On Cyprian Norwid. Studies and Essays

Vol. 3. Interpretations

by Agata Brajerska-Mazur (Volume editor) Edyta Chlebowska (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 630 Pages
Open Access


The book is the third volume of an extensive four-volume monograph devoted to the work of Cyprian Norwid (1821–1883), one of the most outstanding Polish authors. The impact of Norwid’s oeuvre does not fade, as he addresses fundamental and timeless issues, such as the moral and spiritual condition of man or his place in the world and history, and seeks to answer universal questions. The book contains an extensive selection of interpretations made by eminent researchers, who represent different approaches to Norwid’s works: his poems, short stories, dramas and lithographs.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Editor’s Notes (Edyta Chlebowska)
  • Promethidion (Tadeusz Makowiecki)
  • “Ad leones!” An Attempt at Analysis (Konrad Górski)
  • The “Venetian” Novellas by Norwid (Zofia Szmydtowa)
  • On the Theatrical Form of Cleopatra and Caesar by Cyprian Kamil Norwid (Anna Maria Klimalanka-Leroux)
  • Quidam: When “Thought Connects to Space” (Zdzisław Łapiński)
  • Perfect – Fulfilment: Cyprian Norwid’s “Chopin’s Grand Piano” (Władysław Stróżewski)
  • Fate Crucified (Marian Maciejewski)
  • Funeral Rapsody, First Rapsody (Ireneusz Opacki)
  • “There, Where No-Body Is, Lingers a Person:” About the Poem “To the Departed” (Stefan Sawicki)
  • “Lord Singelworth’s Secret” by Cyprian Norwid: The Strategy of Public Speaking (Elżbieta Dąbrowicz)
  • The Poem Obscurity: An Interpretation Attempt (Krzysztof Kopczyński)
  • Parable, History: On the Directions of Reading Quidam (Adam Cedro)
  • Norwid’s Longing (Marek Buś)
  • Self-Creation in Promethidion (Grażyna Halkiewicz-Sojak)
  • Greatness and Individuality in Black Flowers (Kazimierz Cysewski)
  • The Mask of Lord Singelworth (Krzysztof Trybuś)
  • The Symbolism of Initiation in Krakus by Cyprian K. Norwid (Włodzimierz Szturc)
  • Reinterpretation of the Romantic Dramatic Form in Zwolon (Alina Kowalczykowa)
  • The Semantic Strategy of Poetic Silence: Cyprian Norwid’s Lyric “Just As” (Aleksandra Okopień-Sławińska)
  • Interpretation as a Meeting Place at the Source of the Poem: Cyprian Norwid: “Moralities” (Elżbieta Feliksiak)
  • Norwid’s Melancholy Lyricism: Between the “Black Suite” and the Litograph Solo (Sławomir Rzepczyński)
  • “Nerves” 16/17 (Marian Płachecki)
  • Norwid’s Quidam or a Parable About People and Stones (Elżbieta Feliksiak)
  • What Does the Angel Say? On the Margin of “Letter” by Cyprian Norwid (Tomasz Korpysz)
  • Echo of ruins – Scherzo – Solo: Norwid’s Vanitative Triptych (Edyta Chlebowska)
  • Text Sources
  • Index of Names
  • Index of Titles of Literary Works and Artworks of Cyprian Norwid
  • Series Index

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Edyta Chlebowska

Editor’s Notes

The articles collected in this publication were written over a span of almost a century. Some of them were published prior to the publication of eight out of the 18 volumes critically edited by Sawicki, as well as the complete edition of the poet’s Pisma wszystkie edited by Gomulicki. Up until the 1970s, researchers were using many different editions. If this status quo were continued, we would be dealing with chaotic textual criticism. Given this situation, the decision was made, for the sake of the contemporary readers’ (especially foreign readers’) convenience, to allow for bibliographical anachronism, in compliance with the binding rules of scholarly critical editing adopted by Norwidology. Thus the quotations have been adjusted – wherever it was possible – and 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); Vol. XII: Listy 3: 1862–1866, ed. Jadwiga Rudnicka, Elżbieta Lijewska (Lublin: TN KUL, 2019) (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 [Pisma wszystkie, collected, compiled, introduced and critically annotated by J. W. Gomulicki], Vols. I–XI (Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 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.

