On Cyprian Norwid. Studies and Essays

Vol. 1: Syntheses

by Agata Brajerska-Mazur (Volume editor) Edyta Chlebowska (Volume editor)
Monographs 592 Pages
Open Access

Table Of Content

Agata Brajerska-Mazur

A Starry Diamond

Cyprian Norwid (1821–1883) was described by the following words in an obituary notice written by Józef Tokarzewicz in 1884:

There lived in Paris… a Polish writer little known in his own country, an artist known even less, a strange poet, a hieroglyph-stylist, whose every poem has to be read syllable by syllable ten times over… His ideas, despite his profound learning and detailed familiarity with the achievements of contemporary knowledge, move in a diametrically opposite direction to that of the modern philosophical current.

But he was not a dilettante, and certainly not a visionary, a mystic, or a lunatic… He knew how to uncover in every thing such a relation of it to other things that it would become so original as to appear almost unrecognizable…

He carried his soul around with him as if it were some kind of numismatic rarity, unknown to anyone, unwanted, useless. Of less than middle height, lean, though shapely, with intelligent eyes… he had in his manner the assurance and suavity of someone who had been in good society, and in his thoughts and words the roughness of ore burning with an inner fire. He resembled a stone salvaged from some marvellous edifice, which somewhere, sometime had burnt down completely.1

Tokarzewicz gives a very accurate characterisation of the poet: unknown, obscure, moving in an opposite direction to fashionable trends in art and philosophy. His description is also appropriate, because in the eyes of his contemporaries Norwid was indeed strange, obscure, ill-understood and rejected.

This exceptional Romantic poet, novelist, playwright, sculptor, painter, engraver and draftsman was born in 1821. Orphaned in his early childhood, he was raised by his grandmother Hilaria Zdziechowska, née Sobieska.2 Norwid spent his youth studying painting but in 1840 he made his poetic debut on the pages of Warsaw newspapers. As a result, he enjoyed a brief spell of fame and recognition. Unfortunately, it soon ended in rejection and bitterness because it became clear that his works had little to do with the poetry of the second generation of Polish Romantics and his views did not fit the programs of emigré ←11 | 12→political parties,3 nor did they have much in common with the manifestoes of Polish Positivism. They were too difficult, too precursory to be understood by the readers of that time. As one of the poet’s critics stated – he was an “underappreciated genius […] born one hundred years too soon.”4

Norwid died in poverty and oblivion in France, in Saint Casimir’s Poorhouse for impoverished Polish war veterans and orphans, which was run by nuns. He was first buried at Ivry, and then moved to a mass grave in the Polish cemetery at Montmorency.

A hundred and thirty-five years after Norwid’s death nobody accuses him of “obscure speech,”5 “negligent form”6 or “tormenting, distorting sounds without thinking”7 or vows “not to toil over his words like over the Talmud.”8 The “future grandsons” consider the structural complexities of Norwid’s works and the depth of thought contained therein to be an advantage rather than a fault. “Future: the Eternal Editor” replaced the verdict that Norwid’s texts follow “a pattern of fluffy nothingness where the absurdity of thought matches the absurdity of language”9 with the conviction that Cyprian Norwid is a “creative figure equal to the trinity of the greatest romantic poets”10 and that “poring over the hieroglyphs of his art is rewarding work which generously pays off.”11

Norwid’s genius surpassed his epoch by over hundred years, so it is no wonder that his contemporaries did not understand him. He is better understood and appreciated by later generations, though they, too, maintain the opinion that ←12 | 13→Norwid is a difficult writer.12 Difficult, because he requires his readers’ cooperation in deciphering the multitude of meanings contained in single words, phrases and complete literary texts. Difficult, because in creating multi-level layers of meanings he resorts, inter alia, to wordplay, going back to the words’ sources, reinterpreting concepts, introducing tensions between them, seeking out polysemy, using the techniques of silence and understatement, creating new meanings, stratifying synonyms, applying paradox, semantic contrast, parable, allegory, symbol or concept.13 Difficult, because he dismantles the structural constraints governing specific literary forms and experiments with rhythm and rhyme. Difficult, because the construction of his verses (which are subordinated to meanings, but purposefully strange and liberated from the rules of traditional metrics14) always serves the thoughts they express. Difficult, because the utilitarianism of his poetry, its moral service to “incarnating goodness and illuminating truths” is manifested in all aspects of his writings – “the prosaicised meter of verse, the absence of conventional caesura, the monostich of autonomous meaning, even the series of full stops signifying understatement.”15 Difficult, ←13 | 14→because original – in language, style and thought, at least a century ahead of his time. Finally, difficult, because he has no counterpart in all of Romantic European literature.

Today Norwid is described as “a Christian sage,”16 “a poet of conscience”17 or “a poet of dialogue.”18 He is called a philosopher and a “poet-thinker,”19 an ironist,20 a romanticist,21 a moralist22 and an “ironic moralist.”23

In his works one can see not only “a reflection of architecture,” “a reflection of sculpture” and “the tenderness of light”24, but also his “producing hand.”25 Such categories as “picturesqueness”26 or “musicality”27 are used to describe some ←14 | 15→of the poet’s works, and Norwid himself is called a magician,28 for being able to combine several kinds of art in a single literary work: literature, graphics, painting, music, architecture and sculpture. His Polish and European identities are also topics of discussion.29

However, Norwid is first and foremost a poet of contradiction, in whose works two extremes meet and converge as far as his style of writing and attitude towards faith, tradition and culture are concerned. Norwid is able to be both orthodox in his views on Christian faith,30 and very bold and revolutionary when it comes to the truths commonly adopted by the Catholic Church of his time.31 In his way ←15 | 16→of writing – he is at the same time an innovative author, delighting readers with his open and modern style and an author implementing archaic, complicated or even abstruse syntax. From the numerous opinions on Norwid’s style, it is worth mentioning the two most extreme, expressed by Mieczysław Jastrun32 and Julian Przyboś, respectively. The former was impressed by the openness of Norwid’s style as early as in 1947, praising its commonness, discursivity, irony, paradoxicality and ambiguity. The latter defined it as unintelligible, opaque, stubborn, difficult and “picking constant fights with the colloquial, living, everyday word.”33

When it comes to literary tradition, it seems that Norwid’s creative work “was fuelled by the main currents of Western thought, but at the same time drew from native tradition as its main source; it was rooted in the past, but remained an everlasting inspiration for contemporary innovation.”34 Therefore, Norwid continues to be perceived as an old-fashioned poet, stuck not so much in Romanticism as in the even earlier epochs (especially with regard to his syntactical allusions to Old Polish35), as well as a progressive author – in the manner of writing and thought expression that exceeded his time by at least an epoch. The English language translators of his works are faced with a dilemma: which poetry style, which literary convention they should choose, to convey both the romantic roots and the pioneering spirit of the Polish poet:

How can a translator verify Norwid’s genius? Norwid is a 19th-century poet as well as a precursory author. How then can one introduce the work of a poet, who is simultaneously grounded in 19th-century traditions and who at the same time shatters them?… How to convey then to the English-language reader […] that the poet he is reading is not only expressing the consciousness of the second half of the 19th century, but also proclaiming the poetry of the 20th century?36

←16 | 17→

Should it be the style of Gerard Manley Hopkins, oftentimes compared to Norwid by critics,37 or perhaps that of a contemporary English poet?

One should show Norwid’s originality; but how to demonstrate it without sounding ridiculous and eccentric? In brief, the answer is not to come off like some second-rate Hopkins, Browning or Clough, like an Emily Dickinson imitation, or like yet another mediocre Victorian-era artisan. What a challenge! Who can tackle it!38

The question asked by Norwid’s translator, Adam Czerniawski, was answered by Bogdan Czaykowski, who wrote:

[…] the translator who endeavours to adequately translate Norwid into the English language should make the effort not only to avoid turning Norwid into a second-rate version of the mentioned poets, but he also, in an ideal world, should exhibit the craftsmanship of these poets, and not only theirs, but also that of Ezra Pound in his poem Hugh Selvyn Mauberley, or of Auden, as well as Carlyle and Eliot. Obviously, this requirement is so ambitious it is hardly feasible. But the translator should at least have an erudite command of stanzas, rhythm and rhyme, even imperfect or assonant rhyme.39

Similarities between Norwid’s works and those of other English language poets – Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, William Morris or the Pre-Raphaelites40 ←17 | 18→have also been found. The Polish poet has also been compared to the French Symbolists. George Hyde has written of him:

For the English reader, he is like the French Symbolists, and shares Baudelaire’s fascination with paradox and the dialectic. […] His almost paranoid view of language as a dense system of “correspondences” from which we are necessarily excluded (but by which we are judged) again echoes Baudelaire and Mallarmé. […] He is simultaneously a political poet steeped in the history of a specific moment, and one of those powerful practitioners of the genre of “silence” (or a hermeticism bordering on silence) that the “new” Poland […] will have to reassess.41

However, it is Hopkins that Norwid has been most frequently and most extensively compared to – especially in the novel hallmarks of his writings, such as the way of depicting the world, the use of different semantic techniques and the originality of language.

Both authors were versatile, specially gifted with artistic abilities. Norwid sculpted, painted and drew.42 Hopkins was exceptionally skilled in pencil sketching.

They were both profoundly religious, and the Christian faith shaped their life and art. In Norwid’s creative work his thoughts (even those about man, society, politics or art) always referenced the Catholic faith and its principles. As an example, one can point to the idea of Polishness and Polish national art in “Fortepian Szopena” [“Chopin’s Grand Piano”]. As Władysław Stróżewski43 claims, when Norwid wrote about “Polska – przemienionych kołodziejów!,” [Poland – of wheelwrights transfigured into kings!] he meant not so much a transformed idyllic Poland of the old Piast dynasty as the source of national art, ←18 | 19→but the transfigured – that is, deified by Christian values – Poland since the dawn of its history:



A w tym, coś grał: taka była prostota

Doskonałości Peryklejskiéj,

Jakby starożytna która Cnota,

W dom modrzewiowy wiejski

Wchodząc, rzekła do siebie:

“Odrodziłam się w Niebie

I stały mi się arfą – wrota,

Wstęgą – ścieżka…

Hostię – przez blade widzę zboże…

Emanuel już mieszka

Na Taborze!”


I była w tym Polska, od zenitu

Wszechdoskonałości Dziejów

Wzięta, tęczą zachwytu – –

Polska – przemienionych kołodziejów!

Taż sama, zgoła,


(Poznał-ci-że bym ją – na krańcach bytu!…)

(PWsz II, 144–145)


In what you played, was the simplicity

Of Periclean perfection,

As if some Virtue of Antiquity

Entering a larch-wood country manor –

Said to herself:

I was reborn in Heaven:

Its gates became – my harp,

Its path – my ribbon…

The Host – through the pale wheat I see…

And Emmanuel already dwells

On Mount Tabor!”


And in this was Poland – from its zenith

Through Ages’ all-perfection,

Captured in songs of rapture

- That Poland – of wheelwrights transfigured into kings!

←19 |

The very same – indeed

A golden-bee…

(Recognize it I would, at the limits of existence!…)]44

Unlike Hopkins, Norwid was neither priest nor monk, although after a Resurrectionist Priest retreat in April 1852 he did seek admission to their community.45 After a rather firm rejection46 he nevertheless continued to be a faithful believer. Like Hopkins, he was a poet of contradiction, torn between two opposite extremes in the perception of reality: he saw the harmony and beauty of Creation, noticing at the same time the disharmony, paradoxes and contradictions associated with human life. For both authors the person of Jesus Christ was “an omni-present link between the world of divine harmony and human suffering.”47

Both Norwid and Hopkins were innovative in the domain of wordplay, and poetic structure, language and imagery. They both broke the poetic conventions of their epoch, they both stood up against “wielkoludy” [giants] (Hopkins called them “giants of stardom”). In the first poem of the Vade-mecum cycle Norwid wrote: “Dlatego od was… – o! laury – nie wziąłem/Listka jednego, ni ząbeczka w liściu” (PWsz II, 15) [That is why from you…o! laurels, I took/No single leaf, nor its tiniest tooth],48 Hopkins admitted in one of his letters that “[t];he effect of studying masterpieces is to make me admire and do otherwise.”49 Both of the poets felt the need to transform the apparatus of poetry; both of them pulled, twisted and stretched rhyme and meter and offered verse based upon tormented syntax and inelegant vocabulary. One of their affinities with each other is also the way they confronted or even affronted their readers with new shapes, rhythms and sounds. Both could say that their “poetry errs on the side of oddness.”50 The verse of both “is less to be read than heard […] it is oratorical.”51 Thus both authors, as precursors of modern poetry breaking 19th-century literary ←20 | 21→conventions, were rejected and criticized by publishers and readers. Therefore, their works were published very rarely.52

Norwid was even more frequently than Hopkins accused of “whimsicality,” “obscurity” or even “darkness” of speech. In 1849, Władysław Bentkowski described the Polish poet’s poems as having: “a mannerized obscurity of thoughts, images and expressions which […] by no means are in my taste.”53 In 1851, Lucjan Siemieński said the following about Promethidion: “The simplest things, the most common ones, are contorted into the whimsical scrawl of platitudes and words. […] another Champollion would need to be born to decipher these hieroglyphs, if it is even worth being born for something so small.”54 And in 1865, Marceli Motty asked regarding “Fortepian Szopena:” “what is the point of this persistent effort to create vague logogriphs and to twist all the limbs of sentences, this intentional violation of any rhythm and harmony, all grammatical constructs, proper forms and meanings of words, even the most elementary punctuation?”55

No wonder both these ill-understood poets spent most of their time abroad and died in foreign lands. Living away from his friends and family in England, Hopkins referred to his stint in Ireland as “being at a third remove.”56 Norwid suffered from poverty and oblivion in emigration. He died on the 23rd of May 1883 in Paris at Saint Casimir’s Poorhouse, where Polish veterans sought shelter.

Both poets only came to be appreciated posthumously. Norwid’s discoverer and eulogizer was Zenon Przesmycki (Miriam), who published a first edition of his novella “Ad leones!” in Chimera in 1901, along with an article poignantly titled: “The Fate of Geniuses.”

The discoverer of Hopkins’ poetry was Robert Bridges, who published his late friend’s poems in 1918. He began the volume:

the triumphal march of the poetry of Hopkins, who is today considered simultaneously one of the most profound religious poets, one of the greatest masters of language and ←21 | 22→innovators of poetic technique, and finally – a precursor […], who exerted a vital influence on the development of modern English-language poetry.57

For this reason, Hopkins’ works became the subject of lectures and discussions, and the author himself gained the readership and fame he had never dreamt of. Norwid, in turn, exerted a significant influence on the development of modern Polish poetry and has been one of the very few writers in the world whose language is described in specialist dictionaries and whose works and thoughts have been and continue to be studied by a succession of distinguished researchers,58 supported since the eighties of the 20th century by different research institutions such as: Ośrodek Badań nad Twórczością Cypriana Norwida (KUL) [Institute for the Study of Cyprian Norwid’s Literature (The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin)], Pracownia Słownika Języka Cypriana Norwida (UW) [Cyprian Norwid Language Dictionary Division (University of Warsaw)], Pracownia Kalendarza Życia i Twórczości Norwida (UAM) [Chronology of the Life and Work of Cyprian Norwid Division (Adam Mickiewicz University)].

The truth was the main focus of the two poets. They both considered art a tool through which they could reach the truth, transmit it and teach it. Hopkins, convinced that the world reflects divine harmony, preached the beauty of Creation. It is for a good reason that he is considered “one of the most satisfying of the so called ‘nature-poets.’”59 The depth of his poems’ religiousness is derived not only from his praise of the greatness of God and the harmony of his world, but also from his descriptions of the tragedy of human existence.60 Norwid, however, took up a much broader range of topics. He wrote about the problems of his contemporary world: politics, history, tradition, labour, freedom, slavery and social problems (like the emancipation of women). Juliusz Wiktor Gomulicki called this trend in poetry “the poetry of man” or “the poetry of human matter.”61

←22 | 23→

Both “Knights of Truth”62 required the appropriate tools to convey their views. They both reached for similar measures of expression, because the precise definition of things and phenomena was essential for them.

“The poet needs only the victory of the truth” – Norwid proclaimed in 1860, paraphrasing the words of the Gospel. […] The subject of his poetry […] was therefore the Truth, […] in all its shapes and situations: philosophical and religious, social and psychological, aesthetic and scientific. This […] specific attitude towards the truth […] was closely connected to Norwid’s concept of the “word” realizing itself in “deed” and he required from such a word the solemnity appropriate to its tasks.63

Hopkins wanted to illustrate his theory of “inscape” – to see and name in everything all that makes it exactly what it is. The language of his poems had to be characterized by aspirations of specificity and uniqueness of description.

For Norwid, as he wrote in “Ogólniki” [“Generalities”], it was also essential to “Odpowiednie dać rzeczy – słowo!” (PWsz II, 13) [name each matter by its rightful – word!].64 So, his language is:

rich and very original, both because of the vocabulary, abundant in archaisms and neologisms, in rare special terms and in words which at that time were perceived as vulgar and anti-poetic (“stool,” “carrion” etc.), and because of its original syntax.65

Beside the precision and originality of the language, the intricacy of poetic structures, syntax and graphic layout also appeared in Norwid’s works. The poet relied on obscurity, because in his opinion: “[p];rawda obejmuje życie, jest więc niejasna, bo obejmuje rzecz ciemną” (PWsz VI, 449–450) “[t]ruth embraces life and is therefore obscure, because it embraces a dark thing.”

In Hopkins’ poetry, the expression of the tragic, the reflection of paradoxes

and anxieties of human existence is everything that could be labelled by dissonance – dissonance which is not only phonic, but also grammatical, syntactic, semantic. […] The unique rhythm of his verses[…] the so-called Sprung Rhythm played a similar role.66

For Norwid the dissonance of an otherwise harmonious world was above all the imperfection of man. He expressed “incompleteness,” “lack” or “shortage,” for example, using silence or bizarre punctuation. Wanting to reveal the truth about “the world’s shattered wholeness,” he:

←23 | 24→

carefully elaborated and consistently used his own individual system of signs and tricks, by means of which he signalled and adequately distributed dynamic tensions throughout the text. […] All those measures specifically brought out from Norwid’s text […] something very peculiar, which could be called his original “score,” and which brought the reader closer to the author’s intentions and made it possible for him to read the texts in a dynamic way, enabling penetration into the more profound layer of their content.67

Looking carefully at Hopkins’ and Norwid’s original “scores,” one may also spot differences in the way they expressed their ideas. Norwid surpassed Hopkins in the use of irony, understatement, silence and graphic solutions, while Hopkins was unparalleled (even by Norwid) in creating neologisms. The distinction between the two poets was also based on different emphases on the main topics of their works: Hopkins dealt with God, nature and man, while Norwid: with God, man and all that is human – history and man’s work. Besides, the Polish author expressed his thoughts not only through poetry and letters. He also wrote dramas, novellas, verse letters and longer narrative poems which sometimes took the form of philosophical treatises.

Norwid’s most important epic poems include Promethidion, Quidam and Rzecz o wolności słowa [On the Freedom of Speech]. In 1865–66 he created his most beautiful cycle of poems. Titled Vade-mecum, the collection contains a number of masterpieces, including “Bema pamięci żałobny-rapsod” [“A Funeral Rhapsody in Memory of General Bem”] and “Fortepian Chopina” [“Chopin’s Grand Piano”]. Norwid was also a master of the 19th-century novella. His outstanding novellas include Czarne Kwiaty [Black Flowers], Białe Kwiaty [White Flowers], “Ad leones!”, Bransoletka [Bracelet], Cywilizacja [Civilization] and Stygmat [Stigma]. He also authored numerous plays. The best known among them include Za kulisami [Backstage], Zwolon, Kleopatra i Cezar [Cleopatra and Caesar] and Pierścień Wielkiej-Damy [The Noble Lady’s Ring].

Both posthumously discovered and appreciated poets have gained their well-deserved tribute and fame from posterity. More than a hundred years after their death, they both have been symbolically buried in places of national cult status. On the 15th of December 1975 Hopkins was honoured with a commemorative plaque in the Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey; and on the 24th of December 2001 an urn containing soil from the mass grave at the Montmorency cemetery where Norwid was once buried was placed in the Great Polish Poets’ Crypt at the Wawel castle, near the reliquaries of Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki.

←24 | 25→

Comparing the life and works of Norwid to the biography and writings of Hopkins and other precursors of modern literature, although it serves mainly the purpose of helping English language readers understand the personality and works of the Polish poet, also shows the extent to which he is in line with European literary tradition. One can clearly see that Kazimierz Wyka was correct in writing that “none of the great emigré poets were as deeply rooted in the surrounding European intellectual and artistic tradition as Norwid.”68

At the same time Norwid is all too Polish, and in his Polishness very foreign and thus challenging to understand for representatives of other cultures. He is hard for them to understand also on account of his uniqueness and singularity.

In fact, apart from similarities to the mentioned writers, Norwid is so unique and so idiosyncratic that he should remain himself in translations: obscure, eccentric, a bit of a visionary but at the same time very down to earth, on one hand deeply rooted in tradition but on the other establishing new trends in poetry. The challenge is enormous.69

Bogdan Czaykowski put the matter this way:

Norwid’s poetry, whatever the analogies with other poets, is sui generis. And so was Norwid himself, a wholly idiosyncratic person, who cultivated idiosyncrasy not because he wanted to, but because it was thrust upon him by his marginalization and highly individual perspective. And it was precisely this perspective, questioning and reverent at the same time, that lay at the bottom of his ironic mode, in fact, of his poetics.70

No wonder that Stanisław Grochowiak worried

whether Europe will give back what is duly owned to him? One should have no illusions. Permeated with passion for Universalism, Norwid wrote in a language so intensely Polish that it was indeed strange in its etymological quest. Yet it is not only a difficulty of translation. Decades have passed, and it will take several more before we ourselves will be able to understand the greatness of his genius. And maybe then – thanks to our efforts, always insufficient in this measure – Norwid’s name and thought will become, at least to a certain degree, the property of European culture.71

The editors of the following volumes of Norwidianum do believe that the English translations of these extensive and thorough works of research on Norwid will ←25 | 26→significantly contribute to making his name and thought the property of not only European, but world culture. And maybe then, next to Hopkins’ “immortal diamond” Norwid’s own “gwiaździsty dyjament” [starry diamond] of well-deserved international fame will sparkle in that same sky, and an affirmative answer will be given to the question asked by the poet himself in his poem “W pamiętniku” [“In an Album”]:



Co raz to z ciebie, jako z drzazgi smolnéj,

Wokoło lecą szmaty zapalone;

Gorejąc, nie wiesz, czy? stawasz się wolny,

Czy to, co twoje, ma być zatracone?


Czy popiół tylko zostanie i zamęt,

Co idzie w przepaść z burzą? – czy zostanie

Na dnie popiołu gwiaździsty dyjament,

Wiekuistego zwycięstwa zaranie!…

(DW VI, 17)

[As from a torch dipped in pitch, now and again

Flaming rags fly from you in all directions:

As you burn, you do not know: Will you be freed?

Or will all that is yours be destroyed?

Will only the ashes remain and the confusion,

Which the storm blows into the abyss? – Or will there remain

Beneath the ashes, a starry diamond,

The dawn of eternal victory!…]72

←26 | 27→

1 English translation by Bogdan Czaykowski, “The Poet as ‘Christian Socrates,’” in: Cyprian Kamil Norwid, Selected Poems, transl. by Adam Czerniawski (London: Anvil Press, 2004), p. 7.

2 Norwid was very proud of his noble origin; despite impoverishment, he often boasted of his close relations to the family of King John III Sobieski.

3 Because of censorship and the invaders’ oppression (Poland was then under colonial partition), many Polish intellectuals, Norwid among them, lived and worked abroad, particularly in France where in the hope of regaining independence they created societies and parties.

4 All the quotations documented in footnotes 4–11 originate from: “Wybór głosów o twórczości pisarskiej Cypriana Norwida. 1840–1918,” in: Cyprian Norwid, Pisma wybrane, ed. J. W. Gomulicki (Warszawa: PIW, 1983), Vol. I, p. 94–139 (further shortened as PW) and the bibliographic information is given in the following order: the full name of the author of the quoted opinion, year of pronouncement and page in PW. This commentary was made by Aleksander Jełowicki, 1853, PW, p. 107.

5 Zygmunt Krasiński, 1849, PW, p. 101.

6 Jan Koźmian, 1850, PW, p. 102.

7 Andrzej Edward Koźmian, 1851, PW, p. 105.

8 Władysław Bentkowski, 1849, PW, p. 101.

9 Julian Klaczko, 1858, PW, p. 109.

10 Stefan Żeromski, 1915, PW, p. 138.

11 Kazimierz Bereżyński, 1911, PW, p. 136.

12 Cf. Tadeusz Sinko, “Poeta trudny,” Kurier Literacko-Naukowy, 1933, No. 21, pp. I–II; Wacław Borowy, Norwid poeta, in: Pamięci Cypriana Norwida. Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie (w 125 rocznicę urodzin artysty) (Warszawa: Muzeum Narodowe, 1946), pp. 32–49; Jan Błoński, “Norwid wśród prawnuków,” Twórczość, 1967, No. 5, p. 68; Józef Bujnowski, “Glasgow, 21–22 stycznia 1984,” Studia Norwidiana, 1985–1986, 3–4, p. 299; Kazimierz Wyka, Pochwała niejasności Norwida, in: Studia, artykuły, recenzje (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1989), p. 193; Trudny Norwid, ed. Piotr Chlebowski (Lublin: TN KUL, 2013).

13 The semantic techniques applied by Norwid were discussed, among others, by: Ignacy Fik, Uwagi nad językiem Cypriana Norwida (Kraków: Druk W. L. Anczyca i Spółki, 1930); Błoński, “Norwid wśród prawnuków,” pp. 67–94; Zbigniew Łapiński, Norwid (Kraków: Znak, 1971), pp. 9–49; Stefan Sawicki, Z zagadnień semantyki poetyckiej Norwida, in: Sawicki, Norwida walka z formą (Warszawa: PIW, 1986), pp. 29–71.

14 Maria Grzędzielska, “Wiersz Norwida w okresie Vade-mecum,”Annales Universitatis Mariae Curie Skłodowska, 1960, vol. XV, No. 5, pp. 113–145; Aleksandra Okopień-Sławińska, Wiersz nieregularny i wolny Mickiewicza, Słowackiego i Norwida, in: Z przemian wiersza polskiego. Antologia, ed. R. Lubas (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Naukowe WSP, 1972), pp. 5–22; Lubas, “Jak formy osobowe grają w teatrze mowy,” in: Tekst i fabuła, ed. Cz. Niedzielski, J. Sławiński (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1979), pp. 9–32; Teresa Kostkiewiczowa, Oda w poezji polskiej. Dzieje gatunku (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1996), pp. 257–270; Lucylla Pszczołowska, Wiersz polski. Zarys historyczny (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1997), pp. 195–270, 305–327.

15 Juliusz Wiktor Gomulicki, Uwagi o poezji Cypriana Norwida, PW, Vol. I, p. 42.

16 Alina Merdas, Łuk przymierza. Biblia w poezji Norwida (Lublin: RW KUL, 1983); Antoni Dunajski, Chrześcijańska interpretacja dziejów w pismach Cypriana Norwida (Lublin: RW KUL, 1985); Dunajski, Teologiczne czytanie Norwida (Pelplin: “Bernardinum,” 1996); Dunajski, SŁOWO stało się SIŁĄ. Zarys Norwidowej teologii słowa (Pelplin: “Bernardinum,” 1996); Stefan Sawicki, Wartość – sacrum – Norwid (Lublin: RW KUL, 1994), pp. 241–254; Norwid a chrześcijaństwo, ed. J. Fert and P. Chlebowski (Lublin: TN KUL, 2002); Czaykowski, “The Poet as ‘Christian Socrates,’” pp. 7–19.

17 Józef F. Fert, Poeta sumienia. Rzecz o twórczości Norwida (Lublin: TN KUL 1993).

18 Józef F. Fert, Norwid – poeta dialogu (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1982).

19 Borowy, Norwid poeta,” p. 40; PW, Vol. I, p. 5–47; Elżbieta Wolicka, “Przymierza łuko sztuce w pismach Cypriana Norwida,” in: Norwid a chrześcijaństwo, pp. 67–75.

20 Błoński, Norwid wśród prawnuków, pp. 67–94.

21 Zofia Stefanowska, Strona romantyków. Studia o Norwidzie (Lublin: TN KUL, 1993).

22 Borowy, Norwid poeta,” p. 40; Sawicki, Wartość, pp. 241–254; PW, Vol. 1, pp. 5–47.

23 Arent van Nieukerken, “Norwid europejski,” Studia Norwidiana, 1993, Vol. 11, pp. 3–30.

24 Titles of individual articles by Kazimierz Wyka in: Wyka, Cyprian Norwid. Studia, artykuły, recenzje (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1989).

25 Irena Sławińska, Reżyserska ręka Norwida (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1971). The researcher makes a reference to the book by Richard Flatter, Shakespeare’s Producing Hand (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1948).

26 This feature of Norwid’s work was commented on, among others, by: Teodor F. Domaradzki, Cyprian Kamil Norwid – piewca kultury chrześcijańskiej (Londyn – Montreal: 1983), p. 22; Fik, Uwagi, p. 7, 12, 47; Zofia Szmydtowa, “O motywacji i wartościowaniu w poezji,” Poezja, 1971, No. 9, pgs. 41, 44; Dariusz Pniewski, Między obrazem a słowem. Studia o poglądach estetycznych i twórczości Literackiej Norwida (Lublin: TN KUL, 2005).

27 Cf. Cezary Jellenta, Idee muzyczne Norwida,” Muzyka, 1925, No. 4–5, p. 142 passim.; Tadeusz Filip, Cypriana Norwida Fortepian Szopena (Kraków: Księgarnia i Wydawnictwo M. Kot, 1949), pp. 229–282; Tadeusz Makowiecki, Fortepian Szopena, in: K. Górski, T. Makowiecki, I. Sławińska, O Norwidziepięć studiów (Toruń: Księgarnia Naukowa T. Szczęsny i S-ka, 1949), pp. 126–129; Julian Krzyżanowski, Polish Romantic Literature (London: Unwin, 1930), pp. 291–292; Władysław Stróżewski, “Doskonałe – wypełnienie. O Fortepianie Szopena Cypriana Norwida,” Pamiętnik Literacki, 1979, Vol. 4, pp. 68–72; Wyka, Cyprian Norwid. Studia, pp. 67–88; Mieczysław Tomaszewski, “Muzyka a literatura,” in: Słownik literatury polskiej XIX wieku, ed. J. Bachórz i A. Kowalczykowa (Wrocław–Warszawa–Kraków: Ossolineum, 1991), p. 585; M. J. Kowalczyk, “O inspirującej roli muzyki w utworze poetyckim Cypriana Kamila Norwida Fortepian Szopena,” Język Polski w Szkole Średniej, 1993/1994, No. 2 (30), pp. 74–83; Teresa Kostkiewiczowa, Oda w poezji polskiej. Dzieje gatunku (Wrocław: Ossolineum, 1996), p. 266; Władysław Stróżewski, C. Norwid o muzyce (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1997), pp. 76–78; Jadwiga Puzynina, Barbara Subko, “O francuskich przekładach Fortepianu Szopena,” Studia Norwidiana, 1997–1998, No. 15–16, pp. 151–152; Agata Brajerska-Mazur, O angielskich tłumaczeniach utworów Norwida (Lublin: TN KUL, 2002), pp. 148–194.

28 Kazimierz Wyka, Cyprian Norwid. Poeta i sztukmistrz (Kraków: PAU, 1948). Cf. Poeta i sztukmistrz, ed. P. Chlebowski (Lublin: TN KUL, 2007); Edyta Chlebowska, Norwid sztukmistrz nieznany (Lublin: TN KUL, 2013).

29 Juliusz W. Gomulicki, “Sprawa Norwida,” Życie Literackie, 1961, No. 40, p. 8; Stanisław Grochowiak, “Ktoś, co sobie idzie,” Kultura, 1966, No. 38, p. 2; Mieczysław Jastrun, Pamiętnik artysty (Warszawa: PIW, 1956), p. 40; Kazimierz Wyka, “Prezentacja Norwida,” Polityka, 1969, No. 10, p. 7.

30 Cf. Jacek Leociak, “Strzaskana całość. Norwid o Żydach,” in: “Całość” w twórczości Norwida, ed. J. Puzynina and E. Teleżyńska (Warszawa: Wydział Polonistyki UW, 1992), p. 121; Ryszard Zajączkowski, “Głos prawdy i sumienie.” Kościół w pismach Cypriana Norwida (Wrocław: Leopoldinum, 1998); Alina Merdas, “Dochodzić – trud,” czyli o problemach badań nad chrześcijaństwem Norwida, in: Norwid a chrześcijaństwo, pgs. 105, 111.

31 Krzysztof Baliński, “Norwidowska krytyka negatywnych zjawisk w Kościele,” Poznańskie Studia Polonistyczne. Seria Literacka IV, Vol. XXIV, 1997, pp. 179–191; Anna Kadyjewska, Tomasz Korpysz, Jadwiga Puzynina, Chrześcijaństwo w pismach Norwida (Warszawa: UW, 2000); Merdas, “Dochodzić – trud,” p. 113; Tomasz Korpysz, “Chrześcijanin w pismach Norwida,” in: Norwid a chrześcijaństwo, pp. 371–402; Ryszard Zajączkowski, “Kościół – naród – ludzkość,” in: Norwid a chrześcijaństwo, pp. 139–160.

