The last great pastoral of European literature, Mr. Thaddeus, was written in 1834. The genre of the pastoral implies a perfect or nearly-perfect world where human animosities, grief and anger are manageable and where "all is right with the world." As the name suggests, in pastorals the place of action is the rural world, and the mode of expression is generally poetry. The pastoral lyrics resurfaced in the Renaissance, indicating the urbanized man's longing for rural context and simplicity of thought.
Adam Mickiewicz's Mr. Thaddeus was written long after the last wave of pastorals had swept through European literatures in the seventeenth century. It was written in special circumstances: the longing of the Paris dweller (Mickiewicz) was augmented by his expatriate status, the rape of Poland-Lithuania in the late-eighteenth-century partitions of that country, and memories of a recent (and failed) rising of 1830. Mickiewicz conjured up an image of Polish-speaking petty nobility in Lithuania whose quarrels and family feuds did not preclude a fundamental belief in the necessity of forgiveness and magnanimity toward the defeated. Social conflicts are swept aside: the Jewish community is presented as living in perfect harmony with the Poles, peasants are absent, and any trace of a distinction between Lithuanian and Polish ethnicities is wiped out. All this is framed by Mickiewicz's profound devotion to Our Lady of Vilnius whose image in the famous Gate remains dear to Catholics in present-day Poland, Lithuania and Belarus.
This issue of SR contains a new translation of Book Four of Mr Thaddeus. The translation captures the stylized tone of Mickiewicz's masterpiece; it flows smoothly and rhythmically, and its judiciously archaized language renders well the un-modern language of the original. Christopher Adam Zakrzewski is a great translator, and he is at work on the entire poem.
This issue also contains two reviews of adaptations of Mr. Thaddeus for stage and screen. The film by Andrzej Wajda has received much acclaim, and our reviewer rightly points out the melancholy and picturesque quality of Wajda's rendition of quintessentially Polish mythology which Mickiewicz's pastoral has immortalized. On the other hand, a traveling theater's performance of Mr. Thaddeus in Polish testifies to the strong sense of ethnic identity among Americans of Polish background.
Nationhood is a tight weave of mythologies, ideals, facts, dreams, hopes and gratitude, and Mr. Thaddeus is all that. It is second only to Henryk Sienkiewicz's Trilogy (1884-88) in upholding and promoting Polish nationhood. But--how many in the audience of several hundred at the University of Saint Thomas in Houston on the night of performance actually reached for Mr. Thaddeus in print? All too often, lapses into sentimentality and megalomania accompany encounters with national treasures. As Zbigniew Herbert noted (SR, XV/2, April 1995), such lapses are among the national shortcomings of Poles.
It should be mentioned that present-day Lithuanians view with certain coldness and suspiction the Polish national mythology associated with their country. It is not difficult to understand why. Demographically and territorially, Lithuania is much smaller than Poland, and Lithuanians remain afraid of a potential Polish desire to make Vilnius their own one more time. It is important for Poles to work to assuage these fears, rather than fanning them as that anonymous colleague mentioned in Professor John Knasas' paper had done (by presenting a Lithuanian-American with a map showing Lithuania as part of Poland). While it would be a mistake for Lithuania to try to associate itself with Russia (as some Lithuanian politicians have advocated), or to dream the pipe dreams about Lithuania becoming a part of Scandinavia, it would be a grave mistake indeed for Poles not to keep reassuring Lithuanians that Poles harbor no irredentist desires toward Vilnius or toward Lithuania in general. In return, Poles expect Lithuanians to ease up on the Polish minority in Lithuania.
Finally, we print in this issue the first part of Walenty Tyszkiewicz's narrative about Poles in Turkmenistan. The Polish diaspora in that remote Central Asian country needs financial help, to the tune of $5,000 per year. In the American diaspora, the expenses for just one dancing party of which so many take place each year in various cities would more than cover this community's expenses. Mr. Tyszkiewicz's email is <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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The Sarmatian Review
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