The bibliographic records and notes have been unified in order to produce a synthetic entirety with a coherent and logical message. Concerning Norwid’s texts cited in the articles, beside the original (Polish) version, the philological ←9 | 10→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. In such cases, the source of the translation has been indicated in a footnote. Additionally, the 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.

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Tadeusz Makowiecki


Abstract: The paper presents an interpretation of Promethidion, the first longer work that marked Norwid’s programme and poetic uniqueness. The content of this piece is diversified; apart from basic elements, such as two versified dialogues and an epilogue in prose, it is notable because of various mottos, a poetic dedication, a poetic introduction, an introduction in prose, and finally footnotes. According to the eponymous declarations, the first dialogue, Bogumił, is to be devoted to the content, namely goodness. The second dialogue, Wiesław, to form, that is beauty. The third, with the light of truth, binding the three dialogues together as a whole. In fact, both versified dialogues deal with this classic triad: goodness – beauty – truth. Over half of Bogumił’s dialogue is devoted to the apotheosis of love, while the rest of the monologue is composed of verses praising work and related concepts such as, practicality, activity, execution, embodiment, and performance. Norwid claims that beauty comes from love or work; beauty (art) calls for awe, motivates man to work, to execute love in the real world, and to be resurrected. In the second dialogue, the anticipated concept of goodness does not appear even once. Truth is frequently discussed, although it has various properties, from approaches that are from a logical nature to ontological, or even metaphysical. It may be said that Promethidion discusses five concepts: art, love, work, conscience, and continuity. This piece is not a philosophical treaty in the form of Platonic dialogues, but a literary work, distanced from any grand Romantic concepts and displaying original composition and style properties.

Keywords: Cyprian Norwid, Promethidion, dialogue, Platonic dialogue, Platonic triad, goodness, beauty, truth


The author of Promethidion is the most common and, admittedly, a highly proper designation used to refer to Norwid. Promethidion is perhaps not his most perfect work, neither his greatest, nor the most original, but it is certainly Norwid’s first major creative work. This work, the one that distinguished the poet from other creative writers by turning him into a literary name and… providing a pseudonym. Moreover, this work indeed contains and expresses numerous key features of Norwid’s creative persona which in other works was often developed more strongly but rather unilaterally. Finally, it contains many new and innovative ideas in Polish literature presented in a lapidary form, which makes it possible to memorise them. Consequently, it is not surprising that this particular work gained the greatest fame, readership, and scholarly investigation. Promethidion’s ←11 | 12→recognition may be measured by the largest number of printed issues and the largest number of research projects either written as separate studies, or individual chapters in more general reviews on Norwid’s writings.

Nevertheless, there are many concepts in Promethidion that are still not sufficiently explored. Most scholars have been devoted to commenting on Norwid’s views embedded in this work and trying to arrange his poetic statements into a relatively consistent system of judgments which would reflect the entirety of the poet’s aesthetic, philosophical and social beliefs and convictions. Although many are highly insightful, these works outlined Norwid’s views accurately yet mostly unilaterally; they highlighted the aesthetic, religious-philosophical or social assumptions, trying to fully explain them all by using only several of his views.

Apart from this main and most important group of publications, other studies were supplementary or (those that were more extensive and devoted to other issues), by necessity, only briefly mentioned the ideas presented in Promethidion. Some showcased the relationship between the views presented around the time of writing Promethidion as well as earlier or later works by Norwid, while others tried to pinpoint foreign influences (Plato and Platonists, German idealistic philosophy, the Bible, French social utopists, etc.). Finally, there were those that showed the innovative nature of the poet’s theories against related later theoreticians in Poland and abroad. The studies of strictly literary issues, literary properties, and values of this work were marginalised; if mentioned, these publications were always discussed from a general standpoint and reluctantly in almost all instances. However, it is becoming more typical that the ideas in Promethidion are being met with approval and frequently with the greatest enthusiasm.

As the studies of interpreting and systematising the poet’s views have greatly advanced our understanding of Promethidion, we shall skip the issues such as, for example, the relationship between art and work, the connections among various arts, their ties with craftsmanship, criticism of imitation, recognition of the great value of the form-letter, and the project of extending the scope of exhibitions, etc. This article will move on to typical literary issues to hopefully shed more light on the research of Norwid’s views.