32 Mieczysław Jastrun, “Norwid – poeta nieznany,” Kuźnica, 1947, No. 21 and other articles collected in the volume Gwiaździsty diament (Warszawa: PIW, 1971).

33 Julian Przyboś, “Próba Norwida,” in: Nowe studia o Norwidzie, ed. J. W. Gomulicki, J. Z. Jakubowski, (Warszawa: PWN, 1961), p. 76.

34 Stanisław Barańczak, Tablica z Macondo (Londyn: Aneks Publishers, 1991), p. 93.

35 Cf. Teresa Skubalanka, Mickiewicz, Słowacki, Norwid. Studia nad językiem i stylem (Lublin: UMCS, 1997).

36 Czaykowski, “The Poet as ‘Christian Socrates,’” p. 11.

37 Jerzy Peterkiewicz, “Introducing Norwid,” Slavonic Review, 1948/1949, vol. 27, pp. 244–246; J. Zielińska, Norwid i Hopkins (London: Oficyna Poetów i Malarzy, 1966); Adam Czerniawski, “A Flawed Master,” Introduction in: Polish Poetry Supplement No. 7, “Oficyna Poetów,” No. 2 (29), London, May 1973, p. 5; Stanisław Barańczak, “Nieśmiertelny diament: o poezji Hopkinsa,” in: Gerard M. Hopkins, Wybór poezji, ed. and transl. Barańczak (Kraków: Znak, 1981); Czerniawski, George MacLennan, “Norwid: Time for Discovery,” Modern Poetry in Translation. New Series, Summer 1994, No. 5, p. 77; Barańczak, “Nieśmiertelny diament (i jego polscy szlifierze),” in: Barańczak, Ocalone w tłumaczeniu (Poznań: a5, 1994), pp. 93–110; Aleksandra Kędzierska, Poetics of Truth and Darkness: Gerard Marley Hopkins and Polish Poet, Cyprian Kamil Norwid gerardmanleyhopkins.org/lectures_2003/norwid.html; Kędzierska, “Norwid and Hopkins,” PASE Papers in Literature, Language and Culture, ed. Grażyna Bystydzieńska, Emma Harris, Paddy Lyons (Warszawa: UW, 2005), pp. 166–171. Czaykowski is of a different opinion (Norwid is a very different poet from Hopkins) presented in “The Poet as ‘Christian Socrates,’” p. 11.

38 Cyprian Kamil Norwid, Poezje/Poems, trans. Adam Czerniawski (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1986), p. 127.

39 Bogdan Czaykowski, “Angielska próba Norwida,” Kultura (Paryż), 1987, Vol. VI, No. 477, pp. 103–104.

40 Borowy, Norwid poeta,” p. 32; Juliusz Wiktor Gomulicki, Wstęp, in: Cyprian Norwid, Vade-mecum (Lublin: Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, 1984), p. 12; Peterkiewicz, Introducing, pp. 245–247; Danuta Zamojska-Hutchins, “Form and Substance of Norwid’s Poetry,” The Polish Review, 1983, Vol. 28, No. 4, p. 33.

41 George Hyde, Cyprian Kamil Norwid: ‘Yesterday – and – I,’ in: Adam Czerniawski, The Mature Laurel (Bridgend: Seren Books, 1991), p. 91.

42 Jolanta Polanowska, “Cyprian Norwid,” dictionary entry in: Słownik artystów polskich i obcych w Polsce działających (zmarłych przed 1966 r.). Malarze. Rzeźbiarze. Graficy, Vol. VI, ed. K. Mikocka-Rachubowa, M. Biernacka (Warszawa: Instytut Sztuki Polskiej Akademii Nauk, 1998), pp. 135–150; Aleksandra Melbechowska-Luty, Sztukmistrz. Twórczość artystyczna i myśli o sztuce Cypriana Norwida (Warszawa: Neriton, 2001); Norwid. Znaki na papierze. Utwory literackie, akwarele, grafiki, rysunki i szkice, ed. P. Chlebowski, E. Chlebowska (Olszanica: Bosz, 2008); Edyta Chlebowska, Cyprian Norwid. Katalog prac plastycznych, Vol. I. Prace w albumach 1 (Lublin: TN KUL, 2014); Vol. II. Prace w albumach 2 (Lublin: TN KUL, 2017).

43 Stróżewski, C. Norwid o…, pp. 69–75.

44 English translation by Danuta Borchardt in collaboration with Agata Brajerska-Mazur, in: Cyprian Norwid, Poems (New York: Archipelago Books, 2011), p. 71–73.

45 Cf. Zofia Trojanowiczowa, Zofia Dambek, Kalendarz życia i twórczości Cypriana Norwida 1821–1860, Vol. I, (Poznań: UAM, 2007), pp. 492–495.

46 Trojanowiczowa, Dambek, Kalendarz, p. 494.

47 Barańczak, Nieśmiertelny diament: o poezji, p. 17.

48 English translation by Borchardt, p. 15.

49 Letter from September 25, 1888, in: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems and Prose, ed. W. H. Gardner (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1986), p. 210.

50 Letter from November 6, 1887, in: Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges, ed. C.C. Abbott (London: Oxford University Press, 1935), p. 66.

51 Letter from August 21, 1877, in: Letters to Bridges, p. 46.

52 Cf. Gomulicki, “Mała kronika życia i twórczości Norwida,” PW, Vol. I, pp. 48–93; Cyprian Norwid, Pisma Wszystkie, ed. J. Gomulicki, Vol. 11, (Warszawa: PIW, 1976), pp. 201–225, 279–288; http://www.kul.pl/bibliografia-podmiotowa-cypriana-norwida,art_78927.html.

53 PW, p. 101.

54 PW, p. 102.

55 PW, p. 112.

56 Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems and Prose, ed. W. H. Gardner (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1986), p. XXVII.

57 Barańczak, Nieśmiertelny diament: o poezji, p. 6.

58 Among others: Jan Błoński, Wacław Borowy, Józef Fert, Michał Głowiński, Juliusz Wiktor Gomulicki, Mieczysław Inglot, Mieczysław Jastrun, Zdzisław Łapiński, Tadeusz Makowiecki, Jadwiga Puzynina, Stefan Sawicki, Irena Sławińska, Zofia Stefanowska, Zofia Szmydtowa, Zofia Trojanowiczowa, Jacek Trznadel, Kazimierz Wyka, Zbigniew Zaniewicki, Maciej Żurowski.

59 W.H. Gardner, Introduction, in: Hopkins, Poems and Prose, p. XIII.

60 Cf. David A. Downes, Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Study of his Ignatian Spirit (New York: Bookman Associates, 1959); Alan Heuser, The Shaping Vision of Gerard Manley Hopkins ( London: Oxford University Press, 1958); John Pick, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Priest and Poet (London: Oxford University Press, 1933); John Pick, A Hopkins Reader (London: Oxford University Press, 1953).

61 Gomulicki, Uwagi, PW, Vol. 1, pp. 21–22.

62 The term by Kędzierska, gerardmanleyhopkins.org/lectures_2003/norwid.html.

63 Gomulicki, Uwagi, PW, Vol. 1, p. 45.

64 English translation by Borchardt, p. 13.

65 Gomulicki, Uwagi, PW, Vol. 1, p. 43.

66 Barańczak, Nieśmiertelny diament (i jego…), p. 100.

67 Gomulicki, Uwagi, PW, Vol. 1, p. 42.

68 Wyka, “Prezentacja Norwida,” p. 7.

69 Agata Brajerska-Mazur, “Strange Poet,” The Sarmatian Review, 2013, No. 1, Vol. XXXIII, p. 1727. The first three paragraphs of this introduction also come from this article, p. 1723.

70 Czaykowski, “The Poet as ‘Christian Socrates,’” p. 18.

71 Grochowiak, “Ktoś, co sobie idzie,” p. 2.

72 Passage translated by Ludwik Krzyżanowski and Gerard T. Kapolka, “The Polish Review,” 1983, Vol. 28, No. 4, p. 7.

Edyta Chlebowska

From the History of Norwidian Research

The claim that textual criticism and the art of editing constitute the basis of research on the works of Cyprian Norwid may seem trivial and not entirely revelational, considering the fact that the process of getting acquainted and re-acquainted with the creative profile of every writer, poet or, in broader terms, cultural creator has its origins in the act of accumulating and determining the content of his oeuvre. However, a careful look at the history of Norwidian editing allows us to notice that the long-lasting process of searching for and publishing Norwid’s scattered literary legacy, teeming with interesting discoveries and sudden “plot twists” – if we recognize the symbolic epitome of this movement to be the publication of the complete critical, fully scientific edition of his work – is still ongoing.1 In the history of scholarly Norwidian editing, we are able to point to three most important moments, the first two being closely related to the activities of the eminent publishers of Norwid’s literature: Zenon Przesmycki (pen name Miriam) and Juliusz Wiktor Gomulicki. The former one, called the “discoverer,” or “reviver” of the author of Vade-mecum, or even “the father of Norwidology,” undertook, with assistance of a group of several dozen people, the search for Norwid’s dispersed writings and works of fine art on a large scale. In the beginning, he was publishing the Norwidiana in Chimera, a magazine he edited, but as early as in 1911 he began work on an exclusive edition of Norwid’s Pisma zebrane [Collected Works] (from the planned 8 volumes, only 5 were actually printed, and the last volume F, printed in incomplete form, appeared in bookstores only in 1946). The suspension of this ambitious publication did not mean that Miriam gave up his editing activity in the field of Norwidology; in subsequent years the editor published many individual pieces, three volumes of inedita and a poetical anthology, and in the years 1937–1939 – in response to the allegations that he had purposely withheld the publication of the poet’s collected literature – the edition of Wszystkie pisma Cypriana Norwida ←27 | 28→po dziś w całości lub fragmentach odszukane [Cyprian Norwid’s Collected Works Found in Fragments or in their Entirety].2 Alongside the publishing initiatives Miriam ran on a large scale, the book market was additionally reinforced by the Norwidiana published by other editors, such as Roman Zrębowicz, Bolesław Erzepki and Stanisław Cywiński. The dubiously famed single-volume edition of the poet’s Dzieła [Works] edited by Tadeusz Pini, advertised as the first complete edition of Norwid’s writings, should also be mentioned. Incomplete and full of mistakes, and moreover, preceded by the publisher’s inferior foreword, this publication ignited vivacious criticism, on top of a public opinion already concerned with Miriam and Pini’s dispute over the poet’s posthumous copyrights, which received wide press coverage.

After World War II, the challenge of publishing “the whole” of Norwid was taken up by Juliusz Wiktor Gomulicki, who, having published two volumes of poetry within the framework of Dzieła zebrane [Collected Works] (Warsaw 1966) and the five-volume edition of Pisma wybrane [Selected Writings] (Warsaw 1968),3 published 11 volumes of Pisma wszystkie [Collected Writings] between the years 1971–1976, finally giving Polish culture “the entirety” of Norwid’s works. The advantage of being an “entirety” did not mean the end of editorial efforts in this case, because Gomulicki’s scholarly edition, intended for the general public was – and this is rarely mentioned – plagued by many shortcomings, mainly, but not only, on account of an overzealous attempt to modernize and unify the text’s typographic form; it was at an intermediate, rather than a final, stage of textual arrangement. The first critical edition of Norwid’s Dzieła wszystkie [The Complete Works] was only initiated in recent years, by a team of researchers headed by chief editor Stefan Sawicki, under the auspices of Ośrodek Badań nad Twórczością Cypriana Norwida [Institute for the Study of Cyprian Norwid’s Literature] at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. As of now, 7 of ←28 | 29→the planned 17 volumes, each supplied with a critical apparatus and explanatory notes, have been published.4

A crucial argument for the particular importance of editorial achievements in the history of research on the literature of the author of Promethidion is the remarkable trend among his most important publishers, of furnishing their editions with rich critical and commentary apparatuses. The first editions, especially the one Zenon Przesmycki started in 1911 – Norwid’s Pisma zebrane [The Collected Works] (not finalized by the publisher) – set a very high bar. The texts published in Pisma zebrane were supplemented with extensive commentaries providing substantial information on the texts’ genesis, descriptions of the sources (original manuscripts, copies, first editions) which constituted their textual basis, as well as broad biographical and historico-literary explanations.5 It is impossible not to mention the aesthetic values of this edition, the tasteful graphic design, the carefulness and elegance of the typography and the richness of the “Artistic Addenda” [“Dodatki artystyczne”], consisting of reproductions of Norwid’s works of fine art. In the context of Przesmycki’s critical approach to the interpretation of Norwid’s texts, from among the later editions attributed to the editor, his Poezje wybrane [Selected Poems] from 1932 deserves special attention. The publisher’s notes included in this edition constitute, as, Marek Buś, a researcher studying the editorial history of Norwid’s posthumous work, stressed, the only edition of Miriam’s Norwidian work which is “characterized by entirety, completeness.” Moreover, if the editor’s selection of poetry represented Norwid’s creative profile, the commentary reflected Miriam’s vision of “Ad leones!”’s author’s output.6 In spite of the prevalent opinion among critics and literary researchers that Przesmycki was “stuck in a ‘Young Poland’ era mindset” (the unfairness of which was already indicated by Wacław Borowy, who emphasized ←29 | 30→the editor’s “incredible diversity of points of view”7), his synthetic yet not simplistic annotations to Poezje wybrane evidence a “wise reading of the poet,” not through the passive contemplation or application of some predefined methods or styles of interpretation, but through an active dialogue with the text. This attitude stemmed from an awareness of the multi-layered and complex nature of the literary work, and guided Miriam towards an analysis which combined text parsing [dismantling] with contextual interpretation. Following Przesmycki’s example, other pre-war editors of Norwid’s writings also paid great attention to their commentaries, placing the emphasis either on synthetic prefaces and epilogues, or on the notes and explanations accompanying the published texts; just to mention the Wybór poezji [Selected Poems] edited by Stanisław Cywiński (1924) and the first individual publication of Promethidion, considered the most renowned work penned by Norwid, which was undertaken by Roman Zrębowicz (1922). The pinnacle of this trend, several decades after the mentioned editions, was J. W. Gomulicki’s commentary to the volume of poems which in and of itself filled several hundred pages of the second volume of Dzieła zebrane (1966), while the significant limitation of the critical apparatus in Pisma wszystkie was the result “not so much of the editor’s guidelines, but rather of a circumstantially forced resignation.”8

Along with the sharp increase in the number of editorial publications, which occurred before 1939, the current of literary history studies began to expand in association with the development of literary research in Poland, as well as the prevalence of subsequent research methods and attitudes. A characteristic trait of the interwar editorial efforts on Norwid’s literature was the markedly strong tendency to modernize, saturating researchers’ texts with the tone of “criticality” and determining the accents of valuation from a contemporary perspective. As a result of that – as Buś noticed – “the cases of denying any significant and lasting value to the interwar phase of the poet’s reception are pretty common. This is connected to the suggestion that the image of the reception of Norwid’s literature at that time was subordinated to “legend-making [legendary]” criteria rather than to those assertive, historico-literary, ones, and that it was a reflection of a “false awareness” presenting a mythologized and “imaginary” Norwid”.9 The extent to which Buś’s criticism of this judgement is unfair and one-sided is clearly demonstrated by the fact that quite a few studies from ←30 | 31→that time have been permanently adopted by research tradition, and constitute a significant reference point for successive generations of scholars. Here we should at least mention Wacław Borowy’s insightful remarks, Zofia Szmydtowa’s solid analyses, Tadeusz Makowiecki’s interpretations, the books by Ignacy Fik and Władysław Arcimowicz, and the problem studies by Kazimierz Wyka and Stefan Kołaczkowski.10

The literary research and critical discussions on the originality and greatness of Norwid’s works undertaken during the interwar period, as well as the attempts to establish the poet’s position on Poland’s cultural map, which naturally accompanied the stage of the collection of his works and determination of their final shape, were discontinued after 1945. Although Norwidology, with a very few and insignificant exceptions, was spared from Marxist influence, this discipline did not take on any specific research direction for a relatively long time – which was inevitable in the years dominated by “the only acceptable” perception of Norwid’s works as “reactionary” and “obscurantist.”11 In this situation, ←31 | 32→structuralism became the principal methodological reference point for post-war research on Norwid; humanities studies around the world were experiencing dynamic developments between 1930–1960, but these significantly delayed their appearance in Poland on account of wartime turmoil and the subsequent Marxist terror. The expansion of structuralism resulted in the development of the theory of literature and especially that of poetics, and also led to the establishment of interpretation as the method allowing for the most profound comprehension of Norwid’s writings.12 The privileged position of the studies and analyses devoted to individual texts of Vade-mecum’s author, which mostly took lyrical poetry and dramas into consideration, but sometimes also artistic prose (mainly novellas), poems or epistolography, yielded an abundance of extensive publications of an almost exclusively interpretative nature.13

The special status of interpretation is also – after collecting Norwid’s writings and discussing his position on the map of Polish culture – the next step towards more profound knowledge of the poet’s works through the more thorough understanding of his texts. Researchers’ papers raise many polemics and discussions around the interpretation of Vade-mecum’s author’s writings. “There ←32 | 33→is growing talk – emphasizes Anna Kozłowska, the author of a study devoted to these problems – that it is necessary for reciters, translators, and scenarists to think Norwid through.” Most of the linguists interested in Norwid’s literature set the understanding of his work as their fundamental goal.14 Critical reflection on the element of interpretation present in Norwidological research inevitably turns our attention to the radical discrepancies or even misunderstandings taking place on different levels of the analysed texts’ organization, many of which can be easily found in the published testimonies to the reading of Norwid. Kozłowska gives examples of interpretative controversies characteristic of the discipline, and proceeds to indicate the factors at the root cause of the observed divergencies. In this respect, she ascribes a special role to the general differences in outlook on the essence of interpretation, allowing the distinction of a few main ways to “read Norwid,” based on the differentiation of goals set by the interpreters.15 Depending on whether the researcher is attempting to get at the communicative intentions of the author, is trying to grasp the text’s meaning from the reader’s perspective, or else, is searching for the elements that would render it possible to place the piece of writing in some context (biographical, historical, ideological, or more broadly cultural), individual interpretations extract diametrically opposed meanings from Norwid’s literature.

The analytical approach sometimes bore the fruit of studies leading to the formulation of categories and units of a higher order, like a genre, which was evidenced, for example, by Irena Sławińska’s classic monograph O komediach ←33 | 34→Norwida [On Norwid’s Comedies].16 Studies devoted to the issues of Norwidian poetics, usually developed in a structuralist spirit, were especially popular in the literary subject matter of the 1960s and 1970s, but have also been continued in more recent years. It is worth indicating the studies in this current that dealt with the problems of genre, style, composition and types of articulation undertaken by authors such as: Michał Głowiński, Mieczysław Inglot, Marian Maciejewski and Stefan Sawicki.17

Ideological considerations in Promethidion’s author’s oeuvre constituted an important trend in post-war Norwidology: within its framework there were attempts to recognize Norwid as a thinker, philosopher, theologist, poet of culture, poet of history etc. Among the researchers exploring the mentioned areas it is especially important to mention Zofia Stefanowska, Elżbieta Feliksiak and Reverend Antoni Dunajski.18 Those investigations saw different research trends; beside structuralism, hermeneutical studies were especially noticeable. The book Czytanie Norwida. Próby [Reading Norwid. Essays] (Warsaw 1978) by Jacek Trznadel or Dwie twarze losu. Nietzsche-Norwid [The Two Faces of Fate. Nietzsche – Norwid] by Ewa Bieńkowska can be taken as examples of critical analyses in which the thesis closely linked with the hermeneutical circle – that interpretation strongly depends on pre-understanding – was clearly expressed. However, the hermeneutical vision more frequently led Norwid scholars to publications focused on the communication of the theory of literary work, concerning problems associated with the reception and the recipient. This is why so many research papers concentrated on the communication forms and dialogue in Norwid’s oeuvre, like for example, Michał Głowiński’s Norwidowska druga osoba [Norwidian Second Person]19 or Józef Fert’s Norwid poeta dialogu [Norwid as a Poet of ←34 | 35→Dialogue],20 appeared in the 1970s and 1980s.

Norwidology – beginning with the 1990s – did not lack the application of postmodern methodologies, although they did not succeed in dominating other currents, despite having strongly resonated with the literature of the subject matter. In this respect one should first and foremost mention the book, widely talked about in its time, by Wiesław Rzońca Norwid – poeta pisma. Próba dekonstrukcji dzieła [Norwid – the Poet of Script. An Attempted Deconstruction of Literary Works].21 The study was not lacking in provocative and peremptory statements aimed, above all, at Norwidology (or, to be exact: Norwidologists). However, the author’s revelations do not withstand critical pressure when confronted with historical material. This is because in case of Quidam’s author, his incoherence, incompleteness, fragmentation of style and thought had been written about since the very beginning, even during his lifetime – critics accused him of “obscurity,” “intricacy,” “muddled style.” Such opinions about Norwid were written not only by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, but also by Zygmunt Krasiński, and even Teofil Lenartowicz.22 From the group of researchers who conducted their analyses using different methodologies connected with broadly-understood modernism, we should mention Michał Kuziak and his study Poststrukturalizm i Norwid. Wstęp do wstępu [Poststructuralism and Norwid. An Introduction to the Introduction]23or the article Norwid – zmagania z podmiotowością. Epifanie poetyckie autora “Vade-mecum” [Norwid. The Struggle with Subjectivity. Poetical Epiphanies of the Author of “Vade-mecum”].24 This group of texts should include the book by Rzońca: Premodernizm Norwida [Norwid’s Pre-modernism],25 as well as the book Mallarmé – Norwid26 by Piotr Śniedziewski. The latter one is an example of seizing the achievements of comparative literature in Norwidology, and the comparison of both poets is carried out mainly on the plane of language ←35 | 36→and aesthetics as well as the poetics/rhetoric of silence, not touching upon the sphere of ideas. In recent years – especially among the younger generation of researchers – there has been a significant increase of interest in comparative readings of Norwidian literature, either pointing out its similarities to analogous literary and intellectual phenomena or confronting it with phenomena on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.27 It suffices to mention the books by Ewangelina Skalińska (juxtaposing Norwid’s works with Dostoyevsky),28 by Eliza Kącka (describing Norwid’s reception by Stanisław Brzozowski)29 or by Karol Samsel (constructing a comparison between Norwid and Joseph Conrad).30 These studies significantly and extensively contributed to the development of the present current of Norwid research, devoted to different forms of intertextual investigations into the writings of the author of Vade-mecum,31 such as the ←36 | 37→publications of Maciej Żurowski,32 Zofia Szmydtowa33 or Edward Kasperski, to name a few.34 Quite a lot has also been written on the reception of Norwid in contemporary Polish poetry.35

Despite the significant expansiveness and research proficiency, none of the aforementioned research currents or methods (structuralism, hermeneutics, postmodernism, comparative literature etc.) found solid ground in Norwidology; and none of them succeeded in permanently dominating the area of research on the poet’s oeuvre. Structuralism – analysing literary work from the perspective of a superimposed order – was unable to impose its representation of the world on the poet’s highly individualized texts, it never managed to confine it to any system. For example, very few Norwidological works were written about Norwidian literary genetics at a time when this topic practically dominated the literary research scene. The books and articles of eminent Norwidologists, like Irena Sławińska, Stefan Sawicki, Zdzisław Łapiński or Zofia Stefanowska prove the natural resistance of Norwid’s literary material to any systemic approach. The freedom (optionality) of associations drawn from the poet’s texts – characteristically hermeneutic – was very quickly compromised on philological grounds. Deconstruction was also discredited rather quickly, although its appeal was undeniable; its anti-rationalism could not hold up to the pressure exerted by works emphasizing the need for objective cognition, rationalism and concentration on reality. However, the art of analysis and interpretation proved to be a stable factor in Norwid research. From the very beginning, studies of this ←37 | 38→type were somewhat dominant in the field of research related to the works of Promethidion’s author: they appeared in practically all of the mentioned methodologies and currents.

The katena method,36 devised and used by Agata Brajerska-Mazur to both evaluate and/or create faithful translations of literary masterpieces, was also hermeneutic and interpretational in nature. She assumed that translators of Norwid’s polysemic works should offer target readers precisely as many interpretations of a source text as it had in the original.37 The method sums up the general knowledge of all the interpreters of an analyzed text, enables critics to evaluate the quality of various translations of Norwid’s works and helps their readers discover and understand the specific character of his literary achievements.

In the conclusion of this brief review it is worth noting that in recent years (from the turn of the 20th century) the research on Norwid was to a great extent organized into three large-scale projects: lexicographical, biographical and editorial. Their execution was tied to the activities of three research centres established in the 1980s: Pracownia Słownika Języka Cypriana Norwida [Cyprian Norwid Language Dictionary Division] at the University of Warsaw headed by professor Jadwiga Puzynina, Pracownia Kalendarza Życia i Twórczości Cypriana Norwida [Chronology of the Life and Work of Cyprian Norwid Division] headed by professor Zofia Trojanowicz at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań and Ośrodek Badań nad Twórczością Cypriana Norwida [Institute for the Study of Cyprian Norwid’s Literature] active at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin under the auspices of professor Stefan Sawicki. Only the last of the mentioned centres continues to function on the map of ←38 | 39→Polish humanities studies, the former ones concluded their activities upon achieving their research goals.

The studies carried out by Professor Puzynina’s team – through books, articles, subsequent volumes of Seria słownikowych zeszytów tematycznych [The Series of Lexicographical Thematic Notebooks]38 – introduced the issue of Norwid’s language to the realm of Norwidology on a large scale, and, above all, made the development of the Online Dictionary of Cyprian Norwid’s Language39 possible. The Poznań team, tackling the difficult matter – full of gaps, inaccuracies and myths – of the poet’s biography, finalized its efforts in the three-volume Kalendarz życia i twórczości Cypriana Norwida [Calendar of Cyprian Norwid’s Life and Works]40 published in 2007. The Lublin Centre, whose beginnings were associated with the establishment of the annual publication Studia Norwidiana,41 organizes thematic research conferences – Colloquia Norwidiana – cyclically, every two years, bringing together the scholars specializing in the poet’s works from many research centres in the country and abroad,42 publishes the editorial ←39 | 40→series Studia i monografie [Studies and Monographs],43 and most importantly, organizes and coordinates the critical edition of Dzieła wszystkie [The Complete Works] which has already been mentioned, as well as the scholarly catalogue of Norwid’s works of fine art.44

←40 | 41→

1 The editorial history of Norwid’s posthumous papers has been tracked in detail by Marek Buś, who is the author, among others, of: Składanie pieśni. Z dziejów edytorstwa twórczości Cypriana Norwida (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Naukowe WSP, 1997) and Norwidyści: Miriam – Cywiński – Borowy – Makowiecki – Wyka; Konteksty (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Akademii Pedagogicznej, 2008).

2 Before the outbreak of the war Przesmycki managed to publish six out of the nine planned volumes, however, only four were put out for sale (Dramaty, Vols. III and IV and Listy, Vols. VIII and IX), two subsequent ones were only printed (Proza epicka, Vol. V and Pisma o sztuce i literaturze, Vol. VI). The entire stock of volume VII (Pisma filozoficzne, społeczne i inne) was consumed by fire at the printing house before wire-stitching. Basing on the one complete copy saved from burning, the volume was published in 1957 in London by Miriam’s secretary Zbigniew Zaniewicki, under a different title: Pisma polityczne i filozoficzne.

3 Two subsequent editions of Pisma wybrane were published in 1980 and 1983.

4 C. Norwid, Dzieła wszystkie: Vol. III: Poematy I, ed. Stefan Sawicki, Adam Cedro (Lublin: TN KUL, 2009); Vol. IV: Poematy II, ed. Stefan Sawicki, Piotr Chlebowski (Lublin: TN KUL, 2011); Vol. V: Dramaty I, ed. Julian Maślanka (Lublin: TN KUL, 2015); Vol. VI: Dramaty II, ed. Julian Maślanka (Lublin: TN KUL, 2014); Vol. VII: Proza I, ed. Rościsław Skręt (Lublin: TN KUL 2007); Vol. X: Listy I, ed. Jadwiga Rudnicka (Lublin: TN KUL, 2008); Vol. XI: Listy II, ed. Jadwiga Rudnicka (Lublin: TN KUL 2016).

5 Zenon Przesmycki, “Przypisy wydawcy,” in: C. Norwid, Pisma zebrane, published by Z. Przesmycki. Vols. A, C, E (Warszawa-Kraków: Nakład Jakóba Mortkowicza, 1911) [in reality 1912–1914], Vol. F (Warszawa-Kraków: Nakład Jakóba Mortkowicza, 1911) [in reality 1946].

6 Marek Buś, Zenon Przesmycki jako czytelnik Norwida, in: by the same author: Norwidyści, p. 37.

7 Wacław Borowy, O Norwidzie. Rozprawy i notatki, ed. Zofia Stefanowska (Warszawa: PIW, 1960), p. 145.

8 Buś, Składanie pieśni, p. 243.

9 Buś, Składanie pieśni, p. 243.

10 Cf. Kazimierz Wyka, Norwidiana (the series of bibliographical settings provided with the valuable comments of the scholar, published in Pamiętnik Literacki, 1924/25; Vol. 1 (1930); Vol. 4 (1936); Vol. 1–4 (1937); Zofia Szmydtowa, “Norwid jako tłumacz Homera,” in: Prace Komisji do Badań nad Historią Literatury i Oświaty, Vol. III (Warszawa: Wyd. Towarzystwo Naukowe Warszawskie, Wydział I, 1929), pp. 99–115, same author, “Platon w twórczości Norwida,” in: Prace historyczno-literackie. Księga zbiorowa ku czci Ignacego Chrzanowskiego, (Kraków: Skł. Gł. w Kasie im. Mianowskiego, 1936, p. 365–385), same author: O misteriach Cypriana Norwida (Warszawa: Wydawn. Kasy im. Mianowskiego, 1932); Tadeusz Makowiecki, “Norwid wobec Powstania Styczniowego,” Pamiętnik Literacki, 1929, p. 564–581, same author, “Młodzieńcze poglądy Norwida na sztukę,” “Pamiętnik Literacki” 1927, p. 24–85, same author, “Stygmat ruin w twórczości Norwida,” Droga 1933, No. 11, p. 1144–1149; Ignacy Fik, Uwagi nad językiem Cypriana Norwida (Kraków: Druk W.L. Anczyca i Spółki, 1930); Władysław Arcimowicz, Cyprian Kamil Norwid na tle swego konfliktu z krytyką (Wilno: Koło Polonistów Sł. U.S.B., 1935); Stefan Kołaczkowski, “Ironia Norwida,” Droga, 1933, No. 11, pp. 993–1025; Kazimierz Wyka, “Starość Norwida,” Droga, 1933, No. 11.

11 Efforts to read Norwid’s texts in a “modern” way were undertaken rather on the grounds of literary criticism and publicism, whose main task became the struggle for a new shape of literature, among others through profiling a canon of the cultural tradition suitable for “the challenges of contemporaneity.” An extensive report of the “operation” carried out by the communist cultural life ideologists on Norwid’s literature, which they attempted to “cut out” in accordance with Marxist instructions, is given by Przemysław Dakowicz in his book: “Lecz ty spomnisz, wnuku…” Recepcja Norwida w latach 1939–1956. Rzecz o ludziach, książkach i historii (Warszawa: Instytut Badań Literackich PAN, 2011).

12 The abundance of interpretations has been accounted for in bibliographical analyses elaborated on by the Cyprian Norwid Literature Research Department at KUL: Bibliografia interpretacji wierszy Cypriana Norwida, eds. Adam Cedro, Piotr Chlebowski, Józef Fert with the cooperation of Marek Buś and Jacek Leociak (Lublin: Magraf, 2001); Bibliografia interpretacji poematów Cypriana Norwida, ed. Włodzimierz Toruń with the cooperation of Marek Buś, Piotr Chlebowski, Jan Gotfryd (Lublin-Rome: Cedro i Synowie, 2007); Łukasz Niewczas, Bibliografia prozy artystycznej Cypriana Norwida (Lublin: Cedro i Synowie, 2011); Piotr Chlebowski, Bibliografia interpretacji dramatów Cypriana Norwida (Lublin: Cedro i Synowie, 2011).

13 Cypriana Norwida kształt prawdy i miłości. Analizy i interpretacje, ed. Stanisław Makowski (Warszawa: WSiP, 1986); Cyprian Kamil Norwid. Interpretacje i konteksty, ed. Piotr Żbikowski (Rzeszów: Wydawnictwo WSP, 1986); Czemu i jak czytamy Norwida, ed. Jolanta Chojak, Elżbieta Teleżyńska (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo UW, 1991); Czytając Norwida. Materiały z konferencji poświęconej interpretacji utworów Cypriana Norwida zorganizowanej przez Katedrę Filologii Polskiej Wyższej Szkoły Pedagogicznej w Słupsku, ed. Sławomir Rzepczyński (Słupsk: Wyższa Szkoła Pedagogiczna, 1995); Norwidowskie fraszki (?), ed. Jacek Leociak (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Energeia, 1996); Liryka Cypriana Norwida, ed.Piotr Chlebowski, Włodzimierz Toruń (Lublin: TN KUL, 2003); Rozjaśnianie ciemności. Studia i szkice o Norwidzie, eds. Jacek Brzozowski, Barbara Stelmaszczyk (Kraków: Universitas, 2004); Jedno dzieło – wiele interpretacji. Rozważania nad “Wielkimi słowami” Cypriana Norwida, ed. Dariusz Pniewski (Toruń: Wydawnictwo Naukowe UMK, 2012).

