1. Poems Published during Mickiewicz’s Life
This is the first poetic manifesto in Polish literature. Czesław Zgorzelski, a prominent critic of Adam Mickiewicz’s lyric poetry, has precisely reconstructed the phases of the forming of this ballad. Its first (incomplete) version was written in Kowno before 22nd of January 1821. It was corrected after a few days (25th January 1821) and sent over to Vilnius to Józef Jeżowski (1793–1855), and the poet Tomasz Zan (1796–1855), Mickiewicz’s friends from the Philomath Society; later (1824) the manuscript was sent to the Russian heartland; it remains extant. Over a few days, Mickiewicz introduced several corrections, thoroughly changing the last two, key stanzas in particular and sending the revised version again to Vilnius, to Zan. This autograph is now in the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences.
The poem started a lively discussion among the Philomaths. Mickiewicz rejected revisions suggested by his close friend the poet Jan Czeczot (1796–1847), also soon to be exiled to the Russian heartland (1824). The final redaction of the ballad took place during Mickiewicz’s work on the printed version of his debut volume Poems, which was published in 1822 in Vilnius and later considered a groundbreaking masterpiece that inaugurated the Romantic era in Polish literature.1 Its main section featured in Ballady i romanse (Ballads and Romances). The Romantic was included in this volume after the introductory poem Pierwiosnek (Primrose) and was in fact the poem from which the entire ballad collection originated. A complete edition of this ballad, along with revisions and variants, was prepared by Czesław Zgorzelski.2
What demands explanation is the figure of the Old Man, the rationalist, who violently opposes the belief of the crowd of commoners in the encounter between Karusia and the ghost of her dead lover. Here Mickiewicz portrays Professor Jan Śniadecki (1756–1830), a former rector of Vilnius University and a proponent of literary classicism. In his dissertation O pismach klasycznych i romantycznych (On Classical and Romantic Writings), published in the journal Dziennik Wileński in 1819,3 Śniadecki vehemently attacked German Romantic culture, especially, the magical-fantastic elements in it. The monologue of the Old Man synthesises the arguments of this dissertation, where Śniadecki wrote:
Magic, sorcery and ghosts are not nature, but the offspring of a mind debilitated by ignorance and superstition. […] They bring to the scene the meetings of witches, their sorcery and prophecies, walking ghosts and ghouls, conversations of devils and angels […] Can this incompetent blathering, brought back from the era of crudeness, naivete and superstition, entertain and educate in the eighteenth and nineteenth century not only well-educated people, but even uncouth commoners?
The polemic between a young Romantic poet and the Old Man may be considered the first manifestation in Polish literature of the Romantic style of thinking. The ‘lyrical subject’ of this poem, that represents the voice of the author and expresses his views, is the first such literary protagonist of the early Romantic movement in Poland, whose first climactic point will be the figure of Gustaw, created by Mickiewicz in the Forefathers’ Eve, part IV (1823).
The metre of the poem is irregular; the number of syllables differs in almost every line. Certain metric patterns repeat themselves throughout the poem; the metrical variety within the poem is nonetheless striking. This translation attempts to imitate those patterns in an isometric fashion, as far as seems possible in English.
“Romanticism,” tr. F.H. Fortey, in: Gems of Polish poetry: selections from Mickiewicz, Warsaw 1923, p. 21–24.
“The Romantic” tr. W.H. Auden, in: The Slav Anthology: Russian, Polish, Bohemian, Serbian, Croatian, Portland, ME, 1931, pp. 335–337 (reprinted later in A. Mickiewicz, Selected poems, ed. C. Mills, New York 1956, pp. 67–9).
“Romanticism,” tr. G.R. Noyes, J. Parish, in: A. Mickiewicz, Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. S. Helsztyński, Warsaw 1955, pp. 27–28.
“Romanticism,” tr. unknown, in: Twenty Five Poems by A. Mickiewicz, National Poet of Poland, Mickiewicz Centenary Committee 1955.
“Romanticism,” tr. J. Lindsay, in: A. Mickiewicz, Poems, London 1957, p. 9–11.
“Romanticism,” tr. Angela Britlinger; with commentary, Sarmatian Review 12, 1 (1992).
“Romanticism,” tr. M.J. Mikoś, in: Polish Romantic Literature: An Anthology, ed. M.J. Mikoś. Columbus, OH – Bloomington, IN, 2002, pp. 20–21.
“Romanticism,” tr. C.S. Kraszewski, in: A. Mickiewicz, Ballads and Romances, London 2022, pp. 50–52.
Epigraph: The concept of “the eye of the soul” and “the eye of the mind” appears for this first time in Plato’s Republic, in books VI and VII, where we encounter the Greek phrase tes psyches omma (“the eye of the soul”).4 Subsequently, it becomes an integral part of the language of Platonism. We find it in Plotinus, who says that we should close the eyes of the body and awaken our inner sight, which everyone has, but very few use.5 He also discusses “the eye which alone see the great Beauty”.6 Interestingly, Plotinus also calls love (gr. eros) “the eye of the soul”, thus extending the semantic field of this metaphor beyond intellect or reason, since, in his view, the highest God cannot be known intellectually, but only by virtue of union with Him through love.7
Later on, St Augustine (who studied Plotinus in a Latin translation after coming to Milan in 386) familiarised the Western Latin tradition with this metaphor, by using a range of expressions including oculus animae (“the eye of the soul”), oculus animi or mentis (“the eye of the mind” or “intellect”) and oculus cordis (“the eye of the heart”). Augustine, along with the other Church Fathers, synthesises the Platonic metaphor of the inner eye with the biblical image that he found in the Letter to Ephesians, where the author speaks about “the eyes of the heart” (gr. hoi ophthalmoi tes kardias, Eph 1:18). There is also the Platonic reading of the Sixth Beatitude that promises those who are of pure heart that they will see God; this suggests the pure heart itself to be an instrument of seeing (Mt 5:8).8 The entire mediaeval and early modern mystical tradition of the West uses this metaphor which has become so vital to Mickiewicz.
1 In Auden’s version the vocative “dzieweczko” is rendered “silly girl”. The original features no such condescending meaning. It is only the Old Man who, towards the end, openly disparages Karusia as a simpleton, while the lyrical subject as well as the crowd are highly sympathetic towards her. This is why we chose simply “girl”.9
48–51 The idea of lovers whom even death cannot separate was a favourite for Romantic poets. Friedrich Hölderlin in his poem Once There Were Gods describes this as a part of the old ‘enchanted’ world, which Romantic poetry tries to bring back.
Once there were gods, on earth, with people, the heavenly muses
And Apollo, the youth, healing, inspiring, like you.
And you are like them to me, as though one of the blessed
Sent me out into life where I go my comrade’s
Image goes with me wherever I suffer and build, with love
Unto death; for I learned this and have this from her.
Let us live, oh you who are with me in sorrow, with me in faith
And heart and loyalty struggling for better times!
For such we are! And if ever in the coming years they knew
Of us two when the spirit matters again
They would say: lovers in those days, alone, they created
Their secret world that only the gods knew. For who
Cares only for things that will die the earth will have them, but
Nearer the light, into the clarities come
Those keeping faith with the heart’s love and holy spirit who were
Hopeful, patient, still, and got the better of fate.10
64–65 The juxtaposition “czucie i wiara” (which we translated as “feeling and faith”) influenced Polish language powerfully and has become a commonplace. Young Mickiewicz is here close to such opponents of overly speculative Enlightenment tendencies as J.G. Hamann, F. Jacobi, and (later) the Jena Romantics, such as Novalis and F. Schlegel, who were themselves influenced by Hamann and Jacobi,11 and whom Mickiewicz certainly read later, if not during his studies.12 The word “czucie” (“feeling”) is much broader than emotions or desires; in his later works Mickiewicz associates it with spiritual perception, as in the Great Improvisation (Forefathers’ Eve, Part III, Scene II), where Konrad ascends beyond Nature to God, saying:
I glide on rays of sentiment [uczucia], to Thee!
And I shall gaze upon Thy feelings.
O Thou! All-feeling heart that beats on high,
I’m here! I’ve come! What strength is mine, you see.13
This emphasis on feeling permeates the whole Improvisation.
Jacobi primarily associates “feeling” (das Gefühl) with, not emotions, but cognition: “The perception of the actual and the feeling of truth, consciousness and life, are one and the same thing.”14 As Manfred Frank points out, for him it is “unmediated consciousness”.15 This, as George di Giovanni put it, “inherently ambiguous Enlightenment notion of ‘feeling’”,16 became one of the key notions in Jena Romanticism. Schlegel says:
No poetry, no reality. Just as there is, despite all the senses, no external world without imagination, so too there is no spiritual world without feeling, no matter how much sense there is. Whoever only has sense can perceive no human being, but only what is human: all things disclose themselves to the magic wand of feeling alone. It fixes people and seizes them; like the eye, it looks on without being conscious of its own mathematical operation.17
Also “faith” (die Glaube) in Jacobi’s vocabulary does not signify the Christian faith in God or His revelation, but, primarily, a sort of direct intuition of reality:
How can we strive for certainty unless we are already acquainted with certainty in advance, and how can we be acquainted with it except through something that we already discern with certainty? This leads to the concept of an immediate certainty, which not only needs no proof, but excludes all proofs absolutely, and is simply and solely the representation itself agreeing with the thing being represented. Conviction by proofs is certainty at second hand. Proofs are only indications of similarity to a thing of which we are certain. The conviction that they generate originates in comparison, and can never be quite secure and perfect. But if every assent to truth not derived from rational grounds is faith, then conviction based on rational grounds must itself derive from faith, and must receive its force from faith alone.18
As Manfred Frank has argued, “That which Jacobi called ‘feeling’ is what Hölderlin (with Fichte and Schelling) calls ‘intellectual intuition.”19 This “feeling” (Gefühl) or “intellectual seeing” (Anschauung) was attacked by Hegel in the preface to his portentous 1809 masterpiece Phenomenology of Spirit, where he says that what Jacobi, the Jena Romantics, and his friend Schelling propose is “the opposite of the form of the Notion. For the Absolute is not supposed to be comprehended, it is to be felt [gefühlt] and intuited [angeschaut]; not the Notion of the Absolute, but the feeling and intuition of it, must govern what is said, and must be expressed by it.”20 The phrase (which offended Schelling in particular) was Hegel’s summary of this approach to philosophical intuition “as the night in which, as the saying goes, all cows are black – this is cognition naively reduced to vacuity.”21
66–67 The opposition “dead truths” vs. “living truths” reflects the opposition of speculative, conceptual worldview based on reason versus a holistic experience of the world through the higher faculties of feeling, faith or ‘the heart’ (see below). Jacobi also speaks of “living philosophy”, which derives from the concrete, historical, existential reality of individuals and societies, as opposed to abstract notions.22 And in his letter to Fichte, which started the so-called Atheismusstreit (‘Atheism Controversy’), Jacobi speaks of “a living-death of rationality (…) blindly legalistic, deaf, dumb, and unfeeling; [it] must tear from it its living root, which is the heart of man, up to the last fibre – yea you must, by all your heavens and as truly as Apollo and the Muses are just categories to you.”23 In the letter, he also frequently distinguishes in various ways between ‘what is true’ and ‘truths’, which also reflects the distinction between ‘the living’ and ‘the dead’ in Mickiewicz’s poem. Baader praises Böhme precisely for being ‘alive’ and contrasts him with Spinoza who is ‘petrified’.24
69 This last line of the poem has become almost proverbial in the modern Polish language. The religious and philosophical significance of the heart has a long history as a source for knowledge of the truth (see above, pp. 201–202.). In the eighteenth century it becomes a popular symbol of sentiments and feelings, opposed to reason or the brain. In his lectures at the Collège, Mickiewicz will say:
Long ago a certain French author said that great thoughts flow only from the heart; but here the whole philosophical system is based on the heart. The heart means nothing else, but the seat of soul, the seat or the cover of the inner being. The Slavic poets speak about the heart all the time, while they avoid speaking about the brain, which is universally considered to be the seat of reason. They do it in order to show that spirit and reason are not the same thing for them.25
“A certain French author” is undoubtedly Blaise Pascal (1623–1662); Mickiewicz alludes to his famous saying: “Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point” (“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know”).26 William Wordsworth expresses a similar idea in his Tables Turned, published in his Lyrical Ballads (1798):
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.27
The Hymn on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The majority of scholars assume that the poem was written at the beginning of December 1820 and that its first readers were Mickiewicz’s friends from the Philomath circle: Jan Czeczot and Franciszek Malewski (1800–1870), a lawyer, later exiled to Russia, who was a colleague of Michail Speransky (1772–1839) who codified Russian law. Malewski held the poem in high esteem, considering it better than Ode to Youth, Mickiewicz’s manifesto of freedom. The Hymn was initially to be published in a journal Hebe, prepared by the Philomaths, but they never succeeded in editing it. The poem was first printed in the first volume of Mickiewicz’s Poems, published at Vilnius in 1822.28 The main section of Poems was the cycle Ballads and Romances. The volume has long been considered the first expression of Romanticism in Polish literature and, concludes with a section entitled “Various Poems”. The Hymn opens this section of the volume.29
This poem is written in an irregular metre, like The Romantic. Verses are usually between eight and eleven syllables, occasionally shorter. This variety is not rendered fully in the translation, where we decided to keep the iambic pentametre as the main rhythm of the poem, indicating only lines which are significantly shorter, since they tend to emphasise some important point.
