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Polish Baroque Poetry

September 2004

Volume XXIV, No. 3

Jan Andrzej Morsztyn (1613-1693)



De morte et divina sapientia

“Tell me, Divine Wisdom, does Death live

Or not? If not, why do artists depict it

As alive? If alive, why is it called Death? And how

Does it take life away, if it is dead?”

“Here is the true answer to your question:

When you are alive, Death does not live; when you are dying, it comes to life.

Is it good or evil? Do you want to know? Know this:

Whatever you are is also the name of your death.”

Poeci polskiego baroku, vol. I, edited by Jadwiga Sokołowska and Kazimiera Žukowska (Warsaw: PIW, 1965), 749.

Zbigniew Morsztyn (1628-1689)


Human Thought

What Cuckoo Thought

Today they shot me down, an innocent cuckoo,

The hunter said that I am good medicine in the month of May

But even if a golden potion could be made of the hunter’s body,

I would not covet him to prolong my life.

Poeci polskiego baroku, I, edited by Jadwiga Sokołowska and Kazimiera Žukowska (Warsaw: PIW, 1965), 801.

Anonymous-17th century


Wiersze zbieranej drużyny

De ebrio

Inebriation is the mother of strange inventions,

Liquor percolating in a man’s brain

Makes him sing, cry, blasphemy,

Say prayers, dance, pontificate on

Res publica

Declaring himself to be the lover of peace; or yet make ready for a brawl

Brandishing his sword; or guffaw, or get close to ladies

Reaching for the hem of their dresses,

Or, being struck speechless behind an ample moustache,

It makes him fall down on the ground as if paralyzed,

Or cackling like a gander, stripping for no reason,

Blabbing about Faith and threatening unbelievers,

It makes him run down the village street at night, pounding doors and hitting passersby,

Or gorge on food and then throw up,

All in the hope that drinking will drown his sorrow.

Poeci polskiego baroku, II, edited by Jadwiga Sokołowska and Kazimiera Žukowska (Warsaw: PIW, 1965), p. 589. This text first appeared in print in 1965, thus serving as an illustration of Alexander Brückner’s remark that seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Polish literature still resides in manuscripts and archives. The original can be found in folder #116 at the Jagiellonian Library, and a copy in folder #987 in the Kórnik Library.

Hieronim Jarosz Morsztyn (1580-1626)


Being a professional soldier does not bestow manliness on you,

Nor bloodying your hands to avenge wrongs done by a clown,

Nor showing great and spectacular strength,

Or contempt for life that reaches the extreme.

Nor being able to break horseshoes and tear rope apart,

Nor twisting nails or turning a millwheel,

Breaking a wooden bowl against your forehead,

Forcing your way into someone else’s home,

Or drinking gallons of mead at one sitting,

Nor will successful dueling bestow it,

Nor will the muscles of your arms or their endurance count,

Or your ability to withstand pain,

Or fearing absolutely nothing in the world.

Manliness is achieved by those who endure steadily

Outrageous Fortune’s arrows and sorrow

And by those who remain unruffled by good or bad luck; these I call men,

And to these I extend my respect for their achievement.

Stanisław Serafim Jagodyński (16th-17th century)


A stupid saying wisely countered

Not all proverbs deserve praise.

A priest upbraided those who muttered

That “Poland lives by lawlessness” [Polska nierządem stoi. Ed.]

What kind of a silly saying is that? Poland is our mother,

And if our mother lives by lawlessness, then she is a slut,

And what does that make us? The slut’s bastards?

Your own mother is being insulted by your

Mindless mutterings against the Crown.

Translated by the Sarmatian Review staff

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