14 Anna Kozłowska, Co to znaczy “czytać Norwida”? in: Jak czytać Norwida? Postawy badawcze, metody, weryfikacje, ed. Bernadetta Kuczera-Chachulska and Joanna Trzcionka (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo UKSW, 2008), p. 24. The problems of semantics in the work of Norwid’s poetry reciter were dealt with by Wojciech Siemion (Lekcja czytania. Norwid, Warszawa: Muzeum Literatury im. Adama Mickiewicza, 2001), and an attempt to set a best strategy for Norwidian texts’ translation was undertaken by: Agata Brajerska-Mazur, O angielskich tłumaczeniach utworów Norwida, Lublin: TN KUL, 2002). See also the article by Jadwiga Puzynina, Język – interpretacja – przekład. Na materiale “Vade-mecum” tłumaczonego na język niemiecki przez Rolfa Fiegutha, Studia Norwidiana, Vol. 11 (1993), pp. 31–51. The important role ascribed to interpretation by linguists, especially those from the circle of the Cyprian Norwid Language Dictionary Division at the University of Warsaw, has been accounted for by the bibliographical setting prepared by Tomasz Korpysz, with references to many interpretative texts (Tomasz Korpysz, “Bibliografia prac Zespołu Pracowni Słownika Języka Cypriana Norwida (w 20-lecie Pracowni),” Studia Norwidiana, Vol. 20–21 (2002–2003), pp. 319–336).

15 Kozłowska, Co to znaczy “czytać Norwida”?, pp. 27–33.

16 Lublin 1953.

17 Michał Głowiński, Intertekstualność, groteska, parabola. Szkice ogólne i interpretacje (Kraków: Universitas, 2000), pp. 244–351; Mieczysław Inglot, Wyobraźnia poetycka Norwida (Warszawa: PWN, 1988), Marian Maciejewski, Spojrzenie “w górę” i “wokoło” (Norwid – Malczewski), in: same author, Poetyka – gatunek – obraz. W kręgu poezji romantycznej (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1977), pp. 136–164; Stefan Sawicki, Norwida walka z formą (Warszawa: PIW, 1986).

18 Zofia Stefanowska, Strona romantyków, Elżbieta Feliksiak, Norwidowski świat myśli: Norwid i Vico; Ukryta struktura “Vade-mecum” and other studies collected in the book by Feliksiak, Poezja i myśl. Studia i szkice o Norwidzie (Lublin: TN KUL, 2001); Antoni Dunajski, Chrześcijańska interpretacja dziejów w pismach Cypriana Norwida (Lublin: TN KUL, 1985).

19 Roczniki Humanistyczne, Vol. 19, 1971, No. 1, pp. 127–133.

20 Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, p. 170.

21 Warszawa: Semper, 1995, p. 205.

22 It is characteristic that Rzońca’s deconstructional attempt was criticized by the researchers commonly considered to be supporters of Derrida’s views. See for example: Piotr Markowski, “Pochwała subiektywizmu,” Europa, No. 45 (2005), supplement to Fakt, p. 13.

23 In: Jak czytać Norwida, pp. 181–194.

24 Pamiętnik Literacki, No. 4 (2015), pp. 5–25.

25 Premodernizm Norwida – na tle symbolizmu literackiego drugiej połowy XIX wieku (Warszawa: Wydział Polonistyki Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2014).

26 Mallarmé – Norwid. Milczenie i poetycki modernizm we Francji oraz w Polsce (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Naukowe UAM, 2008), p. 354.

27 Agata Brajerska-Mazur, “Los geniuszów, czyli niezwykle paralelizmy w życiu i twórczości Gerarda Manleya Hopkinsa i Cypriana Kamila Norwida,” in: Symbol w dziele Norwida, ed. Wiesław Rzońca (Warszawa: UW, 2011), p. 299–310; Ewangelina Skalińska, Norwid – Dostojewski. Zbliżenia i rekonstrukcje (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo UKSW, 2014); Karol Samsel, Norwid – Conrad: epika w perspektywie modernizmu (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Semper, 2015); Norwid notre contemporain, ed. Maria Delaperière (Paris: Institut d’études slaves, 2015); Arent van Nieukerken, “Norwid, Heine, Gautier i początki modernizmu,” Litteraria Copernicana, No. 2(16) (2015), pp. 115–130; Agata Brajerska-Mazur, “Norwid – Hopkins: Listy,” in: Norwid: listy, listy…, ed. Łukasz Niewczas (Lublin: Wydawnictwo KUL, 2017), pp. 389–405.

28 Skalińska, Norwid – Dostojewski, p. 482.

29 Eliza Kącka, Stanisław Brzozowski wobec Cypriana Norwida (Warszawa: Wydział Polonistyki Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2012), p. 204.

30 Samsel, Norwid – Conrad, p. 348.

31 A comparative reading of Norwidian poetry was also proposed by: Rolf Fieguth, Poesie in kritischer Phase. Cyprian Norwids Gedichtzyklus Vade-mecum (1866), in: Cyprian Norwid, Vade-mecum 1866. Polnisch-deutsch. Herausgegeben, eingeleitet und übersetzt von Rolf Fieguth. Mit einem Vorwort von Hans-Robert Jauß (München: Fink, 1981), pp. 22–67; Rolf Fieguth, “Vade-mecum Cypriana Norwida w kontekście Victora Hugo i Charlesa Baudelaire’a,” in: Strona Norwida. Studia i szkice ofiarowane profesorowi Stefanowi Sawickiemu, eds. Piotr Chlebowski, Włodzimierz Toruń, Elżbieta Żwirkowska, Edyta Chlebowska (Lublin: TN KUL, 2008), pp. 139–154; Ilona Woronow, Romantyczna idea korespondencji sztuk. Stendhal, Hoffman, Baudelaire, Norwid (Kraków: Wydawnictwo UJ, 2008); Magadalena Siwiec, “Komparatystyka przełomu. Norwid i Baudelaire,” in: Komparatystyka dzisiaj, Vol. 2, ed. Edward Kasperski and Ewa Szczęsna (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Elipsa, 2011), pp. 213–231; Katarzyna Trzeciak, “Rzeźba i ruina jako metafory formy artystycznej u Gautiera i Norwida,” Ruch Literacki Vol. LV, 2014, No. 6, pp. 589–601.

32 See for example: “Norwid i Gautier,” in: Nowe studia o Norwidzie, ed. Juliusz W. Gomulicki, Jan Z. Jakubowski (Warszawa: PWN, 1961), p. 167–190.

33 See for example: “Norwid wobec włoskiego odrodzenia,” in: Nowe studia, p. 125–165.

34 Three works, especially, should be mentioned: Norwid – Kierkegaard. Paralela komparatystyczna; Terapia czy utopia? Norwid – Kierkegaard: komparatystyka estetyczna I and O estetyce obowiązku i o Moralności. Norwid – Kierkegaard: komparatystyka etyczna II. All published in the book by the same author: Tropami Norwida. Studia – interpretacje – paralele, ed. Żaneta Nalewajk (Warszawa: UW, 2018), pp. 305–349.

35 Kazimierz Świegocki, Norwid i poeci Powstania Warszawskiego (Warszawa: PAX, 2007), Małgorzata Rygielska, Przyboś czyta Norwida (Katowice: UŚ, 2012); Teresa Skubalanka, “Norwid a poezja współczesna. Szkic stylistyczny,” Colloquia Litteraria, Vol. 3, 2008, No. 1–2, pp. 171–191; Przemysław Dakowicz, “Lecz ty spomnisz, wnuku…;”Recepcja Norwida w latach 1939–1956. Rzecz o ludziach, książkach i historii (Warszawa: PAN, 2011); Anita Jarzyna, “Pójście za Norwidem” (w polskiej poezji współczesnej) (Lublin: TN KUL, 2013).

36 “Katena” is derived from the Latin word meaning “chain,” and is linked to Bibliology. Thus the term means “collections of excerpts from the writings of Biblical commentators, especially the Fathers of the Church, strung together like links of a chain and in this way exhibiting a continuous and connected interpretation of Scripture.” In the katena method used in translation studies commentaries on a literary text made by renowned scholars are collected to identify the text’s most significant features that must not be lost in translation.

37 Cf. Agata Brajerska-Mazur, O angielskich tłumaczeniach utworów Norwida (Lublin: TN KUL, 2002), “Katena and Translation of Literary Masterpieces,” Babel, Vol. 51, 2005, pp. 16–30, “O przekładzie na język angielski wierszy Norwida Śmierć, Do zeszłej…, Finis,” Pamiętnik Literacki, XCVII, booklet 4 (2006), pp. 229–237, “Ten Commandments for the Translation of the Works of Cyprian Norwid (and what came from them, or, on the translations of Danuta Borchardt),” The Polish Review, Vol. LIII, No. 4 (2008), pp. 495–540.

38 Five volumes have been published: Słownictwo etyczne Cypriana Norwida, part I: Prawda, fałsz, kłamstwo, ed. Jadwiga Puzynina (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo UW, 1993); Elżbieta Teleżyńska, Nazwy barw w twórczości Cypriana Norwida (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo UW, 1994); Słownictwo estetyczne Cypriana Norwida, ed. Jolanta Chojak (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo UW, 1994); Tomasz Korpysz, Jadwiga Puzynina, Wolność i niewola w pismach Cypriana Norwida (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo UW, 1998); Anna Kadyjewska, Tomasz Korpysz, Jadwiga Puzynina, Chrześcijaństwo w pismach Cypriana Norwida (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo UW, 2000).

39 http://www.slownikjezykanorwida.uw.edu.pl/ (accessed 20.07.2018).

40 Zofia Trojanowiczowa, Zofia Dambek, with the cooperation of Jolanta Czarnomorska, Kalendarz życia i twórczości Cypriana Norwida, Vol. I: 1821–1860 (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2007); Zofia Trojanowiczowa, Elżbieta Lijewska, with the cooperation of Małgorzata Pluta, Kalendarz życia i twórczości Cypriana Norwida, Vol. II: 1861–1883 (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2007); Zofia Trojanowiczowa, Zofia Dambek, Iwona Grzeszczak, Kalendarz życia i twórczości Cypriana Norwida, Vol. III: Aneks. Bibliografia. Indeksy (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2007).

41 Studia Norwidiana is the only scholarly magazine devoted to the literature of a single writer. As of 2018, 36 volumes of Studia Norwidiana have been published, and they are also available in the online version: http://czasopisma.tnkul.pl/index.php/sn/issue/archive (accessed 20.07.2018), volumes 34–38 are also being successively published in the English language and are available under the same link.

42 As of now 16 editions have been carried out, out of which two were held abroad.

43 As of 2018, 29 monographs within the series have been published, either by one author or collective ones, devoted to different aspects of Norwid’s literature (the full list of titles is presented on the Centre’s website: http://www.kul.pl/studia-i-monografie,art_21674.html – accessed 20.07.2018).

44 From the seven planned volumes, as of now three have been published: Edyta Chlebowska, Cyprian Norwid. Katalog prac plastycznych, Vol. 1, Prace w albumach 1 (Lublin: TN KUL, 2014); Vol. 2, Prace w albumach 2 (Lublin: TN KUL, 2017); Vol. 3, Prace w albumach 3. Prace luźne 1 (Lublin: TN KUL, 2019).

Edyta Chlebowska

Editor’s Notes

The articles collected in this publication comprise the four-volume monograph devoted to Cyprian Norwid’s oeuvre. They present a panorama of scholarly Norwidological thought in Poland, starting with the turn of the 19th century all the way up until today. The approaching 200th anniversary of the poet’s birth in 2021 constitutes an exceptional occasion and favourable circumstance for taking on such an initiative. The edition contains a comprehensive selection of original Polish articles, previously published in renowned literary research magazines and monographs; articles of unquestionable scholarly value, representing the most important currents and aspects of studies forming a synthesis of Norwidological achievements.

In publishing a monograph devoted to the works of Cyprian Norwid in the English language, we hope that this field of research, which is such an important element of Polish humanities studies, will be able to join international scholarly circulation. Studies on the oeuvre of Vade-mecum’s creator have attracted successive generations of researchers for more than a century, among whom we may find literary historians, linguists, cultural historians and fine art historians, as well as historians of ideas, theologians and researchers on translation. The revival of research activity has also long been accompanied by an unusually strong and lively current of Norwidian literature’s reception in contemporary Polish culture and literature. This status quo stems above all from the specificity of the poet’s works, which remain extremely relevant even today, and have not become – as is the case with the works of many 19th-century writers, even the most outstanding ones – solely the domain of historical research. In his writings, Norwid touches upon fundamental and timeless issues, concentrates on the moral and spiritual condition of man, reflects on man’s position in the world and in history, and attempts to answer the current, and at the same time universal, questions. The monograph presented here is the result of a profound conviction that the work and thought of one of the greatest authors of Polish culture, his literary, journalistic texts as well as his works of fine art, should resonate more loudly on the European and global humanities’ map. Relatively extensive fragments of Norwid’s literary legacy have finally been translated into the English language (this refers, among others, to the anthologies published in recent years: Cyprian Norwid, Selected Poems, translated by Adam Czerniawski [London: Anvil ←41 | 42→Press, 2011] and Cyprian Norwid, Poems, translated by Danuta Borchardt in collaboration with Agata Brajerska-Mazur [New York: Archipelago Books, 2011]), therefore it is time to let a foreign audience get acquainted with the panorama of scholarly Norwidological thought.

Scholarly reflection on the life and works of Norwid, one of the greatest figures of Polish culture, started – as has been mentioned before – with the activities of Zenon Przesmycki, the first editor of the disseminated and for the most part previously unpublished writings of the poet, who was also a careful reader and versatile researcher. Przesmycki’s name opens the list of the dozens of other authors represented in this selection, from among which we should distinguish recognized authorities such as: Wacław Borowy, Konrad Górski, Michał Głowiński, Zofia Stefanowska, Stefan Sawicki, Irena Sławińska, Jadwiga Puzynina, Zdzisław Łapiński, Zofia Trojanowiczowa, Władysław Stróżewski and Teresa Skubalanka.

The basic key for the selection of articles in this publication is their scholarly value and representative nature from the point of view of the discipline’s development. Therefore, both the classical studies which laid the foundations for Norwidology and have maintained their topicality until the present day, as well as more recent articles, sometimes even those written over the span of the last decade, setting new directions for scholarly investigations, penetrating unknown or insufficiently explored territories, have been included.

An effort was taken to make the publication cover the widest possible range of themes which will help researchers and the general public abroad become acquainted with and better understand Norwid’s oeuvre, paying close attention to the problems which are dear to European sensitivities and tradition. Taking into account the specificity of the discipline and the general context and convention, the collected material has been divided into four parts contained in their respective volumes. They cover the following spheres of problems, with each volume titled accordingly: Syntezy [Syntheses], Aspekty [Aspects], Interpretacje [Interpretations] and Konteksty [Contexts]. Conscious of the immense diversity of articles, covering – even within a single volume – an extremely broad range of issues, methodologies and research approaches, a decision was made to abstain from any further thematic divisions, since it could unnecessarily obfuscate the discipline’s picture, and to opt for a chronological arrangement of each section which would follow the stages of development of the scholarly reflection on the works of the author of Vade-mecum.

Vol. 1. Syntheses

The history of critical scholarly editing has played an extremely important role in shaping Norwidology studies – therefore, texts written by the three ←42 | 43→great publishers of Norwid’s posthumous writings: Zenon Przesmycki, Juliusz Wiktor Gomulicki and Stefan Sawicki, could not possibly have been omitted from the planned publication. Besides those, the first volume also contains a selection of texts constituting some successful attempts to present a comprehensive analysis of Norwid’s writings, exploring different research areas including poetics, thematical criticism and literary genetics.

Vol. 2. Aspects

This volume contains a selection of articles referring to a broad range of issues, covering both isolated areas of Norwid’s output and aspect-based analyses of the poet’s creative profile. The published studies concern the artistic theory and practice of Promethidion’s author, exploring the world of his thoughts and views. In addition to the articles written by literary historians, the volume also contains studies by linguists, fine art historians, theologians and translators. Texts concerning the intricacies of Norwid’s biography have also been included here.

Vol. 3. Interpretations

This volume gathers articles of an analytical and interpretational nature devoted to a selection of Norwid’s works. In selecting the texts, an effort was made to represent all the literary genres, and broader areas of the poet’s creative activity (including his works of fine art). Careful consideration has been given to classic interpretations of Norwid’s most important texts, including: “Fortepian Szopena,” Czarne kwiaty, Promethidion, Quidam, “Bema pamięci żałobny-rapsod;” writings providing the most comprehensive insight into the poet’s literary genius.

Vol. 4. Contexts

This volume, in turn, covers articles devoted to the analysis of selected sources and inspirations lying at the foundations of Norwid’s creative work, as well as comparative texts, tracing signs of the unity of thoughts and views linking Norwid to the leading authors of the epoch, both domestically and abroad. An effort was therefore undertaken to outline the profile of this poet and artist whose creative work remained deeply rooted in West European tradition and contemporaneity, but at the same time was characterized by a tremendous openness and receptiveness to cultural differences and diversity.

The articles collected in this publication were written over a span of more than a century. Many of them were published at a time when neither the complete edition of the poet’s Pisma wszystkie edited by Gomulicki nor the 7 out of 18 volumes critically edited by Sawicki had been published yet. Up until the 1970s, researchers were using many different editions. If this historical status quo were to be upheld, ←43 | 44→we would be dealing with a sort of chaos with regard to the textual criticism. Given this situation, the decision was made, for the sake of the contemporary reader’s (and especially the foreign reader’s) convenience, to allow for a bibliographical anachronism, in compliance with the binding rules of scholarly critical editing adopted by Norwidology. And so, all the quotations have been adjusted – wherever it was possible – to be based on the critical edition of Dzieła wszystkie prepared by the team led by Stefan Sawicki: Cyprian Norwid, Dzieła wszystkie, Vol. III: Poematy 1, ed. Stefan Sawicki, Adam Cedro (Lublin: TN KUL, 2009); Vol. IV: Poematy 2, eds. Stefan Sawicki, Piotr Chlebowski (Lublin: TN KUL, 2011); Vol. V: Dramaty 1, ed. Julian Maślanka (Lublin: TN KUL, 2015); Vol. VI: Dramaty 2, ed. Julian Maślanka (Lublin: TN KUL, 2014); Vol. VII: Proza 1, ed. Rościsław Skręt (Lublin: TN KUL, 2007); Vol. X: Listy 1: 1839–1854, ed. Jadwiga Rudnicka (Lublin: TN KUL, 2008); Vol. XI: Listy 2: 1855–1861, ed. Jadwiga Rudnicka (Lublin: TN KUL, 2016) (hereinafter referred to as DW, a Roman numeral indicating the volume, and an Arabic one – the page). In other cases Norwid’s texts have been cited according to: Cyprian Norwid, Pisma wszystkie, zebrał, tekst ustalił, wstępem i uwagami krytycznymi opatrzył J.W. Gomulicki [Juliusz Wiktor Gomulicki collected, determined the texts and provided the introduction and critical comments], Vols. I–XI (Warszawa: PIW, 1971–1976) (hereinafter referred to as PWsz, a Roman numeral indicating the volume, an Arabic one the page). This decision, motivated by the present editorial status of Norwid’s literature, involves discrepancies in the graphic conventions used; particularly in the case of Norwidian emphases, which in PWsz were rendered in the form of so-called spaced out print while in DW – with the use of italics.

We have to remember the changes in the scholarly findings concerning facts, for example those connected with the poet’s biography or genesis of his literary works as well as Norwidian documents (letters, poems, notes etc.), both those which have surfaced since Zenon Przesmycki’s times, and those whose handwritten originals were lost (for example during World War II).1 It compelled the editors of this monograph to introduce the appropriate commentaries and footnotes. Moreover, the bibliographic records and notes have been unified ←44 | 45→in order to produce a synthetic entirety with a coherent and logical message. And, concerning those of Norwid’s texts cited in the articles, beside the original (Polish) version, the philological English translations have also been given, their boundaries clearly marked by square brackets. Sometimes the existing translations of Norwid’s poems into the English language were quoted, and in such cases the source of the translation has been indicated in a footnote. Additionally, each volume has been provided with indexes of the names and titles of Norwid’s texts. It was also considered appropriate to list the sources of the printed texts.

←45 | 46→←46 | 47→

1 In 1940 the German occupational authorities gathered manuscripts and other special collections from different Warsaw libraries in the building of the Library of the Krasiński Estate, where they endured the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 with no losses. However, in October of that year, after the capitulation of the Home Army and evacuation of the city’s civilian population, the collections were destroyed by the Germans within the planned burnings which were one of the elements of the plan to annihilate Poland’s capital (85 % of the city fell to ruin).

Zenon Przesmycki

From Notes and Documents on Cyprian Norwid

Abstract: This collection of notes and documents was attached to the first posthumous edition of selected works by Cyprian Norwid, which were published by Zenon Przesmycki in 1904 in a special volume of literary and artistic magazine Chimera titled “Pamięci C. Norwida” [“In Memory of C. Norwid”], a forerunner of a planned edition of the poet’s collected writings. The editor gives an account of the contemporary state knowledge, which was the fruit of several years of extensive quests for the poet’s legacy scattered among a variety of sources. The text contains a list of known portraits and self-portraits of Norwid, a bibliography of his writings published in the form of compact prints during his lifetime, a brief description of Norwid’s artistic work, and the first comprehensive outline of the poet’s biography.

Keywords: Cyprian Norwid, biography, bibliography, iconography, portrait

This commemorative volume1 contains only works by Cyprian Norwid representing his achievements in both literature and visual art. In presenting this volume we wanted above all to allow the voice of this great artist to be heard in all its virtuosity – a voice that had been for so long consigned to the deep silence of neglect. To achieve this goal, we did not hesitate to expand this volume, which was originally conceived as a double issue but now has the length of a quarterly set. When this project exceeded the scope of three issues, we decided to postpone the inclusion of a general introduction, wishing to publish this in a later issue rather than omit any of the selected works. Finally, when choosing the material from among Norwid’s miscellaneous writings, giving priority to items that previously remained only in manuscript form, we did not hesitate to reprint some previously published works that are of particular prominence. Having seen the light of day, they passed by like bright meteors, astonishing and confusing readers rather than taking root in their memory. In this category we find, first of all, the bizarre Promethidion – a prophetic gospel of art written over fifty years ago (Paris, 1851), which nevertheless remains fresh, proving its immortality not just to us but certainly to future generations. Those of its passages made available to us we decided to place at the very beginning of the present volume. The second ←47 | 48→long poem, entitled Pompeja [Pompeii], also previously published (see: Pokłosie, zbieranka literacka na korzyść sierot, second year, Leszno: E. Günther, 1853), had probably been forgotten not only by the reading public but also by the poet himself since he did not include this fabulous visionary work in either the 1863 volume of his collected poems (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1863), or the later, second cycle entitled Vade-mecum (1865). We wish to thank Adolf Sternschuss of Kraków for bringing our attention to this and for copying the poem.

With the exception of the above two reprints, all the works contained in this volume are published for the first time from manuscripts obtained – thanks to a great deal of time and effort – from owners dispersed all around the world. These are by no means fonds de tiroirs, or leftovers whose importance would lie only in the fact of not having been published before, but rather a small selection (the other manuscripts could fill several more extensive volumes!) from a wide range of inspired, first-class works that Norwid created in the second half of his life and was (shamefully!) unable to publish. In fact, he never really had publishers in Poland at all. Perhaps with the exception of several editions brought out by M. Wolff in St. Petersburg, and by Brockhaus in Leipzig, all his other works were self-published or published with the help of close friends. However, later on, when he was roaming the streets of Paris, neither could he afford to self-publish, nor could he rely on his friends, who were also becoming poorer and poorer. More and more manuscripts would lie neglected around his house. After his death, many of them were dispersed, some lost forever without trace. Even the magnificent and Orphistic Rzecz o wolności słowa [On the Freedom of Speech] – which A. Giller praised elatedly, declaring that “like others, we have also failed to properly acknowledge the talent of Mr. Norwid” – could not find a willing publisher, despite its enthusiastic reception in the magazines Czas and Dziennik Poznański. Had it not been for savings that were meticulously made by a group of foresighted, appreciative friends (S. Goszczyński, L. Nabielak, Z. Węgierska and B. Zaleski), the work would probably never have seen the light of day. This good fortune was not shared, after all, by many other poems, including the bizarre, profound masterpiece Milczenie [Silence]. In 1882, one year before his death, Norwid wrote to T. Lenartowicz with understandable bitterness: “Pracuję troszkę nad poematem w pięciu pieśniach […] – ale polscy edytorowie są do niczego!” (PWsz X, 178) [“I am working a little on this longer poem in five cantos […], but the Polish publishers are useless!”] As a result of Norwid’s deeply painful relationship with publishers, he was condemned, as it were, to silence during his lifetime. To remind the wider public about him today is, as far as most of his works are concerned, to reveal them for the first time. Such revelations certainly include: Kleopatra [Cleopatra], despite its unfinished state and familiarity ←48 | 49→with Krakus and Wanda; the deeply symbolic short story Stygmat [Stigma], which may surprise even those who have read his three other stories published in Chimera; the entire astonishing cycle of lyrical and satirical poems, from the pipe organ-like introductory psalm to the concluding light epigrams, which may surprise those who still believe that Norwid is a difficult, obscure and harsh poet; a true gem for translators and admirers of classicism in the form of numerous aspects of draft translations from the Odyssey, which are so thoroughly Homeric in spirit, so intuitive in their style by comparison with Siemieński’s grotesquely unbalanced rendering; the revelation of a new, unanticipated aspect of Norwid in “Filozofia wojny” [“The Philosophy of War”], matching the intellectual heights of a Hoene-Wroński; and finally, a revelation of the poet’s soul – showing his mind and spirit at the turning point nel mezzo del cammin della vita – in the private and candid correspondence with Maria Trębicka.

Originals of these works come from many sources. Manuscripts of Kleopatra i Cezar, Stygmat and all works from the Vade-mecum cycle (undated) form part of the magnificent (though incomplete) archive left by Norwid which has been donated to us by W. Gasztowt. Some shorter works to which dates can be assigned (“Lapidaria,” “Powiedz im” [“Tell them”] and a translation from Buonarroti) were found among Norwid’s letters and drawings, kindly given to us by E. Geniusz of Port Said. Two others – “Mój psalm” [“My Psalm”] and “Fraszka” [“A Bagatelle”] – were chosen from among mementoes kept by Seweryna Duchińska, the existence of which was brought to our attention by D. Śliwicki. The manuscript of translations from the Odyssey we owe to the late Adam Pług, who sent it to us via W. Nawrocki. The French war treatise – the manuscript of which contains the dedication, made in pencil, “To Józef Reitzenhaim I offer this excerpt from an opus from the time of the last war” – was licensed to us, through the friendly mediation of Artur Górski of the archive of J. Reitzenheim, presently in the possession of Duchess Maria Adamowa Lubomirska of Miżyniec. Letters to Maria Trębicka, which she herself donated to the Jagiellonian Library, were copied and prepared for publication by S. Kossowski. Later, after proofreading, they were kindly collated by Adolf Sternschuss.

It was far more challenging to comprehensively present Norwid’s achievements in visual arts. Finished works have been dispersed – through donation or sale – in larger and smaller private collections, some of which may be difficult to access. Some works are simply difficult to trace, having changed owners several times. Neither was it possible, therefore, to present the entirety of the artist’s output, nor even to select the best and most characteristic works to be reproduced in this volume. We had to be content with studies and sketches. They are certainly outstanding and inspire curiosity, but it remains doubtful whether they adequately ←49 | 50→reflect Norwid’s unique talent. We have selected them in such a way as to display the broad extent of his inspiration and the range of techniques applied. The only types of work we have chosen not to include here are etchings and sculptures. This is because Chimera has already featured a fabulous collotype reproduction of the etching “Le Musicien inutile” (Fig. 1) in one of its previous issues, while the only work of sculpture we were able to locate – a bronze plaque of Z. Krasiński – was presented earlier by W. Strzembosz in Tygodnik Ilustrowany (No. 34, 1904), which made it unnecessary to show it again.

The work that begins this volume – “Chrystus i Barabasz” [“Christ and Barabbas”] (Fig. 2) – is a reproduction of a pen-and-ink drawing from the Kraków collection of Adolf Sternschuss. It is probably the first finished preparatory drawing for a larger work under the same title, which J.I. Kraszewski saw in 1858 in Norwid’s Paris studio, pronouncing it to be “a forceful attempt to achieve unique expression and originality” (Kartki z podróży. 1858–1864, vol. 2, Warszawa, 1874, p. 316). Upon closer inspection the expression is indeed unusual, but in a positive way, emanating an almost Leonardian sense of mystery. In fact, the depth of expression and the ability to reveal the entire soul in the figure’s facial expression and movement are the striking characteristics of Norwid’s style. This is also exemplified in two sketches from the so-called Norwid file at the Rapperswil Museum. The first, an oil with the kind of boldness, energy and breadth that renders it similar to contemporary painting, presents a woman immobilized by some sudden surge of feeling. The second, a watercolour of exquisite colouring, reveals depths of the simple yet mysterious soul of a child that are matched today only by a Dębicki or Wyspiański. One more work of this kind, depicting a small child, done in pencil, was selected from the archive donated to us by Gasztowtt. Two more coloured pen-and-ink works were chosen from this collection: a deeply sad (though not ostentatiously so) male figure with his eyes fixed (spiritually) on the faraway, tormented homeland, and an unknown sketch of Z. Krasiński’s head, which appears to be a preparatory drawing for a sculpture, but seems more interesting, in many respects, than the above-mentioned bronze plaque. A completely separate category is formed within Norwid’s oeuvre by excellent caricatures as well as satirical and humorous drawings. They do not stoop to sheer buffoonery but rather bring out a certain characteristic of a figure or scene, exaggerating some of their fundamental features. In this category we present two perfect hand-made sketches in pencil (“Zebranie emigracyjne” [“Emigre meeting”] (Fig. 3) and “Sąsiedzi w Zakładzie Św. Kazimierza w Paryżu” [“Neighbours at the Œuvre de Saint-Casimir in Paris”]) (Fig. 4) chosen from among over twenty works belonging to E. Geniusz of Port Said, as well as a pen-and-ink sketch “Chemin du progrès,” (Fig. 5) kindly given ←50 | 51→to us by W. Gomulicki. Finally, the tailpiece (“Złoty kubek” [“A Golden Mug”]) (Fig. 6) was reconstructed from the cover designed by Norwid, for Lirenka by T. Lenartowicz, published by J.K. Żupański (Poznań, 1855).

Norwid’s Iconography

We wanted very much to complete this double commemorative issue celebrating Norwid’s literary and artistic achievements with several portraits of him made at various times. At first, this seemed impossible. In his own autobiography from 1872 (cf. Wiadomości numizmatyczno-archeologiczne, Kraków, 1897, No. 4, p. 355), he himself insisted that “there are no photographs, portraits, plaster statues in Poland showing the external appearance of this person – allegedly, there are several caricatures.” On the other hand, E. Geniusz of Port Said – who knew Norwid personally during the last fifteen or twenty years of his life and sent us a beautiful written portrait of the artist2 – argues with full conviction that there is in fact no existing likeness of the poet, other than one sketch made by P. Szyndler while Norwid was sleeping, because he would decline any offers from painters, saying “I’d rather not have a portrait…” As it turns out, however, Norwid must have meant that there is no widely available image of this kind in Poland, either in magazines or in galleries. He would not include self-portraits or photographs meant for private use. Moreover, it seems that he did agree to sit for certain painters. While searching further we discovered traces of a whole range of images. The list of these – ordered more or less chronologically – can serve as the first modest step towards a future, more comprehensive iconography of the poet.

1. The oldest works would consist of “several caricatures” mentioned in his autobiography, which we have been unable to locate. According to Norwid, they were created in Poland, so it should be assumed that they date from the years 1839–1844, i.e. after his debut and before he left the country.

←51 | 52→

2. A pencil self-portrait, undoubtedly from the same period, is found in an album belonging to Łucja Rautenstrauch née Giedrojć. It shows a man in his early twenties. We saw a copy, drawn in pencil by Wacław Wejtke, in the archive of W. Gomulicki. The drawing itself shows only the bust and measures 7 cm x 6 cm.

3. A letter to M. Trębicka, dated 21 February 1854 (DW X, 485), mentions an unsent daguerreotype showing the poet. It is unknown whether the addressee received it later.

4. We suspect that a later copy3 could be the first photograph of Norwid we have obtained, taken in the Hamaret studio, in rue Louis le Grand 30 (Paris), and kindly donated to us by Anna Norwid, widow of the poet’s brother Ludwik. Our supposition is based on the type of photograph and the age of the man in the picture (he cannot be older than 32 or 33, which would confirm the date suggested by the reference in the letter). This formal portrait shows the poet’s full figure, sitting on a chair at a table, sideways, with his head turned three-quarters towards the viewer, in a very natural pose, wearing casual white clothes, his right hand on the table, his left on the leg, his legs crossed. His facial expression is extremely subtle, full of gravity, goodness and featuring a slight hint of irony. We do not reproduce this portrait here because the photograph has faded and the final effect would not be very noteworthy. In any case, the etching by F. Siedlecki contained here (Fig. 7) is largely based on this image and perfectly captures the characteristics of Norwid’s head.

5. In a letter to M. Trębicka dated 18 July 1856 (sent from Paris), we find the following remark: “Ktoś z artystów, zgorszony fotografem, robić zaczyna tu mój portret, to przeszlę go – ale nie lubię już tych wszystkich cieniów” [“some artist who was present, appalled by the photographer, began to take my portrait, so I could send it later, but I do not like all these shadows”] (DW XI, 80). We have been unable to verify whether this portrait was finished or who was making it.