Let us begin with the most superficial and simple matters, namely the arrangement of the parts of Promethidion. The title with a subtitle and a motto by Pliny chosen by the poet are followed by a poetic dedication (to Łubieński); next, again with a motto, comes as a poetic introduction (“Witajcie anieli pokornej pracy” [Welcome, angels of humble work]); after that, there is one more introduction, in prose (Do Czytelnika), and only after them, the first dialogue Bogumił (with a motto), the second dialogue Wiesław (also with a motto); finally, we arrive at ←12 | 13→an epilogue in prose, singular, but composed of twenty fragments. Once several footnotes (some a half-page in length) are taken into account, we may fully observe the inner diversity of the work. It is even more impressive as the entire publication is only forty pages long and prose constantly intertwine with verses, and dialogues with monologues.

There may be various reasons for such a diversified layout of the work. One of them may be the author’s careless haste when of gluing together distinct small units to form a single publication. Another reason might lie in the slow progression of the work, as it was being written for several years and under various circumstances and published later, without changes and deletions out of respect towards the organic development of the entire creation. There is, in all likelihood, that the poet chose two out of dozens of dialogues written between 1847 and 1851, added introductions, footnotes, and an epilogue at the end, thus creating the whole work. Whichever perspective is chosen for the time preceding the publication of Promethidion, the fact remains that, while preparing the work for printing, the poet selected some elements from his personal portfolio, omitted others (numerous dialogues were written in that period), arranged them in a specific and predetermined order, and added introductions, mottos, footnotes, and dedications; in short, he somehow managed to compose his publication. Still, the same question remains: what are the notable compositional features of the work in the form it was originally printed?

They seem to correspond with a certain characteristic of Norwid’s style which transpires in many of his literary works and is extremely important and emblematic to this poet. It consists of coating the heart of a certain matter (an image, a word, a gesture) with rich pulp (descriptions, considerations, side notes, etc.) and husks through which you have to break and bite off before you get to the proper hidden seed, usually simple and mature. It must be noted that this compositional method has nothing to do with the pursuit of an impressive denouement, if only for the straightforward reason that Norwid’s seed is far from glamourous and unique, it is almost always plain and simple.

Furthermore, it is not tied to the method of using other literary resources, such as the attitude frequently employed by some authors who deliberately accumulate motifs and situations to stimulate the curiosity of the reader or listener, to enrich, or to “sensationalise” the simple and uncomplicated content. No, Norwid’s works belong to a completely different compositional type.

Let us use some analogies. Musical instruments that rely on the sound of strings must have resonant chambers, whether they are bodies of violins or cellos or those of pianos. They do not need echo-related arrangements that are essential for flutes or clarinets. Certain writers create similarly resonant chambers within their ←13 | 14→works. Joseph Conrad is one of the most recently famous writers in this category. His intricate compositions, moving the action several years back, introductions, episodes, numerous descriptions, etc., create a great acoustic background onto which the author then throws a short song that roars and vibrates with all the richness of tones that were accumulated beforehand. Norwid composed in a similar manner. Of course, the similarity only pertains to the fact that he also creates great acoustic interiors in his works, as Norwid’s songs are completely different and the resonant components are dissimilar and otherwise arranged. The works of those two writers resemble each other only in the manner of extracting all sounds of a specific note thanks to the previously built-in echo arrangements.

To move from metaphors to concrete information, let us consider, for example, how many tones the poet utilises in the “Fortepian Szopena” [Chopin’s Grand Piano]; how he shifts from caressing the keys of the goldbee song to the vision of the Cossacks charging, so that the last words may resonate with a lot of giggling sounds: “Ideał – sięgnął bruku – –” (PWsz II,147) [The Ideal – has reached the street – –].1 It is the manner Norwid mostly arranges his lyrical prose or dramatic works – not focusing on the action, plot and descriptions as his main creative highlight. Especially in his later works, from Quidam to [Cleopatra and Caesar], he finds extraordinary depth in every tone and semitone, every word and manner of pronouncing it, every act and gesture through the concealments accumulated beforehand.

Promethidion belongs to the first, yet already mature period, of Norwid’s creativity. The question arises: if and how was the poet building his system of resonances in this particular work? It seems that Promethidion belongs to Norwid’s first original and distinctive compositions also in this respect.


