Polish literature: a guide for a foreigner

How it all began? The earliest works in Polish, continuing the traditions of Latin-language literature, date back to the 14th century. The most significant of them is the religious song “Theotokos”, which essentially performed the function of the national anthem. The emergence of the Commonwealth ensured relative political stability and intensive cultural contacts with other European countries. Polish art and literature of the 16th century were strongly influenced by the Italian Renaissance. The largest representative of the Polish Renaissance was Jan Kokhanowski, creator of the Polish poetic language. The peak of his work is considered to be a piercing cycle of 19 lamentations-elegy “Trena”, written on the death of the little daughter of the poet Ursula. Poland was influenced by European art in the following centuries – in the era of Baroque and Enlightenment.

Romanticism as the basis of all future Polish literature.

In the first half of the XIX century, Poland rejected the values ​​of the previous generation, which grew up in the Enlightenment, preferring them – both in literature and in politics – the spirit of romanticism. Romanticism played a crucial role in the history of Polish national identity, and its greatest representative, Adam Mickiewicz, still occupies a key place in modern Polish culture. Mickiewicz, the “bard of Poland,” is often compared to Pushkin, Byron, Goethe, and Shevchenko. The first lines of his poem “Pan Tadeusz”, which takes place during the years of the Napoleonic Wars, are known by heart to all Poles. The plot of Mitskevich’s Dzyad is based on an ancient Slavic pagan rite, and the work itself is the clearest example of the interest of romantic poets in the mystical and the Absolute. Mickiewicz and his contemporaries Juliusz Slowacki and Zygmunt Krasinsky earned the title of poets prophets, and their work is forever connected with the struggle of Poland for independence.

The Turn of the Century: Epic Novels

At the turn of the 19th – 20th centuries, two major novelists appeared on the Polish literary scene: Henryk Sienkiewicz and Boleslav Prus. They turned to history in their work and presented readers with clear and accessible prose. The most famous works of Henryk Sienkiewicz, Nobel Prize winner in literature for 1905, are the novel “Camo Gryadeshi” (“Quo Vadis”) and the so-called “trilogy” (novels “By Fire and Sword”, “Flood” and “Pan Volodyevsky” ) The trilogy takes place in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the 17th century, and the “Camo Griadeshi” in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero. In the era of the partition of Poland, heroic works by Sienkiewicz played an important role in strengthening the Polish national spirit. If Senkevich’s prose is replete with descriptions of historical battles, the world of Prus’ works amazes with its fidelity to style and accuracy of details. Lovers of “Anna Karenina” will surely like Prus’s novel “The Doll”, which describes the life of Warsaw society at the end of the 19th century. Prus was much ahead of his time, masterfully changing the narrative perspective, so we strongly recommend that you get acquainted with his writing heritage. Miscavige from Novogrudek to Constantinople. A poet from Lithuania who has never been to Warsaw and Krakow and who became the national prophet of the Poles. In modern Poland, he spent only a few months. Mickiewicz’s life mapped.

The beginning of the twentieth century: “Young Poland”

The first decades of the twentieth century in the history of Polish art are known as “Young Poland”. Among the outstanding writers of this period should be called Stanislav Pshibyshevsky, Leopold Staff, Boleslav Lesmyan and Stefan Zheromsky. One of the key works of “Young Poland” is the play “Wedding” by Stanislav Vyspiansky. This symbolist drama, full of allusions to Polish history and culture, tells about a rural wedding, which brings together not only peasants and urban intelligentsia, but also spirits and ghosts. Vyspiansky’s drama, which criticizes political stagnation, as well as earlier concepts of “art for art’s sake,” is still considered one of the most significant works of Polish literature.

The interwar years: in search of a way

Immediately after Poland gained independence in 1918, disputes about the future of the nation, reflected in the literature of the interwar period, arose in Polish society. The conflict of carriers of different points of view is vividly presented in Theresa Gennert’s Novel by Zofya Nalkovskaya. In the 1920s, futurism was gaining strength in Europe, which in Poland was represented by the writers Bruno Yasensky and Alexander Wat. Fans of the Italian futurist Filippo Marinetti and Vladimir Mayakovsky will undoubtedly be pleased with the Polish version of this dynamic urban style. Renouncing traditions for the sake of a technological future, the Polish futurists believed that Poland should radically break with its past. The collection of short stories by Alexander Vata “Unemployed Lucifer” of 1927 is a sharp and sarcastic image of a volatile world in which Lucifer makes a career in cinema, feeling unnecessary in modern atheistic society. Notes on the Russian avant-garde in Poland Relations between the Polish and Russian avant-garde have always been difficult. Despite external openness, international interest, and the adoption of the artistic universality of this method, countries along the western and eastern Polish-Russian borders at first looked at each other without much enthusiasm.