1–4 Mickiewicz seems to be inspired, to a certain degree, by chapters eleven and twelve of the Book of Revelation. The reference to the “twelve-starred crown” of the Virgin Mary clearly comes from: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Rev 12:1) “Jehova” instead of “God” or “the Lord” in verse 4 gives the poem a strange, oriental flavour. However, Swedenborg also uses “Jehova” to speak about God in the first book of his Divine Wisdom and Love. Devotion to Mary was an essential part of Polish culture and religion, and, obviously, in Mickiewicz’s homeland. Yet in this poem, the figure of Mary lacks the familiar qualities of folk devotions, which we can find (for example) in what is sometimes considered the most important passage in Polish literature, the invocation to Pan Tadeusz:30
Lithuania, my country, thou art like health; how much thou shouldst be prized only he can learn who has lost thee. To-day thy beauty in all its splendour I see and describe, for I yearn for thee. Holy Virgin, who protectest bright Czenstochowa and shinest above the Ostra Gate in Wilno!2 Thou who dost shelter the castle of Nowogrodek with its faithful folk! As by miracle thou didst restore me to health in my childhood – when, offered by my weeping mother to thy protection, I raised my dead eyelids, and could straightway walk to the threshold of thy shrine to thank God for the life returned me – so by miracle thou wilt return us to the bosom of our country.31
9 A reference to two prophets is in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation: “And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.” (Rev 11:3)
11 Literally “only from the divine flows praise worthy of the divine”. At the first glance, this claim may seem bold, if not heterodox, blurring the Christian distinction between Creature and creation. In fact, the Church Fathers were in agreement that the contemplation of God and union with Him can take place only through participation in His divine nature, which means that the souls have to be transformed into gods in order to praise God. This is an allusion to the ancient Christian doctrine of divinisation (Gr. theosis, Lat. deificatio), which is a foundational doctrine as early as the time of the Cappadocian Fathers.32 Boethius (480–524), in his Consolation of Philosophy, one of the most popular works of the Latin Middle Ages, says: “Therefore every happy man is ‘God’, though by nature God is one only: but nothing prevents there being as many as you like by participation.”33 St Augustine, in his City of God, also calls those who are united with God and participate in Him “gods”. Thus the holy angels are gods:
To this Founder of the holy city the citizens of the earthly city prefer their own gods, not knowing that He is the God of gods, not of false, i.e., of impious and proud gods, who, being deprived of His unchangeable and freely communicated light, and so reduced to a kind of poverty-stricken power, eagerly grasp at their own private privileges, and seek divine honors from their deluded subjects; but of the pious and holy gods, who are better pleased to submit themselves to one, than to subject many to themselves, and who would rather worship God than be worshipped as God.34
Humans who live according to God are also called “gods” by St Augustine: “you are men; that is, you live according to man, not according to God, for if you lived according to Him, you should be gods.”35 For Pseudo-Dionysius, created spirits are, in a way, a “multiplication” of God: “Further, since many gods have emerged by the deification which is derived from it, in which they are divinely formed according to the power of each, there seems to be and is and is said to be a multiplication and difference of the one God.”36
16–23 “And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.” (Rev 11:19).
26 A reference to Mary as the morning star is traditional (cf. the Latin hymn Ave maris stella, where “the star of the sea” is another name for Venus or the Morning and Evening Star).
38 “Be it” (“stań się”) is an allusion to the traditional “Fiat!” spoken by Mary in Luke 1:38 (from the Latin “fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum”, that is, “be it unto me according to thy word”). “God – flesh” and “Virgin – Mother” are favourite paradoxes of the Incarnation in the Church Fathers.37
The paradox inherent in the figure of Mary was also expressed in the exquisite, famous prayer Vergine Madre, figlia del tuo figlio, uttered by St Bernard of Clairvaux in the first verses of the last canto of Dante’s Comedy:
To M. Ł. at the Day of Taking the Holy Communion
This poem was written in the first months of 1830 (most likely between early January and the beginning of May), in Rome where Mickiewicz stayed after leaving Russia (1829) and visiting German countries. A note on the autograph, written in someone else’s hand (“Written for the 9th of January 1830”) indicates not only the month, but also suggests the occasion for its writing, since it was on that very day that the addressee of the poem, Marcelina (Marcjanna) Łempicka (M.Ł.) celebrated her nameday; the poet could have been a witness of her prayer in a church. Mickiewicz himself confirmed that it was the sight of praying Marcelina in the famous Roman Jesuit church Il Gesù that inspired him to write the poem, but he never specified the date of this event. He mentions in one of his letters (from 11th May 1830) that he had not yet sent the finished poem to the addressee. Mickiewicz wrote it during a period of intense (if unorthodox) religious seeking, which began during his Russian exile. This process was influenced by his Roman relationships, including his platonic love affair with the profoundly pious, devout Countess Henrietta Ewa Ankwicz (1810–1879). Marcelina Łempicka (1809–1843) was the closest friend of Henrietta, and was already preparing for monastic life at the time (she made her profession in 1840).
The poem was initially published in 1837, by three journals. First, Melitele in Leipzig,39 then Wiadomości Krajowe i Emigracyjne (published in Paris)40 and, finally, Zbieracz Literacki i Polityczny (Cracow).41 Among collected works of Mickiewicz it was published for the first time in the Paris edition of 1838,42 and appeared in this version in later reprints. The manuscript of the poem is in the collection of the National Library (Biblioteka Narodowa) in Warsaw.43
The original is in hendecasyllables which is rendered in translation by the iambic pentameter.
1 Both the poem and the historical context of its origin suggest that receiving the Catholic sacrament of Holy Communion, by which (according to Catholic teaching) the human soul is united to God and divinised in Christ, was a special occasion for the addressee of the poem, and in Mickiewicz’s eyes as well. Throughout Christian antiquity, the sacrament was received frequently, but during the Middle Ages and in the early modern period it became significantly rarer for Catholic laity.44 The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) obliged Catholics to receive the sacrament at least once a year (during Easter) under pain of excommunication.
The Imitation of Christ, which Mickiewicz began reading intensely during his Rome-Dresden period, devotes the last of its four books to Holy Communion, and an entire chapter to the exhortation to frequent communion.45 It emphasises the need to be spiritually prepared in order to receive the sacrament properly: “Although I be not every day fit nor well prepared; I will endeavour notwithstanding at due times to receive the divine mysteries, and to be partaker of so great a grace.”46 The Council of Trent (session 22, chapter 6) tried to encourage the faithful to practise it more often, suggesting that they should communicate at every mass they participate in. However, the general practice did not conform to the official position of the Church. Some authors, most prominently the formidable Jansenist theologian of Port-Royal, Antoine Arnauld (1612–1694), were opposed to the practice.47 On the other hand, some of the influential Catholic figures of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including Francois Fénelon (1651–1715) and St Alphonsus Liguori (1696–1787), strongly advocated frequent communion, praising its beneficial spiritual effects.48
During the nineteenth century, Pope Pius IX (1846–1878) encouraged the practice of frequent, even daily communion, but the practice of daily communion was officially approved only by Pope St Pius X (1903–1914). What made it difficult for laity to communicate frequently was the requirement to go to confession before receiving the sacrament, as well as the obligation to fast (from all food and liquids) from midnight and refrain from sexual intercourse until the moment of communion. The eucharistic fast was reduced to one hour before communion by Pope Paul VI in 1964.
Mickiewicz describes the moment of the receiving of Holy Communion as a special event, closely tied to the addressee’s deep spiritual life. He also describes his experience of feeling unworthy of such spiritual graces, when he contemplates Marcelina. In the Imitation of Christ we encounter a similar thought: “When I call to mind some devout persons, who approach to this Thy sacrament, O Lord, with the greatest devotion and affection, I am oftentimes confounded and blush within myself, that I come with such lukewarmness, yea, coldness, to Thine altar and the table of sacred communion.”49
2 The idea that angels envy human beings their capacity to receive the sacrament of the Holy Communion is certainly not a traditional one. Traditionally, the eucharist was called “the bread of angels”. This phrase comes from Ps. 78:25, but the Hebrew text does not seem to refer to the angels at all. St Jerome of Stridon (342/7–420), in his second, revised translation of the Psalms, followed the Hebrew text and changed his previous translation of this expression as panis angelorum (“the bread of the angels”), which was a translation not from the Hebrew, but from the authoritative Greek Old Testament (Septuagint). The Greek arton angelon is then responsible for this venerable tradition, popularised in the sixth stanza of St Thomas Aquinas’ eucharistic hymn Sacris solemniis: “The angelic bread (panis angelicus) becomes the bread for men; the heavenly bread puts an end to all allegorical figures”.
According to Aquinas’ theology,
such eating of Christ whereby we receive Him under this sacrament, is, as it were, derived from that eating whereby the angels enjoy Christ in heaven. Consequently, man is said to eat the “bread of angels,” because it belongs to the angels to do so firstly and principally, since they enjoy Him in his proper species; and secondly it belongs to men, who receive Christ under this sacrament.50
In light of Catholic theology, the idea that angels could envy humans for receiving Holy Communion is, then, a purely poetic hyperbole. In the Imitation of Christ we see, on the one hand, this typical view, according to which the holy angels are a paradigm of contemplation, to be emulated by Christians, and Holy Communion is an occasion to become more like the angels: “And though I cannot as yet be altogether heavenly, nor so full of love as the cherubim and seraphim, yet notwithstanding I will endeavour to apply myself earnestly to devotion, and prepare my heart to obtain if it be but some small spark of divine fire, by the humble receiving of this life-giving sacrament.”51 Or, similarly: “Him I do really possess and adore Whom the angels adore in heaven; but I, for the present and in the meantime, by faith; they, by sight, and without a veil.”52
We find only one passage where Thomas à Kempis suggests that the angels could envy humans; however, it involves, not reception of the sacrament, but the priest’s ability to perform the act of transubstantiation: “For it is not within the compass of the deserts of men, that man should consecrate and administer this sacrament of Christ, and receive for food the bread of angels. Great is this mystery; and great is the dignity of priests to whom is granted that which is not permitted to angels.”53
This hyperbolic idea of the envy of the angels must have been current in Mickiewicz’s milieu; it is not likely that he came up with it on his own. In the teachings of St Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, (1786–1859), the famous ‘Curé of Ars’, who became the parish priest of Ars in 1818, this notion appears in more moderate form: “What the Angels behold only with awe, the radiant splendor of which they cannot sustain, we make our food, we receive it into us, we become with Jesus Christ one same Body one sole Flesh.”54
An older tradition, according to which the Christian faithful are to “envy” the angels their spiritual union with Christ (of which the sacrament is a sign) is also present in Vianney: “Ah! If we had the eyes of the angels!”55 as well as earlier in St Alphonsus: “Blessed Seraphim, I envy you, not for your glory, but for the love you have for your God and mine. Teach me what I must do to love Him and to please Him.”56 In a much stronger form the motif of the “holy envy” on the part of the angels appears in the diary of St Faustina (written between 1934 and 1938): “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things; one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering”.57 However, this strikingly Mickiewiczian aphorism has been since attributed to other saints as well, including St Maximilian Kolbe and Pope St Pius X.58
A possible source could be also Saint-Martin in whose writings (just as in Böhme’s) Man plays a special role, being in some sense superior to the angels and designed to be their teacher:
Oh what deep things might we not teach, even to angels, if we recovered our rights! St. Paul says, ‘We shall judge angels’ (1 Cor 6:3). Now, power to judge supposes power to instruct. Yes, angels may be stewards, physicians, redressers of wrong, warriors, judges, governors, protectors, but, without us, they cannot gain any profound knowledge of the divine wonders of Nature.59
In his last work, he writes: “For this reason, Man, who, in the beginning of the Universe, was related, principally, to the Son, the Source of Universal development, knew the Father, both in the Son and in Nature. And, for this reason, Angels seek so much the society of Man, believing that he is still in condition to show them the Father in Nature.”60
3–6 The idea that receiving Holy Communion divinises the soul is a very old one in the Christian tradition. St Augustine famously describes an experience of hearing God’s voice saying to him: “I am the food of the fully grown; grow and you will feed on me. And you will not change me into you like the food your flesh eats, but you will be changed into me.”61 Mickiewicz, familiar with the Confessions, could’ve had this in mind, while speaking of Marcelina’s eyes “blazing with the Godhead”. As well as the following passage from the Imitation of Christ: “And yet surely in the life-giving presence of Thy Godhead no unbecoming thought ought to intrude itself, nor should any creature occupy my heart; for it is not an angel, but the Lord of angels whom I am about to receive.”62 The image of Holy Communion as a “spark of divine fire” can also be found in this work.63
Saint-Martin also places a great emphasis on the power of the Sacrament of Eucharist and its necessity for spiritual growth. Even though his Of Errors and Truth (1774) was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, and despite Saint-Martin’s criticisms of Catholicism in his last great work Man, His True Nature and Ministry (1802), his opposition between “Catholicism” and “Christianity” is aimed primarily at the spiritual superficiality and worldliness of the official Church, while his dogmatic theology (leaving aside ecclesiology), eccentric as it is, remains largely orthodox.64 A similar attitude will be found in Mickiewicz, especially in his lectures at the Collège. When it comes to Holy Communion, Saint-Martin holds the traditional Catholic view that it was established by “the Repairer” (the name he uses for Christ in his early works) and is necessary for spiritual healing and transformation.65 In his last work, he describes it as the sacrament which can “transform us into a kingdom of God, and make us to be one with God.”66
9–20 The connection between virginity and angelic beings exists in the writings of the Church Fathers, both Eastern and Western, on the basis of Jesus’ promise that the saved will be “like angels in heaven” (Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25). St Ambrose of Milan (339–397) points to another similarity, namely: because Christ was born of a virgin, virginity, like the angels, mediates between Heaven and Earth, and joins them together.67 He also interprets the Song of Songs 5:7, where the “guardians of the walls” strip the Bride naked of her clothes, in terms of a special care that the angels extend over virgins, stripping them of the clothes of mortality and sin and restoring the inner purity of holiness.68 The image of the angel in Mickiewicz’s poem bears some striking similarities to this traditional imagery: the angel not only enjoys a deeply intimate relationship with Marcelina, but also puts new clothes under her pillow.
The image of a sleeping child’s encounter with an angel can be found, independently, in Victor Hugo’s Dans l’alcôve sombre, contained in his poetic volume Les feuilles d’automne (number XX), published in 1831 (cf. also La prière pour tous in the same volume). The last two stanzas of the poem in English translation are as follows:
Mickiewicz couldn’t have known this poem before writing To M.Ł. on the Day of Taking Holy Communion, since Dans l’alcôve sombre was published written in November 1831, but he could have been familiar with Hugo’s earlier poems, which idealise little children and compare them to angels (see his Odes et ballades, 1828). He praises the 1831 poem by Hugo in one of his Paris lectures (see the Introductory Study, pp. 106–107). In any case, Mickiewicz’s use of the images of the angel and of a sleeping child are more complex and have a deeper religious meaning than the idyllic vignettes of Hugo.
21–24 The images in the last verses of the poem are somewhat ambiguous: the line of thought is difficult to follow (and translate). Mickiewicz uses a simile in which the praying girl is compared to a sleepy or sleeping baby, while her guardian angel is like a tender mother. The original does not use a typical Polish phrase for a guardian angel (“anioł stróż”); instead he is called her “defender” or “protector” (“obrońca”). However it seems that the identity of the angel remains the same: it is her personal guardian, appointed to her by God: not only does he protect her from all kinds of evil, he also seems to mediate between her and God. In the final lines, we have a sudden shift where the girl is suddenly called a “nurse”. The Polish personal pronoun “jego” can refer both to the baby (neuter gender in Polish) and to the angel (masculine gender), so it is not entirely clear whether the girl is a nurse of “the baby” (which could be identified with her soul or her faith, expressed by an image of the “inner child”), or of the angel who was her nurse in the previous verses. In our interpretation (see the Introductory Study, pp. 24–26), we incline towards the second option; this is reflected in the choice of the pronoun “his” rather than “its” in the translation.
25–27 Mystical ecstasy was described as sleep or dream already by St Augustine,70 St Gregory the Great,71 St Bernard of Clairvaux,72 Hugo of St Victor,73 and Meister Eckhart.74 Following the biblical Song of Songs, it was usually described as a paradoxical state of watchful sleep: “I sleep, but my heart waketh”, says the Bride (Song of Sg 5:2).
