Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855)
9 November 1997

Next year there will be lots of special events to commemorate Mickiewicz's 200th birthday, including an exhibition in the Literature Museum, and an English translation of Mickiewicz's works.

Adam Mickiewicz is probably Poland's most celebrated poet. He was born in the town of Nowogródek, in present-day Belarus, where his father was a lawyer. He went to Vilnius University to study literature and became active in a student literary group. During this time, he also became romantically involved with the aristocratic Maryla Wereszczak, whose social position would never allow her to marry a poet from the minor nobility. She eventually had to marry in her own class, but the lovers continued their illicit affair up to the time (1824) when Mickiewicz was arrested along with his student comrades by the Russian authorities for their "patriotic activities." He was sent into exile in Russia and would never see his beloved Maryla again, although they corresponded to the end of his life.

In Russia he enjoyed relative freedom, but his movements were closely monitored by the police. He received a Russian passport in 1829, left Russia and traveled through Germany and Italy. Mickiewicz soon settled permanently in Paris, and in 1834 he married Celina Szymanowska, daughter of a famous composer with whom Mickiewicz had become acquainted in Russia.

Celina would bear him six children, though Mickiewicz could hardly support them on the income that his poetry generated. His poetry could not be published in his homeland and was never translated in his lifetime. Their financial position was somewhat eased in 1840, when Mickiewicz was offered a professorship of Slavic studies at the Collřge de France. Celina suffered, however, not only from the strain of poverty, but also Mickiewicz's extramarital activities-a taste for the occult and an insatiable passion for other women.

Mickiewicz's marital indifference was only matched by his patriotic zeal. In 1848 he unsuccessfully sought the Pope's blessing to form a Polish legion, and in 1855 he set off to Constantinople with his son and personal secretary to fight for France against the Russians in the Crimean War. He died suddenly upon reaching Constantinople, overcome by the strain of the journey. His remains were brought to Paris and some years later were moved to Poland and interred in Cracow's Wawel Cathedral.

Mickiewicz wrote poetry almost unceasingly throughout his life. His literary works range from long poems and ballads to simple love sonnets. His most famous works are the epic poem Pan Tadeusz and the play Dziady. In honor of his handsome features and his amorous reputation, I have chosen a love sonnet he wrote during his younger days in Russia:


Goodnight! No more merriment for us today,
May angels enfold you in blue wings of cheer,
Goodnight! May your eyes ease after bitter tears,
Goodnight! May your heart's passion slumber away.

Goodnight! to moments of intimate replies,
May a charming and soothing music surround,
May it play in your ears, and whilst sleeping sound,
Let my image so delight your sleepy eyes.

Goodnight. Turn around! Place your gaze in my keep,
Permit a cheek-Goodnight!-For your butler you've clapped?
Give me your bosom to kiss-Goodnight-so strapped.

Goodnight. You have run off and you want no more.
Goodnight through the keyhole-sadly-a locked door!
Repeating "goodnight!" I'd never let you sleep.

Introduction and translation by
Reproduced with
permission from
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