From the Editor  

The title page speaks of "the other side" of literature because, when Polish literature is mentioned at universities today, the term usually implies twentieth-century writers in some way "adjacent" to the communist period. We have done some counting and discovered that about 95 percent of all works of Polish literature published in this country since World War II have been works by twentieth-century writers. It is as if Polish literature were born yesterday, and Americans were asked to encode in their memory only what happened under the communists, anticipating the communists, or following the communists. Similar things could be said about other eastern European literatures. Has any Renaissance Czech or Hungarian author been translated lately? These choices of what to publish (and what to work on, for the American Polish intellectuals facilitate these choices by making choices of their own and selecting contemporary writers as subjects of their academic research) contribute to a misperception of central Europe and of Poland in particular. An impression prevails that the nations and states of that part of the world were born a few generations ago, having been previously nestled in the old empires. Worse still, generations of Polish Americans grow up knowing nothing of their heritage beyond a few twentieth-century names. Among these, great selectivity prevails, one not always based on the quality of the writers. For instance, who in America knows of Krzysztof Baczynski, a twentieth-century "cousin" of Mikolaj Sep-Szarzynski; or of a lesser but still remarkable poet, with a voice all his own: Jerzy Liebert? We are offering a brief sampling of all three. There exists a vast untranslated library of Polish authors of the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and, yes, even nineteenth century. Our selection starts with Jan Kochanowski's essay "On Virtue and Friendship" which is a free translation of "Wyklad cnoty." This Renaissance poet is usually remembered for the Laments which he wrote after his daughter's death, but he was also a remarkable prose writer and a good thinker. Seventeenth-century Polish poetry displayed much common sense, as Mateusz Kuligowski's works demonstrate; it also circulated comfortably and unselfconsciously in European circles, as shown by the poetry of Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski for whom unfortunately we have not yet been able to find a translator. Elzbieta Druzbacka's short poem chastising Polish shortcomings is still valid today: how slowly do national habits change! Prose selections from one of the finest Polish writers, Cyprian Kamil Norwid, reveal a philosophical and Christian mind. His cycle of lectures on Slowacki illustrates the problems of which Norwid himself speaks in Letters: Norwid was too preoccupied with day-to-day existence to complete these lectures and publish them as a polished work. Norwid's poetry is among the finest ever written. His Letters contain an amazingly up-to-date assessment of the American character and the reasons for the Americans' continued sympathetic fascination with Russia. The Letters show that Norwid was not only a great poet but also someone who analyzed the weaknesses of Poles with great accuracy. His observation about the fragmentariness of most Polish undertakings abroad is all too correct. Today we might blame this on a lack of capitalization: no institution, enterprise or journal can live off the work of volunteers plus some small subscription or membership fee. It needs capitalization, it needs permanent quarters, paid employees etc. Even the most dedicated volunteers eventually give up or crumble away. This was not generally understood by Polish circles in Norwid's time, and it is not understood by the vast masses of American Poles today.

Norwid's comments on Polish intellectuals are likewise on target. How little has changed in that respect since his time! When one compares even the impecunious Russian writers, such as Dostoevsky, to Norwid or Slowacki, one realizes that in spite of his gambling passion and a lack of steady income, Dostoevsky could live off his writings and the occasional gifts from rich sponsors, whereas no Polish writer of the nineteenth or twentieth century has enjoyed such luxury. At best, they taught at universities and/or held some petty white collar jobs, like Witold Gombrowicz in the Banco Polaco in Argentina.

Unless otherwise indicated, the translations were done by the SR staff.

Among Announcements, we wish to stress our discovery of the bargains of Zakopane in 1993. Go there if you can.

The title page drawing was purchased by a SR reader in Warsaw's Old Market Square in Summer 1993. It is an artist's rendition of Warsaw's Castle Square with King Sigismund's column in the forefront.

Return to September 1993 Issue
The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 05/15/02