The first group of elements preceding and preparing the resonant background in Promethidion is themed. The poet states several times in the poetic introduction as well as later in the prosaic one that “do sztuki powraca jak do matki” [returns to art as if to the mother], or that both dialogues are about the appreciation of what is called art. The first dialogue begins with the words: “Taka rozmowa była o Chopinie / (Który naczelnym u nas jest artystą):” (DW IV, 99) [And they talked about Chopin again, / – – Our foremost artist, you know],2 and then presents the ←14 | 15→dispute between the assembled (about music, beauty, order) on the next several pages; finally, after discussing these related issues, he lets Bogumił speak about art.

The large number of allusions to the main theme is a frequent tendency in various literary works. Although, of course, there are writers moving directly ad rem, or even beginning as if halfway through the main plot, only gradually passing through the hints in the text to reconstruct the introductory parts that were not stated out loud before. Therefore, concluding that Norwid belongs to the first type of writers who foreshadow the main theme of their work in advance is not an entirely trivial assumption.

More important, however, is the second resonant group. The very title serves as an opening. The word Promethidion is dignified, mysterious and serious, portends momentous and rather difficult content, and prepares what is needed – the tone. The same task is even more prominently performed by the dedication to Łubieński: “Tobie – Umarły, te poświęcam pieśni” (DW IV, 94) [To you – Deceased, I devote my songs]. These words intend to, apart from the tribute to a friend, instil the belief in us of the deepest earnestness of the text that follows. It is not governed by even the most sublime whims of imagination, but by the truth and sincerity of intentions under the patronage of the spirit of the deceased. Calling him as if a witness to the stand evidences the validity of the raised issues:

Bo cień gdy schyla się nad pargaminem,
To prawdę czyta, o podstępach nie śni…

(DW IV, 94)

[For the shadow, when it leans over the parchments
Reads the truth, does not dream about deception…]

The introduction has a similar tone: “Witajcie, Anieli / Pokornej pracy” (DW IV, 95) [Welcome, Angels / of humble work]. The remarks in the preface written in prose aim at the same goal using slightly different means: “W dialogach podobnych najważniejsze dla ludzkości pytania rozstrzygały się” (DW IV, 97) [The most important questions for humanity were settled in similar dialogues]. The poet suggests, as if in passing, the formal affinity of his work with Plato’s dialogues, where the most important issues were resolved “as well,” thus suggesting the importance of the issues Norwid raised. Finally, the introduction ends with the poet’s remark that his deliberations are aimed at wisdom “która tak od bojaźni w Bogu zaczynając, kończy na wolności w Bogu, / musi sobie krzyżem, to jest bolesnym bojowaniem, drogę pierwej otwierać” (DW IV, 98) [which begins with ←15 | 16→the fear of God, ends with freedom in God – it needs to use the cross, meaning the painful fight, to open the path first]. It is done without explicitly calling out the name of God, after all, the poet uses words and notions that denote the highest emotional eminence. The author seems to be putting priestly robes onto his work before entrusting it with an important text to be read.

The dialogue itself begins with sociable small talk about Chopin, art, and beauty. From those discussions, jumping from one topic to another, going around in circles, and repeating the same common beliefs, one thing becomes apparent: the understanding of how very difficult the main problem is. This is their compositional role in the resonant series, intended to prepare the listener to comprehend the entire load content of the poet’s claims that will soon be revealed. One of the participants suddenly interrupts the dispute:

– Przestańmy! cyt… uciszcie się, moi kochani –
Władysław wołał – wkrótce Bogumił zaśpiewa…

(DW IV, 105)

[– Let us stop! hush… be quiet, my beloved –
Władysław called – soon Bogumił will sing…]

(Somewhat similarly to Dziady [Forefather’s Eve], where Felix silences the fellow prisoners in the Philomates’ cell and prepares the listeners for Konrad’s song.) And Bogumił* starts his great monologue, or rather his improvisation, and moves directly to the central point; but, which is highly illustrious, he does not formulate any judgements in his name, as if his own words are not yet important enough. In the 6-verse invocation, the poet inserts a resonant lens once again:

– Spytam się tedy wiecznego-człowieka,
Spytam się dziejów o spowiedź piękności;
“Cóż wiesz o pięknem?”