6. Norwid’s file in Rapperswil contains, as we have discovered, a photograph of the poet, aged 37–40, which leads us to conclude that – despite certain coincidences – it is not the one referred to in the letters listed here in note 2. It was no doubt taken during the period 1858–1860.

7. In 1857 J.I. Kraszewski noted in his Catalogue d’une collection iconographique polonaise (Dresden, 1865) a second self-portrait of the poet: “Dessin sur ←52 | 53→papier bleu, rehaussé de blanc. (C. Norwid ipse ipsum 1857). 8˚. Il représent l’artiste sur une carte de l’Europe, appuyé sur une porte-crayon, et des chiens qui aboyent après lui.” (Fig. 8)

The archive of W. Gomulicki, kindly donated to us, contains the following images reproduced in this volume:

8. A pen-and-ink sketch of 1877 (Fig. 9).

9. “Norwid śpiący” [“Norwid asleep”] – a sketch in oil by P. Szyndler of 1879 (Fig. 10).

10. A pen-and-ink self-portrait created, it seems, towards the end of Norwid’s life, i.e. during the period 1880–1883 (Fig. 11).

11. Around 1880 P. Szyndler must have finally overcome Norwid’s dislike for “shadows” on portraits, creating a large, very interesting image of him in oil, which was displayed along with “Norwid śpiący” in the last years of the 19th century in the Salon Artystyczny in Nowy Świat. However, since Norwid was relatively unknown at that time, the author of the portrait could not find a buyer for the picture, which remains to this day in the artist’s studio.

The only posthumous portraits worthy of mention are:

12. A subtle, very distinctive watercolour by F. Siedlecki, reproduced here (Fig. 7).

13. A woodcut – made, it seems, after the above watercolour – by J. Łoskoczyński, published in Tygodnik Ilustrowany (1904, No. 20, p. 388).

Finally, there are two images based on this photograph, which we received from Anna Norwid:

14 and 15. Two miniature drawings featured in both the “Wielka [Great] Encyklopedia” and “Orgelbrand’s Encyclopedia,” mere stencils.

A Bibliography of Norwid’s works

At this stage it is impossible to prepare a complete bibliography of works by Cyprian Norwid. This is mainly because many of them remain in manuscript form. Many of them have been traced in incomplete form only and many others remain dispersed around the world, unrecorded. Some – including manuscripts of well-known works, admired and noted by experts4 – may ←53 | 54→even have been lost forever. In one letter that is in our possession Norwid complains that during his many long wanderings, often in unfavourable conditions, many of his works were irretrievably lost. Anna Norwid brought it to our attention that there is an entire trunk of papers which – by an unfortunate coincidence – ended up in Brussels, in the hands of an indifferent foreigner. Who knows, perhaps these papers were turned into shopping bags. And how many manuscripts, distributed by the author to people who would never fully appreciate them, may come to light in the future? Considering the example of Filozofia wojny, an amazing yet hitherto completely unknown work, it seems likely that many surprises are in store for us. Let us hope that this book will promote interest in the great writer Norwid and lead to many more such discoveries!

Not only manuscript works but even those published in magazines remain impossible to catalogue. The lack of tables of contents and incomplete holdings of annual volumes of magazines in libraries make any such attempts very difficult. We have undertaken this task thanks to the kind cooperation of A. Sternschuss and L. Wellisch. After sifting through many compendium volumes and periodicals (Biblioteka Warszawska, Przegląd Warszawski, Przegląd naukowy, Piśmiennictwo krajowe, Pokłosie leszn.-poznańskie, Przegląd Poznański, the monthly supplement to Czas krakowski, Pismo zbiorowe bendlikońskie, Orędownik naukowy, J.I. Kraszewski’s Atheneum and many others which we have pored over fruitlessly), we are now in possession of several dozen works by Norwid that have not yet been published in book form. Many more are likely to be discovered eventually. Norwid himself wrote to M. Trębicka in 1857 (DW XI, 226) that he had been disseminating his works in all Polish journals! Until this project is completed we do not find it necessary to publicly announce the results. In any case, the present volume could not include them.

Meanwhile, therefore, we offer a first bibliography of individual works by Norwid, in book form and offprints, compiled in accordance with the latest conventions. It comprises fifteen titles:

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1. — WIGILIA [CHRISTMAS EVE] | (Legenda dla przyjaciół [Legend for Friends]). | [motto].

Unbound, without cover and title page. – Large 8° (21 x 15 ½ cm). Pages: 1–3, 4 (empty). – Without month and year. – At the bottom of the third page: “in L. Martinet’s printing house, at 30 Jacob street” [PARIS]. Ibid., below the last line: “written in Rome, 1848, summer” – and signed: CYPRYAN KAMIL NORWID. – Printed in frames. Over the title a vignette showing three flying angels. – Rhymed lyrical poem in four parts. Karol Estreicher, Bibliografia polska XIX stulecia, part. I, vol. III, Kraków: Akademia Umiejętności, 1876, p. 2445.

2. — JESZCZE SŁOWO [A WORD MORE] | (czyniącym pokój przypisane [ascribed to those promoting peace]). | [double motto].

Unbound, without cover and title page. Large 8° (21 x 15 ½ cm). Pages: 1–3, 4 (empty). – Without month and year – At the bottom of the third page: “in L. Martinet’s printing house, at 30 Jacob street” [PARIS]. Ibid., below the last line: “written in Rome, 1848, summer” – and signed: CYPRYAN KAMIL NORWID. – Printed in frames. Over the title a vignette showing a praying child. – Rhymed lyrical poem in three parts. Estr. III, 244 and VI, 517.


3. — PIEŚNI SPOŁECZNEJ [SOCIAL SONG] | cztery stron [in four pages]. | Napisał [Written by] | CYPRYAN KAMIL NORWID. | 1848. | [line] | Poznań, | Druk i nakład [Printed by] W. Stefańskiego w Bazarze. | 1849.

(Shortened title on the cover: P. | Sp. | czt. str. | Poznań | 1849.) Large 8° (25 x 15 ½ cm). Pages: 6 (faux-titre, title page and motto), 1–17 and 18 (empty). – A lyrical and didactic long poem, rhymed, in four parts (I. Równość, wolność, braterstwo [Equality, Liberty, Fraternity]; II. Niewola [Enslavement]; III. Własność [Property]; IV. Rzecz pospolita [Res publica]). – Estr. III, 244.


4. — ZWOLON [ZWOLON]. | (Monologia [Monologue]) | przez [by]| C.K. NORWIDA. | [line] | Poznań. | Drukowano i w komisie u [Printed and sold at] W. Stefańskiego. | 1851.

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8° (23 x 14 cm). Pages: 8 (faux-titre, title page, dedication to “Brother Ksawery,” double motto), 1–52 (1 –Do czytelnika [To the Reader] [in prose]; 3 – the same double motto again; 5–51 – the text of the work; 52 –Objaśnienia [Notes]). – Dramatic poem, rhymed, comprising a lyrical “Wstęp” [“Introduction”] and eleven scenes (Ogród na wałach [Garden on the embankment], Rynek na przedmieściu [Market in the suburbs], Inna część placu przed kościołem [Another part of the square in front of the church], Dolne zamku pokoje [Lower chambers of the castle], Rynek na przedmieściu [Market in the suburbs], W głębi zamku dziedziniec [Courtyard deep in the castle], Noc w podziemiach [Night in the vault], Górne zamku pokoje [Upper chambers of the castle], Na wieży zamkowej [At the castle tower], Wnętrze domu miejskiego [Inside a city house], Na placu głównym [On the main square]). – Estr. III, 244.

5. — PROMETHIDION | [line] | Rzecz [Treatise] | w dwóch dialogach z epilogiem [in two dialogues with an epilogue]. | Przez [by] | AUTORA PIEŚNI SPOŁECZNEJ CZTERECH STRON [THE AUHTOR OF SOCIAL SONG IN FOUR PAGES]. | [motto] | [line] | Nakładem autora [Published by the author]. – Cena franków 3 [Price: 3 francs]. | [line] | Paris. | W drukarni L. Martinet [In L. Martinet printing house], | przy ulicy Mignon, 2 [at 2 Mignon street] | 1851.

8° (23 x 14 cm). Pages: 1–56 (1 – title page; 3 – dedication [rhymed verse]; 5–6 –Wstęp [Introduction] [rhymed verse]; 7–8 –Do czytelnika [To the Reader] [in prose]; in three parts; 9–27 –BOGUMIŁ. Dialog, w którym jest rzecz o sztuce i stanowisku sztuki. Jako forma. [BOGUMIŁ. Dialogue on art and the position of art. As form.] [rhymed verse]; 29–43 –WIESŁAW. Dialog, w którym jest rzecz o prawdzie, jej promieniach i duchu. Jako treść. [WIESŁAW. Dialogue on truth, its radiance and spirit. As content.] [rhymed verse]; 45–56 –EPILOG [EPILOGUE] [in prose] in twenty parts). – Note on the last page: Written on the Christmas Eve of 1851. CYPRYAN KAMIL NORWID. – Estr. III, 244.



8. — Skarbczyk [Treasure Trove] | poezyi polskiej [of Polish Poetry]. | Tom XI [Volume 11]. | Część II [Part 2]. | POEZYE [POEMS BY] | Konstantego Gaszyńskiego | CYPRYANA NORWIDA | i [and]| Antoniego Czajkowskiego. | [publisher’s monogram] | St. Petersburg. | Printed by B. M. Wolff. | 1859.

24° (14 x 9 cm). Pages: 94–112. Poezye | CYPRJANA NORWIDA. – Zawartość [Contents]: Wieczór w pustkach [An Evening in Wilderness], Wspomnienie wioski [Memory of a Village], Skowronek [Skylark], Pożegnanie [Farewell], Pióro [Quill]. – Estr. IV, 248.

9. — AUTO-DA-FÉ. | Komedya w jednym akcie [A comedy in one act]. | [line] | SZCZĘSNA | powieść [a novel]. | CYPRJANA NORWIDA. | [publisher’s monogram] |St. Petersburg. | Printed by Bolesław Maurycy Wolff. | [line] | 1859.

8° (20 ½ x 14 cm). Pages: 4 (1 – title; 2 – censorship; 3 – dedication), 1–31 (1–7 –AUTO-DA-FÉ, komedya w jednym akcie i jednejscenie [a comedy in one act and scene]; 9–12 –Wstęp, czyli przed-pieśń [Introduction, or pre-song] (DO LUTNI [TO THE LUTE]); 13–31 –SZCZĘSNA. Powieść [SZCZĘSNA. Novel]), last page empty. –Auto-da-Fé – rhymed verse; Do lutni and four cantos of Szczęsna (Tło [Background], Szczęsna, Spotkanie [Meeting], Listy [Letters]) in sestets. – Estr. III, 244.

10. — GARSTKA PIASKU [A HANDFUL OF SAND]. | Legenda [Legend]. | Przez [By] | CYPRYANA N. | [motto] | [line] | Paris | In L. Martinet printing house | at 2 Mignon Street. | 1859.

8° (21 ½ x 13 ½ cm). Pages: 1–15 (1 – title; 3 – dedication; 5–15 – text), 16 (empty). – Estr. VI, 547. – Second edition in 1863 (see item no. 12).

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11. — O [ON]| JULIUSZU SŁOWACKIM [JULIUSZ SŁOWACKI] | w sześciu publicznych posiedzeniach [in six public meetings] | (z dodatkiem rozbioru Balladyny) [with an analysis of Balladyna] | 1860 | CYPRIAN KAMIL NORWID | [motto] | [line] | Paris | In L. Martinet printing house | at 2 Mignon Street. | 1861.

(Shortened title on the cover: O. J. SŁOWACKIM | Cyprian Norwid.) – 12° (18 ½ x 11 cm). Pages: 4 (1 – title; 3–4 – contents), 1–90 (1–80 – O Juliuszu Słowackim lekcyj sześć [Six lectures on Juliusz Słowacki]; 81–90 –Do M… S… [To M… S…] | O BALLADYNIE [ON BALLADYNA] | (Dodatek) [Addendum]). – Discussion in prose – Estr. III. 244.


12. — POEZYE [POEMS] | CYPRIANA NORWIDA. | [line] | First collected edition. | [publisher’s logo] | Lipsk: | F. A. Brockhaus. | [line] | 1863.

(On the cover: Biblioteka Pisarzy Polskich [Polish Writers Library]. | Volume twenty-one. | POEZYE | CYPRIANA NORWIDA | etc. as on the title page). Small 8° (19 x 12 ½ cm). Pages: 2 (empty), I-VI (I – faux-titre: Bibliotek Pisarzy Polskich. | Volume XXI; III – title page; V-VI – Contents) and 1–292. The collection includes: four prose works: (O Sztuce [reprinted with minor additions], Garstka Piasku [reprinted], Bransloteka [Bracelet], Cywilizacya [Civilization]; a verse drama, rhymed, in ten scenes, titled Krakus, książę nieznany [Krakus, an Unknown Prince]; longer epic and lyrical poems (Próby [Attempts], Pięć zarysów [Five Sketches] [I. Rzeczywistość [Reality], II. Pisarstwo [Writing], III. Ruiny [Ruins], IV. Burza [Storm], V. Lilie [Lilies]], Rozmowa umarłych [Dialogue of the Dead], Dwa męczeństwa [Two Martyrdoms], Epimenides, Człowiek [Human], Quidam, Polka [Polishwoman]); lyrical and occasional poems (Bezimmienni [The Nameless], Malarz z konieczności [A Painter out of Necessity], Wielkość [Greatness], Na zapytanie czemu w konfederatce odpowiedź [Response to the Question: Why Wear a Four-pointed Confederate Cap?], Do panny Józefy z Korczewa [To Miss Józefa de Korczew], Do Emira Abd el Kadera w Damaszku [To Emir Abd el Kader in Damascus], John Brown, Do władcy Rzymu [To the Ruler of Rome], Żydowie polscy 1861 [Polish Jews 1861]; and a paraphrase of Horace’s ode to the miser (II, 18). – Estr. III, 244.



14. — SURSUM CORDA | [line] | 17 October 1867.

Unbound, without cover. – 32° (10 ½ x 7 cm). Pages: 4 (1 – title; 2 – motto; 3 – ENCYKLIKA OBLĘŻONEGO [ENCYCLICAL OF THE BESIEGED]. | (Oda.) [Ode]; 4 – empty). Signed on the third page: CYPRYJAN NORWID. Ibid., under the line: Paris, dr. Rouge et comp. du Four-St-Germain, 43. – [Ode to Pius IX]. – NOT MENTIONED BY ESTREICHER. – Reprinted in full in Bolesławita’s RACHUNKI [ACCOUNTS] in 1867 (year two, part two, Poznań 1868, pp. 80–81). Also mentioned in that same book on p. 271.


15.CYPRYANA NORWIDA | Rzecz [On the] | O WOLNOŚCI SŁOWA [FREEDOM OF SPEECH] I wygłoszona przez autora [delivered by the author] | na jednym z odczytów publicznych, urządzonych [during one of the public readings organized by] | przez komitet stowarzyszenia pomocy naukowej w Paryżu [the committee formed by the association of scientific support in Paris] | dnia 13 maja 1869 roku [on 13 May 1869] | [motto] | [line] | Paris | Księgarnia Luksemburska | 16 de Tournon street | [line] | 1869.

16° (18 x 14 cm). Pages: 1–96 (1 –faux-titre; 2 – Druarnia [sic] braci Rouge, Dunon i Fresné [Brothers Rouge, Dunon and Fresné printing house] | 43 du Four-Saint-Germain; 3 – title page; 5–9 –WSTEP [sic] [INTRODUCTION], in seven parts, written in prose; 10–96 – the text in fourteen cantos [in verse]). – Lyrico-philosophical poem. – Estr. III, 244.

Norwid’s Artistic Work

Norwid’s body of art works is not likely to be fully catalogued in the near future. So far, the best guide in this sphere has been the list of sculptures, oil paintings, preparatory drawings, watercolours, drawings, sketches and etchings published by the author himself in the 1872 autobiography (Wiadomości numizmatyczno-archeologiczne, Kraków, 1897, No. 4, pp. 356–357). However, this list is extremely ←59 | 60→sporadic and general. Almost everything we have been able to find in our search (which encompassed retrospective exhibitions in Lviv [1894; cf. the catalogue prepared by J. Bołoz-Antoniewicz, pp. 234–2356] and in Warsaw [1898], the National Museum’s collection, the Czartoryski collection in Kraków, the Rapperswil Museum collection, the archive donated to us by W. Gasztowt, the collections of the Zachęta Fine Art Society in Warsaw and Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Nauki [the Society of Friends of Learning] in Poznań, the private collections of E. Geniusz, W. Gomulicki and A. Sternschuss, reproductions published in Tygodnik Ilustrowany and Wędrowiec etc.) was mentioned or described in greater detail in Rachunki (issues from the years 1866, 1867 and 1868), Kartki z podróży (second volume), and in the catalogue “d’une collection iconographique polonaise” by J.I. Kraszewski, in Sto lat dziejów malarstwa w Polsce by J. Mycielski, PhD, and finally in articles by Marrené-Morzkowska and Cybulski-Łada. None of these works, let us repeat, are mentioned in the above-mentioned autobiography. Nor does it mention the “beautiful Mass book, decorated with beautiful watercolours,” dedicated to W. Łubieński, or a book of drawings (also a gift to Łubieński), both of which were recently shown by Counsellor F. Chłapowski in a paper he delivered to the Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Nauki [Society of Friends of Learning] in Poznań. Moreover, the autobiography omits to mention another album which – according to Count Engeström – used to belong to Count Adam Plater and contained “from 300 to 400 drawings” (cf. “Kurier Poznański”,1904, No. 285). One may therefore anticipate that many unexpected items, in many cases true gems, may yet come to light, from the least expected sources, in many years to come.

Norwid’s watercolours, we find, are the most difficult to catalogue comprehensively. Judging by those we have had the opportunity to view, it is possible to conclude that works of this type may be the greatest in his entire oeuvre, perhaps even the richest. “[…] maluję głównie akwarelą” [“I mostly paint in watercolours,”] wrote Norwid to T. Lenartowicz in 1882, “bo o wiele wieków od olejnego starsza i większą game obejmuje” [“because this technique is many centuries older than oil painting and covers a broader range”] (PWsz X, 179). On another occasion (in 1883), while discussing one watercolour, “malenieczka rzecz, jak garść fiołków” [“tiny as a bunch of violets,”] in a letter to F.H. Duchiński, Norwid remarked:

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miałem był zarozumiałość powiedzieć kilku artystom głośno, że chcę tam doprowadzić akwarelę, gdzie jeszcze nie była, to jest, aby po równi i więcej niż olejne wyrażać mogła wszystko. Czyli nie żeby były ‘sujets d’aquarellle’, ale ażeby nią swobodnie myśleć można było. Otóż to w tym kierunku jest robione! (PWsz X, 197)

[I had the audacity to declare to several artists that I wished to take the watercolour technique to new heights, that is to say make it as expressive as oil paintings, or even more so. The goal would be to go beyond ‘sujets d’aquarelle’ and make watercolours capable of addressing any subject. This is my aim!

Norwid must have painted large numbers of watercolours, more than one could imagine, because he supported himself by selling them, especially in the second half of his life. As a result of this, however, they became dispersed, through art dealers, among foreign collectors in Europe and America (cf. letter to M. Trębicka, DW X, 456). Some of them may perhaps never be traced.

It would perhaps be possible to list hundreds of Norwid’s pen-and-ink or sepia drawings, often lavishly thickened with gouache or enhanced with watercolours, as well as pen-and-ink, charcoal or pencil sketches. Because these works would often serve as gifts or keepsakes offered to those who were closest to the artist, it seems more likely that their catalogue could be somehow completed. So far, we have managed to record over a hundred of them through investigations focusing primarily on literary works.

Norwid painted least of all in oils. However, although his autobiography mentions only four, it appears that there were several dozens of them.

We know little about Norwid’s sculptures, although he studied in Florence under Luigi Pampaloni. He modelled in clay, as is confirmed by his only known sculpture – the plaque of Z. Krasiński. In one of his letters to M. Trębicka he mentions woodcarving: “rzeźbiłem właśnie krucyfiks z bukszpanu w czasie, kiedy list mie doszedł” (DW X, 488) [“I was just carving a crucifix from boxwood when your letter arrived”]. Sometimes he would creatively combine sculpture with painting. “Above the bed,” writes J.I. Kraszewski, describing his Paris studio,

there hung a white cross, without a figure of Christ but with very meticulously rendered marks of blood in places where his hands and legs were impaled and where his wounded head would lie. I have never seen a crucifix like that in my whole life. It made a greater impression on me than the most magnificent Christ figure” (Kartki z podróży, Warszawa, 1874, p. 316).

There must have been more sculptures, but no trace of them remains.

In the sphere of graphic arts, Norwid practised primarily copperplate engraving and etching, with only several lithographs created in Paris. He left only a small number of such works, and he would make very few copies from ←61 | 62→the original plates. Apparently, the only surviving works of this kind are: “Le musicien inutile” (Fig. 1) in the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków, and “the dead man rising from the grave” mentioned by J.I. Kraszewski (Catalogue d’une collection iconographique polonaise, Dresden 1865).

Was Norwid a designer? We have not come across any evidence of this, but his views on art – expressed in Promethidion and in the essay “O sztuce (dla Polaków)” [“On art (for Poles)”] – suggest that he was. In a letter of 1876 to J.B. Wagner he wonders why Western art is alive and organic, rather than becoming a mere matter of fashion or something for amateurish cliques. In answer to this question, he formulates a clear-cut conviction: “This stems from the fact that a healthy organ needs to be firmly rooted in two dimensions: craftsmanship and morality” (from papers donated by E. Geniusz). A hint of how Norwid turned theory into practice is contained in a letter to M. Trębicka dated 22 February 1854, in which he describes his tiny room in New York with an attic window:

wnętrze sam sobie wymalowałem i opasałem bareliefem en-grisaille, przedstawującym różne sceny ze starożytnej i nowożytnej historii – dodałem także medaliony mężów wielkich, ale podług znajomych i przyjaciół – August Cieszkowski jak Sokrates, kto inny jak Plato, kto inny jak Aleksander, kto inny jak Safo. (DW X, 486)

[I painted the interior myself and decorated it all around with a bas-relief en grisaille depicting various scenes from ancient and modern history – adding plaques of great men in the likeness of my friends – August Cieszkowski as Socrates and others as Plato, Alexander or Sappho.].

More examples of this kind could probably be found from his Parisian period.

W. Gomulicki once suggested in a letter to me that perhaps the entirety of Norwid’s drawings ought to be reproduced and published. Recently, Count Engeström proposed, after hearing the paper by F. Chłapowski, the preparation of a similar publication dedicated to W. Lubieński, and the publication of a Plater Album, if it could be found. We would make so bold as to modify these two projects and propose the publication of a comprehensive catalogue of Norwid’s art works, featuring many reproductions of the best of them, representing all forms of visual arts. This idea, however, would be the most difficult to realize. Nevertheless, if owners of Norwid’s works were willing to grant experts access to them, the matter could be settled more easily and quickly than one might initially suppose.

Norwid’s Biography

Materials for a biography of Norwid still remain to be collected. There are three autobiographical sketches produced by the poet at the request of editors ←62 | 63→of compendia. The first was published in 1867 in the eleventh edition of Brockhaus’s Conversations-Lexicon (volume 10, p. 898), but it was apparently deleted in subsequent editions. The second sketch, more concise though almost identical in content, can be found in Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIX siècle by P. Larousse (Paris, 1874, vol. 11, p. 1100). The third, which takes into account Norwid’s artistic output, was sent in 1872 to A. Zaleski and W. Bartynowski, who intended to publish a form of biographical dictionary of Polish artists. It awaited publication for twenty-five years and finally saw the light of day in 1897 in Kraków’s Wiadomości numizmatyczno-archeologiczne (No. 4, pp. 354–358).

Since these biographical notes were made hastily and with limited scope in mind, they are incomplete and merely show dates rather than indicating their purpose. Even in respect of the dates they are not without errors, as we have ascertained in a number of cases. That is why they do not even offer a complete outline of Norwid’s life and can only serve as a starting point or a loose catalogue of hints that need to be verified, co-ordinated and supplemented with further research. One of the first steps would be to determine the actual date of his birth. All three biographical notes unanimously indicate the year 1824 (Wiadomości numizmatyczno-archeologiczne: “when Noel Byron was dying in Greece”), while Brockhaus provides even more exact details: “im April.” It was in fact the year and month of Byron’s death. Bearing in mind Norwid’s utter and deeply motivated adoration of the English “Archistrategos” – or “the Socrates of poets”7 – we may surmise that the thought of a certain mystical coincidence of these two events (Byron’s death and Norwid’s birth) fascinated him to such an extent that he actually came to believe in it absolutely. With the passage of time and the blurring of memory, this false date of birth became fixed and was uncritically accepted by all Polish encyclopaedias and histories of literature or art, which would sometimes even commit errors of their own (e.g. Orgelbrand’s Encyclopaedia gives the year 1825). Doubts about this date were first expressed by F. Chłapowski in the paper mentioned above.

In Norwid’s archive generously donated to us by W. Gasztowtt and repeatedly mentioned here, we have found a bundle of the poet’s private documents, including: (1) a hand-painted parchment entitled “Excerptt (sic) Genealogij Starożytnego Domu Urodzonych Norwidów” [“An Excerpt from the Genealogy of the Historical Norwid Family”], issued in 1811 to the requisitioning authority on the basis of the registers of the genealogical lineage commission for the gentry ←63 | 64→operating in the Minsk province; (2) a hand-written note confirming the status of Jan Norwid (the poet’s father) as a third-degree member of “de l’Aigle Blanc,” one of the twenty-three masonic lodges subordinate to the Grand Lodge Astrée à l’O in St. Petersburg; (3) the poet’s original certificate of confirmation, conferring on him the name of “Kamil,” issued by Cardinal Franzoni in Rome in 1845 (“patrinus fuit Illumus D. Carolus Comes Krasiński”); and finally (4) the poet’s birth certificate, which confirms his authentic date of birth as 24 September 1821, along with a French translation of this document, drawn up probably for use abroad, though not officially verified. This birth certificate, made out on the official form and bearing both watermarks and an official stamp, is quoted below in full:

Warsaw Governorate (7.5 kopeck revenue stamp) District of Stanisławów8
Extract from the Register of Births of Dąbrówka Parish Church.

No. 86, Sheet 19, Village of Głuchy. On this 1st day of October in the year 1821 at ten o’clock in the morning, there appeared in person before me, Father Jan Kanty Matliński, parish priest of Dąbrówka, civil registrar in the Dąbrówka parish, District of Stanisławów, Province of Mazovia, the Most Honourable Jan Norwid, aged thirty seven, Knight of the Order of Malta, Lord of Laskowo Głuchy, there resident, who presented a male infant born on the twenty fourth day of last month at eight o’clock in the evening in Laskowo Głuchy, in his own house, known as number one, and declared that this was the child of himself and his wife, the Most Honourable Ludwika Zdzieborska, aged twenty two, and he expressed their wish to name him Cypryan Xawery Gierard Walenty. The above declaration having been made and the said child having been presented to the Most Honourable Cypryan Szukiewicz, aged forty one, President of the Court of Appeals in Grodno, resident in Warsaw, and Xawery Dybowski, aged fifty, Marshal of the District of Węgrów and Lord of Dębinki and Ceranów Estates, resident in Dębinki, this Certificate was read out to the parties present and signed by me, by the father of the child and by two witnesses, viz Jan Norwid, Cypryan Szukiewicz, Xawery Dybowski, Father Jan Kanty Matliński, Parish priest of Dąbrówka.

Certified to be a true copy of the relevant entry in the Register of the Church in Dąbrówka on 29 April 1846 by

Father Fr. Zanaszewski assistant curate of Dąbrówka Parish Church

[place for the seal]

Such documents, confirming dates and rectifying facts as well as others (including correspondence, confessions and recollections) which fill in blanks in the bare outline of events, putting flesh on the bones and revealing what was behind certain actions and even identifying their spiritual motivation, helping to understand the poet’s emotional and intellectual development, are absolutely necessary. An abundance of such data is a prerequisite for any ←64 | 65→attempt to approach a biography of Norwid. Nobody has taken this up until recently. Nobody has even collected and utilized the numerous hints, allusions and details about the poet’s life dispersed among his works. Tales of Norwid’s involvement in Warsaw’s bohemian community have been repeated ad nauseam9, whereas it is no exaggeration to say that the rest of his life was rather neglected – those mature years which were extremely eventful and creative, full of intense passion and spiritual endeavour; he travelled widely, meeting great minds of the day. All this was often reduced to the terse remark that “he later visited Italy and then settled in Paris, where he died in poverty.” Nothing helped to arouse greater interest or inspire broader investigations, though many efforts were made: Z. Sarnecki tried to remind the public about Norwid in the Warsaw Echo; in one of Kraków’s reviews, J. Barański published important passages from Norwid’s letters to General Skrzynecki regarding the Towiański sect; finally, generally favourable obituaries were published after his death, though they were mostly feeble and vacuous. It was only recently that some activity began in this area. Posthumous tributes began to be published here and there. Letters and poems began to resurface. In this area special mention is due to Adam Pług, Wiktor Gomulicki and Bogusław Kraszewski, though these were still isolated, fragmentary contributions, incapable of significantly contributing to contemporary Norwid studies, given the state of currently available information about his life.

The first major publication capable of initiating new developments in this area is the collection of letters to Maria Trębicka from the years 1845–1857, contained in the present volume10. Naturally, we do not claim that they could serve as a basis for drawing a detailed picture of this significant period in Norwid’s life. There are still vast lacunae – missing periods in between letters, sometimes extending to several months or even several years. Some facts of great significance we know about from elsewhere are frequently omitted altogether, e.g. his political imprisonment in Berlin and later transportation to the French border, which was the beginning of the artist’s wanderings abroad (he never returned to Poland). There is not a word in his letters about this, apart from general allusions to his états d’âme. Similarly, the break between letters no. 16 and 17 (dated June 1847 and April 1848, respectively) – both sent from Italy, as if there had been ←65 | 66→no break in the continuity of his stay there – leaves not the slightest hint of the undoubtedly significant events and meetings during his time in Brussels. Norwid attended a city hall meeting on 29 November 1847, during which he “lectured his compatriots” on the “concept of the middle,” which he later expressed in poetic terms in Promethidion (DW IV, 125, footnote). Nor is there any mention of the events of 1848 in Rome, where he met with Mickiewicz, or of the apostolic letter sent to Norwid by Pius IX (mentioned elsewhere). All of these events must have deeply affected the young man, who was just entering maturity and was certainly eager and enthusiastic. Generally speaking, the entire correspondence – either out of easily understandable considerations, or because the addressee was female, (therefore prioritizing questions related to art, creativity and mainly emotional matters) – completely disregards Norwid’s social and political activities (with which he was particularly preoccupied in this period). However, in the first part it clearly reveals his emotional oversensitivity, and in the second part – the frequent, most intimate of breakdowns and spiritual outpourings.

From the perspective of the principal goals of biography – “um das Dämonische zu packen,” as Franz Servaes put it in his splendid essay on the life of Goethe – it is this fundamental character of the letters to Maria Trębicka that lends them such prominence. Besides, they provide us with a plethora of detail, entirely new facts, corrections based purely on dates11 as well as hints and allusions to people close to the poet – individuals who might have been in possession of even more important documents.

On the basis of materials familiar to us today, which we have been able to acquire either in print or manuscript form (both originals and copies), we briefly summarize here at least some essential components of a biography of Norwid, and enumerate possible further sources of documents that so far remain undiscovered. We do so in the hope that those in possession of such papers will either publish them or kindly contact the present author.

Of Norwid’s childhood and school years, Brockhaus’s biography tells us only that “after the premature death of his parents, he was raised in Warsaw by his grandmother, Hilaria Sobieska.” Materials shedding light on these years are likely to be in the possession of close or distant heirs of the Sobieski, Norwid and Dybowski families. Perhaps some could be found in school archives. When Norwid, aged 20, debuted as a poet, his more intense relationships should not ←66 | 67→be sought in the well-known Warsaw bohemian milieu, but within a smaller circle of close friends – Włodzimierz and Leon Łubieński, Władysław Wężyk, Henryk Podchorski, T. Lenartowicz and A. Czajkowski; also among artists, in particular Jan Klemens Minasowicz and Tadeusz Brodowski, and in the homes of Łucja Rautenstrauch née Gedrojć, Nina Łuszczewska and Mrs. Dziekońska, the general’s wife whom Norwid recalls so frequently and with such affection (perhaps she was even portrayed in the short story Stygmat). The archive of Włodzimierz Łubieński, who was Norwid’s best friend until his death in 1849, is now believed to be in the possession of F. Chłapowski, whose recent paper delivered to the Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Nauki [Society of Friends of Learning] in Poznań testifies to his deep interest in the author of Pieśni społecznej cztery stron [Social Song in Four Pages] and gives us hope that these supposedly very rich materials will be either published or kindly made available to scholars. Many letters could be probably found among papers left by T. Lenartowicz, because their correspondence – despite great differences in their perception of the artist’s tasks (cf. listy do M. Trębickiej, DW XI, 105, 118–120, and excerpts from letters by T. Lenartowicz in Tygodnik Ilustrowany, 1904, p. 526) – continued, with some breaks, for their entire lifetimes.