In his famous ode Bread and Wine Hölderlin writes in the seventh stanza:
And in his novel, Hyperion: “Among you I became so perfectly rational, learned so thoroughly to distinguish myself from what surrounds me that I am now isolated in the beautiful world, cast out of the garden of nature, where I grew and bloomed, and am drying up under the midday sun. O man is a god when he dreams, a beggar when he thinks.”76 Novalis in the second of the Hymns of the Night speaks in a similar vein: “Must the morning always return? Will the despotism of the earthly never cease? Unholy activity consumes the angel-visit of the Night. Endless is the duration of sleep. Holy Sleep, gladden not too seldom in this earthly day-labor, the devoted servant of the Night.”77
Ahriman and Ormusd
The autograph of the poem is lost. The precise date of its writing has not been established; Mickiewicz dated it in the first edition to 1830. The first printing took place in a Paris edition of Mickiewicz’s poetry78 in 1836.79
The poem is not a translation or even a paraphrase of any passage from the “Zend Avesta” (the Zoroastrians’ sacred scripture), which was written down in the sixth century BC; instead it is a free, poetic visualisation of the main idea of Zoroastrianism (as Mickiewicz understood it), namely the cosmic, eternal, and constant struggle between the god of light and goodness (‘Ormusd’ or, in old Persian, ‘Ahura Mazda’, the Wise or Omniscient Lord) and the god of darkness and evil (‘Ahriman’, or in old Persian ‘Angra Mainyu’, the Evil Spirit), which will end, perhaps only at the end of time, with the final triumph of Ormusd. The conclusion of the poem draws the reader’s attention to the defeat of Ahriman, the embodiment of evil, and thus anticipates what has not yet happened (according to Zoroastrian beliefs). The depiction of Ahriman was probably inspired by Christian imagery, although it is hard to determine whether the main source was religious (perhaps, neo-Gnostic, since Mickiewicz was studying the writings of Böhme and Swedenborg) or literary (the epics by Dante and Milton differ in significant ways from Mickiewicz’s depiction of Ahriman, although the way Lucifer is described in the Divine Comedy as being imprisoned in the lowest circle of Hell, could have played a role here).
The name of the god of light was written in two ways: “Oromaz” (in the title) and “Oromades” (line 13, a variant of the Greek version of this name: “Oromasdes”). Probably, Mickiewicz was looking for a Polish word for the name “Ormusd”, taken from the middle Persian and used in other European languages of the time. Juliusz Kleiner, an eminent Mickiewicz scholar, suspected that the poet was familiar with the French translation of the Zend Avesta, made by the orientalist Abraham Anquetil-Duperron (first edition: Paris 1771, 3 vols.); but there is no conclusive evidence for this.
The poem is in hendecasyllables.
3 The Polish verb “osiadł” means literally to “take up one’s abode”. It suggests that Ahriman may not have lived there since time immemorial, but rather came to live there at some unspecified point. The same is suggested by the repetition of this word in line 20. While it opens up an interesting line of speculation (namely, whether he chose to live there himself or was made to by some other force), it is not a key issue in the poem, which concentrates on Ahriman’s ascent from the darkness where he lives to the light which he craves.
For the Zoroastrian and Gnostic context of the figures of Ahriman and Ormusd see the Introductory Study, pp. 27–32 On the supposed dualistic idea of two Gods in ancient Slavic religion, Mickiewicz speaks in his lectures at the Collège: “The Slavs believed in the one God; however, they also believed in the evil spirit, Dark God, who was waging war against the White God, the supreme Lord who rewarded and punished.”80 And in a later lecture: “Already German scholars noticed this and tried to explain it by assuming a myth of dual Godhead, the White God and the Dark God, both of them reflected in the language and the whole history of the Slavs.”81
4 The image of a lion and a snake appears in Ps. 91:13. But also, curiously, in the ninth book of the Republic, where Plato speaks of the two irrational parts of the soul as “lion-like” and “snake-like”.82
8 We translated “Bóstwo” (“divinity” or “Godhead”) simply as “God”, even though it is already an interpretation. This term appears also in Mickiewicz’s Hymn on the Feast of the Annunciation and also in German mystical tradition (with which Mickiewicz was familiar through Jakob Böhme, Angelus Silesius, and Franz von Baader). From the time of Meister Eckhart, the distinction between Gottheit (Godhead) and Gott (God) is of primary importance. The first is God in his essence, which Eckhart in his German sermons identified with the unity of the divine nature, as distinguished from the Three Persons (and in his Latin works, more traditionally, with the person of the Father), while the second is God seen in relation to His creation and His “external” activity. However, neither in the Hymn nor in Ahriman and Ormusd does this distinction play any significant role.
13–14 The image is richer in the original than in the translation; its metaphysical implications deserve comment. Oromasdes is said to shine among his creatures as the sun shines among the stars and as a father in the midst of his children. Clearly Mickiewicz, in speaking here of “creatures” (“tworów”), means some spiritual beings or intelligences which are comparable to the angels in the Abrahamic traditions. They are the children of Oromasdes; their spiritual brightness is incomparably weaker than his. Those interesting details of the heavenly realm in the poem are only hinted at in the translation.
15 The sun has been a symbol of God or the highest Being at least since Plato, who called it “the offspring of the Good” in the sixth book of his Republic.83 He developed an analogy between the sun as the source of seeing and life for earthly creatures, and the Good as the source of knowledge and existence for all things that exist. This analogy became one of the most important allegories in the Western metaphysical tradition, coming through Plotinus to the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian writers of the Middle Ages and further on to modernity.
For Böhme, the sun is a symbol of the divine Word:
I will show thee a similitude in nature, signifying how the holy being in the holy Trinity is. Consider heaven, which is a round globe, having neither beginning nor end, for its beginning and end are everywhere, which way soever you look upon it: So is God, who is in and above the heaven, he has neither beginning nor end. Now consider further the circle or sphere of the stars, they denote the various powers and wisdom of the Father, and they also are made by the power and wisdom of the Father. Now the heaven, the stars, and the whole deep between the stars, together with the earth, signify the Father. And the seven planets signify the seven spirits of God, or the princes of the angels, among which also lord LUCIFER was one before his fall; all [these] were made out of the Father in the beginning of the creation of angels, before the time of this world. Now observe: The sun stirreth in the midst, in the deep between the stars, in a round circle, and is the heart of the stars, and giveth light and power to all the stars, so tempering the power of the stars that all becometh pleasant and joyful. It enlighteneth also the heaven, the stars, and the deep above the earth, working in all things that are in this world, and is the king and the heart of all things of this world, and so rightly signifieth the Son of God.84
Swedenborg who devotes much place to what he calls the spiritual sun or the sun in the spiritual world, claims that it is not to be equated with God or the Word, but rather, with his first emanation, or creation, which radiates the light of wisdom and the warmth of love on the world of the spirits.85 But he still speaks quite often in a way which conflates the two.
Saint-Martin describes the heart of a divinised man to the sun:
The Lord said: I shall take care myself of the one who looks for me, the one who loves me, the one who desires to love me. I shall ignite in his heart a fire similar to all the heats of the sun, and all his being will become radiant of light. Man of God here is your holy destiny: as long as the man does not feel his heart bubbling as a burning furnace, he is in danger. He is dead. I shall call upon the Lord; his word can transform the heart of the man into a living sun: he says, and each of his words gives birth to so many suns always ready to invigorate the heart of the man.86
The Grand Master
The autograph of this poem is lost. The date of its writing (1830) was indicated by the author himself in the Paris edition of his poetry in 1836,87 and is widely accepted by scholars who consider the poem to be one of the most important testimonies of Mickiewicz’s religious experiences in Rome. There were attempts to date it later (for instance, Wacław Kubacki, in his 1954 monograph Żeglarz i pielgrzym), but no conclusive evidence for it has been found. The first edition of the poem was in 1836, in a Parisian Rocznik Emigracji Polskiej (p. 12), on the basis of a manuscript given to the editorial board probably by the poet himself.88
The poem is in hendecasyllables and its versification is classicistic and elegant.
“The Master of Masters,” tr. J. Brown, G. R. Noyes, The Slavonic Review 3, 7 (1924), pp. 67–68.
1–2 The first two lines of the first stanza form something similar to the Hebraic parallelisms one encounters in the Psalms. Instead of “spirits”, we have “heart” the second time, which was not rendered in the translation, even though the term is (obviously) of paramount importance to Mickiewicz (see the commentary on The Romantic, verse 69). The mention of hearts also makes it more explicit that the spirits created by the Grand Master are both angels and human souls, without much ontological difference between them.
The clear division of creation into two parts or phases (first, the spirits, then, the material elements) is a common motif within the metaphysical tradition. In the West, St Augustine popularised the tripartite division of the whole reality: God, spirits (angelic and human), and material substances.89 He also argued for an allegorical interpretation of Gen 1:3 (“Let there be light”) as referring to the creation of angels, before the material universe was made.90 Saint-Martin follows this Augustinian tradition, when he writes about the “three Orders of Being: God, intelligent Beings and physical Nature.”91
3–6 Those musical metaphors allude, of course, to the ancient Pythagorean metaphysics of numbers. The four elements are compared by Mickiewicz to the four strings of a lyre, on which God plays with “lightnings and winds”. Until the seventh century, lyres had only four strings; according to ancient theories of music this was an expression of the cosmic, mathematical harmony. The four strings and basic pitches of a tetrachord (Greek for “four-string”), were tuned on the basis of the basic relations between the first four numbers: 1:2 (the interval of an octave), 2:3 (a fifth), and 3:4 (a fourth). In Pythagoreanism one was not a number, but a principle of all numbers and, indeed, reality itself; it also represented the mathematical point. Two represented a line, three, a surface, and four a solid, so the numbers from one to four symbolised the entire material universe, built of the inanimate four elements (number five represented life). Because the sum of 1, 2, 3, and 4 is 10, Pythagoreans believed that the number ten stands for perfection and the whole.
Plato in his Timaeus used this Pythagorean doctrine in describing how God creates the universe. The four elements (fire, wind, water, and earth) were build of four regular solids (tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, and dodecahedron), while the soul as the principle of life was built by God out of mathematical and musical proportions. The World Soul was conceived as a sphere encompassing the whole material universe and moving in circular motion. The Pythagorean conviction that the planetary spheres, by their mathematically organised movements, produce sounds, became a commonplace as “the music of the spheres”. In the Great Improvisation Mickiewicz alludes to this motif, by describing Konrad’s vision in which he places his hands on planetary spheres like on the spheres of a glass armonica, one of the most celebrated instruments of the eighteenth century, invented by Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790).
The idea that the world is a song appears both in a Pagan philosopher Sallustious (4th century AD),92 and in St Augustine, who compares the world to a melody and a psalm, claiming that the material beings proceeds from the divine Creator-Word.93. The same is repeated at the beginning of the Letter 166 to Jerome, where Augustine more specifically compares Creation to a beautiful psalm.
7–12 in the second stanza Mickiewicz employs the traditional motif of Deus Artifex, God the Artist.94 In one of the most famous odes of the Polish Renaissance, by Jan Kochanowski (1530–1584), which is still used in Catholic liturgy, there is the same topos:
The idea that the world is an expression of God’s mind derives from Middle Platonism, in which the Platonic Ideas were interpreted as existing in God’s mind as thoughts. Saint-Martin follows this tradition, when he claims that the world is expression of God’s thoughts.96 He also uses the motif of Deus Artifex:
We can say as much of our artistic creations and all of man’s inventions. Every one of his works proclaims the ideas, tastes, intelligence, and particular profession of the man who is its Agent or creator. A statue leads to the thought of a sculptor, a picture to that of a painter; a palace to that of an architect, because all these creations are but the physical execution of the abilities specific to the genius of the artist who created them, just as the creations of Nature are but the expression of their Principle and only exist to be its true character.97
It echoes Pseudo-Dionysius’ claim that those who look at Beauty and form its image in themselves are artists in the image and likeness of God, the supreme Artist.98
13 Christ is called “the Master of eloquence”, which is an obvious reference to the art of rhetoric. We have declined to include this in the translation, despite the fact that the semantic axis of verses 13–14 hinges on a contrast between infinite divine power on the one hand, and the paucity of words used by God-Man to reveal it to the people, on the other. Of course, the reference to rhetoric strengthens the point beautifully and underlines that fact that Mickiewicz includes all arts in his poem, from music, through painting, sculpture, and architecture, and even the art of making casts (“odlał je z metali” in verse 10, translated here as “molded metals’ shapes”), to the art of rhetoric, which in this conception includes poetry, literature, and philosophy.
22 The structure of this verse is parallel to that of verse 16 and in the original there is a reference to “thoughts”, “speeches”, and “works”. The tripartite distinction is significant in terms of the underlying anthropology. It is strikingly similar to Jan Amos Komensky’s (1592–1670) view of the three primary levels of human activity: mens, lingua, manus (“mind”, “speech”, “hand”), on which he based his highly influential theory of education. Saint-Martin speaks regularly of thought, will, and action in his pre-Böhme period, which he took from his first master Martinez de Pasqually (1727?–1774).99 This three-partite division was then adopted by Baader who also writes of thinking, willing, and acting as principles activities of Man.100 In the translation “thoughts”, “speeches”, and “works” are rendered in the translation as “art”.
23–24 A similar exhortation can be found in the Imitation of Christ: “Christ was willing to suffer and be despised; and darest thou complain of any thing? Christ had adversaries and backbiters; and dost thou wish to have all men thy friends and benefactors?”101
The Wise Men
The poem was written in Dresden, at the beginning of April 1832. In the preserved portion of the autograph, containing the last 12 lines (in the collection of Wojewódzkie Archiwum Państwowe in Cracow) Mickiewicz made a note: “this was planned in France, written in Dresden”, while another note, added below by another person says that the poem “was sent from Dresden on the 6th of April 1832 to Rome!!” The first printing was included in the Warsaw edition of Mickiewicz’s poems in 1833102 and is identical to its later, fully authorised version, published in the Parisian edition of Mickiewicz’s poems in 1836.103 There is also a manuscript copy, preserved in Biblioteka Kórnicka, and made by Mickiewicz’s friend, Antoni Edward Odyniec (1804–1885) who accompanied him in Dresden. This version differs somewhat from the first printed one; Czesław Zgorzelski believes that it contains an earlier version of the poem, preceding its final redaction.104
The poem is in hendecasyllables. Previous translations:
“The Sages,” trans. D. Todd, G. Rapall Noyes, The Slavonic Review 3, 7 (1924), pp. 69–70.
1 The title “mędrcy”, just as the English phrase “the wise men” brings in Polish associations with the Magi episode from the Gospel of Matthew (2:1–12). The Magi are usually referred in Polish folk religion as “the Three Kings”, but one popular, traditional carol begins with “The wise men of the world, the monarchs/ Where are you going in such a hurry” (“Mędrcy świata, monarchowie/ Gdzie spiesznie dążycie”). Mickiewicz’s poem reverses the symbolism of the Magi episode: the wise men of the Gospel wanted to pay homage to the newborn king on their own accord, and their worldly wisdom led them humbly to submit to God’s revelation in the baby Jesus, whereas the wise men mentioned here are forced to notice God’s revelation (they are woken from their slumber) and must deal with it against their will. Their wisdom makes them, not humble, but proud and violent. Mickiewicz is also playing with the juxtaposition between the learned Gentiles who come to believe in the Messiah and the learned Jews who reject Him.