(DW IV, 105)

[– I shall ask then the eternal – man,
I shall ask history for a confession of beauty:
“What do you know of beauty?”…]

←16 | 17→

And only then, after nearly ten pages of the most diverse yet always indirect ways of preparing the recipient, does the poet consider the moment to be ripe enough so that three ordinary words, which he puts in a short sentence, may be heard with full power: “kształtem jest Miłości” [is the shape of Love]. After this lapidary statement, the poet formulates a long sentence full of enumerations as if he was trying to make up for the previous laconic claim.

Similar poetic resonance means are used by the poet over a dozen verses further in the poem when he defines another concept foundational in his views: work. He again turns to the eternal man in a longer apostrophe, again citing the man’s words instead of his own, after enumerating several words from the realm of the “sublime” (God, sin, beauty, conscience) gives a short summary of what work is, etc. The poet assumed an analogous stance also in the second dialogue, Wiesław.

The enumeration and full inventory of this type of poetic means is not the purpose of the current elaboration; a general characterisation will suffice at the moment. It is important to pay attention to the third group of “poetic amplifiers,” which consists of two types: one includes numerous mottos, the other, even more abundant footnotes (in Promethidion, there are four mottos and eighteen footnotes across nearly forty standard pages of text).

The mottos set the emotional tone for the larger parts of the text and create their atmosphere. For example, it is enough to quote two to comprehend their role: “Morituri te salutant, Veritas” and “Nie za sobą z krzyżem Zbawiciela, ale za Zbawicielem z krzyżem swoim” (DW IV, 98, 99) [Not after oneself with the Saviour’s cross, but after the Saviour with one’s own cross]. Moreover, this “resonant” or “overtural” role of each motto in general is widely recognised; it is only advisable to point out here that Norwid is one of those writers that utilise them very often. The type of footnotes used by Norwid is more important. They refer to smaller fragments of text but perform a motto-like role for them. They are not of objective-informative nature, as in the predominant group of authors, but rather subjective, often with strong emotional hues, digressive remarks, and frequently of polemical character. For example, to the words of the Count in the first dialogue, “Niech zatem każdy rzeczy swej pilnuje” (DW IV, 105) [Each shall care for their own thing], Norwid adds a footnote saying: “Nie rzeczy swej, ale krzyża swego, to jest rzeczy pospolitej – tak z chrystianizmem … nauczaliby Hrabię … Ojcowie spod Wiednia” (DW IV, 105) [Not their own thing, but their cross, which is the res publica – in this Christian way … the Count would be taught … by the Fathers from Vienna]. It is a typical footnote used by Norwid.←17 | 18→

Another frequent element in the poet’s footnotes are “personal” remarks written in the first person e.g. “zwracam uwagę” [I draw attention], “długo, długo myślałem i szukałem, aż przekonałem się” [I have thought and searched for a long, long time until I became convinced], “autor wykładał to już” [the author has explained it already], “tę myśl w zarysie naprzód rzucam” [I signal the sketch of this thought in advance], “że tu wspomnę Tadeusza Brodowskiego” [let me mention Tadeusz Brodowski here], “jaka ogromna szkoda!” [such a great pity!], “nie radbym przechodzić granic laikowi zastrzeżonych, wszakże” [I would not want to cross the boundaries for laymen, but…].

Almost all the footnotes in Promethidion refer to the text of both versed dialogues (Bogumił and Wiesław), not to the author’s introductory or epilogue elaborations, which are written in prose, in the first person, and contain many personal remarks. Apparently, the footnotes for the latter were less necessary. When it comes to the text of the dialogues, already objectified through the very form and given as statements of someone else, the footnotes emotionally bring them closer to the reader. The author’s constant and highly personal remarks in the frequent digressive footnotes undermine the distance from the views given by the characters in the dialogues, views as if only cited by the writer. Conveying the author’s close, vivid association with the judgements, only supposedly reported, is the main compositional task of these footnotes. Of course, the footnotes also perform other, more proper tasks, and above all provide information; Norwid is particularly eager to explain certain words with their etymological analyses (usually remarkable).

