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Romantic Memory

Studies from the Past and Present

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Krzysztof Trybuś

The book depicts the phenomenon of cultural memory preserved in the Polish Romantic literature, predominantly in the works of Mickiewicz, Słowacki, and Norwid (and other European poets). The primary objective is to reconstruct the cultural pattern of continuity established in Poland during the period of catastrophe. The author describes the call for a critical historiography and presents a "Slavic counterpoint" in the history of modern Europe. The key questions of the book are: Will the Romantic lesson about the transformation of history into memory and turning the past into an object of faith turn out to be a lesson about the future? The book is inspired by the German trend of contemporary reflection – "the culture of remembrance" (Erinnerungskultur) founded on the works of the Assmanns.

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1. Mickiewicz’s Slavic memory

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Old age assisting memory

The discussion of Romantic memory should begin with Mickiewicz – not simply because Polish Romanticism begins with Mickiewicz. After all, I have adopted this section’s title formula from Mickiewicz: “The old man assisted my memory: with words, sweeter than flowers, he portrayed the happy times that were past. ‘How pleasant would it be,’ said he, ‘to spend thy young days in thy native land, among thy friends and relatives!’”127

Old age that assists memory is old age that helps memory, but this does not mean that old age is more important or ultimately necessary. I want to state at the very outset that for Mickiewicz everything is memory; old age stems from memory, although memory also owes much to old age. For Mickiewicz, everything is memory, because memory not only took hold of his imagination, it also became his imagination: “Then is memory like a lamp of glass, adorned with brilliant paintings; though dimmed by dust and spots, if you place a light in its heart it will flatter the eye by the freshness of its colors, and will throw a brilliant tapestry on the walls of the hall.”128

The bizarre lamp in Conrad Wallenrod originates from the turn of the 18th century. We can assume this not only because glass lamps with colorful lampshades date from that time,129 but due predominantly to the stream of living light flowing through it – a light that...

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