Criticism of the learned men who are spiritually shallow became very popular in the High Middle Ages, during controversies over the place of Aristotelianism at the University of Paris in the thirteenth century. This was particularly prominent in Franciscan literature, but during the fourteenth century it became commonplace to contrast the “wisdom of this world” with true wisdom, which is based on humility, simplicity, and the purity of the heart. The first book of the Imitation of Christ refers in a few places to this contrast, for instance: “Surely a humble peasant who serves God, is better than a proud philosopher who, to the neglect of Him, studies the course of the heavens.”105 And: “Truly, at the day of judgment we shall not be examined as to what we have read, but as to what we have done; not as to how well we have spoken, but as to how religiously we have lived.”106
5–6 An allusion to: “And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people.” (Luke 22:2; cf. Mt 26:3–5; Mk 14:1–2).
7 In this image the darkness of the night represents the spiritual ignorance of the wise men, while their “lamps” seem to symbolise the feeble light of speculative reason.
8–9 The original has “ostrzyli rozumy”, that is, “they sharpened their reasons”: “reasons” (plural), rather than “reason” (singular). However, it would hardly seem clear in the translation to write: “And on their books they sharpened reasons’ blades”. Not least since, in English, “reasons” will not immediately be read or heard as the plural of “reason” in the sense of ‘the mental faculty of reasoning’. We retained the plural, however, in the added word “blades”; in verse 21 we also decided to leave the plural of “reason” (“And with their reasons pierced his loving heart”). The use of the plural “reasons” has some philosophical significance, since it is not about reason as such, which is universal, and unites all those who use it in their common search for and contemplation of the truth. Instead it is about individual human minds, which in modern times have become overly independent and autonomous, and thus progressively isolated from each other and from the truth itself. The proliferation of philosophical systems was seen by Mickiewicz as a failure of reason rather than its glory; this is a traditional charge brought against speculative philosophy by religious and non-religious opponents alike. The daggers of reason are “hard and cold”, because they represent dead, abstract philosophy and the “dead truths” of The Romantic, opposed to the “living truths”. Saint-Martin says: “And, woe unto you, cold metaphysicians, who make of the Divine Being, and all that emanates from Him, merely a subject for your dissertation and reasoning!”107
11 “Łowić” means both “to hunt” and “to capture”. It seems to allude to the assumption of some of the philosophers, criticised here by Mickiewicz, that they can fully understand God with the natural light of their reason. Of course, Hegel is the most prominent example of a philosopher contemporary to Mickiewicz, who claimed that conceptual reasoning leads, in the process of historical, dialectic development, to the full understanding of the whole of being, including God. The tradition of Western metaphysics, especially the apophatic current derived mainly from Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, emphasises the fact that God’s essence is unknowable and “ungraspable” (gr. akataleptos). The idea that the First Cause of being is impossible to know was first proposed by Plotinus, who himself was possibly inspired by the Neo-Pythagorean philosopher Numenius of Apamea (2nd century AD), whose works are preserved only in fragments.
Following Plotinus, Gregory of Nyssa claims that God’s essence is unknowable and ungraspable, even though we can experience it in “luminous darkness”.108 Pseudo-Dionysius writes: “And then Moses abandons those who see and what is seen and enters into the really mystical darkness of unknowing; in this he shuts out every knowing apprehension and comes to be in the wholly imperceptible and invisible, being entirely of that beyond all of nothing, neither himself nor another, united most excellently by the completely unknowing inactivity of every knowledge, and knowing beyond intellect by knowing nothing.”109 Through the Areopagite, the concept of the unknowability of God enters the Western tradition as well. The Eastern Orthodox tradition claims that God’s essence is impossible to grasp and know in the future life as well as the present, while Western theology, following Aquinas, claims that it is impossible in this life, while the eternal life will consist in knowing the essence of God, although never in the way that God knows Himself.110
In Mickiewicz’s times this motif appeared in Jacobi’s polemic with Fichte (in the famous Atheismusstreit), where he says: “A God who could be known would be no God at all”.111 This greatly influenced the Jena Romantics in their reaction against Fichte’s epistemological optimism. Mystical darkness, representing the unknowing higher than conceptual knowledge, is the main theme of Novalis’ Hymns to the Night. For instance, in the first part of Hardenberg’s prose poem we read: “More heavenly than those glittering stars we hold the eternal eyes which the Night hath opened within us. Farther they see than the palest of those countless hosts. Needing no aid from the light, they penetrate the depths of a loving soul that fills a loftier region with bliss ineffable.”112 Hölderlin observes in his novel Hyperion (1797–1799): “There is a forgetting of all existence, a falling silent of our being, in which we feel as if we have found everything. There is a falling silent, a forgetting of all existence, in which we feel as if we have lost everything, a night of our soul in which no glimmer of a star, not even a rotten piece of wood illuminates us.”113 And Schelling:
Without this preceding darkness creatures have no reality; darkness is their necessary inheritance. God alone – as the one who exists – dwells in pure light since he alone is begotten from himself. The arrogance of man rises up [sträubt sich] against this origin from the ground and even seeks moral reasons against it. Nevertheless we would know of nothing that could drive man more to strive for the light with all of his strength than the consciousness of the deep night from which he has been lifted into existence.114
12 of the original we read that the straight path which leads the wise men and their disciples is “zgubna”, that is, “perditious”. Mickiewicz declines to say where the path leads, so our translation (“it led them straight to Hell”) is an interpretation of what is left unsaid. However, the theological associations of the word “zguba” (“perdition”), at least in the context of the poem, and to readers contemporary to Mickiewicz, points directly to the eternal perdition of Hell. The final damnation of the wise men is not a settled matter within the poem: Mickiewicz is saying: “But God still loves them and he prays for them!”. It seems to be an allusion to the Passion, when, just after Jesus was stripped of His clothes He said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” (Luke 23:34). This gives hope even for the salvation of those who murdered God, but the conclusion of Mickiewicz’s poem (“God lives. He’s dead only within the wise.”) does not sound hopeful.
13–18 The third stanza is a paraphrase of the arrest of Jesus as told in the Gospel of John (18:3–8), with slight changes. In the Gospel Christ asks “Whom seek ye?” and only when he hears that they seek Jesus of Nazareth, he answers with his “I am”. In response, all fall on their faces, while in the poem it is only the wise men who are so humiliated, while their servants simply run away.
19–21 The idea of atheism as the murder of God appears in Böhme:
we lie among Murderers, who have so wounded us, and beaten us, that we are half dead, and we must look about us for the Samaritan with his Beast, that he may dress our Wounds, and bring us into his Inn. O how lamentable and miserable it is, that we are so beaten by the Murderer (the Devil) that we are half dead, and yet feel our Smart no more! O if the Physician would come, and dress our Wounds, that our Soul might revive and live, how should we rejoice! Thus speaks the Desire, and has such longing hearty Wishes; and although the Physician is present, yet the Mind can nowhere apprehend him, because it is so very much wounded, and lies half dead.115
It is also present in the thought of Baader. He writes in essay on the concept of time, published in 1818 (in French and German): “From this point of view we can see that the atheist – or the one who can be called the murderer of God because he sets himself against the complete revelation of God within him – only denies the inner revelation (which he calls the moral), but he does not deny God’s outer revelation, which he calls natural law, fate, destiny.”116 Earlier, Hamann describes speculative philosophy of his time as: “Your lying, murderous philosophy”.117
Mickiewicz himself records a thought of Saint-Martin’s:
The prayer of a Spaniard: “My God, defend me from myself”, concerns a sentiment which proves to be quite salutary, if we are able to feel it in ourselves, that is, if we feel that we are the only enemy on this earth that we should fear; then, God fears only what is not Himself. To the prayer quoted above we could add the following: “My God, deign to assist me in preventing me from murdering you.”118
This curious claim had also drawn the attention of Baader and Mickiewicz could have even taken this quotation from the author of Fermenta cognitionis, who points out that this passage may seem “naïve”, but has a deeply mystical significance.119
In his last work Saint-Martin writes: “by the mode of being we have, through crime, created for ourselves, keep the Heart of God Himself, in us, on its death-bed, and in a grave of corruption.”120 Towards the end of the book he claims that murdering God in one’s own soul is much more horrible than the historical murder of Jesus Christ: “Alas I come to the aid of thine own heart, thine own Word, and, in pity to thyself, save men from a Deicide; for that which they want to perpetrate is a thousand times more criminal than that which the Jews perpetrated on the material body of thy Christ.”121
It is also a highly popular motif in English and American Romanticism. William Wordsworth writes in The Tables Turned, which was included in Lyrical Ballads (1798):
The image of the cold and piercing reason of philosophy, destroying the living experience of reality, can be also found, for instance in John Keats’ narrative poem Lamia (1820), where the philosopher Apollonius also “murders” the fantasy-born eponymous creature:
And further on:
Edgar Allan Poe in his sonnet To Science (1829), calls science “the true daughter” of Saturn, that is, a god associated with death, coldness, and melancholia. In traditional astrology his metal is poisonous, heavy lead:
28 The last line of the poem in the original has, literally, “within the spirit of the wise” (“w mędrców duchu”), which we translate as “within the wise”. The word “duch” (“spirit”) is significant for Mickiewicz, as he emphasises in his Paris lectures:
It is of paramount importance to define precisely the meaning of the word ‘duch’, since it may be said that one third of all the words of the rich Slavic language have their root in this one word. All the words which signify, in the mental realm, the impulses of the soul, desires, the acts of the will, and in the sensible realm, all that in matter is motion, all those words are either derived from the word ‘duch’ or retain some of its core in themselves. ‘Duch’ means not the soul, as some philosophers understand it nor l’esprit in the common sense of this term, but the spiritual essence, the inner essence which animates the body, spiritus in the Biblical sense. (…) [a Slavic poet] doesn’t represent the spirit [‘duch’] as divided into separate faculties, he doesn’t accept the distinctions made by those philosophers who believe that it is reason which is the highest part of the human spirit; he doesn’t consider soul and body as separate entities. He says that the spirit exists by itself and incarnates himself now in desires, now in reason, now in the heart, not being absorbed into any of those instruments. Yes, reason, body, the heart are, according to the poet, only instruments, not constitutive parts of the spirit.125
Despite all that, we believe that we deviate little from Mickiewicz’s meaning, when we say render “within the spirit”, elliptically, as “within”.
Reason and Faith
The autograph is lost. The poem was written between 1830 and 1832, although most scholars nowadays, following Juliusz Kleiner and Wacław Kubacki, are inclined to the second date and links it to Mickiewicz’s stay in Dresden. Kubacki interpreted also this poem as a fragment of the Forefathers’ Eve, Part III.126 The first printing took place in the Warsaw edition of Mickiewicz’s works in 1833127 and the fully authorised version was published in the Parisian edition of his poems128 in 1836.129
The poem is in hendecasyllables; its form is highly classicising (see the Introductory Study, pp. 40–41).
The main theme of the relationship of reason and faith in Christian culture has been fundamental from the writings of the ante-Nicene Apologists (2nd century AD) who tried to convince the Roman intellectual and political elite of the Christian religion’s solid philosophical and scriptural base. The Christian mainstream claimed that Pagan philosophy (including natural philosophy which we today usually call ‘science’), based on reason, does not conflict with a Christian virtue of faith (gr. pistis) in the divine revelation both in the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ. There have been always anti-intellectual tendencies within the Church, like those unnamed Christians who, according to Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–c.215 AD), claimed that philosophy was given to the fallen humanity by Satan.130 Clement opposes this forcefully, arguing that philosophy is also revealed by God and cannot contradict Scripture.131
The precursors of the idea that reason and faith or philosophy and the Scripture are two different ways in which God expressed the same Truth, that is, Himself, can be found in the community of the Hellenised Jews in Alexandria, most notably, Philo Judaeus (20 BC–AD 50), whose method of an allegorical interpretation of the Bible and eliminating contradictions between natural reason and scriptural revelation, was adopted by Clement and Origen of Alexandria (AD 185–253) as a more or less standard Christian teaching. This view was further transmitted to the West by St Ambrose of Milan (339–397) and St Augustine of Hippo. Augustine, in his Confessions, went as far as to say that he found in the “books of Platonists” (lat. libri Platonicorum)132 exactly the same truth as in the Bible, but expressed differently, through rational arguments and discourses.133
On the other hand, the importance of faith for the achievement of rational knowledge was emphasised on the basis of a Latin translation of the words from the Book of Isaiah: “if you don’t believe, you will not understand” (Isa. 7:9; nisi credideritis, non intellegetis). The Hebrew meaning of the verse is closer to “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established”, but the imprecise Latin translation gave scriptural authority to the claim that faith is a necessary ground for the flourishing of the rational knowledge of God. Ultimately, faith was to be replaced by direct vision, as Augustine often emphasised, but it is indispensable for rational thinking. In the Imitation of Christ, which Mickiewicz was intensely reading at the time, this classical attitude was concisely expressed in the very last chapter of the work: “All reason and natural search ought to follow Faith, not to go before it, nor to break in upon it.”134
However, it seems that St Thomas Aquinas’ careful distinction between philosophy and science (based on natural abilities of human reason) on the one hand, and theology or ‘sacred doctrine’ (based on supernatural faith and divine revelation), led to a gradual separation of reason and faith, especially, with the rise of anti-Platonic philosophical tendencies such as nominalism of the fourteenth century. Some theologians saw the rational order of creation not as an expression of the inherently rational nature of the Creator, but as a result of an arbitrary act of the divine will. In this context, it became more difficult to maintain a harmony between reason and faith, science and theology.
Franz von Baader, in his essay Über den Zwiespalt des Religiösen Glaubens und Wissens,135 published in 1833, which could have been known to Mickiewicz, claims that the conflict between faith and reason is a result of the Protestant Reformation. He also claims that there is no real conflict between reason and faith. They are so closely connected to each other that a decline of faith leads to the decline of reason and the decline of reason leads to the decline of faith. They flourish or degenerate only together. What the Enlightenment presented as a conflict between a blind, religious faith in the Scripture and an enlightened scientific knowledge based on sensible experience, for Baader is really a conflict between two sets of beliefs, not between beliefs and scientific truths. The notion of faith and reason in Jacobi is less traditional, since he downplays the importance of reason and identifies faith with intuition or feeling. However, towards the end of his life, Jacobi began to move closer to the idea that his “faith” or “feeling” could be reconciled with historical rationality as understood by Hegel and, in a way, was drawn towards a balance cherished in the classical Christian doctrine of reason and faith (pace di Giovanni who sees in this an expression of the internal contradictions of the very spirit of the Enlightenment).136
1–2 The first stanza features an elaborate image which cannot fully be rendered into English. “Rozumne, gromowładne czoło” (literally, “rational, thunder-wielding forehead”) is rendered in the translation as “proud reason and my head”. The Polish epithet ‘gromowładny’ does not quite mean ‘proud’; curiously, it is traditionally used in the Polish literature to translate one of the fixed epithets of Zeus in the Iliad (gr. erigdoupos). Mickiewicz also uses this epithet in a “small improvisation” of Konrad’s in Forefathers’ Eve, Part III, where he encounters a terrible Raven in a vision: “A giant kite – who art thou, who art thou, raven?/ Who art thou? – I’m an eagle – he stares – / Who are thou? – I wield the fire of heaven!” The last phrase in the original is: “Ja – gromowłady” which is exactly the same epithet used in Reason and Faith.