The names of Władysław Wężyk and Antoni Czajkowski are related to the journey around Poland undertaken by Norwid in 1842. The former, an already experienced “pilgrim” (he travelled to the East and the Holy Land), accompanied the young poet on this journey, while the latter wrote a passionate ode12 in response to the “marvellous poem”13 presented by Norwid immediately after their return at a gathering organized by Count L. Łubieński.14 This first peregrination must have made an incredible impression on the city-hating young poet, who longed for “the countryside and the sky”15; apart from the beauty of nature, he must have been deeply struck by folk tales, historical relics, architectural monuments, ancient monastic libraries, all those “bones sticking out of the earth” (“Wspomnienie wioski” [“Memory of a Village”]). He must have returned with masses of notes, sketches16, memories, conclusions and ←67 | 68→premonitions, because later on, many years later, echoes of these encounters and emotions kept re-appearing in almost all Norwid’s works, confirming their diversity and vividness. One does not readily lose touch with companions on travels such as these; we therefore assume that papers left by Władysław Wężyk must include a substantial collection of letters from Norwid, perhaps even some drawings, and quite probably that lost “marvellous poem.” At that point, Norwid probably began to establish a deeper, more cordial relationship with Antoni Czajkowski, given their shared views on the role of the poet. This seems to be confirmed by the magnificent “Pióro” [“My Quill Pen”], which Norwid wrote in Czajkowski’s book of reminiscences and published, with a motto from Byron’s Beppo, in Biblioteka Warszawska (1842, vol. 2, p. 177; cf. also Wolff’s Skarbczyk poezji polskiej). It was J. K. Minasowicz who – as Norwid states in his 1872 autobiography – taught him “the rudiments of art.” The poet remained warmly attached to him until the end of his life, recalling that he had “an immensely broad mind and considerable talent” and that he was “an unusual artist and an excellent man, who was considered half-mad in Poland’s capital.”17 This means that they must have enjoyed a healthy relationship. Perhaps it was on Minasowicz’s advice that Norwid, shortly after completing his Polish trip, left to visit Germany.18 Certainly, he would share his impressions with this friend, especially – it seems – those regarding artistic matters. Similarly, he must have reported back to Tadeusz Brodowski, his peer (b. 1821) and – as he claims in Promethidion (DW IV, 139) – someone he valued highly and loved as a brother-in-art. Both of them would also be Norwid’s pen friends during his art studies in Italy in 1844. This information could be useful to owners of manuscripts left by both artists.

The date 1843 is also related to another document whose location remains unknown: the intriguing “collaboration with Polish political magazines,” which Brockhaus calls in his biography “the beginning (?) of a literary career.” It remains uncertain what magazines these were (whether published in Warsaw or Poznań) ←68 | 69→and what form this collaboration took. Our guess would be that this is either foreign correspondence regarding artistic matters (the kind he exchanged later, in 1845, in “O rzeźbiarzach florenckich dziś żyjących” [“Florentine Sculptors Living Today”]; PWsz VI, 361–368), or essays of the kind that the poet refers to, without being too specific, in Promethidion (“Epilogue,” part VIII; DW IV, 136).

In the second half of 1845, Norwid abandoned his studies and interrupted his Italian journey to come to Berlin, where – as F. Chłapowski tells us – “he established many relationships with the Polish ex-patriates living there.” It is difficult to ascertain exactly who these people were at first and then subsequently, after he was transported to the French border, later travelling to Paris, Brussels and Rome. We can assume that he met August Cieszkowski in Berlin. The mention of Cieszkowski in the letter from America quoted above invites the conclusion that their relationship became closer and more permanent, although there is no trace of this in any known correspondence. Norwid’s letters to M. Trębicka from Berlin also mention Edmund Chojecki, H. Moraczewski, Adam Potocki and the musician Rożniecki. In Brussels, where he moved primarily in political circles, the poet became acquainted with General Skrzynecki, with whom he was later on intimate terms. Apart from the above mentioned passages from his correspondence about the Towiański sect, the close character of this relationship is confirmed by the following excerpt we found in Norwid’s papers contained in the collection donated by W. Gasztowtt: “I wish you good health. Please remember me in your prayers and write to me some time and please write as much as you can. God bless you – Skrzynecki.”

In 1848, Norwid met Adam Mickiewicz for the first time, in Rome, and on that occasion drew an intriguing silhouette, which was published in Tygodnik Ilustrowany by L. Meyet. Interesting and important recollections, revealing a good deal about Norwid’s views at the time, could perhaps be found in the archives of Mickiewicz’s fourteen “volunteers,” among whom was the above-mentioned G. Rożniecki. While visiting Rome, the young poet must have also met Zygmunt Krasiński, with whom he became good friends. Their correspondence, which continued for many years, concluding with the latter’s 1859 preface to Norwid’s long poem Quidam, would be a literary document of immense value. Unfortunately, as I have learned, none of Norwid’s letters survived, while all letters from Zygmunt, which Norwid supposedly sent him back in a fit of exasperation, remain with his family. We have no doubt that Count Adam Krasiński, who has contributed so greatly to the unearthing of many unknown works by his grandfather, will soon release these valuable materials.

The Paris years of 1849–1852 are among the busiest in Norwid’s life. He would call on all Polish expatriates living there at the time, regularly visiting Duchess Marcelina Czartoryska, and maintained close, cordial relations with ←69 | 70→Chopin and Słowacki.19 He may even have become acquainted – through August Cieszkowski – with Hoene Wroński, who isolated himself from his compatriots.20 Simultaneously, it was a time when Norwid was rapidly maturing as an artist and poet. It was then that he conceived the magnificent and prophetic idea of national architecture, which he summarized in a letter to the sculptor Henryk Dmochowski21 about the Polish okos or ogive. In the same period, several of his works were beginning to take their final shape, including Wanda22 (i.e. its second revision of 1851), Pięć zarysów obyczajowych [Five moral sketches], Zwolon and Promethidion. Out of the rather vague artistic unrest in Rome – which bred “Wigilia” [“Christmas Eve”], “Jeszcze słowo” [“A Word More”] and Pieśń społeczna – there emerged a clear, self-confident artistic consciousness capable of expressing the deepest thoughts in clear and lucid forms. It has been brought to our attention that biographical materials relating to this period could be found mainly in the archive of Duchess Marcelina Czartoryska. Apart from “a copious collection of drawings” by Norwid – which are certainly part of her archive (as mentioned by Dr Jerzy Mycielski23), a collection which could have originated only in that period – it is bound to contain both letters and manuscripts, in fact a whole range of documents that could help us avoid coming to hasty conclusions on the basis of other materials. Some traces of these years could be also found in papers left by General Władysław Zamoyski, August Cieszkowski and Walenty Pomian Zakrzewski with whom Norwid appears to have frequently corresponded at the time.

This lively and prolific period concluded towards the end of 1852, or at the beginning of 1853, when Norwid suddenly left for America, “bez pożegnania jednej poczciwej ręki” [“without taking his leave of a single person”] and “napoleona jednego w złocie w kieszeń biorąc na 62-dniową podróż morską” [“having only one Napoleon coin in his pocket for the entire 62-day voyage”] ←70 | 71→(letter to M. Trębicka dated 8 April 1856, DW XI, 53). The reasons for this escape were various. On the one hand, he was a heartbroken lover; two versions of this story exist. On the other, there was a series of other disappointments, which have taken away everything from the poet “począwszy od pełności serca/Aż do ziarn piasku pod stopami” [“beginning with the integrity of his heart, and ending with the grains of sand under his feet.”] (“Pierwszy list, co mnie doszedł z Europy” [“The first letter I received from Europe”], PWsz I, 219). We have no further details about this, but the state of his heart – “pękło jak organ zepsuty” [“broken like a damaged organ”] – is painfully depicted in the relevant letters to M. Trębicka. This is certainly confirmed by his rapid departure, his intention never to come back24 and, finally, even the way he decided to travel – on some shabby sailing ship, if not as a member of the ship’s crew then as one of the least privileged passengers. As he recalls, “twarda to i prawie głodna podróż dwumiesięczna przeszło była” [“it was a harsh and hungry two-month journey”]25; “liny okrętu ciągnąłem wiele razy tą samą ręką, kórą te słowa piszę, i topora nią niemniej tykałem” [“I tugged at the ship’s ropes many times with the hand I now use to write these words, and I also worked hard with an axe”].26 However, despite being heartbroken and impoverished, or perhaps rather as a result of emotions aroused by both these circumstances, the ocean passage became a memorable experience for the poet. Traces of this, dispersed among many works (including some of the last ones27), make it a matter of great regret that the diary he kept on board, seen by Kraszewski, remains undiscovered.

As far as we know, his stay in America, which lasted a year and a half, was limited strictly to the city of New York. Fleeing from “the ruins of his own self,” he lived the life of an outcast, initially taking up hard, physical work (with an axe) in order to support himself.28 Apparently, he found employment at the World’s ←71 | 72→Fair.29 Later on, he would live by selling his drawings and watercolours.30 We may assume that, while staying in this foreign land, in a society whose values were entirely opposed to his own31, he received help and support from the sculptor Henryk Dmochowski (known there by the name of H.D. Saunders), to whom he had addressed his letter on okos, mentioned above, four years previously. Norwid himself mentions Rev. Lubomirski, who lived in Brooklyn, as a person “Wiele […] chwil przyjemnych i przyjacielskich usług” [“to whom I owe many pleasant moments and kind favours,”] as he put it towards the end of Białe kwiaty (DW VII, 72). Certainly, he was in contact with other Poles living in New York, but these contacts must have soon ended in disillusionment, causing him to cut short his stay in America. A whole series of mentions in the opening passage of letter to M. Trębicka dated May 1854 (DW X, 492) allows us to guess what was essentially involved. However, specific information about these matters may be found in the archives of the above mentioned H. Dmochowski and Rev. Lubomirski, perhaps even in Norwid’s correspondence with his closest relatives in Europe (his family, W.P. Zakrzewski and friends from Paris). At the end of June 1854 the poet was seen on the steamship Pacific bound for Liverpool.32

Having landed in Great Britain, he stayed in London for some time – as is confirmed in Białe kwiaty – where he lived as “Artysta, też i ludowego pierwiastku czciciel” [“an artist and admirer of folk culture”] as well as a rather impoverished man, “w najuboższym prawie domku najuboższej miasta części” [“in the poorest house in the poorest district”] (DW VII, 69). We have no idea how long he stayed there, nor how he spent the next year and a half.33 At the beginning of 1856 he was back in Paris.34 The only thing that drew him to this city, from which he had fled “nie żeby szukać Ameryki, ale ażeby nie być tam…” [“not to seek America but simply so as not to be there,”] was perhaps the hope that old contacts and ←72 | 73→acquaintances would enable him to avoid compromises and apply his skills in order to find suitable employment or a place to stay. Then he would leave the city that was filled with painful memories. At first he could delude himself that this hope might be realized. After returning from across the ocean, he was received very cordially and did not lack promises; sometimes he even obtained real support. On 15th September he wrote to M. Trębicka (DW XI, 121):

Robiłem po raz pierwszy do Florencji, co mie ucieszyło, bo z tamtej Akademii wyszedłem, będę robił do południowej Francji, robiłem do Rzymu i do Konstantynopola. Może kiedyś u schyłku życia będę miał jaką robotę do kościoła jakiego nawet i w Polsce!…

[I worked for Florence for the first time, which I enjoyed, because I studied at the art academy there; I will work for southern France and I have worked for Rome and Istanbul. Perhaps towards the end of my life I will even receive some commission from a church in Poland!…]

In another, earlier letter (dated 18th July 1856, DW XI, 80) he shares his thoughts about being hopeful and disillusioned about his peregrinations:

Miałem w przeszłym miesiącu wyjechać do Bieguna-północnego, […] w świcie Jego Cesarzewiczowskiej Mości Księcia Napoleona Bonaparte jako rysownik tej scientyficznej ekspedycji – ale zmniejszono świtę I książę raczył żałować, iż mnie odmówić musiał […] Że mi znowu coś proponują stałego w Rzymie, naturalnie, że mogę byc zmuszony tam się udać.

[I was to leave last month for the North Pole […] in the retinue of His Majesty Napoleon Bonaparte as a draughtsman in a scientific expedition. However, the retinue was scaled down and he was sorry to have let me down […] Since I am again being offered a permanent position in Rome I will perhaps be forced to accept and go there …]

Judging by these words, one could assume that the Eternal City on the Tiber did not tempt him too much at the time. Later on, the thought of finding refuge there became fascinating as it grew on him that Paris is a city where

artysta, kiedy […] upadnie w niedostatek, zdarzy mu się w najlepszym razie najokropniejsza rzecz –protekcja, [nie spożytkując człowieka według świętości jego, ale wszystko tylko według tych a tych czasowych kierunków i widoków35] albo robota tak zręcznie podana, iż może nie odgadnąć od razu jej następstw praktyczno-dramatyczno-sentymentalno-drewnianych.36

[an artist who becomes impoverished can count, in the best scenario, on protection [“which does not utilize what is best in one but rather puts one at the mercy of passing trends and fashions”], or a job so skilfully presented that one does not immediately see its practical, dramatic, sentimental and hollow consequences.

←73 | 74→

That is why in 1876, towards the end of his life, we see him setting out for Rome for the fifth time.37 Unfortunately, this plan was thwarted, just as in the past. This time, however, he had actually already sent his luggage to Italy and it was only thanks to his friend (A[ntoni] Z[aleski]?) – who was in Florence at the time – that he managed to have it returned to Paris free of customs duties. Still, it cost over a hundred francs, which he had to pay himself (despite his poverty!).

Thus, despite his intense, repeated efforts and hopes of leaving Paris, he spent the entire second half of his life there, which lasted for over a quarter of a century (1856–1883). In these years his talent reached the heights of its maturity. He remained resolute and spiritually strong despite the ever worsening material conditions, working hard and prolifically, both in literature and visual arts, until his death. Lack of specific data prevents us speaking in any detail about his output in the sphere of plastic arts. However, it must have been huge, as is testified several times by J.I. Kraszewski (in Kartki z podróży andvarious volumes of Rachunki) and especially by Norwid’s own autobiography of 1872. Most works he lists there were created in these years, though we now know, thanks to various data randomly coming to light, that this list needs to be supplemented with a whole series of works forgotten by their author or produced later, e.g. church paintings “made for Florence or Constantinople”38; a great oil painting of St. Stanislaus (1874) for (presumably) Œuvre de Saint Casimir39; a large etching mentioned by Kraszewski40 and depicting the Resurrection (1857) (Fig. 12); and finally, a large number of watercolours, to which he devoted himself increasingly towards the end of his life, and which were only occasionally a source of income.

As far as literary works are concerned, their number is astonishing, even if we disregard a whole series of writings of which we do not even know the titles, as well as smaller or occasional pieces. There was hardly a single year during which he would fail to publish a first-class work. During the years 1856–1859 he worked on the “great abyss” entitled Quidam. Additionally, in the year 1856 he wrote Czarne kwiaty; in 1857 – the long poem Człowiek [A Human], and Białe Kwiaty; in 1858 – the well-known essay O sztuce; in 1859 – the Anhelli-like Garstka piasku [A Handful of Dust], and the wonderful “List do Walentego Pomiana Z.” [“A Letter to Walenty Pomian Z.”] (Chimera I, pp. 185–193). During ←74 | 75→the years 1860–1866 he worked on the shimmering Vade-mecum cycle, full of various gems. In 1860 he prepared the wonderful lectures O Juliuszu Słowackim [On Juliusz Słowacki]; in 1861 – the deep vision Cywilizacja; in the years 1862–1864 – the first revision of Aktor [The Actor]; in 1863 – Fulminant; in 1865 – “Tancerka” [“The Dancer”], “W dzienniku warszawskim”41 and the wonderful masterpiece “Fortepian Szopena” [“Chopin’s Grand Piano”]. The years 1866–1869 were occupied with work on the bizarre dramatic fantasy Za kulisami [Backstage], while he was simultaneously composing, during the years 1868–1869, the colossal, truly Hesiodic rhapsody O wolności słowa. In 1870 Norwid was reading the Odyssey, perhaps in order to keep his mind off the harsh reality, and translating passages from it. The year 1871 is marked by the unexpected Filozofia wojny. The years 1872–1873 were occupied with work on the “Boga-Rodzica” study (PWsz VI, 495–528), which is the only (in the deepest sense) aesthetic analysis of its poetic beauty. At about the same time, Norwid became a member of the Societé de Philologie, to which he submitted, in 1873 and 1878, a series of essays and memoranda, the most interesting of which would probably be Mémoire sur la glossolalie.42 In 1876 Norwid sent Z. Sarnecki, who founded the Echo magazine in Warsaw, several works, supposedly including the essay “O typach literackich” [“Literary Types”].43 Probably between the years 1872 and 1875 he wrote the first act of Kleopatra i Cezar, the second act in 1875–1878; the third, unfinished act was started in 1878. That same year he began an unknown work entitled “Msza Święta” [“Holy Mass”].44 The period 1878–1881 is, we presume, the time of the composition of three prose works: “Ad leones!” (DW VII, 201–215), Tajemnica lorda Singleworth [Lord Singleworth’s Secret] (DW VII, 217–233) and Ostatnia z bajek [The Last of the Fables] (DW VII, 235–250) as well as an unfinished revision of Aktor. Milczenie (PWsz VI, 221–248) was written – as confirmed by the letter to T. Lenartowicz quoted above, in 1882. Stygmat was completed in the poet’s last months, in 1883. The period preceding his death is also the time of the composition of two works grandly conceived but unfortunately unfinished: the ←75 | 76→comic-epic long poems A Dorio ad Phrygium and Emil na Gozdawiu [Emil in Gozdawie].45 This long period of inspired creativity must seem astonishing if one takes into account that it was also a time of ever less successful attempts to find publishers for his literary works and buyers for his art works.46 Manuscripts destined never to see the light of day kept amassing and news would come from Poland of disrespectful comments about him.47 It was also a time when he was subjected to ridiculous accusations and arrogant charges by certain Polish émigrés.48 Pitiful stories about him would be circulated, as well as rumours about the “weird and capricious activities de ce pauvre Ciprien.” Finally, it was a time when he was becoming increasingly poverty-stricken, a situation further aggravated by Norwid’s readiness to come to the help of others in need.

The first Parisian years had been considerably better. In 1856 Norwid had enough work and hopes of better times in the future. He even had at his disposal a pleasant studio, which he describes in a letter to M. Trębicka (DW XI, 92), although by 1858 Kraszewski found him in a “poky little room” (Kartki z podróży, p. 316). In that year he failed to complete lectures on art as he had intended49 and instead he financed the publishing of an essay with his own money.50 ←76 | 77→Despite all the above, in the period immediately following his return he was warmly received by friends, who tried to bring him to the attention of the Polish public, find publishers for his works, or even raise money for self-publishing. In 1859, B.M. Wolff, a bookseller of St. Petersburg, published Norwid’s juvenilia in Skarbczyk, and bought the long poem Szczesna from someone authorized by the poet for 200 francs.51 In 1861, M[arian] S[okołowski], Seweryn G[oszczyński?] and someone else [Zofia Węgierska?] copied the lectures on Słowacki, while other friends argued that “they should sponsor their publishing.”52 Brockhaus, who was favourably disposed towards Norwid, undertook in 1862 to edit not only Krakus (as proposed by the author) but an entire volume of collected works, amounting to 15–20 sheets. He offered the poet the standard fee of 500 francs established for authors in the Biblioteka Pisarzy Polskich [Library of Polish Writers] series.53 W.P. Zakrzewski, A. Zaleski and others actively advocated the publication of this book. Thanks to the efforts of Count Edward Łubieński and the support of Henryk Korwin Prendowski, the long poem Niewola [Enslavement] was published in 1862. Norwid had apparently sent it too late to ensure its inclusion in the previous volume. However, this meant he was able to complement it with freshly written stanzas of Fulminant.54 At the same time, a limited collection of Norwid’s poems was published in the Kraków magazine Czas (1856 and 1857), in Biblioteka Warszawska (1862), and in Pokłosie (Leszno-Poznań, 1853–1862), while in 1861 and 1862 Tygodnik Ilustrowany published his satirical drawings. In that period, the artist himself published several of his drawings as lithographic prints – “Echo ruin,” “Scherzo” and “Solo,” (Fig. 13) but the press in Poland and abroad ignored them.55 At a time when Norwid had already published such masterpieces as Quidam or the lectures on Słowacki, the opinion (of uncertain origin) that “he raised great hopes but did not live up to them”56 was still current. ←77 | 78→Although these editions were not very helpful in enhancing the poet’s material position, they nevertheless did raise his spirits when he saw that people were reading them, and that they were not hidden away in manuscript form. This meant that even if his generation were to forget about these writings, perhaps future ones would rediscover them.

However, worse times were to come. Attempts to publish Vade-mecum were in vain. “There was nothing I could do,” wrote Kraszewski to Norwid on 5 June 1866.57 “I have a dispute with Brockhaus, which perhaps will end up in court. I am truly sorry – as God is my witness – that I cannot help you. Perhaps you could write to Żupański – perhaps you will have some luck with him. I would gladly help and will certainly do so if I can in the future.” Henryk Merzbach from Brussels also declined his request, advising him to wait until the bronze cannons stop firing.58 Norwid did wait, presumably without losing hope, because he kept expanding the cycle by adding new poems. In 1869 it featured – as is clear from the table of contents – an unknown work entitled “Relacja” [“An Account”] and the fantasy Za kulisami. In the last few years, he also intended to include A Dorio ad Phrygium in this book, as is suggested by a note added beneath the title. Unfortunately, all these hopes turned out to be illusory. Vade-mecum remained in manuscript and it has reached us today only in fragments. That was the beginning of a series of failures, the continuation of which could not be halted in any way. Not even after the acceptance of his etching “Sybilla” by Arsène Houssaye’s renowned review l’Ariste (1868), the publication of the masterpiece “Fortepian Chopina” in Bendlikon’s Pisma zbiorowe (1865), the indescribable elation of the audience after the lectures O wolności słowa (1869), Agaton Giller’s resounding review of this rhapsody, or the publishing of the poem itself thanks to efforts made by closest friends, who were themselves not very wealthy. In the last fifteen years of his life, the poet was increasingly shrouded in silence, falling into oblivion. All attempts to find publishers or secure some work, either as a lecturer or commentator on current artistic life, were fruitless. Sales of drawings and watercolours made by the lone artist, who did not seek to advertise himself at the Parisian vanity fair, were increasingly sluggish. Every day his material situation worsened. In 1877 the poet found himself obliged to seek shelter at St. Casimir’s. In these last years he was still writing and drawing, proving his spirit to be truly ←78 | 79→invincible! He continued to produce beautiful first-class works until his passing away on 28 May 1883, when liberating death took him.

I porwan jest ku złotym na niebie plejadom,

Gdzie wolność…59

[And he was taken to heaven’s golden pleiades,

Where freedom …]

By now we have a good deal of information about this period, which was so painful both in material and in spiritual terms. Most pointers were naturally obtained from Norwid’s personal archive (so frequently mentioned here), especially letters addressed to the poet as well as his interesting memoirs. Thanks to the kind cooperation of the librarian at the Rapperswil Museum, W. Karczewski60, we were able to collect a whole series of Norwid’s letters, many of major importance, from the so-called Norwid file (archive no. 215[I];) and from the papers left by L. Chodźko, Ludwik Nabielak, Seweryn Goszczyński and Ludwik Dygat. Extremely valuable letters and manuscripts were found in the archives of E. Geniusz, W. Gomulicki and S. Duchińska, who were the first private individuals to share their Norwidiana with us, for which we are very grateful. Finally, thanks to the kindness of Count Krasiński we have been able to learn about the correspondence between Norwid and Z. Krasiński, as well as to access copies of Norwid’s interesting letters and works from the last period, which were found in papers left by Count A. Potocki. These materials, in turn, introduce us to the poet’s inner circle, allowing us to establish where further biographical materials could be found. We have reliable indications that various documents (letters, memoirs, manuscripts of unknown works, or copies of incomplete works) should be held at the following locations: the Czartoryski family archive; the archives of August Cieszkowski, Kazimierz Gawroński, Wojciech Grzymała, Rev. A. Jełowicki, Count Kleczkowski, J.I. Kraszewski, Count A. Tabasz-Krosnowski, X. Marceli Lubomirski, L. Niedźwiecki, Delfina Potocka, Count S. Potocki, Maria Sadowska (pseudonym “Zbigniew”), Zofia Węgierska, W. Wielogłowski, A. Zaleski, Gen. Władysław Zamoyski, and – among the living – in the possession of Deotyma, J. Klaczko, Chamberlain C. Lachnicki and Professor M. Sokołowski. Time will tell ←79 | 80→whether these documents can be found or have been irretrievably lost. However, time is also ticking away and such research can no longer be postponed.

The body of Cyprian Norwid was initially laid to rest in a Polish grave at the Montparnasse cemetery (allée Lenoir, 17 division), but six years later, in 1889, it was removed to Montmorency. The process of transferring the body was attended by only two people, Anna and Aleksander Dybowski. “None of the invited people came,” we read in a letter from Anna Dybowska to E. Geniusz dated 22 February 1889. Not even death could break the spell of silence. Little wonder. The empty, bland obituaries, navigating carefully between general praise and groundless reservations, published in 1883 (Czas, No. 120; Tygodnik Ilustrowany, p. 364; Kłosy, p. 399; Kurier Warszawski, No. 131-b; Wędrowiec, p. 399; Biblioteka Warszawska, III, p. 164) only intensified and justified the general indifference towards the poet. Historians of Polish literature and art – who knew even less than the authors of these obituaries, but were nevertheless more self-confident by dint of their university positions – ultimately buried the great artist under a pile of platitudes about “mysterious thoughts and impenetrable raptures” or under ridiculous fabricated fantasies about “demagogueries,” “imitating Słowacki” (!) and… symbolism. But the future shall serve here as the “eternal reviser.”

Con altra voce omai ritornerà poeta when – without intermediaries – Norwid shall speak to us from his future Collected Works, to which the present volume can serve only as a humble introduction.


Bolesławita B. [Kraszewski, Józef Ignacy]. Rachunki z roku 1866. Poznań: Jan Konstanty Żupański, 1867.

Bolesławita B. [Kraszewski, Józef Ignacy]. Rachunki z roku 1867. Poznań: Jan Konstanty Żupański, 1868.

Bolesławita B. [Kraszewski, Józef Ignacy]. Rachunki z roku 1868. Poznań: Jan Konstanty Żupański, 1869.

Chimera 1904, Vol. VIII, No. 22–24 (Pamięci C. Norwida).

Kraszewski, Józef Ignacy. Catalogue d’une collection iconographique polonaise. Dresden: Hellmuth Henkler, 1865.

Kraszewski, Józef Ignacy. Kartki z podróży. 1858–1864. Vol. 1: Kraków, Wiedeń, Triest, Wenecja, Padwa, Mediolan, Genua, Piza, Florencja, Rzym. Warszawa: Gustaw Sennewald, 1866.

Kraszewski, Józef Ignacy. Kartki z podróży. 1858–1864. Vol. 2: Włochy, Neapol, Francja, Belgia, Niemcy. Warszawa: Józef Unger, 1874.

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Lenartowicz, Teofil. Lirenka. Poznań: Jan Konstanty Żupański, 1855.

Malczart, St. [Malewski, Zygmunt Stanisław]. “Norwida poglądy na sztukę narodową”, Tygodnik Słowa Polskiego, 1902, No. 6, p. 2–4; No. 7, p. 3–5; No. 8, p. 2–4; No. 9, p. 3–5.

Mycielski, Jerzy. Sto lat dziejów malarstwa w Polsce 1760–1860. Z okazji wystawy retrospektywnej malarstwa polskiego we Lwowie. Kraków: Druk. “Czasu” Fr. Kluczyńskiego, 1897.

Pokłosie, zbieranka literacka na korzyść sierot. Rok drugi:1853.Leszno: Ernest Günther, 1853.

Rastawiecki, Edward. Słownik malarzów polskich tudzież obcych w Polsce osiadłych lub czasowo w niej przebywających. T. III. Warszawa: Drukarnia S. Olgerbranda, 1857.

Skarbczyk poezji polskiej. T. XI. Część II. Poezje Konstantego Gaszyńskiego, Cypriana Norwida i Antoniego Czajkowskiego. St. Petersburg: B. M. Wolff, 1859.

Witte, Kazimierz. „Cyganeria Warszawska i Teofil Lenartowicz,” Tygodnik Ilustrowany, 1904, No. 27, p. 526.

Strzembosz, Władysław. “Nieznany medalion Krasińskiego,” Tygodnik Ilustrowany, 1904, No. 34, p. 653.

Kopera, Feliks. “Nieznana autobiografia Cypriana Norwida,” Wiadomości numizmatyczno-archeologiczne (Kraków), 1897, No. 4, p. 354–358.

←81 |
 82→←82 | 83→

1 Chimera, 1904, vol. VIII, no. 22–24 (Pamięci C. Norwida).

2 “I know three different faces of Norwid. In conversation he is the most exquisite citizen of the world, even if he was somewhat scruffy towards the end of his life. A brilliant conversationalist, he was brimming with good humour. When lost in thought, he had the impressive appearance of an intellectual, his head veiled in deep thought and beauty. I once ran into him on the street and could hardly recognize him. He was walking quickly, as if he was rushing to join Derwid’s choir, only without his harp. His beard was blowing in the wind, his eyes fixated on infinity or on himself – he did not notice anybody. I don’t know where he was going or why. I never saw him like that either before or afterwards” (letter dated 24 August 1904).

3 We cannot be certain whether it is this copy or some other photograph that is mentioned in letters to M. Trębicka dated 8 April 1856 (DW XI, 54), 18 July 1856 (DW XI, 79, 80) and in an undated letter (1856, DW XI, 107). The last mention would suggest that the reference was to a different, unknown image.

4 Let us just mention a “kind of journal” kept on board a ship taken by the poet to America, containing “interwoven writings and sketches,” which makes it interesting from the perspective of both literature and visual arts. “This book of memories,” stated J.I. Kraszewski after seeing the journal in 1858 at Norwid’s home in Paris, “is immensely interesting. […] Perhaps in his entire legacy […] this collection of drawings created on board ship is of the greatest value” (Kartki z podróży. 1858–1864, vol. 2, Warszawa: Nakładem Gustawa Sennewalda, 1874, pp. 316–317).

5 Hereinafter referred to as Estr., the Roman numeral rewers to the volume, the Arabic numeral to the page. (editors’ note)

6 Katalog wystawy sztuki polskiej od roku 1764-1886. Wydał Dr Jan Bołoz Antoniewicz Profesor Uniwersytetu. Z 75 ilustracjami (Lwów: Dyrekcja Powszechnej Wystawy Krajowej, 1894), pp. 234-235. (editors’ note)

7 Cf. the entire first two lectures On Juliusz Słowacki (PWsz VI, especially pp. 415 & 419–422).

8 Today, District of Radzymin.

9 Despite the denials of Wacław Szymanowski in Norwid’s obituary (Tygodnik Ilustrowany, 1883, p. 364), which are corroborated by passages from letters written by an eyewitness – T. Lenartowicz – recently published by Kazimierz Witte (Tygodnik Ilustrowany, 1904, p. 526).

10 Chimera, 1904, vol. VIII, no. 22–24 (Pamięci C. Norwida), pp. 317–416.

11 For example with regard to his stay in America, which began – according to the first two biographical notes – in the year 1849, whereas the first words of letter (DW X, 455) categorically confirm that the poet was still in Europe on 14 November 1852.

12 Monthly supplement to Słowo, vol. 1. St. Petersburg, 1859. J. Ohryzko, p. 143. This is the poem that annoyed K. Gaszyński and L. Siemieński.

13 Unfortunately, it remains unknown to us.

14 Monthly supplement to Słowo, vol. 1. St. Petersburg, 1859. J. Ohryzko, p. 143, footnote.

15 Cf. “Wspomnienie wioski” (1840) and “Pożegnanie” [“Farewell”] (1842).

16 In the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków we saw an interesting pencil drawing depicting some sculptures from a church in Wiślica, probably taken from a notebook Norwid kept during this journey.

17 This praise is confirmed by E. Rastawiecki, according to whom J. K. Minasowicz was a highly educated man, a lover of both art and literature, owner of “a collection of paintings representing various schools” and a “considerable library” (Słownik malarzy polskich tudzież obcych w Polsce osiadłych lub czasowo w niej przebywających, vol. 3, Warszawa, 1857, p. 330).

18 The date and place (Nuremberg) provided under the poem “Adam Krafft” (PWsz I, 59–60) indicate that on 20 October 1842 the poet was already abroad, while the first two autobiographies claim that he left Poland only in 1843.

19 Cf. Czarne kwiaty [Black Flowers], DW VII, 41–57.

20 This is confirmed by a watercolour portrait of the philosopher, certainly made from a live model, whose original was first owned by Dr T. Żebrawski, then by W. Bartynowski, and a reproduction of which was published by Wiadomości numizmatyczno-archeologiczne (1897, No. 4, p. 355) as a “sample” of Norwid’s talent.

21 Said to have been published in its entirety “in a Poznań daily,” but we do not know which one. A summary featuring extensive excerpts was found in the literary supplement to Czas (folio – 1 December 1849, No. 4, p. 3).

22 DW V, 131–163.

23 Sto lat dziejów malarstwa w Polsce [A hundred years of history of painting in Poland] (Kraków, 1897), p. 629.

24 “[…] dla zabawki nie szuka się grobu/Na półokręgu przeciwległym grobu” [“one does not seek a grave on the other side of the globe just for fun”]; “[…] żałuję tylko, że być może,/Iż nawet grobu mieć nie będę/Tak jak prosiłem o to mych przyjaciół” [“I just regret that perhaps I will not even have the kind of grave I asked for from my friends”] (“Pierwszy list, co mnie doszedł z Europy” [“The first letter I received from Europe”], PWsz I, 217–218).

