish descent.

The controversy mostly takes its origin in the fact that in 19th century the concept of nationality was not yet fully developed and that the geographical terms used by Mickiewicz himself had much broader meaning that they have now. His most famous poem Pan Tadeusz begins with the words "Oh Lithuania, my country, thou art like good health", yet he was clearly referring to the territory of present-day Belarus. It is generally accepted that at the times of Mickiewicz the term "Lithuania" had still a strong connotation with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Mickiewicz used it in a geographical sense rather than national or cultural.

See also

Related reading:

  • Pan Tadeusz, Adam Mickiewicz; Hippocrene Books, 1992. Paperback, 598 pages. ISBN 0781800331
  • Treasury of Love Poems by Adam Mickiewicz, transl. Kenneth R. MacKenzie; Hippocrene Books, 1998. Hardcover, 137 pages, bilingual edition. ISBN 0781806526
  • The sun of liberty: Bicentenary anthology, 1798-1998, Energeia, Warsaw, 1998. Paperback, 223 pages, bilingual edition. ISBN 8385118748
  • Konrad Wallenrod and Grażyna, Adam Mickiewicz, transl. Irene Suboczewski; Rowman & Littlefield, 1989. ISBN 0819175560

Gallery of Adam Mickiewicz monuments

External link:

cs:Adam Mickiewicz de:Adam Mickiewicz eo:Adam MICKIEWICZ fr:Adam Mickiewicz it:Adam Mickiewicz ja:アダム・ミツキェヴィチ lv:Ādams Mickēvičs pl:Adam Mickiewicz ru:Мицкевич, Адам zh:亚当·密茨凯维奇


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