In the “small improvisation” the pride of Konrad is associated with the eagle (the bird of Zeus) and his “thunder-wielding” epithet. Earlier, in Reason and Faith, he makes the same association. Zeus is, obviously, associated in Greek mythology with the highest place among gods and men. In the third stanza, the lyrical subject is, in fact, depicting himself as a sort of a god, shining in the sky, so it is possible that Mickiewicz suggests here, by the use of this epithet, that the pride taken in reason is a form of a sinful self-deification. The Augustinian tradition emphasised the importance of the Vulgate verse: “the beginning of all sin is pride” (Initium omnis peccati superbia, Eccl 10:15). In the mediaeval West pride was called “the queen of seven deadly sins” by authors including St Gregory the Great, Isidore of Seville and Alcuin.137
On the other hand, in the Christian tradition the eagle can have multiple meanings. It may be a symbol of contemplation (cf. Ps. 103:5; Is 40:31),138 but Dante uses it also, when he is describing the sphere of Jupiter (in cantos 18–20 of the Paradiso), as an allegory of the Holy Roman Empire and monarchy in general. In his dream in Purgatorio 9.13–42, he sees himself captured by an eagle like Ganymede.
7 (“when we fear the flood”), in the original there is a reference to “my nation”, here translated simply as “we”.
19–20 The image of snails in shells in lines (“You are enclosed like snails in little shells,/ While you desire to comprehend the globe.”) recalls Mickiewicz’s early Ode to Youth, where a selfish man is compared to an abominable “reptile in a shell” (“jakiś płaz w skorupie”). Here the emphasis is not so much selfishness or the lack of interest in other people, but the fact that the scholars, self-enclosed because of their narrowmindedness, are incapable of doing what they desire to do: “to comprehend the globe”.
21–24 Epicureans and Stoics represent strands of Enlightenment materialism. The former believe in the complete randomness of Nature, while the latter place their confidence in the absolute determinism of physical causes. Both are seen by Mickiewicz as hostile to true metaphysics. Johann Hamann writes:
Behold! the large and small Masorah139 of philosophy has overwhelmed the text of nature, like the Great Flood. Were not all its beauties and riches bound to turn into water? – Yet you perform far greater miracles than the gods ever delighted to do, with oak-trees and pillars of salt, with petrified and alchemical metamorphoses and fables to convince the human race – You make nature blind, that she might be your guide! Or rather, with your Epicureanism you have put out the light of your own eyes, that you might be taken for prophets who conjure inspiration and expositions out of the empty air. – You would have dominion over nature, and you bind your own hands and feet with your Stoicism, so that in your poetic miscellanies you may sing falsetto on the diamond fetters of fate all the more movingly.140
The exact date of this poem’s composition has not been securely established. In older scholarship it was associated with Mickiewicz’s stay in Rome (1830) and the religious breakthrough which took place there. Later, strong arguments were given for a later date (1832, in Dresden; according to this view, the poem was written during Mickiewicz’s work on Forefathers’ Eve, Part III, the most important Polish metaphysical Romantic drama. Wacław Kubacki advanced a controversial (indeed unpopular) thesis that the poem was a fragment of the Forefathers’ Eve, which was ultimately not used by the poet. Kubacki argued for a close doctrinal affinity between the two works, but nobody could easily point to any passage of Forefathers’ Eve, Part III, where this poem could be situated as an organic part of the whole piece. Kubacki associated the poem with the Improvisation of Konrad (scene II) and the Vision of Father Piotr (scene V), but it is much different from both in terms of poetics and rhetoric.141 In critical editions of Mickiewicz’s poems, the editors usually place Evening Conversation between 1830 and 1832. The first printing (accepted by the Tsarist censors) was published in the Warsaw edition of Mickiewicz’s works in 1833,142 whereas the first edition fully approved of by the poet was included in the Parisian edition of Mickiewicz’s poems in 1836.143 The autograph is lost.144
The poem is in hendecasyllables.
“Evening Discourse,” tr. G.R.Noyes, J. Parish, in: A. Mickiewicz, Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. S. Helsztyński, Warsaw 1955, pp. 85–7.
“Conversation at Evening,” tr. L. Bogan, in: Selected Poems, ed. C. Mills, pp. 108–109.145
“Evening discourse”, trans. M.J. Mikoś, in: Polish Romantic Literature: An Anthology, ed. M.J. Mikoś. Columbus, OH – Bloomington, IN, 2002, pp. 44–45.
1 It is difficult to translate the peculiar quality of the expression in the first line “Z Tobą ja gadam” (repeated in line 5 of the first stanza), because the verb ‘gadać’ implies much more colloquial familiarity than the English ‘to talk’, while ‘to chat’ would seem too informal: ‘gadać’ can refer to a conversation about the most serious things taking place between intimate friends or spouses, while ‘to chat’ seems to indicate that the content of the talk is not very serious. The point Mickiewicz makes here is that his prayer features both intimacy and seriousness, and combines great familiarity and trust. This verb is also used in the beginning of the famous and nationally portentous Scene V of Forefathers’ Eve, Part III, a so-called Vision of Father Piotr. The priest begins by confessing his nothingness before God’s greatness, after which he receives a vision revealing to himself the future fate of the Polish nation. In a philological, prosaic translation: “Lord! What am I before your face? Dust and nothing. But once I confess to you my nothingness, I, dust, will chat with the Lord.” (“Ja, proch, będę z Panem gadał”) Charles Kraszewski, in the only complete English translation of Forefathers’ Eve, omits the powerful juxtaposition of the man/dust and the Lord, joined in a ‘chat’:
Strikingly similar images appear in Book Three of the Imitation of Christ. In the “Prayer to implore the grace of Devotion” we read: “O Lord my God! Thou art to me whatsoever is good. And who am I, that I should dare to speak to Thee? I am Thy poorest, meanest servant, and a most vile worm, much more poor and contemptible than I can or dare express. Yet do thou remember, Lord, that I am nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing.”147 And also later: “Shall I speak unto my Lord, who am but dust and ashes? If I esteem myself to be anything more, behold, Thou standest against me, and my iniquities bear true witness, and I cannot contradict.”148
Mickiewicz underlines the metaphysical difference between God and his creature, as well as the astonishing familiarity and even boldness of a mystic who dares to ‘chat with God’. So even the first line introduces a paradox which is crucial to the structure and rhetoric of this poem. This is followed by the image of the lyrical subject inviting God, who is the King of Heaven, to come to the little house of his spirit in order to ‘chat’ there (a diminutive ‘domku’ in Polish has much more force than English can convey, as there are no equivalent or comparable diminutives in the language).
This seems to be inspired by the beginning of Augustine’s Confessions (just as the whole, confessional tone of the poem bears resemblance to the atmosphere of this great classic of Western spirituality), where he begins by the contrast between the greatness of God and the smallness of man: “’You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised (Ps. 47:2): great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable’ (Ps. 146:5). Man, a little piece of your creation, desires to praise you …”.149 In the chapters that follow, Augustine meditates on the possibility of invocare Deum, literally, “calling God in” to his soul and uses an image of the little house, which appears also in Evening Conversation: “The house of my soul is too small for you to come to it. May it be enlarged by you. It is in ruins: restore it.”150
The same image reappears in the Imitation of Christ (“How shall I bring Thee into my house, I that have so often offended Thy most gracious countenance?”)151 and in Saint-Martin’s Man of Desire: “Without his divine assistance, the man crawls as in the mud; hardly of the bottom of his disabled person house, can he discover far off some beams of the celestial brightness.”152
The final paradox of the first stanza, the image of the heavenly King ruling in heaven and serving on earth, crucified in the human heart, is, of course, striking, but belongs to the long tradition derived from fourth- and fifth-century doctrinal contentions, in which the orthodox position of the Church (as formally taught in the ecumenical councils of Nicea, AD 325, and Chalcedon, AD 451) was that Christ is at the same time God and Man. In the writings of the Church Fathers (including St Augustine and St Leo the Great), the doctrine of the unity of “two natures in one hypostasis” (as Chalcedon was to formulate it) was expressed rhetorically by emphasising that the same Person was lying helpless in a crib and moving the stars in heaven or suffering on the cross and sustaining the universe in existence.153 The reference to servitude as well as the whole of lines 7–8 is a reference to the great poem of St Paul contained in the second chapter to his Letter to Philippians:
The allegories of light, the sun, and the ray in the second stanza recall a popular topos in the Platonic tradition. However, an interesting metaphor of prayer as sending back the rays of light, which the divine Sun is sending to his creatures, is most likely taken from Saint-Martin:
How would the eternal forget his alliance with men? The difference between them makes it present to him. Their disorders stop the circulation of the life on them; they make flow back the divine beams towards their source, and so God knows our troubles and our needs. Let us be just and capable, and the divine beams will propagate peacefully and without obstacle, up to the last stalks of the tree.154
12–13 This leads to the beautifully condensed passage, which we rendered: “You send light – I take light – sending light back.” This line has, theologically speaking, a strikingly Trinitarian form, but, at the same time, follows the Neoplatonic triad of mone/proodos/epistrophe (“abiding/proceeding/turning back”), which was early identified in Christian theology with the Father giving birth eternally to the Word which returns eternally in the breathing of the Holy Spirit to the Father. The universe is taken up in this eternal flow of divinity, because God-Man, returning to the Father in the Holy Spirit, takes with him the whole of creation. In the poem, prayer is a supernatural light descending on the lyrical subject and then coming back (through the Holy Spirit) to its source.
The image of human prayer enriching God (line 13) is doctrinally unorthodox, possibly connected to the idea of the “evolution of God” in Jacob Böhme. However, in mystical parlance there are precedents of such poetic license, for instance, St Paul’s famous claim that Christ’s suffering was somehow incomplete and has to be “filled up” by the sufferings of his Church (theologically untrue, if taken literally): “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church” (Col 1:24).
16 An allusion to Mt 5:16.
17–21 The third stanza is focused on the suffering of Christ and uses the typical imagery developed by Franciscan spirituality in the thirteenth century, and became popular throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Before the thirteenth century, Christian devotion in general focused on neither the humanity of Christ nor on the details of his suffering. The famous Lenten, Gregorian hymns, written by Venantius Fortunatus (AD 530–609), Vexilla Regis prodeunt and Pange lingua gloriosi, briefly mention the details of the Passion, but they focus on Christ as the great King, fighting the war against evil under the banner of the Cross; his divinity is emphasised much more than his humanity. Perhaps the earliest examples of meditation on the Passion of Christ can be dated to Peter Damian (1007–1072/3).155 It is also prominent in Aelred of Rievaulx (1110–1167).156 This practice flourishes from the thirteenth century onwards, especially, after St Francis’ experience of receiving stigmata and his identifying with the suffering Christ. A great change in piety occurs; the faithful are encouraged to meditate on Christ’s wounds and the pictorial details of the Passion, seeking to imitate His suffering with their own suffering. Here the influence of the Imitation of Christ as well as (possibly) of traditional, beautiful Polish devotional hymns, was at the back of Mickiewicz’s mind, when he identified himself as the one who inflicts pain on the Crucified.
22–25 The idea of man being a master of the suffering God (verses 23–24) is striking, but closely follows St Paul’s idea that God, being the supreme King, took a form of a slave (Phil. 2:7). Mickiewicz finishes his thought, namely, that he became a slave of his human creatures, granting them power over himself. The idea of man having power over Christ to torment him appears earlier in the mystical tradition. St Angela of Foligno says: “He gave to humans full power over his person. He bestowed upon their hearts the power to form perverse and murderous thoughts against him, hold council to arrange everything according to plan, strike him, lacerate him, and most painfully crucify and kill him.”157
26–31 The image of the divine Physician (Christus Medicus) in the fourth stanza is a commonplace in Christian tradition from the time of Origen, and is extremely frequent in the writings of St Augustine.158 The idea of the exercise of confession as showing spiritual wounds to the divine Physician who alone can heal them is derived from Augustine’s Confessions (e.g. X.3.3., see note 83 in the Introductory Study). It appears also in the last book of the Imitation of Christ: “Unto Thee I come for remedy, I entreat of Thee consolation and support. I speak to Thee Who knowest all things, to Whom all my inward thoughts are open, and Who alone canst perfectly comfort and help me.”159
32–37 This stanza is difficult to translate, because of the density of contrasting images, which can be reproduced in English only to some degree. The main contrast of the first lines of this stanza is that between an internal, quiet, but horrifying moan of guilty conscience (which is equated with the moans of the damned in Hell), and an external, loud expression of it that is addressed to the subject’s neighbours. Our translation follows the internal logic of this imagery rather than the letter of the poem.
2. Poems Unpublished during Mickiewicz’s Life
Nineteenth-century scholars dated this sonnet to a variety of periods of Mickiewicz’s creative life. Piotr Chmielowski dated it to 1840 and included it among the Lausanne lyrics. Wilhelm Bruchnalski associated it with the Roman lyrics (1830). Stanisław Pigoń argued decisively that the preserved autograph of the poem (the collection of the Mickiewicz’s Museum in Paris) is derived from a very rough draft of Forefathers’ Eve, Part III, and situated it at the upper part of page 50, where there is a fragment of the Ball at the Senator’s (scene VIII of the play) underneath the sonnet.160 This discovery allows scholars to date the poem to April 1832 (according to Czesław Zgorzelski, the end of the month), while some scholars are even inclined to consider it a discarded section from Forefathers’ Eve, intended to precede the Improvisation of Konrad (scene II); but this view has not been widely accepted.