25 Białe kwiaty (DW VII, 70).

26 Letter to Ł. Rautenstrauch from 1859 (DW XI, 376).

27 Czarne kwiaty [Black Flowers], Białe kwiaty [White Flowers], Cywilizacja [Civilization] and even “Boga-Rodzica” [“Mother of God”] (1873).

28 As related in the above mentioned letter of 1859 to Łucja Rautenstrauch. See also letter to M. Trębicka dated 20 October 1853 (DW X, 468–469).

29 See: biographies by Brockhaus and Larousse, and Wiadomości numizmatyczno-archeologiczne, the latter mentioning initials signed by Norwid on World’s Fair documentation.

30 Letter to M. Trębicka from 1853 (DW X, 456).

31 Letter to M. Trębicka dated 20 October 1853 (DW X, 468).

32 Among the “keepsakes” donated to us by W. Gasztowtt we found a cabin slip with the poet’s name: “No. 1865. New York and Liverpool United States Mail Steamship Company. Steamship Pacific. New York to Liverpool voyage No. 28. Intended to sail June 24 Y. 54. Received from Cyprian Norwid … Dollars for Cabin passage for this voyage” (italics denote details filled in on the slip).

33 Perhaps he visited Crete during that time, as is deduced by some on the basis of Epimenides.

34 Letter to M. Trębicka dated 8 April 1856 (DW XI, 54).

35 Letter to M. Trębicka dated May 1854 (DW X, 492).

36 Letter to M. Trębicka dated October 1856 (DW XI, 130).

37 Letter to L. Nabielak from February 1877 (PWsz X, 94).

38 We assume that the “Work for Rome” was the “small preparatory drawing” mentioned in the autobiography, depicting St. Basil and St. Macrina.

39 Letters of gratitude from T. Mikułowska, sister of mercy, are contained in the collection donated by W. Gasztowtt.

40 Catalogue d’une collection iconographique polonaise (Dresden, 1865).

41 Mention of both poems (previously unknown to us) is found in the letter from Marian [Professor Sokołowski]. “Tancerka prześliczna” [“The Beautiful Dancer”] was discovered in the archive donated by W. Gasztowtt.

42 Letters from H. de Charencey, president or founder of the society, are contained in the archive donated by W. Gasztowtt.

43 Letters from Z. Sarnecki are contained in the archive donated by W. Gasztowtt.

44 In a letter from B. Zaleski (in Gasztowtt’s archive), dated 22 January 1878, we read: “I hasten to tell you that I have received the manuscript of Msza święta. I will read it carefully – why would I disrespect it?”

45 Contained in the archive donated by W. Gasztowtt.

46 Letter to M. Trębicka from 1856 (DW XI, 118).

47 “Z literatury wiem przypadkiem (bo, co o mnie piszą, nie czytuję), wiem, że ś.p. Senator i Kaszt[ela]n Fr[anciszek] Wężyk wyśmiewa mię w swych dziełach, stawiąc obok Odysei Homera mój pamflet, pisany, kiedy miałem lat około dwudziestu, i który otrzymał owoce swoje. Tudzież hist[oria] lit[eratu]ry dla użytku gimnazjów zniesławia także imię moje i pisma, aby przyszłe pokolenia oświecić. Zatrzymuję się nad zdaniami Senatu i Pedagogii –Senatus populusque – iż te cenić godzi się pierwej.” [“I know from literature (I do not read what they write directly about me) that the late senator and castellan F. Wężyk mocks me in his works, comparing The Odyssey to a pamphlet of mine written when I was twenty, and which had already borne its fruit. Also, a history of literature written for the middle school disrespects my name and writing in order to enlighten future generations. I shall only quote the Senate and the People: “Senatus populusque” (it is better to respect these two)”] (a letter to T. Lenartowicz of 1882; PWsz X, 179).

48 A letter to M. Trębicka of 1856 (DW XI, 106). There were also crude replies, accusations, demands – written and spoken – after the lectures on Słowacki, which made the poet aware that he might have been preaching to an audience more deaf than stones. Even friends would occasionally torment him, advising him to be more “practical” and stop avoiding patronage, as well as reprimanding him for excessive “self love” (in letters to M. Trębicka, DW X, 79, 91, 186 and elsewhere).

49 A letter from J. Klaczko, dated 26 January 1858, in W. Gasztowtt’s archive.

50 A letter to J.B. Wagner of 1876, in E. Geniusz’s archive.

51 A copy of the original contract, signed by Wolff, is in W. Gasztowtt’s archive.

52 O Juliuszu Słowackim (Psz VI, 465).

53 Letters from Brockhaus dated 5 February, 5 April and 19 December 1862, in Gasztowtt’s archive.

54 A letter from Brockhaus, dated 23 February 1863, in Gasztowtt’s archive.

55 We have not been able to find a single substantial or broader discussion of these publications (or the previous Promethidion and Zwolon) in contemporary publications. The first serious work on Promethidion was St. Malczart’s “Norwida poglądy na sztukę narodową” [“Norwid’s Views on National Art”] (Tygodnik Słowa Polskiego, 1902, No. 6–9).

56 This claim was first quoted in Przegląd Naukowy (Warszawa, 1843, II, p. 406) from an article by Schierer on Polish poetry published in a German magazine. This claim is ridiculous because Norwid was 22 in 1843, which is much too early to speak of any failed hopes. Nevertheless, the label stuck, to a large extent thanks to Kraszewski.

57 Letter from Gasztowtt’s archive.

58 Letter dated 23 June 1866, from Gasztowtt’s archive.

59 “Autor-nieznany” (poem by Norwid, 1856), from the archive of S. Duchińska (PWsz I, 251–252).

60 We also recall, with gratitude, the hospitality of the museum’s honourable custodian W. de Rosenwerth Rożycki, who helped us to search through the artist’s works and photograph them.

Kazimierz Wyka

Norwid’s Old Age

Abstract: The author points to the importance of the category of old age in the biography and work of Cyprian Norwid. The category itself appears in three different variants. The first one, real old age, refers directly to the tragic fate of the poet, which culminated in the last few years he spent abandoned in the St. Casimir poorhouse. The second old age is expressed in Norwid’s noble-minded, though painful, view of the fate of man in the spirit of Christian humility and love, while the third old age is identified with the maturity of artistic intentions and mastery of form, which the author describes as classical maturity. This old age, which finds its fullest expression in Cleopatra and “Ad leones!”, combines humility with deep pride and faith in the enduring value of art.

Keywords: Cyprian Norwid, old age, late oeuvre, biography, artistic prose

Norwid’s old age is strange and threefold. To write about it today is most fitting, as it is closest to the anniversary of the day we are so eagerly awaiting. Compared to the old age of all the other greats this one is the strangest, reclusive, but the one evoking the greatest astonishment and admiration today. It is an old age embodying absolute freedom, absolute indeterminism of art, its own life, which from the distant perspective of time overcomes the ostensibly true, apparently real life accessible to others. In considering this triad of Norwid’s old age, one longs to ask “Ach, któryż jestem żywy” [Ah, which one am I alive].

The first old age – is his real old age. Norwid’s youthful years had passed, as had his later years of great conscious wandering – not always as a pilgrim with his cane, but let us not impose on him an image reserved for others. Of course, in his wandering we can see a longing for the land, “gdzie kruszynę chleba/Podnoszą z ziemi przez uszanowanie” (PWsz I, 223) [where they pick a breadcrumb up from the floor as a sign of respect], but apart from that, we have a distinctive expression from a letter to Maria Trębicka, written in 1846 when it seemed he would have to return to the country:

Cały mój artyzm zakończony, nie [będę] miał muzeum, akademii i szkoły w estetycznym znaczeniu tego słowa. Przychodzi chwila rozstrojenia kierunku, jaki wziąłem. (DW X, 79)

All my artistry is finished, I will not have a museum, academy and school in the aesthetic sense of the word. There comes a moment of dismantling the direction that I took.

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The extent to which this wandering, this change of environments was instructive for Norwid’s art can be best seen in his old age, when the art he creates is conceived of such varying temporal and local elements, drawn from his own memories.

His years of worldly experience and years of great love for a grand lady had passed. The time of frenzied national hopes had gone by, memorable and important years had passed – for instance, how many changes in France, to which he was most faithful, occurred between 1848 and 1877, when Norwid would have to seek shelter in St. Casimir poorhouse.

That is the first old age. Norwid – a reclusive, deaf eccentric reeking of the tobacco and alcohol to which he has no aversion. He is becoming poorer and increasingly abandoned. It is unspeakably embarrassing that in a series of letters from different periods of time, in which he sought – albeit in vain – to publish one of his works, there is the recurring sentence: “miałem ja już edytora Niemca [Brockhaus – K. W.], co 500 franków mi płacił…” [I already had a German editor who was about to pay me 500 francs…] A whole 500 francs! The shocking letter from 1875 in which he applied for a loan – this is the first old age, which was finally laid to rest under the same tombstone as a dozen others.

This is the old age that astonished Norwid’s researchers, and which aroused an understandable sense of terrible injustice towards this man, a sense of immeasurable loss in that this sacred life was wearing away, burning out in poverty, in the loneliness of “paryski bruk” [the Parisian street]. His own words reveal a bitter truth: “ja jestem z ciemnością dni, […] bólem organu-serca i bólem moralnym serca.” (PWsz X, 113) [I am with the darkness of days, […] the organic pain of the heart and the moral pain of the heart…].

Is it necessary to endure it in silence? Against the backdrop of this old age we can fully understand the rapture when the modest pages of silly little notebooks, torn by blind hands, revealed the most precious jewels of Polish artistry; when they were persistently and carefully extracted by untiring eyes and fingers from under the layer of oblivion and neglect – like a precious insect preserved in a transparent coat of amber.

However, this time of initial astonishment and embarrassment also passed and we are no longer concerned with this aspect of Norwid’s old age. Not this one, although certainly the most touching – but also the most external, not dependent upon him, but upon bad fortune. Nonetheless, there is also a second and third dimension to Norwid’s old age.

Because he was lonely and abandoned, the virtues of humility and simplicity all the more purely blossomed in this incredibly believing soul. The former passionate protests against “serio fałszywemu” [false seriousness], against the fatal ←84 | 85→restraint of humanity by time frames, the frames of the irreversible past, the oppressive physical surroundings were seemingly appeased. And if they were present, they took the most crystalline form, disconcerting in scope of thought, as in Stygmat [Stigma]. But on the surface of his artistic work its basis always emerged: a humble love of everything, a gentle manifestation of the simplicity of feelings, and a most Christian tendency to embrace the whole of creation with love. This was by virtue Norwid’s attitude towards man, who – no matter how great and unique among all creatures – has to carry Christ’s cross with pride and the highest glory, yet remains only a number in the sequence of creatures made by the same Creator. Ostatnia z bajek [The Last of the Fables], written in Franciscan spirit, marks this surge in love for the whole world, this resistance to the imperialism of man towards his inferior brothers. It is a pity that this work was not mentioned in the recent discussion in Wiadomości Literackie [Literary News] on the attitude of integral pacifism towards animals.

This resistance to the violence of man did not result in severe irony towards him. A certain insight into human fate, which is understanding and ready to forgive, though painful, can be found in the following words: “…dziecię potrzeb, nędzy i szaleństwa, nagie, bezbronne, głodne – syn zakopciałych […] drzew… […] przepisujący tą właśnie nędzą swoją prawa bytom!” (DW VII, 247) [… a child of need, misery and madness, naked, helpless, hungry – son of burnt […] trees… […] attributing this very misery of his to the laws of beings!]. We are dealing with the same tone of metaphysical astonishment and humility developed in the darkness of the worlds used by Blaise Pascal to question this particular, and not any other, fate of man, and his place in existence.

In this old age, Norwid’s subtle gentleness is bound with humility, rarely hiding under the shell of irony. The tones of the mentioned past start to calm down. An understanding smile appears over man’s inevitable smallness; a certain lyricism – fleeting, but not sentimental, because it is too diligent – begins to shroud the former years, colouring the treasured memories collected in the time of wandering and salon life. This is why Norwid’s wandering becomes so instructive, as Norwid assuredly and often draws on its achievements. Calm understanding tells us it had its point, the profound artistic benefit that is manifesting itself now.

This growing clarity of memories gives rise to their numerous cameos in Norwid’s late works. Among them is the little masterpiece of humour and meticulous memory lightened with friendly irony – the image of Venice in Tajemnica lorda Singelworth [Lord Singelworth’s Secret]. But this smile-saturated friendliness is not enough for Norwid. As in Ostatnia z bajek humility ended with a metaphysical question, here memory would turn into a sudden historiosophic outline ←85 | 86→of the city, which “przeżyło idyllę, dramę, nadużyło tragedii i komedii i które jako znudzona już wszystkim wielka dama pozostało piękne i czarowne” (DW VII, 224) [survived the idyll, drama, abused both tragedy and comedy, and which, as a grand lady bored with everything, remained beautiful and charming].

The memory of the Polish countryside recurs to the poet – the poet who was far from submissive sentimentalism towards the familiar. Reminders of the Polish landscape from his youthful wanderings reappear to Norwid a few times. The action of Assunta is set on Italian soil, but every now and then one wonders if it is not Czerna near Kraków, as Miriam does, or Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, as Życzyński believes. In Emil na Gozdawiu [Emil in Gozdawie] a few poems suffice for the author to suggestively evoke the tranquillity of the Polish countryside. But more importantly, these memories are intertwined with the said increase in humility and simplicity. It is in the historical novella Stygmat [Stigma], which finishes with the most beautiful poetic projection of the Polish landscape in Norwid’s writings, with the geese and funny gooseherd girl, that this very gooseherd makes the poet take up the quill “którego i używanie, i użytek obmierzili byli mi literaci” (DW VII, 199) [whose use and employment had been completely spoiled by the literati]. The scope of the originally given memories of the countryside is already exceeded here, similarly to how it was done with Venice, or previously with the attitude towards animals.

However, Norwid takes things even further. The praise for the Polish countryside in A Dorio ad Phrygium reaches an astonishingly high and one of a kind level of “Fortepian Szopena” [“Chopin’s Grand Piano”]:

O! wsi biała w atłasie kwiatów jabłoni

I w źwierciadłach księżyca,

Jako oblubienica

Na ustroni…

Przeszłość twa – zawsze wczora!

Przyszłość – ręką dosiężna,

U ciebie zawsze – pora!

Tyś wczasów księżna… (DW III, 382)

Oh! The country white in the satin of apple blossoms

And in the mirrors of the moon,

Like a bride

On the retreat…

Your past – always yesterday!

Your future – a reaching hand,

For you, always – it’s time!

You are the duchess of the holiday…

←86 |

Lastly, the same Norwid, who with reference to salon life of the past used to write in a tone which can be found in “Nerwy” [“Nerves”] or “Marionetki” [“Marionettes”]:

Zapomnieć ludzi, a bywać u osób,

– Krawat mieć ślicznie zapięty!… (PWsz I, 346)

Forget people, call on persons, wear,

A neatly fastened tie!…1

now musters a composed, anecdotal-ironic tone in the first pages of Stygmat [Stigma]. A dissonance drawing on a past riddled with anxiety and quandary – dissonance moderated with an appropriate footnote – is visible in the poem “Czemu” [“Why”]; but that already belongs to the past.

And thus, Norwid is surrounded on all sides by incoming waves of wisdom, wonderful reverie over the past – reverie which, however, does not shed tears over the inevitability of evanescence, does not give rise to protest or dilemma, but only bears the necessity of commemorating the past in unchanging, everlasting artistry. Art more and more becomes that which bestows eternity upon human affairs. Norwid’s whole poetry could be described with the words used by the poet himself in relation to his life:

[…] śnię i czuję, jak się tom historii

Z-marmurza… (PWsz I, 335)

[…] I dream and sense that the history’s tome

Turns marble-hard…2

Norwid’s poetry was always about immortalizing, especially when it comes to the poet’s personal life or acquaintances. That is why there are so many lost diaries, so many raw descriptions, so many portraits of newly met people, scattered portraits, preserved on scraps of paper (a marvellous profile of Horace Delaroche written on the invitation to his funeral!), this is why Czarne kwiaty [Black Flowers] came about so early (1856).

Now, in the solitude of the poorhouse, old age demanded a review of life achievements, since only the art of writing was to present future generations with his experiences and reflections – this attitude of undisturbed commemoration, calm commemoration painting a linear, unambiguous and clear picture ←87 | 88→is characteristic of Norwid’s later artistic work. And perhaps for this reason the previously less venerated prose and novella now make way for unquestionable works of art. Maybe this is why he goes beyond the indecisiveness of Bransoletka [Bracelet] or Cywilizacja [Civilisation], without falling into memoir writing of the noblest sense, but only the memoir writing typical of Czarne kwiaty, and produces an excellent blend of a faithful experience and a deeper free interpretation of this experience through artistry. Maybe Norwid felt that prose was better suited to describing things which conscientious loyalty to one’s own experiences called for preserving in an as much as possible unaltered form but that, at the same time, forcibly reconstructed the emotional attitudes with which the poet perceived them.

The accumulating stores of tranquillity and humility also demanded the same composure and subtlety in the artistic interpretation of his own memories and reflections, from which resulted the poet’s attitude towards man and the world at that time. Prose proved to be better for this purpose, as well. A poem, even if it always – as in Norwid’s case – was (in Horzyca’s words) “the most silent song,” even if “the logic of prayer and silence” was always its key, a poem intrinsically stresses emotions and tips the scale in their favour. Prose, by contrast, can just be an account of events, it does not have to impose any emotional charge on the reader, and though Norwid did that, he only ever suggested a tone, never enforced it, in anticipation of such dangers. Without linking itself to a direct emotional conclusion, postulated by the poem, prose can simultaneously accommodate more concrete material. Norwid’s numerous artistic mistakes resulted from the fact that he had a surplus of this material, in particular thinking material. Making this material available in the form of a poem was unsuccessful, because it lacked the necessary emotional extensions. The effect was rhymed prose, as in Rzecz o wolności słowa [On the Freedom of Speech], which reworked in the form of Ostatnia z bajek could have been the masterpiece of free, fanciful use of prose.

And this is the third variety of Norwid’s old age, the old age which is equivalent to the maturity of artistic intentions in terms of their control over the form, the levelling of previous disparities between Norwid’s artistic intentions and achievements. If a lack of this dissonance and the control of the word are to be called classical, then this would be Norwid’s classical maturity. I have the impression that this third old age, to the best of its understanding, is Norwid’s most precious old age.

The first old age – his overwhelmingly sad life? Indeed. But we are dealing with an artist – it is only the framework of more important things. It may be heartbreaking, but we should turn our attention towards these more important ←88 | 89→things; after all, the artist only concerned himself with these. The second old age – grasping for the late sun of the inner layers of the soul: yes, it is important to note, this is intertwined with the third old age, but it is only through it, i.e. the calmness, depth and maturity of the third old age that it reaches the expression we can observe today.

In this third old age, which is closer to the poet’s dreadful fortune, the most important thing is the excellent sense of his indispensability, his significance in the face of the approaching “korektorka wieczna” [eternal editor], which gave Norwid’s pen no rest. This feeling always accompanied him. Already convinced that he was entirely correct, in his “List do Walentego Pomiana Z.” [“Letter to Walenty Pomian Z.”] (1859) he appealed from the unstable present to the future. But now comes something more interesting. There is no appeal. There are no direct appeals to the tribunal of omni-justice. His only grand appeal is that – he silently writes – there are more and more draft papers, notebooks, diaries, papers which nobody would accept, nobody would publish, but which are deeply self-contained, any torn page of which would be more valuable than the books held by “złote paznokcie” [golden fingernails]. This must have been the proudest maturity, some real classicism. When Koźmian polishes the poems in his narrative Ziemiaństwo [Landed Gentry] and publishes them as late as in 1838, he has – all things considered – a similar sense of art’s self-reliance. When Flaubert thinks that one should never rush a work of art, it is never too late for one – when he writes: “…se dépêcher, c’est le moment, il est temps, place prise, se poser, hors la loi, sont pour moi un vocabulaire vide de sens”3 – Norwid could be repeating him.

However, how do humility and internal tranquillity transition into this mature pride? There is surely no disagreement, unless if instead of this pride, we saw an impatient claim of his own worth, impatient attempts to impose himself. But humility and deep pride are entirely in accord with one another, pride cannot force itself, it must be solitary, intended to be content with itself. Because, as the excellent saying by Dąbrowska goes, this pride is “poczucie tajemnicy i ważności własnego istnienia” [a sense of mystery and importance of one’s own existence], while humility is “skromnością wobec ludzi, a hołdem wobec wspaniałości i grozy bytu” [modesty towards people and a tribute to the magnificence and terror of being].

←89 | 90→

That would be all for the life-like aspect of this third old age. From a purely artistic perspective it is most fully expressed in two works: Kleopatra [Cleopatra] and “Ad leones!”. We should not be offended by the fact that Kleopatra is unfinished. In its fragmentary nature it is just as classical and whole as would be the Belvedere Torso deprived of its arms, neck and head. We should also not be offended by the fact that despite being called so by the poet it is not a tragic play. Norwid’s static nature, his complete lack of the sense of action, the lack of time in his artistic perspective made it impossible for him to create a real drama. Hopefully, the anticipated work Pierścień Wielkiej-Damy [The Noble Lady’s Ring] would dispel this claim… More importantly, excessive allegory, some stubborn supervision – since everything had its own hidden, sometimes allegorical, sometimes parabolical sense – disturbed the line, did not allow the drama’s characters to have their own life, liberated from the omnipotent and omniscient writer.

However, Kleopatra did not compensate for the first shortcomings. It was not burdened by any dramatic plot. It is also not a tragedy, just as Jan Kochanowski’s Odprawa posłów greckich [The Dismissal of the Greek Envoys] is not one. But alternatively, Norwid’s non-dramatic artistry becomes so clear here, his excessive allegory is largely reduced! Finally, the sense of historiosophy, the ideological basis of historical movements started to run parallel to his ability to incorporate it into concrete historical facts. When we read about the juxtaposition of two imperfect powers, Egypt and Rome, which both have to fall in light of the prophecy of Christianity, the artistic dialectics of this juxtaposition amazes with its very justness and sociological subtlety. This dialectic is so compact and perfect, although only reflectively, and not dramatically compact, that one could doubt whether Norwid would have been able to impose upon it a convincing synthesis of the insufficiency of these powers, even if the torso of Kleopatra was complete and finished.

Norwid, in the sociological sense, requires us to think of the most important comparisons in Polish art in this respect, for instance, of the juxtaposition with the most outstanding historical novel in Polish literature – Faraon [Pharaoh] by Bolesław Prus. There is no space here for a more detailed discussion of their affinity. Of course, it is not based on the common background, or Egypt – this is not important. What is important is that Prus wrote the only Polish historical novel, the historicity of which serves only as the material which makes it possible to show, in an as detailed as possible and dispassionate way, because it is emancipated from the splinters of the present, an important social schema or equation. His aim was to show social tectonics, the scale and difficulty of ruling, to show the conflict between mighty tradition and ineluctable progress – the most difficult battle, because it is fought with thousands of sentient pawns on the living body of the state. There is some tragedy in the battle of these two powers, ←90 | 91→which makes Faraon perpetually relevant, which elevates this particular, because presented by one example, fight between young Ramses and the priesthood to a symbol of the constant course of history.

This same general human, sociological view found in Prus’s novel determines the mature importance of Kleopatra. Although Norwid is interested in other problems, he shows the same ability to predict their significance. Those problems for Norwid are the problem of historical tradition and work, the problem of the certain barbarity and wildness with which new historical values are born. On the one hand, we have Egypt – the nation whose life was enslaved and put in a static deathbed state by its tradition and excessive history, and on the other hand, there is Rome – the magnificent nouveau riche of history, bending itself according to time and circumstance without any harm to itself, vigilant against matters requiring immediate action, trusting in raw power, not traditional, true in the past, but today insignificant. The scope of this antithesis is that we go far beyond what was constrained by historical finiteness. Every now and then some Nietzscheanism peeks through; Caesar, the best of the Romans, impersonates this pride of man’s solitude, which matches the level of tragedy in Faraon:

[…] To źle jest być więcej niż pierwszym!

Lub nie myśleć, że pierwszym trzeba być w czymśkolwiek. (DW VI, 293)

It is wrong to be more than the first!

Or not to think that one has to be the first in anything.

Yet another motif in Kleopatra should be highlighted with respect to Norwid’s attitude to art in the examined period. This classical faith in the power of art, which saved him, was not a resignation only for art’s sake. When everything was disappointing, only art was left! With a longing unrest Psymach twice utters: “Kiedyż! będę mógł zniknąć w dziele moim…” (DW VI, 378) [when! will I be able to disappear into my work…]. But disappearing does not mean melting in it together with the smallness of life, this is not saving oneself through art:

Powiadają, że dzieła mają nas uwieczniać:

Nie to wszelako czyni je drogimi. One,

Gdyby nasz przewlekały żywot z nędzą jego,

Ze zazdrościami ludzi, z odbytych walk trudem,

Zaiste, że cenniejsze byłyby, im wiotsze!…(DW VI, 386)

They say that the works should immortalize us:

However, this is not what makes them valuable. They,

If they experienced our life along with its misery,

With the jealousies of people, with the hardship of battles fought,

Indeed, the more fragile they were, the more valuable they would be!…

←91 |

Thus for Norwid, especially now, art means conferring eternity upon human things. But this alone does not suffice. Art is not there to protect us, to give us all the shape of beauty or for us to take shelter in it. Art is there to record and immortalize what is the best. Only then is it worthy of lasting.

The problem of art and its attitude towards life is also the topic of “Ad leones!”, which is Norwid’s most mature novella, the one with the least number of problems that are not blended with the formal assumption itself. In both Tajemnica lorda Singleworth and Stygmat [Stigma] there is certain gap which does not allow one to fully give oneself over to the artistic experience. Between the lord’s balloon and further consequences in the form of an attack on the spiritual impurity of the civilised savages, as well as between the history of failed love and the referencing theory of historical stigmata there is a certain unjustified leap, a certain lack of proportion. We find nothing like that in “Ad leones!”. The change of the sculpture and the poet’s ideological commentary are generally in accord, which does not mean that we should not treat this final commentary as an integral part of the work, i.e. something that we must approach, examine and not take Norwid’s commenting word for it.

In believing only the poet’s commentary, we will have yet another attack on civilizational trafficking, on the venality of bad art. Believing in Norwid’s words we impoverish this much richer (than he wanted to impose) content of “Ad leones!”. In the sculptor’s attitude, silent, not lending himself to anything, agreeing to what people’s stupidity is doing to his work, we find an interesting manifestation of Norwid’s attitude towards understanding his art, and generally of his attitude of art towards the world.

First things first. The sculptor, in voluntarily altering his work under the influence of other persons, expresses Norwid’s characteristic irony of perfect superiority. This is the irony of a man who is so convinced of his correctness, of being misunderstood, that he feels all attempts at stooping to persuade and convert others would only humiliate him. The intellectual disparity is too vast for him to accomplish it. There is nothing left then but to armour oneself with the irony of feigned agreement: do as you wish – we shall see what you will do. Or else, as in a letter to Zaleski, there is an evangelical reply to the strange criticisms of Promethidion: “Tyś powiedział” [Thou have said], and nothing more.

Through its ostensible agreement, this irony takes the opponent to absurd levels, it lets him go too far so that the stance of perfect superiority will appear to end in victory. Through his apparent concessions to the ever new and increasingly stupid ideas of the gathered “experts,” the sculptor renders them absurd. For instance, if he only listened to them until the moment the cross turns into the key, it would be impossible to demonstrate their worthlessness and stupidity ←92 | 93→through the use of ironic agreement. It is only thanks to absolute passivity, being adamant until the most utilitarian ideas of the American man that it is possible to expose them through staticity. And here, from a group of Christians thrown to the lions, we came to banking-allegorical “Capitalisation.” The grand irony of this passage outclasses those who led to it – not the one who agreed while hiding his superiority. However, if, following Norwid, or more explicitly, following Miriam, we recognised “Ad leones!” as a satire on artistic trafficking, we would most unjustly deliver a blow to the excellent ironic sculptor.

In Norwid’s artistic work there are many examples of such irony – one was quoted here – and on their basis we may interpret “Ad leones!” in this way. And again, it is important to note that it is for the first time in this novella that this irony found its most classical expression, perfectly camouflaged, as befits any great irony.

On the other hand, “Ad leones!” is a general symbol of the relationship between art and life. There is something of this symbol in the title itself and in the course of the event being told. It is not only the first Christians from the group in the sculpture that are thrown to the lions – it is the artist thrown to the lions of the world; the fate of a piece of art is a fate of incomprehension, immaturity of the world towards it. There is a complaint that cannot be hidden behind strict irony, there is a pathetic truth that nothing in the world may stay in the state of “dziewicze natchnienie” [pure inspiration]. Even art, which is supposed to protect the most valuable part of our humanity against time. It is not a rebellious protest, which at the same time is an attack, but some inevitable pain, sorrow quenched with a manly sense of necessity, and because of that more memorable and poignant than protests. Finally, it is also concordant with the poet’s spiritual tendencies which were indicated as his second old age. This interplay of irony and gentleness of memories (Rome), dominating complaint and masterful narrative of the novella constitutes its irresistible charm.

And if we once again take a look now, remembering Kleopatra and “Ad leones!” in particular, at Norwid’s classical third old age, we should be able to better underline its new features: the utter liveliness of its late work. It would not impress us that he had a proud sense of his indispensability, that he did not stop writing without real support – this would be a fate similar to that of Aleksander Fredro, who pretending to have broken his pen was writing for himself, and certainly for the posterity, hiding it in his drawer, but he did not impress us with this literary ascetism, because in no case did his works match the comedies written before 1835.

And as for Norwid, we must conclude that his sense of self, which compelled him to write, is entirely on par with our evaluation of him. And this parallelism ←93 | 94→is the most important, since as we search Polish literature over for an analogy to Norwid’s late work, we can find no one that could be juxtaposed with him. In no other author would the last novella –Stygmat [Stigma] – bind together the course of historical reflection, or would the last poem – “Słowianin” [“The Slav”] – seal the stone fate of the poet with such great irony. This recluse, abandoned alive, remains a recluse posthumously, but a glorious recluse of the living work until his last twitch of the pen.

←94 | 95→

1 English translation by Adam Czerniawski in: Cyprian Norwid, Selected Poems (London: Anvil Press, 2004), p. 44.

2 English translation by Danuta Borchardt in collaboration with Agata Brajerska-Mazur in: Cyprian Norwid, Poems (New York: Archipelago Books, 2011), p. 117.

3 G. Flaubert, Oeuvres completes, v. 13, Correspondance. 1850–1859, Paris: Club de l’Honnête Homme, 1974–1976, p. 203.

Wacław Borowy

Norwid the Poet

Abstract: The article provides a synthetic description of Norwid’s poetic work preceded by a discussion against a number of erroneous or contradictory judgements put forth in art criticism, originating both from critical attitudes and the antinomies of Norwid’s poetry itself. The essential feature of this work is the inseparable connection between artistic and ethical values, as reflected by the key role attached to the category of truth, which structures his poetic oeuvre. One of the most important means of expressing the complex truth about the world and man is Norwid’s characteristic irony, which appears in various shades: from cordial humour, through wise leniency, to bitterness and sarcasm. The author also looks at the “darkness” of Norwid’s speech, exposing the positive aspects of the difficulties that can be seen in the poetic work. It is in the reader’s cooperation where he sees the greatest chance of overcoming these difficulties.

Keywords: Cyprian Norwid, poetry, semantics, irony, truth in literature


His contemporaries did not understand him. But in the generation of “grandchildren,” after his poetry was so wonderfully discovered by Miriam, understanding it was not any easier. He was first viewed as a great precursor of various later poets (Maeterlinck, J.P. Jacobsen, Wyspiański, etc.). Later came more historical comparisons: with western writers slightly before him or contemporary to him (Edgar Poe, Baudelaire, Carlyle, “disappointed” realists and Parnassians from France, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, some symbolists). Who was he in Polish literature? According to some, just one more Romantic disdainer of the human “marketplace;” according to others, quite the opposite: a socially aware poet. Some wished to see him as a “fourth bard” alongside the main trio of Polish Romantic bards; some saw him as a positivist who chose his own and somewhat strange paths. In some circles he was admired as a poet of “mystic” depths; elsewhere, he was valued as an “authentist” who wrote poems in a language befitting prose. And that is not all. After the period of captivation and rapture came another wave of criticism, nearly as sharp as it was back when Norwid was alive. The allegations of “darkness” returned. One critic even wrote that Norwid was a poet only for “puzzle lovers.” At the same time, analysing the poet’s conflict with his contemporaries, level-headed ←95 | 96→researchers began to discover that Norwid was not quite without fault there, demanding too great of an effort from a defeat-stricken society. Finally, the time came that Norwid was presented as a purely historical phenomenon, nearly without any vital significance, and “of no further use” to the future development of Polish culture.

Naturally, the most extreme of those judgements come from people who have no feel for poetry. But even those who have a sense of it, admit the poetic power of only some of Norwid’s works. They claim that his “mystery plays,” stage “monology” and attempts at historical tragedy were unsuccessful. They say that his larger works are in general mainly unfinished artistic pieces. And such opinions cannot entirely be contradicted.

