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|Brief:||Born in Belarus, Adam Bernard Mickiewicz is one of the best-known Polish poets and writers, considered the greatest Polish Romantic poet of the 19th century, alongside Zygmunt Krasinski and Juliusz Slowacki.|
Born in Belarus, Adam Bernard Mickiewicz (December 24, 1798 — November 26, 1855) is one of the best-known Polish poets and writers, considered the greatest Polish Romantic poet of the 19th century, alongside Zygmunt Krasinski and Juliusz Slowacki. They are referred to as the three prophets, best translated as messianic bards.
Mickiewicz was born at the estate of his uncle in the hamlet of Zaosie near Navahradak (Belarusian: Novogrudok) of the Russian Empire (formerly in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, now in Belarus). His father, Mikolaj Mickiewicz, belonged to the szlachta (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth nobility, coat of arms Poraj). The poet was educated at the University of Vilnius. There he got involved with a secret Polish-Lithuanian freedom organization. Following his studies he worked as a tutor in a regional school in Kaunas in 1819-1823.
Adam Mickiewicz is generally known as a Polish poet, and all his major works are written in Polish. Although his nationality is generally not disputed among serious scholars, it is otherwise an object of endless popular controversy.
He is often regarded by Lithuanians to be of Lithuanian origin, his name being rendered into Lithuanian as Adomas Mickevicius. Similarly, many Belarusians claim his descent from a Polonized Belarusian family and call him Adam Mitskevich. Also, some sources say that Mickiewicz’s mother was a descendent of a converted Frankist Jewish family; however, other sources suggest the claim is “improbable” albeit possible.
The controversy largely stems from the fact that in the 19th century the concept of nationality had not yet been fully developed and that the term "Lithuania," as used by Mickiewicz himself, had a much broader geographic extent than it does now.
Mickiewicz had been brought up in the culture of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a multicultural state that had encompassed most of what today are the separate countries of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. His most famous poem, Pan Tadeusz, begins with the invocation “Oh, Lithuania, my fatherland, thou art like good health”. It is generally accepted that in Mickiewicz’s time the term “Lithuania” still carried a strong association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and that Mickiewicz used it in a political rather than an ethnic sense. However, he was able to make a clear distinction of the ethnic Lithuanian nation and himself could understand and write some Lithuanian. The resultant confusion that is sometimes engendered today is illustrated by a waggish report about a Russian encyclopedia that describes Mickiewicz as a Belarusian poet who wrote about Lithuania in Polish.
In 1823 Mickiewicz was arrested and put under investigation for his political activities (membership in Filomaci). Subsequently, he was banished to live in central Russia. He had already published two small volumes of miscellaneous poetry at Vilnius, which had been favorably received by the Slavic public, and on his arrival at St. Petersburg found himself welcomed into the leading literary circles, where he became a great favorite both for his agreeable manners and his extraordinary talent of improvisation. In 1825 he visited the Crimea, which inspired a collection of sonnets (Sonety Krymskie — The Crimean Sonnets) with their admirably elegant rhythm and rich Oriental colouring. The most beautiful are “The Storm”, “Bakhchisaray”, and “The Grave of Countess Potocka”. Crimea caught the eye of another famous contemporary poet, Alexander Pushkin, who wrote about it in “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” two years before Mickiewicz.
In 1828 appeared his Konrad Wallenrod, a narrative poem describing the battles of the Teutonic Knights with the heathen Lithuanians. In it, under a thin veil, Mickiewicz represented the sanguinary passages of arms and burning hatred which had characterized the long feuds of the Russians and Poles. The objects of the poem, though obvious to many, escaped the Russian censors, and the poem was allowed to be published, complete with the telling motto, adapted from Machiavelli: “Dovete adunque sapere come sono duo generazioni da combattere — bisogna essere volpe e leone” — “Ye shall know that there are two ways of fighting — you must be a fox and a lion.” This striking long poem contains at least two revered subsections including Alpuhara Ballad.
