Cyprian Kamil Norwid

To Jadwiga Luszczewska (July 19, 1856)

Only sober societies can evaluate, others only worship or dishonor. Yet one should not either worship or dishonor anyone without his consent.

Look at the recent literature: have you seen anyone who has been evaluated, rather than worshipped or dishonored? There is none. This is why we, who have personally known the greatest writers of our times, can testify that they were wasted for precisely these reasons. . . .One should worship only God and one should not dishonor anyone.

But since we have ceased to transmit art and knowledge through initiation, from one hand to another as it were, in the very warmth of living; since we have begun to pass them on at a bazaar, by means of the printed page - everyone can assume any tone he wants, until the moment which Dante described as Nel mezzo del cammin, or life's mid-point.

At that time, at the high noon of our lives, the tone we have assumed asks for a payback. It asks for the equivalent in feeling, otherwise it cannot remain lifelike. This is hell on earth, for in order to match the pose we had assumed and the lofty tone, we have to suffer heavily.

To Karol Ruprecht (21 September 1863)

Three things conquer the future: spirit, patience and daily work. . . .

To Karol Ruprecht (September? 1863)

The United States will not change its republican form of government for anything in the world.(1)

Its people have the mentality of free men, and therefore they negotiate easily with anyone; but they will not tolerate anyone who would want to change their republicanism.

The acceptance of the Russian fleet in the American ports(2) stems from two reasons: first, because the Americans are free men, and as such they are not touchy or excessively suspicious, and take things at face value; second, because they border on Russia, as we do on Austria, and Russia has never stolen anything from them; they are trying to form a pro-American faction in St. Petersburg.

Only free people, those who have not had the word "slave" branded on their flesh, know that if they border on Russia, they must have Their Own Party there or the lack of anything in common between them and Russia would cause a fatal encounter which would result in a disaster.

Moscow had its own party in the Polish Republic. . . but the Poles never attempted to form a pro-Polish faction in Russia!

Poles would feel embarrassed to display the political sense necessary for the creation of a pro-Polish faction in Russia on whom they are sentenced to border for ever; rather, Poles count on sacrificing the blood of each generation, every fifteen years or so; they count on repeated slaughter of the innocents, until God in his heavens wakes up - something Polish prophets predicted long ago. . . . Again, the reason New York is sheltering the Russian fleet is twofold: first, because Americans are a free people; second, because bordering on Russia, they want to have a faction sympathetic to American interests in Russia. An additional third reason can be noted, and it is the Poles' own fault (for their sin consists in not being able to use intellect in political struggle, in not being able to believe in the strength of intellect and truth). Count Adam Gurowski, a Pole, published in America a book arguing that the republican form of government in the world depends on the future state of Russia.(3) Thousands of copies of this book were sold, and it prepared the American minds for the decision [to shelter the fleet].

It frustrates me to write about it; for the Poles would be more likely to assassinate Count Gurowski (who participated in the 1831 rising!) than to found and support at least one respectable periodical - they do not know that this kind of value system is nothing but a borrowing from the Tatar tchin; just as the Greeks, after being conquered by Alexander, adopted Asiatic customs without even knowing about it.

To Marian Sokolowski (January 27, 1864)

Do you want to know what happened?(4)

On the one hand, there was a banner of progress - on the other, an empire in the state of advanced putrefaction: the collection for the wounded in Moscow brought a few hundred rubles only!! Young officers broke their swords before the ranks, and were shot for insubordination or committed suicide. . . . Our practical politicians will say that these were exceptions which did not make up the 50,000 [dissenting Russians], and we needed 50,000 - this is true. But the dawn is always pale! In 1831 the risers were not numerous either. And in 1863, there were many hundreds of them.

Do you want to know who heads the rising? A committee of well-meaning people who have no idea whatsoever of history and humanity. The committee is certainly very Polish, this cannot be denied - it is also terribly progressive in its pretenses, at the same time paying excessive attention to trivial incidents rather than having a mind and policy of its own. . . .This committee has one strong point: it manages to compromise everyone and does not spare anyone. . . it is negativist and it follows events rather than creating them. Finally! Finally they realized that one has to publish and publicize the writings of those who are in danger of being captured [by the Russians] - when will they realize that today only one thing can be done: attacking the convoys accompanying those being shipped off to Siberia, turning them back. There is no winning strategy in sight, and there cannot be under these circumstances - and to continue a partisan war is pointless.

Do you want to know why nothing sensible has happened? Because there is no place on earth where intellectuals are more dependent and more humiliated than in Poland. All the people who work with their brains are someone's clients, they are teachers of children, hangers-on. . . .without well defined positions, and their undertakings are either feeble or not well thought out - abnormal in fact! Since history does not tolerate a vacuum, [Polish historical space] is filled with accidental happenings, trivia, misfortunes - every fifteen years.

Do you want to know why all this is still a big secret? Because yes, we already have some periodicals published abroad, but each of them, e.g., Pologne(5) is filled with challenges to duels issued to the enemies of Poland. For this is the only thing we can do well.

Cyprian Kamil Norwid, a precursor of Polish Symbolism, was also a profound thinker whose works could nourish many a PhD dissertation. Like his contemporary Zygmunt Krasinski, he is insufficiently known among Poles and virtually unknown outside Poland. Only a few short works by Norwid have been translated into English.

"O Juliuszu Slowackim w szesciu publicznych posiedzeniach," "Listy," and "Czulosc" can be found in Pisma Wybrane, vols.1, 4, 5. Edited by J. W. Gomulicki (Warsaw: Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1968).


1 Norwid spent 1853-1854 in New York working as a sculptor and painter.

2 During the Polish rising against the Russians in 1863, the Russian government sent its Baltic fleet to New York City under the pretext of supporting the North during the Civil War.

3 Russia As It Is (New York, 1854).

4 During the 1863 rising.

5 La Pologne. Journal hebdomadeire, a Polish emigre weekly published in Paris and Brussels in 1863-1864.

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