Yet let us think what the treasury of poetry would have been without “Fortepian Szopena,” “Bema pamięci żałobny-rapsod,” “Pieśń od ziemi naszej,” “Moja piosnka,” “Amen,” “W Weronie,” “Rozebrana” [“Chopin’s Grand Piano,” “A Funeral Rhapsody in Memory of General Bem,” “A Song from our Land,” “My Song,” “Amen,” “In Verona,” “Disrobed”], to name just a few examples. Let us imagine for a moment that some cataclysm wiped those works out of print, writing and memories. What a huge loss that would be! Open any recent anthology of Polish poetry and see just how much space is taken up by Norwid’s poems.

It is true that this poet, constantly discussed, considered – and rightly so – as a difficult artist, with an immensely individual style, did acquire quite extensive readership circles. Some of his poems – like “Czemu, Cieniu, odjeżdżasz,” “Do kraju tego, gdzie kruszynę chleba…,” “Tam gdzie ostatnia świeci szubienica” [“Why are you leaving, Shadow,” “To that country where a morsel of bread…,” “Where the last gallow glows”] – may today be considered as well-known as the best-known works of Mickiewicz. What is more, it is likely Norwid has become the most quoted Polish poet. His words are found in the titles of poetry volumes as well as in the headings of “militant” magazines; his verses are used to perfectly describe certain phenomena in the spiritual life of an individual or society both by the followers and the opponents of his views. Some of his expressions, e.g. about the future being the “Korektorka-wieczna” [Eternal- editor], about beauty being “kształt miłości” [the shape of love], about the globe which is still not quite “przepalony […] sumieniem” [burnt through […] with conscience] have nearly become colloquial. Thus, in Norwid’s works there are most definitely parts which are not only intelligible, but which can even be found popular. And as Vico had realised back in the 18th century, this feature accompanies every true poetic sublimity (although it is, naturally, not a guarantee thereof).

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The antinomy of difficulty and intelligibility is not the only one found in Norwid. It is striking how many contradictory opinions on his poetry can be found in the studies it concerns, including the most enthusiastic ones. For some, he is deeply traditionalist in essence; for others, a wise glorifier of modernity. For some, he is an arch-national poet; for others, an arch-cosmopolitan one. Some see prophetic pathos as his natural element, others subtle humour and multi-faced irony. Some find his works to denounce life – bah, to even praise death; others see him as the eulogist of heroic, yet unfaltering hope. A few other opinions of a similarly contradictory nature have already been mentioned above.

Most of those contradictions have their source in the one-sided approach of critics who are unwilling to consider the possibility that antinomies may exist in poetry itself, and that they may also find their solutions in that same poetry. Such is Norwid’s writing, and his words from the ironic-doleful “elegy” “Na zgon Poezji” [“On the Death of Poetry”] (1877) can be taken as a strong reference thereof

[…] (Poezja), ta wielka

Niepojednanych dwóch sfer pośrednica,

Ocean chuci i rosy kropelka,

Ta monarchini i ta wyrobnica –

Zarazem wielce wyłączna i wszelka,

Ta błyskawica i ta gołębica…(PWsz II, 200–201)

[[…] (Poetry), that great

Mediator of two non-reconcilable spheres,

An ocean of lust and a droplet of dew,

That monarch and that labourer –

Highly exclusive and commonplace at the same time,

That lightning and that dove…]

There seems to be antinomy in Norwid’s very approach to the tasks of poetry, and of art in general. The speech of Promethidion, ground-breaking in so many respects, can seem archaic in other regards. One may wonder if the phrase that beauty is meant to “zachwycać do pracy” [enrapture into work] and the formula: “Pieśń a praktyczność jedno” [Song and practicality are one and the same] are not just particular expressions of utilitarianism. Some critics believe and assert that Norwid required poetry to have “some didactic minimum.” Yet it was not so. Norwid did write didactic works, also in verse, but he distinguished them from poetry proper. Promethidion’s words should be taken to have a double meaning: stating the inevitable connection between art and “craft” (technique), ←97 | 98→and as a postulate of its organic connection with the whole of man’s spiritual life, that “cało-żywot wieczny i czasowy” [eternal and temporary whole-life], to quote another of the poet’s phrases. Words about art being “najwyższe z rzemiosł apostoła” [the highest of an apostle’s crafts] and about “najniższa modlitwa anioła” [the lowest prayer of an angel] express the same thing: the distinctiveness of art’s domain in spiritual life, as well as its connection to other areas of that life.1

Hence Norwid’s disdain for all the words “co jak liście lecą” [which fall like leaves], for all the flowers and poetic frills whose sole ambition to be liked, or to astonish. In the early poem “Pismo” [“Writing”] (1841) he said of the written word that “cud wcielonego ducha – to” [it is the miracle of a spirit incarnate], that it is the traditional Christmas wafer which “łamać się trzeba” (PWsz I, 35) [has to be shared]. Multiple declarations from all the other, later periods of his work prove that his attitude towards the word never changed, but in fact only grew stronger. Perhaps the clearest statement proving his attitude towards poetry can be found in the poem “Czy podam się o amnestię?” [“Shall I Request an Amnesty?”] (1855):

I każdy wiersz ten miałem w mojej dłoni,

Jak okrętową linę w czasie burzy.

[And I held each of those poems in my hand,

Like a ship’s rope during a storm.]


But perhaps the allegation of intellectualism in Norwid’s poetry is true? He did say in Promethidion that he saw art “nie jak zabawkę ani jak naukę” [not as a toy, and not as education], yet one of the most common words in his poetry is Truth. It is a motif-word and a holy-word. The saying Morituri te salutant, Veritas appears several times as a motto, providing more than clear proof of how significant the word is, and what emotional hue it has.

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Norwid keeps the arrows of sharpest sarcasm for those “poezyje” [poetries] which he defines in the poem “Cacka” [“Pretty Things”]:

Są one dla prawd… czym w oknach sztory,

Na których wstrzymują się promienie,

Wyświecając płótno malowane,

Z malakitowemi krajobrazy,

Ze źródłami ametystowemi,

Pasterkami owianymi w gazy…

Z ziemią tą… co – nie dotknęła ziemi! (PWsz II, 131)

[Those are for truths… what for windows are the curtains,

On which sunrays stop,

And illuminate a painted canvas,

With malachite landscapes,

Amethyst springs,

Veiled shepherdesses…

With land… which – never touched the earth!]

Any illusory “consolations” are foreign to Norwid. Why write lulling “tales?” To write “Że wszystko toczy się, jak kute koła,/Że wszystko pięknie” (PWsz I, 398) [That everything turns like iron-bound wheels,/That everything is fine] would be to sanctify spiritual wretchedness: Vanitas vanitatis. It is better to see even the worst human wretchedness, “Ale bez kłamstwa – ale w prawdzie nagiej […] Bez dekoracji cnót, wiary, mądrości” (PWsz I, 218) [But without lies – but in its bare truth […] Without the decorations of virtues, faith, wisdom], as he presents the matter in a letter from America written in 1853, in loftily grave verse. Even cynicism is better than a lie; hence Norwid quite often defends cynics, and Diogenes is one of the most warmly treated figures in his works.

In his most effusive poem, Norwid writes of his longing for people “co mają tak za tak – nie za nie –/Bez światło-cienia” (PWsz I, 224) [who take yes for a yes – no for a no / – Without shadows]. And the main goal of poetry is, in his view, to express truth: “Odpowiednie dać rzeczy – słowo!” [To name each matter by its rightful – word!]2 – as he said in the poem “Ogólniki”[“Generalities”], serving as an “introduction” to perhaps the best of Norwid’s works, the collection Vade-mecum.

Truth it is, then. But in what sense? After all, a poet employs opinions which are clearly untrue, fantasies, metaphors, etc. In that respect, Norwid is no different than other poets. One could even point out the fact that he uses traditional ←99 | 100→“poetic” fictions more frequently than many other 19th-century poets: various “harps,” “lyres,” “cords,” etc., and so, everything that he himself considers (in the poem “Do Nikodema Biernackiego” [“To Nikodem Biernacki”]) “kłamstwo sztuki” [the lie of art]. The above is true, but that conscious “lie” of artistic means actually allows him to show the truth. The poet advises the artists walking among the resplendent views of the world: “Co kłamać wolno, to lepiej skłam od nich” [What you can lie about, lie about better than they do], and that way “kłamstwo zdradzisz kłamstwem sztuki” (PWsz I, 268) [you shall betray a lie with the lie of art].

The spirit of that “lie of art” is imagination – a great power, but also quite dangerous. Numerous of Norwid’s works present its insanities, the ease with which it goes astray. Take an example from the poem “W albumie” [“In an Album”]:


               Wyobraźnio!… pani Penelopo,

Znam cię – i lekką jak pomykasz stopą

Po spopielonych sercach twych amantów…

Znam cię – i wachlarz twój przerozmaity,

I giest – i słodkich zapiewy dyszkantów,

I moc – i prawdę twą – i – jestem syty…(PWsz I, 154–155)

[Ah well!…

                Oh imagination!… Lady Penelope,

I know you – as when your nimble foot

Skips over your suitors’ ashen hearts…

I know you – and your mottled fan,

Your gesture – the sweet descants’ chant,

Your power – and truth – and – I rest content.]3

In Norwid’s epic and dramatic works, there are few external conflicts, and if they appear, they are of no major consequence. Their action consists mainly in that some truth is explained and established therein, or that someone (like the protagonist of Quidam) dies in the search for the truth. Norwid’s most expressive poems are committed to revealing the “beautiful” falsehoods or illusions and showing the austere (and noble in its austerity) truth beyond them. Monumental examples would include “Tęcza” [“Rainbow”] or “W Weronie” [“In Verona”]. Charming is the story of star-tears shed by the sky onto the graves of unhappy lovers, and charming is the story of a rainbow reconciling feuding houses, but ←100 | 101→the truth is that the feuding houses fell into ruin, and the falling stars are merely stones. Poems like “Narcyz,” “Bogowie i człowiek,” “Święty-pokój” [“Narcissus,” “Gods and Man,” “Blessed Peace”] (to name just the best-known examples) similarly expose the truth behind illusions.

It happens at times that Norwid provides examples deriving even from scientific truths. This is observed e.g. in the poem “Ogólniki,” where the poetic meditation focuses on the roundness of the earth. Those works in particular raised the issue of intellectualism among critics. But the statement: “Ziemia – jest krągła” (PWsz II, 13) [“The earth – is round”] is a symbol of many truths which seem sufficient “z wiosną życia” (PWsz II, 13) [in the spring of life] – just like its completion (“U biegunów – spłaszczona – nieco…,” PWsz II, 13 [Somewhat – flattened – at the poles]) is a symbol of the precision and clarifications which become necessary “skoro puchy kwiatów zlecą” [when the down of flowers has fallen] and “Nawalne gdy przeminą deszcze” (PWsz II, 161) [when the rainstorms have passed]. Those metaphors alone, the tone in which they are introduced, clearly indicate that the matter is not about strictly cognitive truths, but the ones that have an immense emotional echo, such as may even invoke acts of will. Norwid did not propose the common Romantic juxtaposition of head versus heart. He even directly attacked it (e.g. in one of the digressions in Assunta). He sees inspiration which draws only from negation as naïve. Why should emotion not permeate thought? Why should a thought always be cold? The poet “w górę patrzy… nie tylko wokoło” (DW III, 354) [looks up… not just around]:

Znać się mnie nie dość – ja się nadto cierpię, (DW III, 354)

[‘Tis not enough for me to know myself – I also suffer too greatly,]

This is why Norwid’s truths roar like thunder and, at the same time, wipe the sweat of deadly toil from the brow, like Veronica’s veils. This is why Norwid’s heart throbs with a strong pulse for so many things which can be defined… by abstract nouns.


In the feuilleton Z pamiętnika [From the Diary], speaking of one of George Sand’s works, Norwid states ironically that “jednego pięknego dnia, gdy spyta kto na Północy o najnowszą paryską modę, odpowiedzą mu: ‘Ostatnia obowiązująca moda jest prostota i prawda… ‘“(PWsz VI, 375–376) [one fine day, when someone in the North asks about the latest Parisian fashion, they will reply: ‘The most current fashion is simplicity and truth… ’]. He goes on to add: “A gdzież wtedy sklep formuł i gdzie miara prawdy a prostoty” (PWsz VI, 376) [So where ←101 | 102→is the shop of formulas and where are the measures of truth and simplicity]. In his eyes, truth is not necessarily always obvious, and it is not enough for simplicity to be described as simple. Their significance must be measured, they must be placed in some “store.” Those who lectured the poet, could not or wished not to understand that; according to his own words (from “List do Walentego Pomiana Z.” [“Letter to Walenty Pomian Z.”]): “ile? rzeczą jest poczciwą/Różę zwać różą, tudzież pokrzywę pokrzywą” (PWsz II, 153) [how? Right/To call a rose, a rose, to call a nettle, a nettle]. Therein lies one of the major reasons for his tragic “misconnection” with his own era. Yet even this century has not necessarily always found the right measures or the right place. The fact that Norwid was not only a poet, but also a moralist philosopher, does not make the task any easier.

Naturally, one may stop e.g. at the first two lines of “Do zeszłej… (na grobowym głazie)” [“To the Deceased… (On a Tombstone)”]:

Sieni tej drzwi otworem poza sobą

Zostaw – – wzlećmy już daléj!… (PWsz II, 120)

[Leave the door of the vestibule open

Behind you – – let us fly up higher!…]

and, on superficial reading, interpret that exaltation in the face of the mystery of death as a yearning for the grave. Yet a stanza from another poem (“Śmierć” [“Death”]) is no less characteristic of Norwid:

Skoro usłyszysz, jak czerw gałąź wierci,

Piosenkę zanuć, lub zadzwoń w tymbały;

Nie myśl, że formy gdzieś podojrzewały;

Nie myśl – o śmierci. (PWsz II, 116)

[When you hear a worm bore a bough,

Hum a song or strike timbals;

Don’t think of forms ripened elsewhere;

Don’t think – of death.]4

Those are the two poles of Norwid’s poetic truth. You need to know both to obtain the right “measurement.”

It is easy to make a mistake without a “measure.” Work is the duty of man, and a condition of his dignity; but Mak-Yks, a protagonist of Pierścień Wielkiej-Damy [The Noble Lady’s Ring], states bitterly and not without the author’s clear approval that:

W Babilonie, za Ezechiela dni,

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Najmniej czynnym, zaiste, ten bywał,

Kto z załamanymi nie stał dłońmi (DW VI, 121)

[In Babylon, in days of Ezekiel,

Sometimes the least active one was in fact

The one who did not stand with idle hands]

The “lie” of art gains dignity in that it is a tool of sincerity. Yet there is sincerity “która prawdę kryje” (PWsz I, 288) [which hides the truth], according to Deotymie odpowiedź [In response to Deotyma]. Details have great meaning – and it is quite “łatwo prawdę przetrącać wachlarzem” (DW III, 343) [easy to break the truth with a fan], as the ironic Assunta states – but there is nothing that Norwid flogs with the whip of satire more than life filled with trifles, gossip literature demonstrating “trinkets” and serving to merely satisfy empty curiosity.

It is thus with all antinomies in Norwid’s poetry: between eternally-living history and stifling “non-history,” between optimism and pessimism, between the nation and panhuman ideals, between the holy rights of individuals and social duty, between tradition and progress, between spontaneity of art and the irrevocable rigour of composition etc. Those antinomies, striking on the surface but essentially resolving themselves, hold the truth of Norwid’s poetic world.

How to express that truth, with its many contradictions and many hues? That question raises the key issue which any reader and critic of Norwid’s poetry faces. Of course, when considering the issue, one cannot overlook the influence of contemporary times, and that of closer or more distant tradition. Their elements are discernible and have been indicated above. Malczewski, Zaleski, Mickiewicz, Słowacki, Krasiński – are among the closer ones. Trembecki, Krasicki, Kochanowski, Górnicki – from the more distant past. They are all the masters from whom Norwid’s style took plenty. His works were influenced by the ancient classics, as well as by some great modern poets from western Europe. Some influences of contemporary European foreign countries could be felt, as the poet happened to have spent most of his life abroad. Yet the shape of Norwid’s expressive means was mainly decided by his own poetic individuality.

A complex truth (and as it has been stated here, Norwid reveals even simple truths to be complex in reality) cannot always be stated simply. Hence, alongside the expressions which “otwierają nam serce” [open our hearts], according to one of Promethidion’s characters, “Jak ktoś do domu wchodzący własnego” (DW IV, 99) [like one entering his own home], there are numerous indirectly expressive phrasings, almost veiled. Hence the irony, so immensely typical of Norwid. Its hues are countless: from smiling cordiality, through wise leniency, helpless awareness, mitigated sadness, all the way to boundless bitterness and the sneer ←103 | 104→of sarcasm. Passages from one hue to another are often elusive, and the borderline between truth and illusion (which stands at the heart of irony) nearly non-discernible. The same motif appears in various emotional colours. Let us take as an example the pseudo-ceremonialism, with which Norwid often treats everyday or minor matters and things. In the fragment of Wesele [Wedding] starting with the words “Początki tego, co dziś balem się nazywa,/Różne są” (DW IV, 34) [The beginnings of what is now called a ball,/Vary], wry mockery shines through its humour. The exclamation in “W pracowni Guyskiego” [“In Guyski’s Studio”]: “O jakie głębokie/Są w trefieniu warkoczy sprawy historyczne!” (PWsz II, 194) [Oh how deep/Are the historical matters contained in plaiting hair!] only broadens with a smile the sense of archaeological reflection stated in all seriousness. What a mixture of tenderness, delicate playfulness and bitter melancholy can be found the poems from the fragmentary epic poem Ziemia [Earth]:

Non é maggior dolore, jak wrócić wspomnieniem

Do pewnych herbat, tudzież ciast i konwersacji,

Prawdziwie wielkim dobrze zaprawnych natchnieniem,

Do szkolnych dni, bukietów z róż i do wakacji. (DW III, 56)

[Non é maggior dolore, than to return through memory

To certain teas, cakes and conversations,

Well spiced with truly great inspiration,

To school days, rose bouquets and summer holidays.]

Assunta sees the similar digression of a sophisticated conversation, in which the most important sentence is often interrupted “Aromatycznej pojawem herbaty” (DW IV, 343) [By the appearance of aromatic tea]; lightly started, it ends in the chord of sarcastic dolour. Many more such examples could be cited, similar in image, yet with completely different emotional foundations.

It may be surprising to find so much irony with a poet who often spoke in pure great pathos, like in “Bema pamięci żałobny-rapsod,” “Żydowie polscy,” “Modlitwa,” the poem “Do Emira Abd el Kadera,” or “Do obywatela Johna Brown” [“A Funeral Rhapsody in Memory of General Bem,” “Polish Jews,” “Prayer,” “To Emir Abd el Kader,” “To Citizen John Brown”]. But his pathos is frequently interwoven with irony, to indicate only the ending of “Fortepian Szopena” or the closure of the poem “Smutną zaśpiewam pieśń” [“A Sad Song I Will Sing”] (1853), unfathomable in its pain, with words describing the “kokieteria ziemi” [coquetry of the earth]. Elsewhere, as can also be seen in some of the previous examples, irony is connected with humour. In this combination it sometimes has a double layer, the upper one critically looking down at the lower one. Its incarnations may be so diverse and so complex in their subtle richness that a reader can take ←104 | 105→as much from them as he (or she) can afford, to quote one critic. With Norwid, irony is truly “bytu cieniem” [a shadow of being], according to the words of a poem concerning this very topic. It cannot be understood by someone who has no sense of irony. It did happen that even eminent critics fell victim to that, if only in seeking it out where it did not exist. For instance, it is difficult to agree with one who sees some ironic equation of God with nothingness in the poem “Do zeszłej” – “Tam gdzie jest Nikt i jest Osobą” (PWsz II, 120) [There, where is No-body, and is a Person.” There is enough proof that Norwid’s religious faith was not – ironic. Here (just like in the similar words from the poem “Dookoła ziemi naszej” [“Around Our Land”]: “I znajdziesz tego, który nie istnieje” (PWsz I, 126) [And you will find the one who does not exist]), one has to keep in mind literary tradition, which differentiated the existence of the Creator from the existence of the creations with a paradoxical combination of words.

Undoubtedly, Norwid’s irony is one among various difficulties in accessing his poetry.


Norwid’s expression presents one more difficulty. The truth, posited as ideal, requires precision and conciseness. And thus any wild expansion of imagination is foreign to Norwid’s poetry. Its particular character may be revealed by comparing e.g. “Fortepian Szopena” to Słowacki’s “Uspokojenie” [“Reassurance”]. The latter dazzles the reader like a virtuoso performance of a series of variations on one topic. One could imagine more of them, but would not be offended to have it recited in an abridged version. “Fortepian Szopena” cannot be shortened, and no one can imagine it being lengthened. Norwid’s descriptions, always suggestive, are never detailed. They are usually limited to a few sketched lines (“Był tam i wojak, bosym podparty dzirytem,/Z ręką chorą, na resztce perskiej zwisłą szaty”5 [There was also a soldier, leaning on an unshod javelin,/with a bad arm, dangling on the remnants of a Persian robe]: such is the full image of a man from the Roman crowd in “Dwa męczeństwa” [“Two Martyrdoms”]). If a longer description is offered, it usually serves as more than just a description. Let us take the poem “Do słynnej tancerki rosyjskiej, nieznanej zakonnicy” [“To a Famous Russian Dancer, an Unknown Nun”] as an example. One would be hard pressed ←105 | 106→to find another such description of dance in world poetry. But notice that the comparison which ends the description ceases to either compare or describe, and becomes an expression of the poem’s major “truth:”

Patrz, patrz! wybiegła jak jaskółka skoro,

Nad śliskie woskiem teatru jezioro,

I trzyma stopę na powietrzu bladem,

Pewna, że niebios nie poplami śladem,

Schylając kibić, jakby miała zbierać

Rosę lub kwiatom łzy sercem ocierać.

Płynniej i słodziej tylko ciekną fale,

Tylko różańców zlatują opale,

Grawitujące do Miłości-środka,

Co zwie się Chrystus – i każdą z nich spotka. (PWsz I, 393)

[Look, Look! she ran out swiftly like a swallow,

On the lake slippery with theatrical wax,

And holds her foot in pale air,

Certain she will not stain the skies with a trace,

Bending over as if she were to gather

Dew, or wipe flowers’ tears off with her heart.

Only waves flow more fluent and sweet,

Only opals of rosaries fly in swifter,

Gravitating to the centre-of-love,

Called Christ – who will meet each of them.]

And it is always so with Norwid. The scenic background, the atmosphere of the moment are presented in greatly refreshing images, great vividness and colour (just to mention the “heliotropy szarego obłoku” [heliotropes of a grey cloud] from Assunta, the moon from “Vendôme,” peeping out from behind the clouds “Jako atłasu brzeg z zamkniętej trumny” (PWsz I, 112) [like a fringe of satin from a closed coffin], or the conversation in Wędrowny sztukmistrz [Wandering Magician] compared to a jug of blue glass, “rozpływający się” [melting] in the lake), yet the function of those images is only auxiliary. The main goal is to capture matters concerning the deeper aspects of human life, or more extensive periods of history. Those domains are vast and to a large extent – we can generally agree – unclear. Hence, with general conciseness, things are left unsaid, not fully said, or words are given unusual meanings, derived from their etymology.

That is precisely the “darkness” which Norwid was frequently accused of. He refuted that accusation many times, as well. His explanations are of twofold. One is objective in nature: the poet wrenches the truth from that darkness; it is no wonder it retains some of the darkness. To over-clarify it would be to falsify it. ←106 | 107→Those who demand absolute light “nie znają ironii zrządzeń” [know not the irony of events]: “kto nazbyt odkrył, pewno gdzieś zasłoni” [who uncovers too much, will likely cover something elsewhere]. One of the critics aptly noted that in that explanation, Norwid treats words not “expressionistically” but “realistically,” i.e. as something real, consisting of the same elements as the reality it expresses.

The other explanation is subjective in character: not all truths are fit to be shouted out loud. Norwid ironically addresses this topic in the poem “Szczęsna,” especially, in speaking of the dark expressions used by one “co matki śmierć donosi komu” (DW III, 65) [who informs someone of their mother’s death].

It is certain that there is no intentional darkness with Norwid, as happens with various Mallarméists and their followers, who used it as an “artistic effect.” With Norwid it is really, in accordance with both the explanations he offers, only the inevitable difficulty of expression. In his view, the reader can and should overcome that difficulty with kind cooperation. He considered complaints of illegibility an expression of laziness.

Are those words justified, and do they fully explain why Norwid’s contemporaries drew away from him? They undoubtedly took little time to refuse to “współutrudzać się” [co-labour] with him. He did not accept compromise. Consternation towards such works as Pieśni społecznej cztery stron [Social Song in Four Pages], or “Jeszcze słowo” [A Word More] is understandable and even shared today. Unfortunately, those were his earliest isolated publications, which decided on the readers’ attitude. And that audience did not include anyone who would have liked to revise that early attitude, or simply distinguish it, like the poet himself did (“Ja wiem – że z pieśni mej odleci wiele,” (DW IV, 177) [I know – that much will fly way from my song] he said in Salem).

Truly everyone, who has read through Norwid’s works in good will, knows the experience of a work which seemed either fully or partially not quite clear, which upon deeper reading and gaining a better sense of the poet’s style and imaginary world, became fully illuminated. Also familiar would be the experience of a “very simple” work revealing, after a while, new perspectives, at first indiscernable and unexpected. It ought to be added that even in Norwid’s “darkest” works, even those with the least fortunate composition, there are always fragments of great poetic expression. Such fragments are found also in those of his writings which were simply meant to be treaties in verse (e.g. Rzecz o wolności słowa [On the Freedom of Speech]). In a large part of Promethidion the didactics is winged with poetry, like in Virgil’s Georgics.

But the misconceptions do not end here. They say that Norwid has many “prose-isms” – not just in his didactic writings, but also in those with clearly poetic intentions. What are we to make of this? True, it happens at times that ←107 | 108→in his striving for perfection, Norwid’s verbal expression may be so filtered, so drained of anything that bears the slightest similarity to a “crafted” ornament, to conventional sweetness, to a superficial technical aid, that the sentences left could with little or no change find their place also in colloquial prose. “Nie oglądają się ludzie zadziwieni,/Lecz, jak stali pierw, stoją” (PWsz I, 360); “I niekoniecznie atletą pułkownik;/Prędzej kaleka” (PWsz I, 369) [People do not turn around in surprise,/They stand as they stood before; And the colonel is not necessarily an athlete;/Rather the invalid]. Such sentences are found on numerous pages of the poet’s works. They were probably what critics had in mind when they wrote of the “asceticism” of Norwid’s words. But one must look at their context to see the true artistic purpose behind that asceticism. First and foremost, one must test his ear. Listen to the rhythms pulsating within them.

Norwid’s poetry (just like any other poetry) cannot be judged in isolation from its phonic side. The melic element is intrinsically joint therein with what only in critical simplifications is distinguished as content. The poet himself reminds the reader many times that the “lyre” (sound, or melody) cannot be treated as something separate. According to the words of the poem “Liryka i druk”[“Poetry and Print”], the lyre is “jako żywemu orłu pióro:/Aż z krwią, nierozłączona!” (PWsz II, 24) [like a feather of a living eagle:/Inseparable unless blood is drawn!]. Even the rhythms of true poetry “w środku są, nie w końcach wierszy” [are in the middle, not at the ends of poems]. How paradoxical that seems! But then it is given truth and depth through the comparison: “Jak i gwiazdy nie tam są gdzie świécą” (PWsz II, 114) [like stars which are not where they shine]. This is how Norwid treats what others often call the “versification technique.”

One ought to realise just how extensive the scale of Norwid’s “lyre” is. From the lulling melodiousness of “Moja piosnka I” and “Moja piosnka II” up to the unbelievable, indescribable rhythmics of Pierścień Wielkiej-Damy, A Dorio ad Phrygium, or the letter “Do Bronisława Z.” [“To Bronisław Z.”]. That letter alone (1879) would suffice to prove the range Norwid was able to cover with one rhythm: from restrained historical pathos (“Wiek tu który? Który rok? Niedola która?” [Which century is it? Which year? And which misery?]) all the way up to a quiet confidentiality of kindly, slightly ironic dreams of the future:

Zniknie i przepełznie obfitość rozmaita,

Skarby i siły przewieją, ogóły całe zadrżą,

Z rzeczy świata tego zostaną tylko dwie,

Dwie tylko: poezja i dobroć… i więcej nic…(PWsz II, 238)

[Varieties of opulence will crawl away and vanish,

Treasures and powers blow away, whole communities shake,

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Of the things of this world only two will remain,

Two only: poetry and goodness… and nothing else…]6

That is the poet.

And the critics? “Zadaniem krytyki,” [The task of criticism] Norwid wrote in a letter to J.B. Wagner from 1881, “jest wszystko postawić na właściwym miejscu i otworzyć okno pozostawiając resztę światłu i czasowi – nic więcej!” (PWsz VI, 538) [is to put everything in its rightful place and open the window leaving the rest to light and time – nothing more!].

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1 Norwid uses the word “art” not only in the sense of artistic creation (which is the only meaning considered in this paper), but also in the sense of an intuitive element (as often happens in colloquial speech). Hence he speaks of “art” in medicine, science, even in the sphere of moral progress. This is the sense found e.g. in the brochure O sztuce (dla Polaków) [On Art (For Poles)] (1861). With that in mind, the border areas mentioned by him are also understandable, e.g. the one in “Psalmów-psalm” [“Psalm of Psalms”], where you read of the “struna” [cord] “co zamyka pieśń, a rzeczywistość odmyka” [which closes the song, and opens reality].

2 English translation by Danuta Borchardt in collaboration with Agata Brajerska-Mazur, in: Cyprian Norwid, Poems (New York: Archipelago Books, 2011), p. 13.

3 English translation by Adam Czerniawski, Cyprian Kamil Norwid, Selected Poems (London: Anvil Press, 2004), p. 33.

4 English translation by Borchardt, Cyprian Norwid, Poems, p. 57.

5 C. Norwid. Pisma zebrane. Pisma wierszem. Volume A. Part two. (Warszawa-Kraków: Jakub Mortkowicz, 1911) p. 495 (quoted here according to the edition Borowy used, on account of the emendations changing the sense of the fragment, implemented in PWsz) [ed.]

6 English translation by Czerniawski, Selected Poems, p. 92.

Jerzy Sienkiewicz

Norwid the Painter

Abstract: The article provides a concise description of Norwid’s creative persona as a visual artist, based on a collection of several hundred works presented at the monographic exhibition organized by the National Museum in Warsaw on the 125th anniversary of the poet’s birthday. The author focuses mainly on the analysis of drawings, the largest part of Norwid’s visual art heritage, tracing the stylistic changes that they went through over the years and indicating their thematic scope. He also draws attention to the poorly understood sculptural and graphic activity of the author of Solo and stresses the dominant role of watercolours in Norwid’s late works. Finally, he tries to situate the artist on the map of 19th century artistic phenomena and currents.

Keywords: Cyprian Norwid, art, drawing, watercolours, sculpture, graphics

Do we know, and have we ever known Norwid – the painter?

We know from many sources and his own statements that from his earliest youth he treated fine art as the main objective in his life. In his epistolary confessions from different places and times, we can find expression of his ambition and worry, his pride, but also the sorrow and bitterness which he felt at his contemporary compatriotsnot recognising and not appreciating this area of his artistry.

He only took part in exhibitions in Poland occasionally (in Kraków in 1855 and 1856, and in Warsaw in 1877 and 1879). Word of similar exhibitions organised in France rarely reached the press. Only sometimes did a graphic copy cross the border (however, the sole well-known instance of this is the sad episode when the tsarist censorship sequestered all the copies of the lithography “Solo”). Norwid’s illustrations for Polish publishers were almost anonymous. A few of his drawings in woodcut reproductions were published in Tygodnik Illustrowany [The Illustrated Weekly], but this happened by complete accident. Krasiński’s medallion (Fig. 15) was not popularised at that time, while the architectural guidelines and drawings for the town of Krzeszowice were of a private nature. Indeed, many of Norwid’s drawings, sketches and watercolours were acquired by Poles travelling to Rome, Florence or Paris, they were added to the albums of his friends and female acquaintances, but these works remained in their personal or family collections, accessible only to a limited circle of people. Few works were purchased for Poland.

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Similarly, news of Norwid’s work abroad and the recognition he received in the foreign artistic world, different critical opinions, including biting remarks, rumours and false news, only seldom reached the country, and at random. And although there were some interesting opinions full of his praise, such as those of Z. Sarnecki and even J. I. Kraszewski, ultimately, the Polish equivalent of a 19th-century Vasari, a distinguished and well-known art collector – Baron Edward Rastawiecki – made only the following mention of Norwid in his Słownik rytowników [Dictionary of Engravers] published in 1886: “A living poet, working somewhat with sculpture, lithography and engraving. He produced a few etchings.” In a comment, he rectified the incorrect information “living,” but provided the wrong date of his death – mid-January 1882!

Discovering Norwid, bringing his works back to life and to society, is always associated with the name Miriam. It is not surprising, since Miriam’s service is considerable and obvious. Miriam is also the first person to uncover the veil hiding Norwid’s output in the area of fine art for future generations. Chimera, Pisma zebrane [The Collected Works] featured rich reproductions of different sketches, drawings, watercolours, oil paintings and engravings, as well as exhaustive information on these and other works by Norwid. Both the thematic (determined for editorial reasons, such as, primarily, the illustration of Norwid’s biography or supplementation of written works) and formal scope of this area of Norwid’s work was then revealed on a scale that caused a certain concern and chaos; its variety was so greatly surprising and the indicated number of works was huge. Norwid’s profile as a visual artist could not yet be clearly characterised at that time. Previous and more recent characterisations were not helpful, while the most contradictory opinions and beliefs about him were based on, among others, less available sources or individual works that were owned by private persons.