The sonnet To Solitude remained unpublished by Mickiewicz during his life, but the first stanza appeared in 1856 in the Cracow journal Czas, while the full version was first printed in Paris in 1861.161 Sadly, this edition features mistakes resulting from an inaccurate reading of the manuscript; a correct version was later established, thanks largely to the textual proficiency of Pigoń, and this version is considered the standard one nowadays.162
While this poem is considered a sonnet, the poet has not respected all the formal rigors of the sonnet. Jacek Łukasiewicz perceptively describes its structure:
The poem has the size of a sonnet, even though the layout of rhymes is different (abab, ccdd, efef, gg). The encompassing stanzas have alternating rhymes, the middle stanza has even rhymes: this is the one in which the psychological momentum quickens. There is also a division into two parts, as is appropriate for a sonnet; in the first quatrain, the plot takes place (the actions of the subject), while the second section contains reflections. The final distich (and this kind of distich usually ends the so-called “French” or “Spenserian” sonnet) collects, as it were, the whole energy of the incomplete stanza. One could interpret this distich as an interrupted stanza with even rhyme. The poem is astoundingly composed.163
Krystyna Poklewska calls this “A crippled sonnet, breaking all the versification canons of its genre”164 and claims that its form is supposed to express the inner disharmony of the lyrical subject. She presumably refers to its alternation of Polish 13-syllable alexandrines with the verses which form a half of an alexandrine. Since we decided not to use rhymes, we attempted to reproduce the metrical variety of the poem by alternating alexandrines with iambic pentameters in the first two stanzas. The last two stanzas are in English alexandrines (full Polish 13-syllable alexandrines in the original). In the only existing English translation, by R. Humphries, all the lines are equal in length and metre.
“To Solitude,” tr. R. Humphries, in: Selected poems, ed. C. Mills, p. 78.
4 Depth or abyss takes on a special significance within the history of mediaeval mysticism. The Scriptural foundation for it was the image from the Book of Psalms “Deep calleth unto deep” (abyssus invocat abyssum, Ps. 42:7),which has been always understood as referring to the human abyss calling the divine Abyss. However, before the thirteenth century, the human abyss was primarily that of a sinful soul, praying for forgiveness. From the thirteenth century onwards, however, the abyss acquires a new, more metaphysical meaning. It is the depth of the soul that is seen as infinite: in this infinite abyss of the soul, the union or unity with the Abyss of God takes place. Beatrice of Nazareth uses the Dutch word afgrunt, describing the depth of the soul which sinks into the abyss of love to such a degree that it completely becomes love;165 towards the end of her treatise she speaks of a deep abyss of Godhead.166 Hadewijch of Antwerp was the first author to use this term frequently in this metaphysical and mystical sense, calling not only God, but also the soul “bottomless abyss”.167 A similar case is Mechtild of Magdeburg (1207–1282).168 Abyss is also a favourite motif of Franciscan mystics of the late 13th century, such as Iacopone da Todi, Angela of Foligno and Ubertino of Casale.169
5 The phrase “w myślach nad myślami” in verse 5 was suggested, by Jacek Łukasiewicz, to be an allusion to the Song of Songs, based purely on the use of a syntactic construction which imitates the Greek and Latin genitive (Gr. asma asmaton; Lat. canticum canticorum). “Thoughts of thoughts” would follow the pattern of the “Song of Songs” and thus be closer to the original, but it wouldn’t suggest the biblical poem to the reader. Rather, it might suggest something like thinking about one’s own thoughts, which is obviously not the case here. The lyrical subject leaps up to a higher level of thinking that the ordinary thought, probably, meaning either supernaturally enlightened and inspired thoughts, or intuitive thinking which goes beyond the chatter of the everyday mind. Our: “I swim and I leap up to the thoughts above my thoughts” is clearer in terms of its suggested meaning, even though it doesn’t have the peculiar tone of the original.
This is also a key metaphor in Meister Eckhart, who uses ‘abyss’ to describe the metaphysical and mystical unity of God and the deepest centre of the soul: “Here God’s ground is my ground and my ground is God’s ground.”170 And also:
“Truly thou art a hidden God” (Isa 45:15), in the ground of the soul where God’s ground and the soul’s ground are one ground. The more we seek thee, the less we find thee. You must seek Him in such wise that you never find Him. If you do not seek Him, you will find Him. That we may seek Him in such wise that we eternally remain in Him, may God help us. Amen.171
Jacob Böhme speaks about Heaven as “the Abyss, or bottomless Pit.”172 This is also a common motif in Angelus Silesius, for instance: “The abyss that is my soul invokes unceasingly/ The abyss that is my God. Which may the deeper be?” (I.68). Interestingly, he connects the motif of abyss with that of solitude (which is the main topic of Mickiewicz’s sonnet). Angelus Silesius made a note “The abyss of all the shadows calls on the abyss of divine darkness” (Abyssus tenebrarum omnium suarum … divinae invocet caliginis abyssum) under the heading of “solitudo” on his private copy of a selection of mystical texts edited by Maximilianus Sandaeus, Pro theologia mystica clavis elucidiarum onomasticon (1640).173
7 “My corpse” in line 7 is perhaps shocking, but Mickiewicz will use a similar expression in a later poem: [My Corpse Is Sitting Here …] (although the Polish words are different: “zwłoki” in the present sonnet, while “trup”, a stronger word, in the later poem). The contrast between the soul which ascends by being warmed up and awake, on the one hand, and the dead body, cooled down and lying in sleep, comes from the Platonic tradition. When it comes to the idea of “cooling down”, Origen in On the First Principles is developing a false etymology by associating the Greek term for the soul, psukhe, with psukhros (“cold”):
we have to inquire whether perhaps the name soul, which in Greek is termed
ψυχή, be so termed from growing cold out of a better and more divine condition, and be thence derived, because it seems to have cooled from that natural and divine warmth, and therefore has been placed in its present position, and called by its present name.174
Mickiewicz seems to associate here the realm of the sun and warmth with “the heat of daily life”, that is, something which is contrary to spiritual life, a little like Wordsworth in his Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood:
In contrast with this, the cool and dark depth of water is a symbol of contemplation, and this contrast is, in a way, similar to the one between the bright light of the day and the darkness of the night in Novalis’ Hymns to the Night. On the other hand, the watery realm is not described in entirely positive terms, since it is associated with deadness, sleep, exhaustion, while “leaping up” gives the subject access to the “thoughts above thoughts”. Also, Mickiewicz is well aware that the idea of searching for the sun with the eye in line 12 is a Platonic stock metaphor for the experience of God (and he used that imagery in Reason and Faith as well as later in his Vision). The dry and warm realm is “without breath”, while the watery and cool domain is “without warmth”, so both are deficient in some way, and inspire restlessness in the subject.
[I Dreamt of Winter …]
According to the information provided by Mickiewicz himself, the poem is a poetic transcription of an authentic dream that he had on 23rd March 1832 in Dresden. The author was to write it up in the form of a poem which faithfully renders the set of scenes in the dream, immediately after waking up from the dream vision (“Those verses were written as they were coming, without consideration or correction”). The original autograph has not been preserved. In 1840 Mickiewicz copied the Dresden manuscript of the poem; this handwritten version is preserved in the Mickiewicz Museum in Paris. It is impossible to tell whether Mickiewicz made any changes in the text while copying it as he never published the poem during his lifetime. The first (untitled) printing176 took place only in 1880.177
Ewa, the figure introduced in the second part of the dream vision, has her historical counterpart in the person of Countess Henrietta Ewa Ankwicz (1810–1879), whom Mickiewicz met in 1829 in Rome. There was a strong emotional bond between the two, and the poet was captivated not so much by her looks, as by the spirituality, religious intelligence and vivid mind of the young girl. He even thought about marrying her, but her father informed him that he was intending to arrange a marriage for his daughter with an aristocrat. The fact that the parents of the countess did not approve of the potential mésalliance played a significant, perhaps even crucial, role in the affair. After a year, Mickiewicz’s relations with the Ankwicz family were severely restricted. Scholars have frequently discussed the story of Adam’s and Henrietta Ewa’s relationship. In the poem, Mickiewicz depicts the love affair in a different light, suggesting that it was less the resistance of the parents and the submissiveness of their daughter than his own conviction that he could not equal the spiritual and religious stature of his beloved that caused the ultimate breaking apart (in the poem Ewa says that she could have defied their parents). Mickiewicz endowed her with symbolic-sacralised features and eliminated all erotic overtones from the story.
The poem is in hendecasyllables, except that lines 12 and 36 are shorter, arresting the flow of the poem and fixing the attention of the reader.
1–16 Even though in the first part of the poem light and dark are contrasted with each other, this part is dominated by images of death: winter, “mournful black” clothes, all the faces “as hard as stone”, the mysterious woman with her face veiled. The river Jordan seems to symbolise either death or the eschatological end of time, as a borderline between the realm of guilt, suffering, and death, and the divine realm of light, revealing itself, as the allusions to the Feast of Epiphany.
In Eastern Orthodox liturgy, the Feast of Epiphany, unlike the Catholic equivalent, focusses not on the visit of the Magi in Bethlehem, but the Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan. Throughout the first centuries of the Church, the Feast of Epiphany included the commemoration not only of the homage of the Magi, but also Christ’s Baptism in Jordan, and the Marriage at Cana. These three moments from the Gospels were understood by the Church Fathers as a gradual revelation of God, incarnated in Jesus Christ, to the whole world. There is a wealth of images associated with those three aspects of the Epiphany: the humble homage of the Magi, bringing gifts symbolising kingship (gold), priesthood (incense), and suffering (myrrh); the descent of Jesus into the river Jordan, and the theophany of the Dove over His head as the paternal voice announces Him as the Son of God; and the Marriage at Cana, with the mystical marriage of God and His people, and the transformation of water into wine. The central symbol is light, since epiphaneia in Greek means “shining out”.
In the Bible, the river Jordan, the procession’s destination, signifies the boundary between Egypt, the fallen world of sin, and the Promised Land of Kanaan. In Deuteronomy (30:18–20) the passing over Jordan is associated with the choice given to Israel between “life and death, blessing and cursing”. In Joshua, chapters 3 and 4, crossing the Jordan is compared to crossing the Red Sea, with all its significance of moving from the realm of death and sin to the realm of salvation and God’s kingdom. Jordan is also the river in which Jesus was baptised, and whose waters served John the Baptist as a means of purification of sins. Christ needed no such purification; His baptism was instead a symbol of divine nature entering sinful human condition in the act of Incarnation, transforming the waters of sin into the holy water of baptism, the means of regeneration and salvation.
31 The rising of the sun in line 31 brings the reader towards a different set of images, associated with regeneration and contemplation. Snow turning into a white bird seems to have Platonic overtones, in connection with the opening of the bright sky, which is permeated with sunlight. Plato in his Ion, when talking about poetry as divinely inspired, calls the poet “a light and winged and sacred thing”.178 In his Phaedrus we encounter an image of a “perfect and fully winged” soul which has the ability to fly and move around the whole world: “Soul, considered collectively, has the care of all that which is soulless, and it traverses the whole heaven, appearing sometimes in one form and sometimes in another; now when it is perfect and fully winged, it mounts upward and governs the whole world.”179 The Church Fathers adopted this Platonic allegory of the winged soul, associating it with biblical images of flight. St Ambrose famously asserts that the soul has wings, and claims that Plato and other pagan writers took this image from Jewish scriptures (“from us”) rather than the other way around.180 This Christianised image of the winged soul flying up in contemplation became a standard element of mystical and metaphysical language in both the East and in the West. John Keats in his Ode to Psyche (1819) writes: “Surely I dreamt to-day, or did I see/ The winged Psyche with awaken’d eyes?”. And Novalis, in the first part of his Hymn to the Night speaks about “the heavy-laden wings of the soul.”
Such an image of mystical flight appears in Mickiewicz’s early Ode to Youth: “Youth, give me wings! Let me fly over a dead world/ Into the heavenly realm of illusion/ Where zeal creates wonders”. In Forefathers’ Eve, Part III, Konrad becomes an eagle in the “small improvisation” (in scene I) and, then, in the Great Improvisation (scene II), this image is repeated:
36–41 The line “And I saw Ewa” (pronounced “Eva” in Polish) has the air of a mystical vision, not only on account of its shortness, but by virtue of its place within the poem. Ewa seems to levitate or hover over the ground, surrounded by butterflies, which in the Romantic imagination represent the soul. Ancient sources associate butterflies with the soul;182 Jean Lemprière, in his entry in the popular Bibliotheca Classica (1788),183 describes Psyche as: “generally represented with the wings of a butterfly to imitate the lightness of the soul, of which the butterfly is the symbol, and on that account, among the ancients, when a man has just expired, a butterfly appeared fluttering above, as if rising from the mouth of the deceased.”
The appearance of Ewa is strongly analogous to the appearance of Beatrice towards the end of Dante’s Purgatorio,184 where she is associated with the rising sun, blue sky, and flowers:
From her appearance at the top of the purgatorial mountain, and throughout the Paradiso, Beatrice is frequently described as contemplatively gazing at God or some other sacred object, while Dante contemplates her face. Mickiewicz seems to be using the same trope. However, the key difference between Beatrice and Ewa is that Dante’s beloved is an authority full of dignity, while Mickiewicz’s friend has the simplicity and unpretentious freshness of a young girl.
42–46 Ewa is described as a mystic in rapture, just as she appears in Forefathers’ Eve, Part III (scene IV). She is motionless and gazes at Lake Albano, as if she were looking at her own reflection in the water of the lake. She resembles Beatrice in Dante:
She is also implicitly compared to the Virgin Mary, when she is assumed into Heaven, and simultaneously conflated with the Transfiguration of Christ at Mount Tabor (Mt 17:1–8; Mk 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36). According to Eastern Orthodox tradition, as classically represented by St. Maximus the Confessor (580–662), the Transfiguration allegorically shows the light of the divine Logos (Word) shining through the garments of both the Sacred Scripture and the whole universe. The Son of God blazes like fire at the core of every creature, as in the burning bush of Exodus (3:1–17). Both invisible and visible things are his clothes; their destiny is to be transformed into pure and shining white, like the garments of Christ at Tabor.187 While talking about the Transfiguration, St Maximus compares the saints to clear mirrors,188 reflecting the light of the Word, while Ewa in Mickiewicz’s vision both contemplates the divine light in the mirror of the lake and herself becomes a holy reflection of its beauty. In St Maximus, the saints are not only so pure that they are able to reflect the divine light, but Christ himself gazes out from within them, as if He were using their eyes to look at the world, which is transformed in this vision, seen as God sees it through human eyes. Dante first sees God reflected in Beatrice’s eyes, only later turns from her to contemplate Him in Himself.189
Mickiewicz’s combination of imagery from the Feast of Assumption and the Feast of Transfiguration seems related to the fact that both feasts have been celebrated in the same month by Latin and Greek Churches since the early Middle Ages. Transfiguration is celebrated by both Churches on the 6th August, but in the Julian calendar (used in Eastern Orthodox liturgy with which Mickiewicz was familiar in his childhood) this date falls on the (Gregorian) 19th of August, which comes only four days after the Catholic celebration of the Assumption (15th August). Both Christ and His Mother are transformed into luminous beings whose home is Heaven rather than Earth; Mickiewicz associates those feasts of light and heat with the summer and the August harvest.