After a five year exile in Russia the poet obtained the permit to travel; he had secretly made up his mind never to return to that country, or to his native land so long as it remained under the government of Imperial Russia. Wending his way to Weimar, he there made the acquaintance of Goethe, who received him cordially, and, pursuing his journey through Germany, he entered Italy by the Splügen Pass, visited Milan, Venice and Florence, and finally established his residence in Rome. There he wrote the third part of his poem, Dziady (Forefathers Eve, lit. Vėlinės), the subject of which is the religious commemoration of their ancestors practiced among Slavic and Baltic peoples, and Pan Tadeusz, his longest poem, considered as his masterpiece. A graphic picture is drawn of Lithuania on the eve of Napoleon’s expedition to Russia in 1812. In this village idyll, as Aleksander Bruckner calls it, Mickiewicz gives a picture of the homes of the Commonwealth magnates, with their somewhat boisterous but very genuine hospitality. They are seen just as the knell of their nationalism, as Brückner says, seemed to be sounding, and therefore there is something melancholy and dirge-like in the poem in spite of the pretty love story which forms the main incident.
Mickiewicz turned to Lithuania, firmly stating it as his “Fatherland” — in so doing, he was actually referring to his native former Grand Duchy of Lithuania — with the loving eyes of an exile, and gives some of the most delightful descriptions of “Lithuanian” skies and “Lithuanian” forests. He describes the weird sounds to be heard in the primeval woods in a country where the trees were sacred. The cloud-pictures are equally striking. There is nothing finer in Shelley or Wordsworth.
In 1832 Mickiewicz left Rome for Paris, where his life was for some time spent in poverty and unhappiness. He had married a Polish lady, Celina Szymanowska (her parents came from Jewish Frankist families), who became insane. In 1840 he was appointed to the newly founded chair of Slavic languages and literature in the College de France, a post which he was especially qualified to fill, as he was now the chief representative of Slavic literature, Alexander Pushkin having died in 1837. He was, however, only destined to hold it for a little more than three years, his last lecture having been given on May 28, 1844. His mind had become more and more disordered under the influence of religious mysticism.
He had fallen under the influence of a strange mystical philosopher Andrzej Towianski. His lectures became a medley of religion and politics, and thus brought him under the censure of the government. A selection of them has been published in four volumes. They contain some good sound criticism, but the philological part is defective, for Mickiewicz was no scholar, and it is clear that he is only well-acquainted with two of the literatures, Polish and Russian, and the latter only till the year 1830. A very sad picture of his declining days is given in the memoirs of Herzen. At a comparatively early period the unfortunate poet exhibited all the signs of premature old age; poverty, despair and domestic affliction had wrought their work upon him. In 1849 he founded a French newspaper, La Tribune des Peuples (Peoples’ Trubune), but it only existed a year. The restoration of the French Empire seemed to kindle his hopes afresh; his last composition is said to have been a Latin ode in honour of Napoleon III. On the outbreak of the Crimean War (1855) he went to Turkey to organise Polish forces to be used in the war against Russia. With his friend, Armand Levy, a Romanian Jew, he set about organising a Jewish Legion, the Hussars of Israel, composed of Russian and Palestinian Jews. During a visit to a military camp near Constantinople he caught cholera and died suddenly in 1855. His body was removed to France and buried at Montmorency. In 1900 his remains were disinterred and buried in the cathedral of Kraków, where rest, besides many of the kings, the greatest of Poland’s worthies.
Mickiewicz’s best known works:
Mickiewicz’s best-known works include Dzyady (the Belarusian celebration for Halloween), Grazyna, Konrad Wallenrod, and the long narrative poem Pan Tadeusz. Much of Mickiewicz’s work was written in exile in Russia, where he was banished in 1824. After release he spent the rest of his life in Western Europe, where he became the spiritual leader of Polish emigrés.
Mickiewicz’s contribution to the world of literature and poetry is compared by some to that of Byron, Shakespeare and Goethe.
Since the middle of the 19th century Adam Mickiewicz’s works have been available in Belarusian.
In 1924-1931 the municipality of Novogrudok arranged for a 17-metre high Hill of Mickiewicz to be made from soil brought from all countries the great poet had lived (Poland, Lithuania, Russia, France, Switzerland, Turkey and so on). There is memorable stone at the foot of the hill, which is close of the Castle of Novogrudok.
In 1938 Novogrudok arranged for an Adam Mickiewicz Museum in the poet’s family house. After WWII, in 1955 the museum was restored. Now it recreates the Mickiewicz family farmstead (the house with a barn and a water well. Every year some 20,000 tourists visit the museum (tours are available in Belarusian, Russian, Polish and English). The museum is home to Mickiewicz’s personal belongings: glasses, pocket watches, hand-written pieces of poetry by Mickiewicz himself and odes to Mickiewicz by other poets of his time.
The museum regularly hosts recitals and exhibitions related to Mickiewicz’s literary heritage.
Other objects from the section «Famous people»