Sometimes he was even regarded as a genius, proceeding with the power of a precursor of new ideas and forms. But often he was regarded only as a dilettante, amateur, and to be more precise, an amateur talentless writer with a passion for drawing. In addition, it could often be observed that people were unable to take a stance on his phenomenon. Often, they would shyly avoid commenting on the poet’s drawings and paintings, this area of his artistic work was silently omitted or pushed into the background out of fear that it might lead to possible clashes and dissonance in presenting the role of his main material – the written word.

This dissonance was not opposed by Cypriana Norwida Antologia artystyczna [Cyprian Norwid’s Artistic Anthology] published by Miriam in 1933 in Grafika [Graphic Arts] and as a separate print. Sixty-three reproductions (of which only nine had been published before) considerably enriched the dossier of Norwid’s ←112 | 113→works made available to the global audience. Also undoubtedly, in accordance with the publisher’s intention, Antologia [Anthology] was partially opposed to excessively one-sided and hasty characterisations and assessments of Norwid’s entire artistic work. However, it must be stated that its material was also, unfortunately, not systematised; it showed, in a broad framework, new surprises and highlighted formal issues which were previously only outlined based on small examples.

Let us juxtapose the so-called Leonardo sketches (e.g. Fig. 15) which were already well-known at that time, and which in Antologia were supplemented with new items, were overcharacterised – with delicate drawings and watercolours presenting as if incidentally observed figures and contemporary life phenomena: “Dama w jasnej sukni” [“Lady in a Light Dress”], “Dama w płaszczu i kapeluszu z szerokim rondem” [Lady in a Coat and Broad Brim Hat], “Tancerka” [Female Dancer] (Fig. 16) (Antologia, p. 14 and 26). Whereas in the first group we deal with what is almost a caricature drawing, the second group is characterised by the subtlety of artistic means used, similar to the subtlety found in the art of the painter of the life of the Second French Empire – Constantine Guys, whom Norwid did not try to imitate, however. Thus we have a wide range that cannot be captured in the schema of a hasty definition.

In this way, unexpected problems demanding solutions arose on the ever broadening territory of Norwid’s fine art works. It can be said we were waiting for the completion of the edition of the poet’s writings initiated and conducted with all perseverance by Miriam. Bearing in mind the commentaries published in Chimera on Norwid’s activity in the area of fine art, and the descriptions of artistic supplements contained in Pisma zebrane, we felt justified in waiting for the materials of Norwid’s extra-literary works that were meticulously both collected and catalogued by Miriam, materials that were expected to help shed light on many pressing questions.

However, the blow of the war reached us also in this domain, although to a certain extent it was parried. Miriam died. The part of his work which was about to be finished, both in manuscript and printed form, perished. However, the great legacy of the entire life of the collector of Norwid’s works, which was in danger of obliteration and destruction, was saved. Beside the documentation of thoughts and emotions expressed through words, an important place in this legacy was occupied by sketches, drawings and watercolours, which were also the expression of these thoughts and emotions.

The rescue of Miriam’s collection gains all the greater significance, considering we incurred very severe losses in this area. For instance, the lesser known parts of Norwid’s legacy kept in the Przeździecki and Krasiński family libraries ←113 | 114→in Warsaw burnt in two phases of World War Two – one part in September 1939 while the city was besieged, and the rest during and after the uprising in September 1944. Other private collections (belonging to W. Horzyca, J. W. Gomulicki, J. Pomorski, Zb. Zaniewicki) shared similar fate, and even not everything from the collections of the National Museum survived – among others, the large watercolour from Sucha “Zdjęcie z krzyża” [“The descent from the Cross”] (Fig. 17), which was deposited there, went missing. We do not know the fate of the collections from the region of Greater Poland, among others, the albums containing several hundred drawings and a cycle of illustrative watercolours which had once been exhibited in Poznań. Perhaps we must accept they were destroyed, just as some of Norwid’s works in the Polish Library in Paris were squandered by Germans (except for two albums lent to Warsaw before the outbreak of the war, which by a strange but fortunate twist of fate survived in spite of the post-insurrectionist ravages).

For this reason, Miriam’s collection was the foundation of the exhibition organised in the National Museum commemorating the 125th anniversary of Norwid’s birth (which is now housed in the National Library), supplemented with the two above-mentioned Parisian albums and the rescued Warsaw collections kept in the National Museum, the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw University Library, and E. Kokoszka’s and Al. Hryniewicz’s collections. Thanks to the borrowed exhibits from the public collections in Kraków: the Jagiellonian Library, the National Museum, the Czartoryski Museum, it was possible to present a deeper systematic review of Norwid’s works in the area of fine art, they helped re-address the “problem” of this output from a new perspective.

Despite its richness, the exhibit material has some noticeable shortcomings. Sculpture is represented by the single medallion of Z. Krasiński (Fig. 14), oil painting – by three randomly purchased paintings; it is thus difficult to elaborate on both branches. But also among the numerous drawings and watercolours we will not find many larger compositions and illustrative drawings, which were known even from Pisma zebrane [Collected Writings] and Antologia artystyczna [Artistic Anthology]. By strange coincidence, we will also not find the frequently reproduced, characteristic “Leonardo” types (e.g. Fig. 15). Nonetheless, the abundance of the material is so great that it fills many gaps in our previous knowledge of Norwid’s works, and despite this fact it will certainly introduce some order in this complicated area of knowledge about him, at least in determining the research direction.

Thus, more than anything it is finally possible to address the problem of dating individual works and, by extension, capturing the historic timeline of stylistic differences which started to appear in Norwid’s fine art output over the years.

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It is probably not necessary to provide proof of the significance of this seemingly formal issue. Not only does dating introduce order, it often allows for posing questions, and eliminates the various intruders introduced to Norwid’s legacy. It is not so much out of ill will, but a lack of knowledge and clarity about a coincidental fact that sometimes something found its way into a common set of various files, albums and papers along with Norwid’s unquestionable, long-untouched works.

But the chronological examination of Norwid’s works also – in accordance with the guidelines – allows us to grasp the very complicated structure of the artist in a most simple way.

Let us consider the pencil drawings from 1838, drawings pertaining to trivial themes (Fat Thursday, hunting, drunkards – Fig. 18, a travelling theatre) grouped into some sets on individual sheets with the almost greeting card layout characteristic of the epoch. Norwid was then 17, he quite skilfully showed off the knowledge he acquired in Warsaw, among others, from A. Kokular or Jan Klemens Minasowicz. It is difficult to see any particular influence of these teachers in these works; their trace can more easily be found in later small portraits. Zoilus (Fig. 19) – a satire on the criticism from 1841 – has the specific characteristics of a drawing prepared – if not repeated – for reproduction in woodcut. It should be considered from this perspective.

The difference between the Warsaw works and those made abroad a few years later is very striking. A different contour line (usually in pen drawings), sharper, often made as if with a woodcarving flair – clearly highlights the outline of the presented objects and figures, shading and deepening them with thick hatching. These formal features, especially strongly emphasised in the curiously ambiguous – characteristic of the Romantic trends at that time – collection Awantury arabskie [Arabic adventures] (Fig. 20, 1848–1849) – admittedly predispose most of the drawings from the 1850s–1860s to be reproduced graphically, principally as watercolours or copperplate engravings. They speak a common language to such a degree that, for instance, a composition on the theme from the epilogue of Irydion (1851, Fig. 21), if it were to be presented only in reproduction, could be taken without any hesitation for a chalcography. At the same time, the contour-like presentation of some figures from those years, their statue-like solemnity – a Jew striding in long robes (1849), the prophet Isaiah (1851, Fig. 22) – their strong, artistic separation from the background and space with a line that was characterised above or with a sharp cut – makes us see those drawings as a sort of transposition of a monumental, noble, solemn sculpture, which was foreign to Classicistic imitations.

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In that period, we will look for painterliness in rather smaller, often accidental sketches and notes; the exception here is the only, unexpected altar composition “Złożenie do Grobu” [“The Entombment”], drawn in Berlin in 1846 under the influence of Overbeck’s and his “Nazarethian” companions’ ideology which Norwid had previously learned in Rome. Among those, in particular when it comes to portrait figures and caricatures, there are many instances of an as if affected and mnemotechnic tendency to simpler drawing in one direction – to the left. The equal treatment of the latter drawings with other works came to be the source of regarding Norwid as a dilettante artist.

The analysis of the material displayed in the exhibition allows us to speculate that without disrespecting the small sketch, assigning a note or completed composition alongside it, in this first period of his artistic work abroad, Norwid nonetheless, with greater or lesser awareness preferred drawing in its graphic and sculpted form, well-thought-out and matured in the atmosphere of independent self-instruction, assisted by the guidelines provided by self-selected teachers and models of great European art that was learned directly in retrospect.

It is not until the 1870s that Norwid’s watercolour becomes competitive and merges with the old direction of his artistic path.

Norwid’s watercolour was advertised and – to use Norwid’s term – completed in the transparently glazed colouring of delicate copies of the figures of saints from catacombs or early Italian frescos, but mainly in ink-toned sketch projections that recorded the notes of impressions. They read and reflect – in a strangely suggestive and synthetic manner – the beauty of folded robes in an antique sculpture, its noble or solemn gesture. Through them, Norwid – the artist and the poet – opened the distant world of the great past to himself.

These note-sketches, usually collected in albums with a programme-like content structure, are awaiting special study.

Let us return, however, to the unfinished thread and, having put aside the contribution of watercolours to Norwid’s artistic output for later discussion, follow the track of Norwid – the draughtsman. In the 1870s, the artist’s drawing line is subject to certain change, becoming more and more distinct. Formerly very puritan, often sharp – now it is becoming softer and smoother, it idealises the drawn shape with its outline, and sometimes (as in the profile of a young woman) its contour tries to express an almost unearthly purity. Only when Norwid returns to characteristic types and caricatures (e.g. the drawing from 1844 “Plotki u wodopoju” [“Rumours at the waterhole”], Fig. 23), does he take up the former sharpness in carving the curvature of a grimace and the expression of eyes, sometimes complemented by a telling arm or hand gesture; at the same time, he pulls with nervous, short strokes and highlights strong shadow ←116 | 117→contrasts. Undoubtedly, it was aptly recognised as a Leonardesque passion for the realistic-characteristic shaping of the vision of live man, the face of whom, as in the mirror, reflects the truth. The truth is often brutal, decoded from the wrinkles and expression of the psyche, of the exposed character. The inscriptions that comply with this: Pilate, Nero (Fig. 24), Barabbas… The artist imposes the presentation of the dull, the criminal, the anxiety-stricken etc. even more strongly than the inscriptions.

Similarly, in compositions, such as in the sketch of an author talking to the personification of Literature or Knowledge (1870) or in the rough sea waves with Christ’s boat (1876), Norwid does not forget about the advantages of the sharp drawing line which he has been using for such a long time. He still uses it – irrespective of the time – in other select cases as well. However, starting with 1870 Norwid uses an increasingly smooth and soft line, more of a painting stroke than a graphic line, even when he resorts to his particularly favourite form of that time – caricature.

His drawing is not as analytic as it was in the past, it is more synthetic, it resigns from depicting details, but as if it were a shortcut, it makes a quick, admittedly contour-like projection of the figure, highlighting its characteristic or specific features, which evoke a definitive attitude in the viewer towards the figure – laughter, contempt, sarcasm or irony.

These four periods distinguished as a result of a stylistic analysis of drawings, and not clearly delimited by dates, have a common link arising from the artist’s humanistic attitude. In this broad timeframe, man is their primary theme: man facing problems of life and death, ethics and religion, man marked by the stigma of history. We can notice this stigma in the dignity of the ancient husband, in the reverie of the biblical prophet, in the solemnity of the Renaissance wise man and artist, as well as in the ordinary hardship and rest that is common to both the contemporary passer-by and the wanderer of the past.

Of course, this attitude of Norwid is manifested not only in his drawings, but in his entire work. Nevertheless, we can observe the effects of this attitude more clearly in the drawing – perhaps owing to the precision of the line and stroke – this is the procession of the heroes of the subjects he addressed, overstylised with a great impression of the epochs to which they belong.

In the late 1860s drawing, which so far has dominated Norwid’s artistic output, though still constituting the “quantitative” majority, starts to increasingly giving way to watercolour, which is more and more clearly pushing its way to the foreground.

The intermediary here was coloured and toned drawing, which Norwid used not only for the purposes of his scientific notes sui generis, but also in sketches ←117 | 118→(their small, but artistically very interesting group was discussed in previous remarks), further in smaller and larger studies, and in compositional projects. Two women playing with a child (Fig. 25), a mother cuddling an infant – these two beautiful sketches, deriving from the Renaissance representations of motherly love; compositional variants on death walking towards an old man standing next to a child (Fig. 26) again they speak in this tone of deep humanity which has already been mentioned.

Watercolours in grey tones are used by the painter before and after 1860 for profoundly serious religious compositions based on the Holy Scripture that are archaic in their form, i.e. reflecting the specific pathos of grouping, gestures and movements found in religious paintings by Rubens. Norwid kept many drawing studies and copies of those paintings, which particularly testify to his zealous following of Christ’s crucifixion. He must have been captivated by the suggestive truth of the reconstruction of this great Christian act by the Flemish master.

The colourful watercolour expressed Norwid’s creative fantasy, making it his most favourite medium of illustration in the last years of his life – for instance, in visually incredible scenes resembling the Renaissance dramas – and, above all, the means to capture the world of children and women, the world separated from reality by its own specific mood. In this watercolour technique the artist was supported by the smoothness of colours filling the contours of figures and objects.

However, it is not only in his watercolour paintings (how interesting when compared with Wojtkiewicz’s works!), but also in small coloured sketches that Norwid directs his attention to woman. With reference to the Milan school, he studies the expression of the womanly smile in the outline of the nose and eyes, he tries to decipher female facial expression, and finally gives an impression of the love between woman and child and her heroism (Fig. 27). His humanism is expressed here in a most sincere and general human way. In Polish painting at that time, Teofil Kwiatkowski was perhaps the only of Norwid’s comrades, who addressed this female theme in his art with equal subtlety.

Norwid – the painter and the draughtsman, thus emerging from the framework of the exhibition, has not had the last word yet.

He was a sculptor. Unfortunately, we know only one of his works in this area – the medallion dedicated to Zygmunt Krasiński (Fig. 14). However, sculpture – similarly to the word that shaped his thought and image – could also quite often be felt in his drawing.

This drawing frequently led us to engraving, because they are related. This is testified by the line of the drawing, as if cut with a burin, also testified by the contrast of light and shadow in toned drawings – after all, it is the favourite language ←118 | 119→of watercolour. But a reproduction from the plate that circulated around the world in many copies was associated with publicité, whereas a drawing could stay in a file, in hiding, or in the materials for one’s own studies; besides, often it was more improvised than worked out. “Prawdziwych szkiców robić nie można umyślnie: one się same narzucają…” (PWsz VII, 428) [“Real sketches cannot be made on purpose – they impose themselves…”] – stated Norwid in the album given to T. Jełowicki. Meanwhile, engraving had to be “made.” Conceptions or impressions had to be digested and encapsulated in the composition, since the author was as responsible for its distribution, as he was for the printed word, all the more so because he used the language available to all people here.

There are few examples of Norwid’s engraving works (e.g. Figs. 1, 6, 12–14). Each newly found work expands our perception of this modest, but important part of his artistic work. Watercolour sometimes combined with a dry needle and a roulette takes first place here. Here Norwid is faithful to himself – original, not searching for effects, but a sincere and serious expression that calls for concentration. And one more remark. Also in this domain, as was the case with drawing and watercolour – despite some features common to all his artistic work, he aspires to autonomy and it must be said he reached it. This already says a lot.

Towards the end of these reflections, being fully aware of how inexhaustible they are and how many problems had to be omitted, one would want to go back to the point of departure and answer the question: Have we already gotten to know Norwid?

His artistic output is clearly outlined, it is unique, governed by its own rules of life and stylistic expression. It is not obscured by the variety of sketches, drawings, studies, paintings, prints and small notes. The last ones especially, from albums, notebooks and diaries, can most easily obscure the real view if their reading is approached in the wrong way and one forgets that they were left behind by a man who had broad interests, Norwid – the artist, the poet, the erudite, the philosopher and the researcher – it should be added here, an insightful researcher, a researcher who in wanting to learn the past epoch or the individual character of a past artist as it were becomes this person, copies them, follows another person’s footsteps to reach someone else’s truth and repeats that truth, retaining for precision someone else’s language. This can sometimes explain the strange incommensurability of the style and level of his two drawings coming from the same period. This is because – we shall repeat again – many of Norwid’s drawings are only a copy or note from someone else’s document, not his own interpretation or the reaction of his artistic sensitivity.

However, these numerous sketches, drawings, watercolours by Norwid, usually small in forms – as he himself called them “karteczki i złamki” [“little sheets ←119 | 120→and fragments”] – were also the source of the widely-held opinion that his fine artistry should be recognised as amateurish-dilettantish graphomania rather than painting. This opinion may be shared by a disoriented and prejudiced viewer, but also by someone who – with the help of “mędrca szkiełko” [the sage’s glass] – is used to evaluating a work of art solely by its dimension and finish. In such cases, the viewer will miss not only Norwid, but also the essence of Piotr Michałowski’s art, for whom study and sketch are actually the only complete forms of expression, despite his own ambitions and permanent plans to paint big and “finished” compositions.

Of course, one cannot juxtapose the two artists with such extremely different temperaments and using such different forms, but one cannot ignore the fact that both had been neglected for far too long.

The delayed induction of Michałowski into our cultural and artistic output takes its toll on us even today. His paintings that go beyond the definition of “Romanticism” perfectly broaden the concept of Polish Romanticism and enrich it with thoroughly European, but simultaneously individual features.

Similarly, although on a scale that is incommensurate with Michałowski’s work, Norwid’s fine artistry breaks with infamous Polish parochialism and particularism. This is revealed in the artist’s attitude as described above and in those formal issues, which – although in these more or less inconspicuous toned drawings, quick and telling lines of caricature, in engravings and watercolour attempts – arise from a deep feeling of the separate properties of the language of fine art as compared to the other domains of artistic creativity.

Cała plastyki tajemnica/Tylko w tym jednym jest,/Że duch – jak błyskawica,/A chce go ująć gest. (PWsz II, 223)

[The whole mystery of fine art lies only in that the spirit – is like lightning – and gesture wants to capture it.]

This succinctly formulated credo strongly expresses and characterises Norwid. This is complemented by Norwid’s confession about his own works:

Prawdziwych szkiców robić nie można umyślnie: one się same narzucają. Odpycha się je piórem lub ołówkiem i zostaje ślad, notatka, szkic. Są to dlatego zazwyczaj karteczki i złamki, które (here for the addressees he emphasises with sharp sarcasm:przecież) żadnej rzeczowej wartości nie mają. Aucune valeur efféctive! Atoli żaden fotograf nie zastąpi nigdy prawdziwego szkicu. (PWsz VII, 428)

[Real sketches cannot be made on purpose – they impose themselves. They are pushed away by a pen or pencil, and leave a trace, note, sketch. This is why they are usually little sheets or fragments, which (here for the addressees he emphasises with sharp sarcasm: after all) have no material value. Aucune valeur effective! Be that as it may, no photographer can ever replace a real sketch.]

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We should realise that Norwid writes this in 1874, when art is dominated by naturalism, which is so closely related to photography as an aid and supervisor of the painter’s point of view! He writes and reflects that entirely in his fine art. And since he does not always manage to cope with the arising difficulties, sometimes excessively trusting his memory, his works often show that he lacked a sufficient study of nature. Otherwise, the same memory – keenly repeating the observed expression, movement and gesture – overcomes this lack of study with its directness of expression.

This is also noticeable in the colouring, where Norwid gives chiaroscuro the dominant role in the structure of a composition. In this way, by achieving high contrast, he is close to the Romantic artists to whom he is also related through his ideological attitude towards works of art.

Therefore, we would sooner find similar accents to Norwid’s artistic work (toute proportion gardée) in the art of Delacroix, Daumier or Guys than in the painting of academic traditionalists. But still, it is quite characteristic that even though Norwid appreciated Delaroche, he did not succumb to his influence or imitate him, even in the most appropriate branch in this case – illustration. Norwid did not reach for his store full of equipment, armour and costumes properly selected for the depicted scenes. He did not follow the path of naturalism, which in many different ways was being introduced also in Poland, which in the historical painting of the late 19th century – countering Delaroche’s theatricality – simultaneously submitted to his suggestion – the model dressed in authentic attire characteristic of the epoch which he was supposed to represent. Norwid based his historicism – as it has already been indicated above – primarily on the study of the face of an old man juxtaposed with his contemporary. And on this path – through the world of ancient culture, Christ’s era and the time of the Renaissance – he searched for an eternal man in order to – in accordance with the words in Promethidion – ask him and “dziejów o spowiedź piękności” (DW IV, 106) [“history for a confession of beauty”].

Although Norwid’s fine art touches mostly upon Romanticism, it is not entirely contained within its limits and does not enter the beaten or cleared paths of different trends which at that time were remodelling French painting and then were to spread to entire Europe. Being hostile to some trends, such as Courbet’s realism, Norwid seems not to notice some others – such as impressionism, but at the same time he does not allow for his inclusion in naturalism, which was foreign to him. He stands alone.

Wacław Borowy

Leading Motifs in Norwid’s Poetry

Abstract: The author emphasizes the importance of historical themes in Norwid’s work, expressed both in the significant number of works devoted to great contemporary and outstanding figures in the past and civilizational changes as well as in the ability to picture the cultural backdrop and render historical atmosphere. At the same time, he draws attention to the poet’s predilection for embedding modest figures, minor events and objects with important meanings, which makes it possible to call Norwid a “poet of history” as well as a “poet of atoms.” It is between the atom and the cosmos, which mark the boundaries of Norwid’s work, where the main field of his poetic attention extends: the kingdom of man.

Keywords: Cyprian Norwid, poetry, motif, history, humanism


Arguably, one can sense the whirlwind of history pervading the entire poetry of Cyprian Kamil Norwid. Besides the word truth, history itself – including related concepts – is one of the most frequently recurring motifs in his work; indeed, these are poetically the most highly charged. Anyone familiar with Norwid’s oeuvre will readily recall lines such as: “Z wysokości dziejów patrzę/Na rzecz ludzką” [“From the vantage point of history I observe human affairs”] (“To rzecz ludzka,” PWsz I, 63 [“It is a Human Matter”]), “Dzieje – jak szczenna na zlężeniu lwica” [“History like a pregnant lioness in labour”] (“Do władcy Rzymu” [“To the Ruler of Rome”]), “Czujesz dzieje, jak idą, niby stary na wieży zegar” [“You can feel history passing as upon an old clock tower”] (“Do Bronisława Z.” [“To Bronislaw Z”]), “wielka historii zniewaga” [“the grand insult of history”] (“O sztuce dla Polaków. Dedykacja” [“On Art for Poles. A Dedication”]), “potopy historii” [“deluges of history”] (Promethidion [Promethidion]), “dziejów praca” [“the labour of history”] (“Czasy” [“Times”]), “dziejów zaciąg” [“the conscription of history”] (“Bohater” [“Hero”]), “historii oklask” [“the applause of history”] (“Polka” [“A Polish Woman”]), “zmarmurzający się tom historii” [“the book of history solidifying in marble”] (“Wczora-i-ja” [“Yesterday-and-I”]), “msza dziejów” [“the holy mass of history”] (“Co robić?” [“What to Do?”]). These expressions appear in the context of various emotions, and are often delivered with great solemnity, e.g. in the poem on Dembiński, who stands in a place where “czujny dziejów styl – nikomu nie uwłóczy” [“the vigilant style of history affronts -no-one’s dignity”], or in the poem “Sariusz” [“Sarius”], which ends with ←123 | 124→the words: “A wiatr, od Azji, szczeka:/Historia żyje!” [“And a wind from Asia rustles and barks: History is alive!”]. Sometimes, however, these remarks provoke “philosophical” laughter, as in “Laur dojrzały” [“Mature Laurel”]: “A co? w życiu było skrzydłami,/Nieraz w dziejach jest ledwo piętą” [“What was wings in life could be a mere heel in history”], or in the bitter lines from “Epos-nasza” [“Our Epic”]:

A śmiech? – to potem w dziejach – to potomni

Niech się uśmieją, że my tacy mali,

A oni szczęśni tacy i ogromni, (PWsz I, 159–160)

[And laughter? – that comes later in history – these are future generations

Let them laugh at our smallness,

Feeling so happy and enormous,]

Many outstanding lyrics by Norwid are dedicated to some of his great contemporaries – Pius IX, Markos Botsaris, Emir Abd el Kader, John Brown, Adam Mickiewicz, Fryderyk Chopin, Józef Bem, Adam Czartoryski, Henryk Dembiński, Władysław Zamoyski and Andrzej Zamoyski. Norwid’s works also contain echoes of many contemporary political movements and events, from the Spring of Nations to the Franco-Prussian War. Contemporary events form the core subject-matter of the following poems: “Psalm wigilii” [“Christmas Eve Psalm”], “Amen,” “Socjalizm” [“Socialism”], “Do władcy Rzymu” [“To the Ruler of Rome”], “Pieśń od ziemi naszej” [“A Song from our Land”], “Odpowiedź do Włoch” [“A Response to Italy”], “Czy podam się o amnestię?” [“Shall I Request an Amnesty?”], “John Brown,” “Wczora-i-ja,” [“Yesterday-and-I”], “Improwizacja na zapytanie o wieści z Warszawy” [“Improvisation on the Request for News from Warsaw”], “Żydowie polscy. 1861” [“Polish Jews. 1861”], “Na zapytanie: Czemu w konfederatce? Odpowiedź” [“Response to the Question: Why wear a Four-pointed Confederate Cap?”], “Święty-pokój” [“Blessed Peace”], “Syberie” [“The Two Siberias”], “Tymczasem” [“Meanwhile”], “Pamięci Alberta Szeligi […]” [“In Memory of Albert Szeliga […]”], “Fortepian Szopena” [“Chopin’s Grand Piano”], “Dedykacja” [“A Dedication”], “Encyklika-Oblężonego. (Oda)” [“The Encyclical of the Besieged. (Ode)”], “Do spółczesnych. (Oda)” [“To My Contemporaries. (Ode)”], “Jeszcze Francja nie zginęła!” [“France Has Not Yet Perished!”], “Co robić?” and “Rozebrana” [“Disrobed”]. This list includes only the most outstanding works. There are also numerous poems dedicated to major historical figures from the past or at least mentioning them briefly or alluding to their existence in some way. In Norwid’s works we meet figures such as Moses, Homer, Socrates, Plato, Spartacus, Caesar, Cicero, Saint Paul, Marcus Aurelius, Columbus, Adam Krafft, Raphael, Michelangelo, Tadeusz Kościuszko and Napoleon. Some of them make ←124 | 125→more than a single appearance. Most of Norwid’s longer poems are historical in character – the sole long poem Quidam, and dramas including Krakus, Wanda, the lost Patkul, Tyrtej [Tyrtaeus] and Kleopatra i Cezar [Cleopatra and Caesar].

When it comes to expressing emotions relating to specific historical events, Norwid’s expressivity is invariably acute and incisive. Let us consider, for example, several poems from the Salem cycle, written in 1852:

Apokalipskie spięły się rumaki,

A od narodu lecą do narodu

Spłoszonym stadem legendy i znaki…(DW IV, 185)

[Steeds of Apocalypse are spurred on,

From nation to nation fly

Legends and signs, like a drove running scared…]

These lines express the atmosphere of the years following the frustration of hopes raised by the Spring of Nations. This is how he had described his native country of Poland, just a short time previously, in the poem Pieśń od ziemi naszej [A Song from Our Land]:

Więc mamże nie czuć, jaką na wulkanie

Stałem się wyspą, gdzie łez winobranie

I czarnej krwi?… (PWsz I, 124)

[Am I not to feel what kind of island

On a volcano I have become, in a harvest of tears

And black blood?…]

These are the words of a poet frequently criticised for his abstract style. At the same time, however, Norwid offers evocative images depicting transformations of mores, and he renders historical detail exquisitely. Consider the introduction to his long poem Emil na Gozdawiu [Emil in Gozdawie]:

To nie czas twardych w żelazie Mieczników,

Zamczysk, sterczących nad sioła i chaty,

Chrzęstów chorągwi, sprawowania szyków;

To nie Epoka Lechickiej Krucjaty –

Wstrzymano hordy wschodnich najezdników!…

Ludy i ludzkość w nowe cele mierzą,

Zamki maleją do wpół rozebrane;

Pałace na nich z udawaną wieżą,

Wały się w parków zamieniają ścianę,

Śród których sarny niepłoszone leżą. (DW III, 361)

[It is not the time of steel-hardy Swordmakers,

Castles towering over hamlets and cottages,

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Jangling standards and ranks falling in.

It is not the Era of Lechite Crusades –

Hordes of eastern invaders were repelled,

Peoples and humanity set themselves new goals,

Castles dwindle, half-dismantled.

Palaces above, with false towers,

Walls turning into park fences,

Where does lie undisturbed.]

Numerous examples of this kind could be quoted. Clearly, such background images evoking a historical atmosphere cannot be regarded as merely ornamental in Norwid’s works. It is characteristic of this poet that even while discussing great historical figures he does not focus his creativity on their individual dramatic situations alone. All his works embrace broader masses, greater social forces, and general trends in civilization. His drama Kleopatra i Cezar has been compared to Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. It has been pointed out that whereas the latter is a drama of several great personalities caught up in historical events, Norwid depicts above all the impact of tradition, mores, beliefs and political and social interests on the masses as well as on great individuals. In Quidam, every character represents some cultural feature of the period. What we encounter in this work is primarily mass movements, the actions of individuals being merely secondary. Similarly in Tyrtej. The legend of Wanda was given a different interpretation by Norwid, who fused her personal story with the transition from paganism to Christianity. Characters like Rytygier, Skald, the Jew (and many others) give voice to the various cultural developments taking place in their epoch, as do the characters in Quidam. Rakuz and Krakus – protagonists in Norwid’s second mythological drama – are not merely discrete individuals but also representatives of two different types of culture. The same is true of those works by Norwid which are set in his own time. Emotions are universal, but all conflictual situations are conditioned by the morality prevalent in a given epoch. This applies to Noc tysiączna druga [The Thousandth and Second Night], Miłość-czysta […] [Pure Love…], Pierścień Wielkiej-Damy [The Noble Lady’s Ring], Za kulisami [Backstage], and all short lyrical and epic works written in verse or in prose. Even Norwid’s definitions of tragedy and comedy are telling in this respect. In a commentary to Krakus, he argues that tragedy consists in “uwidomienie fatalności historycznej, albo socjalnej, narodowi albo wiekowi jakowemu wyłącznie właściwej” (DW V, 167) [“presenting the specific historical or social fate of a given nation or epoch”]. In the introduction to Pierścień Wielkiej-Damy, he defines haute comédie as a work in which “cywilizacyjna-całość-społeczna, jakoby ogólnego sumienia zwrotem, pogląda na się” (DW VI, ←126 | 127→110) [“an entire civilised society turns its conscience on itself and observes itself in the mirror”]. The buffo comedy, Norwid continues, is different only in that one social class is observing another. The point here is not to assess the validity of these definitions but simply to highlight the emphasis he places on historical factors.

Generally speaking, every detail of Norwid’s poetry involves a sense of encumbrance with the past, confirming that “przeszłość – jest to dziś, tylko cokolwiek daléj” [“the past is in fact today, only a little further away”] (as we read in the poem “Przeszłość” [“The Past”] from the Vade-mecum cycle, PWsz II, 18), that “za odległe gdzieś rzeczy –/Dziś włosienie kaleczy” [“we are suffering today for things from the past”] (in “Wigilia” [“Christmas Eve”] DW IV, 11), and that those who bewail the present day are actually, like Absalom, hanging by their hair from the hands of those “co z dawna umarły” [“who died long ago”] (as declared in the poem “Wielkie słowa” [“Big Words”] PWsz I, 113). One could quote many similarly expressive poems by Norwid, in which emotion is centred around the same unceasing awareness of the long, unbroken chain of relationships linking all human affairs throughout history.

Even the most personal feelings, those that so often lead many other poets to alienate individuals from society, bringing them closer to nature, do not lack historical accompaniment in Norwid’s works. This is true not only of friendship but also of love. Consider, for example, the love story told in Assunta (canto IV, stanzas 7–8):

Nad Eufratem byłem z nią, gdzie piaski,

Biographical notes

Agata Brajerska-Mazur (Volume editor) Edyta Chlebowska (Volume editor)

Agata Brajerska-Mazur is a researcher on translation and works of Cyprian Norwid and Adjunct Professor in the Institute of Applied Linguistics at the Maria Curie University of Lublin, where she teaches translation and introduces the method of katena , as devised in her doctoral dissertation. She collaborated with Danuta Borhardt on translations of Norwid’s poems and published a book on English translation of Wislawa Szymborska’s poems. <B> Edyta Chlebowska</B> is an art historian and works in the Institute for the Study of Cyprian Norwid’s Literature at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. She has authored articles and books about the artistic creativity of Norwid and the relationship between artistic and literary creation. She is working on catalogue raisonné of the works of Cyprian Norwid.


Title: On Cyprian Norwid. Studies and Essays