There seems to be a reference both to childhood experiences of liturgy and to Ewa’s simultaneous identification with the Assumed Mary and the Transfigured Christ, like Beatrice in Purgatorio:
54–58 Mickiewicz calls Ewa his “sister” (in line 54 and also in line 55: “My sister, when I look into your eyes …”), deliberately eliminating all erotic elements from the relationship. The use of “sister” may be an allusion to the Song of Songs, where the Bridegroom addresses the Bride in such a way. In this way, Mickiewicz transfers his relationship with Ewa to a purely spiritual and mystical level, like Dante did with Beatrice. At the same time, she is his bride, the bride of the divine Bridegroom, and a symbol of Mary (who is also identified with the Bride by the ancient and mediaeval tradition). Just as Ewa contemplated God through her beautiful image reflected in the Lake Albano, now the lyrical subject contemplates Him by looking into the shining mirrors of Ewa’s soul. Mickiewicz, in a somewhat naïve manner, exclaims that he feels like he is at church.
59–69 In the third section of the poem, Ewa is transformed into a bird (a sparrow), like the snow in lines 31–32; while she flies, while the lyrical subject desires to join her, but feels unable to do so on account of his sins. Like Dante in the 30th canto of the Purgatorio, he is consumed with guilt and shame, feeling unworthy of following his beloved. The poignant atmosphere of this moment has in it also something of the famous poi si tornò all’eterna fontana moment in Canto 31 of the Divine Comedy, when Beatrice, having led Dante towards the ultimate vision of God, leaves him in order to lose herself in the contemplation of the Good which transcends and includes all human love:
The lyrical subject wakes up, lying down like a corpse, with his hands crossed on his chest; this seems to be a symbolic return to the first, death-oriented part of the poem. A return to daily life is a return to the realm that is subject to death, while the dream vision has opened up the spiritual and divine realm for the lyrical subject, where Ewa dwells constantly. The Platonic contrast between the winged soul and the flight of contemplation on the one hand, and the heaviness of the body (the corpse or the prison of the soul, chained to the realm of death) is striking. However, the contemplative experience leaves some traces: his very tears retain the mystical smell of roses and jasmine.
[Defend Me from Myself …]
This poem remained unpublished during Mickiewicz’s life; we cannot be certain whether he considered it finished. The preserved manuscript is in the Mickiewicz Museum in Paris; on the same sheet of paper there are also two other poetic fragments [Gobs Who Yell in the Name of the People …] and [You Ask Me Why the Lord Gave Me a Little Fame …]. A note on this sheet, written probably by the poet’s son Władysław Mickiewicz,192 has tempted scholars to speculate that those may be some fragments of further sections of the Forefathers’ Eve, Part III, on which Mickiewicz was working after publishing the first act of this play in Paris in 1832. Such a conjecture was proposed by Józef Kallenbach, who edited those poems for the first time on the basis of the autograph in 1889,193 advancing the thesis that they were written between 1836 and 1838. Later editors (Stanisław Pigoń, Wacław Borowy), having read the autograph carefully, introduced a number of corrections to the poem; the most recent version of the poem, translated here, was established by Czesław Zgorzelski. It is generally now assumed that Mickiewicz wrote this poem either in 1835 or in 1836, while working on the cycle Sentences and Remarks, even though there is no conclusive evidence for this. An argument for this dating are ideational similarities between this poem and the aphorisms of the cycle mentioned above, as well as with the views of the mystics (such as Böhme and Saint-Martin), whom the poet had been studying for years, at least since his exile in Russia (1824–1829) and whose thoughts he paraphrased in the cycle.194
The poem is in the Polish 13-syllable alexandrines. Previous translations:
“Defend me from myself”, tr. J. Zawadzki, in: Selected Masterpieces of Polish Poetry, ed. J. Zawadzki, Shenzhen 2007, pp. 54–55.
1 The incipit in Polish is slightly ambiguous, in the sense that the reflexive pronoun ‘sobą’ can be used both for any grammatical person. Thus, it could possible be read as “Defend me from yourself”. Zawadzki, in a footnote to his translation of this poem, also notes this ambiguity. As we indicated in the Introduction, the context, including the reference to Saint-Martin, essentially clears up this ambiguity. However, the idea of God defending the lyrical subject from God is not unimaginable for Mickiewicz, due to his familiarity with Böhme, and his idea of God’s wrath, a dark aspect of the Divine Nature which it overcomes in itself, while also remaining the source of evil in fallen, created spirits.
2 The lyrical subject refers to what seem to be contemplative or mystical experiences in which he is able to see through and understand God’s ‘books’. As we have written in the introductory study, Mickiewicz is referring here to the traditional idea that God revealed himself in two ‘books’, the Book of Creation and the Book of Scripture, and that both need to be interpreted allegorically. The Alexandrian Platonists (Philo Judaeus, Clement and Origen) initiated the influential view that the ability to penetrate behind the veil of ‘the letter’ (or carnal surface) both of the Bible and of the universe, in order to see God hidden behind it, requires divine inspiration from the Holy Spirit. In any case, the lyrical subject seems unsatisfied with the fact that even though sometimes he is able to see God through his books, this experience and the following understanding is not permanent.
Saint-Martin gives a special place above both Nature and the Scripture to the human being as the image of God, saying that “Man is the book of books.”195
3–6 The complex image that is used is that of the cloud and the sun. The sun is usually used to symbolise God, but here Mickiewicz ascribes no single meaning to it; instead he develops a puzzling simile. The sun is shining through the fog to the effect that it, first penetrates through it, then makes it look golden to those who observe it from the other side. The fog is clearly intended to represent a barrier between human spectators and the sun. It seems that the experience of the two observers (the personified sun on the one hand and human spectators on the other) corresponds to the two states of consciousness alluded to at the beginning.
When the spectators see the golden mist, they see the sun shining through it, even though they cannot see the sun directly. This seems to be the moment when the subject of the poem “see[s] [God’s] books right through”: the fog becomes, to a certain degree, translucent to sunlight. When the sun sees darkness, it represents the state in which both the world and the Scripture seem opaque to the subject, while God’s presence appears hidden. Then Mickiewicz elaborates on this simile and adds that we, “being greater than the sun” (which curiously remains endowed with some sort of imaginary consciousness and sense-perception), realise that the fog (that is, the barrier between us and God) is made by us ourselves. Most probably, it is human sin or ignorance that creates the fog between us and God; this corresponds to the request made in the first line, namely, that God take away the barrier that we raised between Him and us. We translated the original ‘powłoka’ (‘cover’, ‘layer’) by ‘veil’, which deviates little from the intent of the original, although it bears the additional meaning of something external and superficial in contrast to something internal and meaningful, which is the key element of the simile as well.
It is worth noting that a similar image appears in Saint-Martin’s Natural Table:
Often, for an entire morning thick fog, or a single mass of vapor spread uniformly in the air, appears to rise up against the light of the daystar and stands in the way of its brightness; but then the full power of the sun breaks through this barrier, dispels the darkness and separates those vapors into a thousand clouds, of which the purest and most buoyant are attracted by its heat, while the coarsest and most unhealthy are precipitated onto the terrestrial surface, there to join and combine with various mixed, material substances. This physical picture is clearly meant to educate us.196
And in his last work, he writes: “his earthly life is itself the sea of mist which shuts out the light of the sun.”197
7–8 The subject seems to achieve the desired experience of transparency, since he exclaims: “I see you, eye to eye”. There is no fog, dark or golden, but curiously it still is not enough, since he, now face to face with God, and has to hold Him by the hands and raise his voice from asking to shouting: “Reveal yourself!” Which suggests that God’s nature is still hidden to him. In the original we read, literally, “give out the secret”, which means implies that there is some intention in God to hide the mysteries of Being from His human creature.
The violence with which the lyrical subject begs God to reveal himself seems shocking, but this is grounded in Jesus’ comment on the character of John the Baptist: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Mt 11:12). The motif of such a “holy violence” appears, for instance, in Angelus Silesius: “If it was not God’s wish to raise me above God/ I should compel him thus, by force of sheerest love.”198
9–23 In the second part of the poem, which follows this climactic cry of desperation, the difficulty for a translator lies in the fact that Mickiewicz expresses a lot of paradoxical ideas, compressed into a relatively small number of lines. The translator’s task is to avoid distorting the ideas whilst retaining the paradoxes, which are the most important element of that section. Mickiewicz uses both rhetorical questions and bald assertions to express the paradoxical similarities between God and humanity. We reproduce this strategy throughout the translation, but in the English version sometimes a question represents an assertion in the original (and vice versa).
10 The idea of equality to God appears in the first book of Angelus Silesius’ work (I.84).199
11–19 The central idea here is of God not being able to fully know himself (and the same applies to the human image of God). Böhme writes: “God himself knoweth not what he is: For he knoweth no beginning of himself, also he knoweth not anything that is like himself as also he knoweth no end of himself.”200 This motif can be found in some of Angelus Silesius’ poems. For instance: “So you would like to see God’s life in length revealed?/ Silence! It is so long, from Him it is concealed.” (III.180) or “How deep the Godhead is, no one may ever fathom;/ Even the soul of Christ in its abyss must vanish.” (V.339). See also I.41.201
24–25 This might initially sound “pantheistic” in a broad (and in fact) improper sense. Mickiewicz is not saying that God is the sky or the seas, but that He is intimately present in them, which is a classical metaphysical doctrine of God’s omnipresence. Baader points out that the source of pantheism is the confusion between Deus in se (God as He is in Himself) and Deus in creaturis (God as He is present in His creation). That distinction allows Baader to say: Deus est in se, fit in creaturis (“God exists in Himself, becomes in His creatures”).202 He invokes Eckhart and his defense of the claim that “God is all things that He creates”, which may sound pantheistic, but, properly understood, is a classical metaphysical truth. It means that only God has the fullness of existence, while His creatures depend on Him entirely in their being.203
As in The Grand Master, another point of reference here might be the hymn by Jan Kochanowski What do you want from us, o Lord? (Czego chcesz od nas, Panie?), where that great poet of the Polish Renaissance says to God: “No church can contain you, every place is full of you: you are in the abyss and in the sea, on the earth and in the sky”. Dante expresses this classical view in the first lines of his Paradiso: “The glory of the One who moves all things/ permeates the universe and glows/ in one part more and in another less.”204 Swedenborg also accepts the traditional Neoplatonic teaching of the omnipresence of God, asserting “The Lord is present in us and with us through out the whole world; and the reason for this is simply that the Lord is not in space.”205 Saint-Martin justifies the metaphysical-mystical experience of seeing everything in God and God in everything by a reference to Nicolas Malebranche, whom Joseph de Maistre called the “Christian Plato”, and who said that:
“we see every thing in God”; but we conceive also that his idea might be conveyed under a less gigantic form; and, if not simplified, at least brought more within reach of our weak minds, so as to shine upon them with a softer light than that dazzling flame which blinds them. This form would be to say: “we really see God in every thing”; and, in truth, we should see nothing in any object whatever, if the Principle of all qualities, that is, God, did not move actively in it, either by Himself or His powers.206
27 Mickiewicz seems to suggest that God and Man are really equals or even that Man exercises some power over God. It can be, of course, read as demonic pride, but also as a reference to the motif present in German mysticism from the time of Eckhart, based on an orthodox and uncontested doctrine that the deepest core of our human self is God’s thought or idea of us, which exists eternally in Him, and is not distinct from Himself. This doctrine was classically formulated by St Augustine, who described God as “that which is closer to me than my innermost self and that which is higher than the highest in me” (interior intimo meo et superior summo meo).207 Line 27 is a paraphrase of Angelus Silesius’ couplet: “Tell between me and God the only difference?/ It is (put in one word) nothing but otherness.” (II.201).
The motif itself is frequent in the Cherubinic Wanderer. In I.10 Angelus Silesius says: “I am as Great as God, he is as small as I;/ He is not over me, not under him am I.” and in I.100: “God shelters me as much as I do shelter Him;/ His Being I sustain, sustained I am therein.” (I.100). This basic paradox is reworked in many other couplets, where Silesius claims that God cannot live an hour without ourselves (I.8) and we are as rich as God (I.14), that we are His “other self” (I.278): without the relationship between us and God, God wouldn’t be God (I.178). He cannot create even a tiny worm without us (I.96) and must do what we want, if our will is completely dead and united to His will (I.98). Baader points out that it is a misunderstanding to read Angelus Silesius in a pantheistic manner, because, again, one has to apply here the distinction between the transcendence (Deus in se) and the immanence of God (Deus in creaturis).208
This motif also appears in Saint-Martin:
Instead of this discouraging system of predestination, might you not, on the contrary, have taught us that it is man, who, by his love, may, in a manner, govern God? For, the hasty do not perceive that God is guided, not only by our wants, but even by our desires. He is to us, not only like a clever physician, who follows, step by step, the course of an illness, and regulates his remedies every moment accordingly; but also like a tender and watchful mother, who studies all our tastes, and who, if we are eager to please her, has nothing too costly for us, and sees nothing in us but the cherished object of all her indulgences. Where is the mother who is not entirely possessed by her son, and ruled by him, when he behaves towards her as he ought?209
28–29 “As we wage war within against our whims”: it is impossible fully to translate the original, where the human war against our whims is waged both internally and in the world, which is to correspond between God’s war with the Devil fought both “in heaven” (within) and “on earth” (in the world). Angelus Silesius equates human, spiritual victory over sin in ourselves with the moment of throwing the Dragon out of heaven by St Michael (III.124).