The fourth group of resonant elements is very characteristic of Norwid’s work. In the text, there is a number of words graphically highlighted by using italics or spaced-out print. Seemingly, these are completely superficial features. But first of all, they were not even roughly applied to such an extent by any other Polish writer contemporary to the poet. Norwid introduced them in such quantities for the first time; sometimes, 20 or 30 words are highlighted in this way on a single printed page. Furthermore, these graphic features are by no means only ornamentation, similar to interjections, initials or mixing letters in different fonts in some bibliophile publications. No. They are associated with the content in the closest way; the poet uses them, not only in prints, but also in letters or literary notes. They are purely resonant in nature; their task is to ensure that certain words or sentences sound stronger and more clearly when reading aloud, and if the text is read silently, this accent distinguishes them from the flow of sentences. Not belonging to the innately literary components but to the external, semi-technical elements of the work, together with the more obviously literary ←18 | 19→elements, they co-shape the group of resonant motifs which Norwid surrounds the essential content of his work.

Using Promethidion as an example, which belongs to the poet’s early larger works, the compositional distinctiveness of resonant motifs is noticeable, as usual in early works with particular clarity, even glaring. In his later works, Norwid embedded those elements into the main flow of his text more harmoniously and, consequently, made them less graspable. Therefore, knowing Promethidion from this perspective may grant us insight into the very specific and individual compositional properties of Norwid’s works in general.

We see, furthermore, that the variety emphasised at the beginning and so evident in the structure of Promethidion is not a random patchwork, but a structural diversity where specific elements, such as introductions, mottos, footnotes, and accents, etc., perform different functions. The diversity here is surely one thing, differentiation. Certain elements alert the reader in advance, drawing attention to some elements of the text, other elements do the same “bottom-up,” so through footnotes, and there are those that set the “tone” for some of the longer passages; graphic resources additionally highlight the more important places. Further, we may find verses intermixed with prose, and monologues with dialogues, and all of those, with digressions from the author; finally, after lapidary sentences with strictly intellectual judgements, voluminous emotional-mood elements are inserted so everything introduces a certain uneasiness and vibrancy to the main flow of the piece and is full of unexpected twists and shifts of viewpoints. This engaging the reader into the problems discussed in the work and making the reader constantly vigilant and collaborative becomes an increasingly important trait of Norwid’s writing. As we see here, Promethidion is a symptomatic piece. And this restless diversity is especially typical for Norwid’s works written in the period between 1848 and 1865, when, apart from Promethidion, he also wrote Zwolon, Krakus, Wanda, Tyrtej [Tyrtaeus] and Za kulisami [Backstage], and some poems: above all “Chopin’s Grand Piano” and the Vade-mecum series. The later pieces gained more and more features of monumental works.

Finally, the last consideration raises two more comments. Capturing and distinguishing in a literary work all of the elements that make up a system of acoustic amplification, equivalent to acoustic chambers, allows the reader to better capture and extract the essential elements, the ones that perform the same role as strings in an instrument. At this point, we shall move on to those proper literary strings of Promethidion. However, we first have to consider the second remark arising from previous considerations which states the following: resonant factors do not always have to amplify the core melody. Sometimes, as a result of a not particularly agreeable setting, they can suppress certain notes and ←19 | 20→drown out others, deforming the melody itself to a certain extent. It is necessary to always investigate what the main melody is, one devoid of the background. It seems that Promethidion shifts this right course, although only partly, because of the excess of certain elements.

Let us take a look at one more foreshadowing element of the system. The most dangerous passages of any form of author’s introductions are constantly those which the author tries to summarise the content of his literary work. For the content of a literary work is expressed through its form and any attempts to translate the verses into the language of prose are highly dangerous; this seems to happen in Promethidion as well. In the preface To the Reader, the poet wrote: “W dialogu pierwszym idzie o formę, to jest Piękno. W drugim o treść, to jest o Dobro i o światłość obu, Prawdę” (DW IV, 97) [In the first dialogue, it is about the form, that is Beauty. In the second one, it is about the content, that is Goodness and the light of both, the Truth]. Judging from such foreshadowing, it is possible to assume that the topic of consideration in both dialogues would be to set the interrelation between the three classical and basic philosophical concepts: goodness, beauty, and truth. Norwid devoted two dialogues to these three concepts. The first one is to discuss the form, beauty; the second one is to focus on the content, goodness, and the truth performs the role of a mysterious connector that binds the content with the form. Already at first glance, the layout of the dialogues may seem unclear. This ambiguity will only expand when we examine the subtitles. Dialogue I is provided with the subtitle: “rzecz o sztuce i stanowisku sztuki. JAKO FORMA” (DW IV, 99) [On Art and the Standpoint of Art. AS A FORM]. So, we observe something similar to an internal shift, instead of beauty, there is art, a concept that is close and yet very different. In the second dialogue, which was supposed to focus on goodness (in the light of the preface), a total surprise awaits the reader. The explanation under the title foreshadows: “rzecz o prawdzie, jej promieniach i duchu” (DW IV, 119) [On Truth, its Rays and Spirit]. The problem of goodness is not present in the subtitles of both dialogues at all.

Another phrase is found in fragment IV from the Epilogue where Norwid states that art will develop “przez pojęcia nieco sumienniejsze o formie życia (a więc nie o formie “w ogóle” [remark by T.M.]), to jest o kierunku pięknego, i o treści życia, to jest o kierunku dobra i prawdy” (DW IV, 133) [through concepts more meticulous about the form of life (so not form as such [remark by T.M.]), that is on the course of beautiful and the content of life, meaning the course of goodness and truth]. Here the word “kierunek” [course] means, it is hard to comprehend properly.

Of course, demanding from any poet the precision of wording typical to a logistics specialist would only be a sign of pedantry. But it should also be noted ←20 | 21→that the cited sentences are found within the prosaic, not the poetic parts of the piece; moreover, they foreshadow the main subject matter of the work. Therefore, let us turn off the megaphones of various signs for now, full of internal contradictions as it may be noticed and, forgetting about what is supposed to be in the dialogues, move on to what is actually there. At the same time, let us remember that the dialogue parts are only the frame and introduction to the great monologues, Bogumił and Wiesław.


Bogumił, as it is known, begins his speech with the definition of Beauty; it is “kształtem miłości” [shape of love]. The very same phrase (“kształtem miłości piękno jest” [the shape of love is beauty]) begins the next passage of the monologue. After this part the paragraph ends with the sentence: “I tak się śpiewa ona pieśń miłości dawna” (DW IV, 107) [and so this ancient song of love is sung]. Further, longer batches of poems devoted to the concept of work are found; after those, often without direct relation to the concept of beauty, the theme of love returns.

“Kto kocha widzieć chce choć cień postaci” (DW IV, 110) [Who loves – wants to see a mere shadow of the silhouette] these words open a 19-verse monologue passage, followed by a fragment beginning with the words: “Kto kocha, widzieć chce choć cień obrazu” (DW IV, 111) [Who loves wants to see at least the object’s shadow3]; the next ones begin similarly: “Bo Miłość strachu nie zna” [For Love knows no fear], “I wszelka inna Miłość bez wcielenia” [And all other Love without incarnation], “O! Grecjo – ciebie że kochano, widzę” (DW IV, 111) [Oh! Greece – I see that you were loved], “O! Rzymie – ciebie że kiedyś kochano” (DW IV, 112) [Oh! Rome – you were once loved]. Next comes a paragraph the central moment of which are the returning words again: “– Kto kocha, widzieć chce oczyma w oczy” (DW IV, 112) [– Who loves wants to look in the eyes], and the next fragment ends with the line: “Że to Miłości balsam brąz ten zlepił” (DW IV, 115) [That the Love’s balm glued together this bronze].

More than half of poems in Bogumił’s great monologue are devoted to the apotheosis of love. The rest of the monologue is almost entirely made of verses that worship work and concepts related to it, so practicality, action, realisation, incarnation, and performance. These verses start with the definition of work, ←21 | 22→given by the poet in a manner as solemn as in the case of beauty. After this, several passages of the text directly following the definition of work and further – after the apotheosis of love – a few more full passages are devoted to the apotheosis of work. Again, it is possible to enumerate a long series of sentences which would either begin or finish a longer paragraph of text devoted to this issue: “w ziemię jak się pieśń przelewa, / …, ilem jest praktykiem, / Opowiem” (DW IV, 107) [how into the ground the song is poured, /…, as I am a practitioner, / I will tell], “praca, by się zmartwychwstało” (DW IV, 108) [work so that one is resurrected], “I stąd największy prosty lud poetą” (DW IV, 109) [Hence the simple folk are the greatests poets], “Pieśń a praktyczność – jedno, zaręczone” (DW IV, 109) [Song and practicality – one, bethroted], “[sztuka], jako chorągiew na prac ludzkich wieży” (DW IV, 116) [(art), as a banner on the tower of human work], “Pomiędzy tymi praca się stopniuje” (DW IV, 117) [Among them work graduates], “Aż się i trudów trud wreszcie” [Until the hardship of hardships]. Also, many passages that praise love are combined closely with the celebration of its realisation, e.g. “I wszelka inna Miłość bez wcielenia / Jest upiorowym myśleniem myślenia” (DW IV, 111) [And any other Love without incarnation / Is the ghastly thinking of thinking], etc. It is possible to notice that the subject matter of many of these paragraphs is the same.

In general, it may be concluded that in this monologue Norwid often uses the concepts of “art” and “beauty,” without distinguishing between them and that he further sees beauty (art) from two standpoints. At one moment he raises them out of love, where beauty is supposed to be its shape or, more precisely, its expression; and love, in a way, conditions beauty as its predecessor. The second definition of beauty is laid out by the poet using the concept of work. The work is, in a way, beauty’s successor; beauty (art) delights, inspires a person to work to realise the love in the real world until the moment of resurrection. And the supreme goal of a person is to raise from the dead, stop being a lifeless, passive pawn in the games of fate, and to become aware, as Norwid says elsewhere, the “zwolony” [being freed from captivity because of agreeing with God’s will] co-creator of reality. With only these two concepts, love and work, Norwid uses the words of Bogumił to determine another, the concept of beauty (or art); any other terms that appear in this dialogue are of tertiary importance. Especially “truth” is nearly marginal with the “goodness” being mentioned only once in passing when the poet says that “dobro … na wygodno … zdrobnieje” (DW IV, 108) [goodness … because of comfort … diminishes].

By placing both concepts (love and work) in solemn and foundational definitions of beauty, and by dedicating the vast majority of the poems of the monologue to those concepts, Norwid disclosed the proper content of the first ←22 | 23→dialogue. Even more so if we consider the poet’s idea that love in people or peoples is a mere glare, a shadow of eternal, divine love; that in work, the realisation, he sees the only way to rise from the dead and believes that it is the essential “zguby szukaniem” [searching for the loss]. Thus, Norwid singled out both concepts.

In the second dialogue, Wiesław, the concept of Goodness, to which the entire dialogue was supposed to be devoted, does not appear even once. The Truth is mentioned many times indeed, but, as mentioned, the meaning of the word differs. It is used in a logical sense, as an indication of the correctness of certain truths being derived from others; it is also used in a rather ontological sense, as the suitability of some theses formulated verbally with the external reality, as well as in a metaphysical sense, as the existence of eternal truths, etc.

It is important that Wiesław’s first words are: “co opinii głosem się nazywa, to jest … cóż” (DW IV, 119) [what is called the voice of an opinion is … well]; they take the form of a question formulated similarly to that in the first dialogue where the poet defines the concepts of beauty and love of work. In further parts of his monologue, Wiesław again and again formulates opinions: “Owoż – opinii jeszcze onej cieniem / Jest” (DW IV, 122) [That – a shadow of that opinion / Is]; “Bo ona – głosem Ludu! – głosem Boga” (DW IV, 122) [For it is the voice of the People! – voice of God]; “Opinio! ojczyzn ojczyzno” (DW IV, 123) [Opinion! homeland of homelands]; “Głos czegoś… nie wiem… głos jakiejś Opinii” (DW IV, 127) [A voice of something… I do not know… a voice of an Opinion]; “O Polsko! … tyś córą opinii, / Tyś głosem, który jest to – co głos Boga.” (DW IV, 126, 127) [Oh, Poland! … you are the daughter of opinion / The voice that is – what is the voice of God.].


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2022 (July)
Polish Literature Romanticism 19th century poetry Christian tradition Poetics semantics Polish Art
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 630 pp., 6 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

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

Dr hab. Agata Brajerska-Mazur researches the translation and works of Cyprian Norwid and other outstanding Polish writers. She works at the Maria Curie University of Lublin, teaching translation. Dr Edyta Chlebowska works in the Centre 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 including his catalogue raisonné.


Title: On Cyprian Norwid. Studies and Essays
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632 pages