30–31 Mickiewicz concludes the poem with the most important questions, first, about the meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God and then about the inherent humanity of God: “You took the form of Man. Just for a while?/ Or did you have it since all time began?” This is an old idea from St Irenaeus of Lyons, who claimed that the Son of God would have become Man even if Adam did not fall, and that human beings were created in the image and likeness of God in the further sense that Christ, the God-Man, was the prototype of the human nature (the Church Father based his views on the exegesis of Rom. 5:14, where St Paul says that Adam was “the figure of him that was to come”).210
Irenaeus developed his conception in his polemic against the Gnostics who denied the real Incarnation of God. Christ for him is the archetype and the end of all Creation, not only as the divine Word, but also as God-Man. Since God is beyond time, the divine Word is eternally united to human nature in Jesus Christ, even though it is true that, from the human perspective, there was a time, when the Word had not yet been incarnated. This metaphysical view of eternity and time allowed Dante to describe God as having the human face (which he compares to squaring the circle) in the final mystical vision with which his Comedy ends:
Mickiewicz may consciously allude especially to Emmanuel Swedenborg (rather than St Irenaeus or Dante), since the Swedish mystic goes even further in claiming that God Himself has always had human nature, even though he became a physical human being only in the moment of the historical Incarnation: “This [understanding of God as human] is where the concept of the Lord is to be found, and nowhere else.” He adds later: “He put on this human nature over the human nature he had before.”212
[You Ask Me Why the Lord Gave Me a Little Fame …]
On the autograph and the first printing (1889), as well as the date of this poem’s composition (1835–1836?), see the commentary to the previous poem. Both poems were written by Mickiewicz on the same sheet of paper as unfinished notes. Correct readings of certain words from the manuscript were problematic for its editors. The poem [Defend Me From Myself …] was evidently the first to be written on the sheet of paper in question: it is placed at the top of the sheet; while [You Ask Me Why the Lord …] is situated beneath it, and thus must have been written second.213
The poem is in the Polish 13-syllable alexandrines, which the translation renders with free English alexandrines. Previous translations:
“You ask why God adorned me with a mere bit of fame?”, tr. M. J. Mikoś, in: Polish Romantic Literature: An Anthology, ed. M. J. Mikoś, Columbus, OH – Bloomington, IN, 2002, p. 67
[Gobs Who Yell in the Name of the People …]
For information about the autograph and the date of the poem’s composition (1835–1836?) see the commentary to [Defend Me from Myself …]. This fragment was written down, as Zgorzelski points out, “at the left margin of the last ten lines of the fragment [Defend Me from Myself …] and next to the first words of the third fragment of this manuscript, [You Ask Me Why the Lord Gave Me a Little Fame …].” An incomplete text of the fragment (with the two first lines missing, because they were considered illegible) was published by Kallenbach in 1889, along with the two other fragments. The full version was established by Stanisław Pigoń in 1929, although he read the first words as “Gobs Who Yell at the People” (“Gęby na lud krzyczące”), which was corrected later in 1933 by Wacław Borowy who closely examined the manuscript again and changed the Polish preposition “na” to “za”. This is the standard version today. Of the three fragments found on this sheet, this one was written last.214
The poem is in the Polish 13-syllable alexandrines, which the translation renders with free English alexandrines. Previous translations:
“Hands that fought,” tr. C. Mills, in: Selected Poems, ed. C. Mills, New York 1956, p. 117.215
“Mouths shouting for the crowd will bore the crowd at the end”, tr. M. J. Mikoś, in: Polish Romantic Literature: An Anthology, ed. M. J. Mikoś, Columbus, OH – Bloomington, IN, 2002, pp. 67–68.
The autograph is in the Mickiewicz Museum in Paris. It is written on a single sheet of paper and its end is on its reverse. On the same sheet Mickiewicz wrote down another poem, Profligate’s Regrets. Both are sketches, with numerous corrections, crossed-out words, omissions of letters or parts of words etc. Copies of both those poems were published by Wincenty Lutosławski in his article “Widzenie” Mickiewicza.216
The date of writing has not been precisely established. Maria Dernałowicz dates it to 1833–1836,217 the majority of scholars incline to narrowing this down to 1835–1836, because of textual evidence, including the character of the manuscript. Due to its strong connections to the ideas of Jakob Böhme, one of the earlier Mickiewicz scholars, Henryk Szucki, dated it to 1853 or so, around the time that Mickiewicz dictated his essay on the thought of Böhme to his personal secretary Armand Levy (1827–1891).218 However, this dating has not been accepted by subsequent scholars, particularly because Mickiewicz had stopped writing poetry by this time.
The first printing of the poem was included in the Parisian edition of Mickiewicz’s works in 1861,219 with a note: “Z rękopisu, niedokończone” (“unfinished, from a manuscript”), but the scholars have later rejected the suggestion of the first editors, considering the poem to be a coherent and finished whole.220
The poem is in hendecasyllables.
“A Vision,” tr. P. Mayewski, in: Selected Poems, ed. C. Mills, pp. 109–111.
1–3 The motif of going out of the body is an ancient one in Western mysticism. The key text is St Paul’s claim to have journeyed to the third heaven: “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.” (2 Cor 12:2). The doubt as to whether Paul was in the body or out of it was usually taken as a sign that he was wholly unaware of his body during this rapture; Christian mystics used it to describe their own experiences of what in mediaeval mystical theology was usually called raptus, excessus mentis or ecstasis. Probably quite independently of the New Testament, the only first-person account of a mystical experience in Plotinus’ Enneads reads: “Often have I woken up out of the body to my self, being then outside all other things and within myself, and I have seen a beauty wonderfully great and felt assurance that then most of all I belonged to the better part; I have actually lived the best life and come to identity with the divine.”221 Plotinus’ account was undoubtedly known to St Ambrose of Milan, who alluded to it in his treatise On Isaac or on the Soul222, suggesting that Plotinus had the same “out of the body” experience as St Paul.
Another question is whether the experience of the body being “puffed away” by an angel means that there is no sense-experience at all. In Mickiewicz this does not seem to be the case, given the elaborate description of a kind of cosmic vision which follows. Dogen Zenji (1200–1253) who was the founder of the Soto school in Japanese Zen Buddhism also describes a key experience of awakening or enlightenment (kensho or satori) by a Japanese phrase “shinjin datsuraku,” which means, literally, “body and mind dropped”. It is believed that Dogen himself experienced his spiritual breakthrough, when he heard his master uttering that very sentence to a fellow monk. However, for Dogen and for the whole Zen tradition, the fact that the body is “dropped”, does not mean that there is any interruption in sense-perception or even in ordinary mental activity.223 The sense of losing the body coexists with normal functioning.
This is stressed in the famous saying attributed to Seigen Ishin, a Chinese Zen master of the ninth century: “Before a man studies Zen, to him mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after he gets an insight into the truth of Zen through the instruction of a good master, mountains to him are not mountains and waters are not waters; but after this when he really attains to the abode of rest, mountains are once more mountains and waters are waters.”224 The middle phase, when mountains are not mountains does not mean that the Zen adept stops seeing mountains, but rather that he is seeing mountains in a completely different way in his experience of awakening.
The experience of the body being “puffed away” in contemplation appears also in the famous poem by Wordsworth, entitled: Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey:
that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on, –
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.225
The metaphor of spiritual nakedness is present in pre-Christian ancient Greece sources, based on the mystery ritual of putting off clothes before initiation (which was also adopted in the Christian initiation rite of baptism). Becoming naked is then one of the most significant metaphors in Plotinus’ mysticism, in that it implies the stripping off everything that is external to the true self, which alone is capable of seeing God. Christianity adopted this metaphor; it became extremely popular in the thirteenth century, where it was blended with the ideal of spiritual poverty, embodied in the figure of St Francis of Assisi, who stripped himself before the crowd in order to proclaim his total self-surrender to God.226 The Scriptural grounds for this metaphor are usually the scene of stripping Christ off his clothes before crucifixion and his “self-emptying” or kenosis in Phil 2:5–11.
The motif of the seed of the soul appears frequently in Böhme and Saint-Martin, and derives originally from the classical Stoic doctrine of logoi spermatikoi (“creative rational principles” as it is usually rendered, even though it literally means “seed-like words”, “reasons” or “thoughts”). According to this view, every living being has in itself the inner principle or essence, which dynamically leads it to development and fulfilment of its proper nature. Plotinus absorbed this idea into his Neoplatonic synthesis, which was later, through St Gregory of Nyssa and Pseudo-Dionysius, received by St Maximus the Confessor, who made it one of the most important elements of his metaphysics. Also, St Augustine took it over from Plotinus (in the form already latinised earlier by Cicero: rationes seminales) and included it into this doctrine of creation. According to St Augustine, God created everything by a single act, but left hidden and dormant rational ‘seeds’ in the world, which later, in proper time, would begin to awake and develop into plants, animals or human beings. According to the view of both St Augustine and St Maximus, the rational ‘seeds’ are dynamic powers which make the world develop and which ultimate come from the Son of God who is the primary Logos or Ratio (“Reason”, “Thought”, “Principle”).
Böhme, following Paracelsus and other Renaissance alchemists, looked for such dynamic, spiritualised physical causes in the alchemic doctrine of elements. Also Saint-Martin, in the works he wrote before he familiarised himself with Böhme, often referred to the idea that matter contains the seeds or germs of substances which develop when there is enough warmth to awaken them. In his Of Errors and Truth he identifies the seed of every being with the “innate germ” or inner principle, which governs the development of this being.227In his last work, he writes also: “every act of this substance is a florescence, which ought to begin at the root of our being, at what may be called our soul-germ [fr. germe animique].”228 He also identifies the germ or seed with the ratio (reason or principle):
You who would like to know the reason of things, remember that this is not to be found on their surface; it is not even in their exterior centre, which is the only one which human sciences can open. It can be found only in their inward centre, because there only their life resides; but, as their life is the fruit of the Word, so only by the Word can their inward centre be opened.229
This germ is given to us by God with a task to develop what is “a germ in us, a concentrated germ, which it is for us afterwards to develop.”230 The Scriptural ground for this is the Gospel parable of the mustard seed (Mt 13:31–32; Mk 4:30–32; Luke 13:18–19); Angelus Silesius alludes to it directly when calling himself “a mustard seed” in I.52.231 Earlier, Böhme says:
Therefore, if you do not understand this Writing, then do not as Lucifer did in taking the Spirit of Pride presently, and fall a f mocking, and deriding, and ascribe it to the Devil; but seek the humble lowly Heart of God, and that will bring a small Grain of Mustard-seed (from the Tree of Paradise) into your Soul; and if you abide in Patience, then a great Tree will grow out of that [Seed,] as you may well think, that the like has come to pass with this Author.232
2 The original says only “a field flower”, without mention its name, but he clearly means a dandelion.
13, 29–32 The soul as a ray of divine Light appears, for instance, in Angelus Silesius (IV.136, IV.201, V.50). The relation of the ray to the divine Sun is that of mystical and metaphysical unity by participation: “Myself I must be sun, whose rays must paint the sea,/ The vast and unhued ocean of all divinity” (I.115)
14–15 the images of water and ocean clearly have a spiritual meaning, albeit an ambiguous one. The ray of sunlight which falls into the water and enlightens it seems to mean, as in Reason and Faith and Evening Conversation, the divine light given to the soul that enables the inner eye to see reality as it is. The image of a pool or a lake seems to refer to the transformed soul, since the world with its mysteries is, in this simile, the bottom of the pool. In the subsequent image, all creation seems to be the sea, flowing out of God, but the metaphor of clear water stands for spiritual, not physical nature; again, as in the preceding simile, this ocean is filled with the “blissful light” of God. Dante used a similar image in Paradiso: “Into itself, the everlasting pearl/ received us, just as water will accept/ a ray of light and yet remain intact.”233
The metaphor of the sea and swimming in the sea is one of the favourite in the Western mysticism. We find it in St Angela of Foligno,234 Beatrice of Nazareth,235 Marguerite Porete,236 Gertrude the Great237 and Iacopone da Todi.238 Meister Eckhart speaks about the mystical union in the following way: “God places the soul in the highest and purest place that she can attain to, into space, into the sea, into a bottomless ocean, and there God works mercy.”239 And in another sermon:
As to this, the prophet says that all things are to God as a drop in the ocean. If you were to cast a drop into the ocean, the drop would become the ocean and not the ocean the drop. Thus it is with the soul: when she imbibes God she is turned into God, so that the soul becomes divine but God does not become the soul.240
Dante in the first canto of his Paradiso speaks of “the great sea of being” (lo gran mar de l’essere).241
In the Seventh Mansion of her Interior Castle, St Teresa describes the highest mystical union of the soul with the Trinity in a similar way: “But spiritual marriage is like rain falling from heaven into a river or stream, becoming one and the same liquid, so that the river and rain water cannot be divided; or it resembles a streamlet flowing into the ocean, which cannot afterwards be disunited from it.”242 This is also a favourite metaphor of Angelus Silesius: for example: “The Godhead is a source from which all things do rush/ And then return to it. An ocean It is thus.” (III.168), or “Here I still flow in God, as does a brook in Time,/ There, I shall be the sea of beatitude divine.” (IV.135) or “The drop becomes the sea when it the sea has reached;/ The soul does God become, if once in God received.” (VI.171), or “All in the sea is sea, even the tiniest drop;/ Tell me, which holy soul will not be God in God?” (VI.173).243
Johannes Hamann compares the intellectual heaven to “a sea of glass, like unto crystal mixed with fire”244. Novalis speaks about: “The crystal wave, which, imperceptible to the ordinary sense, springs in the dark bosom of the mound against whose foot breaks the flood of the world, he who has tasted it, he who has stood on the mountain frontier of the world, and looked across into the new land, into the abode of the Night, verily he turns not again into the tumult of the world, into the land where dwells the Light in ceaseless unrest.”245 and Hölderlin describes a contemplative experience thus in his Hyperion: “Often, lost in the wide blue, I look up at the ether and into the holy sea, and I feel as if a kindred spirit opened its arms to me, as if the pain of solitude dissolved into the life of the divinity. To be one with all – that is the life of the divinity, that is the heaven of man.”246
Wordsworth, in his Intimations of Immortality (1807), also compares God to the sea:
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither.247
17–19 The soul is compared to a ray of light, flying throughout the whole universe, by virtue of its participation in the light of divine Wisdom. The mention of Wisdom seems to allude to the images from the Book of Proverbs, where there is a dynamic depiction of the creation of the world, in which the Wisdom takes part, accompanying God in creating waters, mountains, hills, the heavens etc. In the conclusion, she is said to play or enjoy herself not only in the earth, but in the sons of men as well: “Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;/ Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.” (Prov 8: 30–31) Also in the Book of Wisdom we have a similar image: “For wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me: for in her is an understanding spirit holy, one only, manifold, subtil, lively, clear, undefiled, plain, not subject to hurt, loving the thing that is good quick, which cannot be letted, ready to do good,/ Kind to man, steadfast, sure, free from care, having all power, overseeing all things, and going through all understanding, pure, and most subtil, spirits.” (Wis 7:21–22)
Saint-Martin uses a strikingly similar image: “No doubt, Man was born to penetrate the wondrous works of God, and repress disharmony; but it was, also, that he should always dwell near to God, and, from that eminence, continually overlook the whole circle of things, and distribute the divine riches, under the eye of Wisdom itself.”248
19–20 In the tradition of Augustinian mysticism, the eye of the soul can see, because it is enlightened with the divine light. Mickiewicz’s suggestion that he was both the eye and the light seems to point to the tradition of German mysticism, deriving from Eckhart who says: “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing and one love.”249 The Cologne censors objected to this sentence in 1325, to which Eckhart responded by quoting the authority of St Augustine’s On the Trinity (IX.2). Earlier, the thirteenth-century mystic Hadewijch of Antwerp, who inspired later metaphysical mysticism, had spoken in one of her poems of the union with God: “And that beauty will meet with one Beauty/ And they will greet with one single greeting./ And that kiss will be with one single mouth,/ And that fathoming will be of one single abyss,/ And with a single gaze will be the vision of all/ That is, and was, and shall be;/ And that all are wise with one wisdom …”250 Angelus Silesius writes: “God dwells in light supreme, no path can give access;/ Yourself must be that light, if you would there progress.” (I.72).
21–23 Mickiewicz speaks of pouring himself out over everything in a single flash of light. In the translation we added what is implicit in the original, namely, that he saw the whole in this flash of light that he was. The image of seeing everything in one flash of light is a famous one in mediaeval literature and comes from St Gregory the Great’s (540–604) biography of St Benedict of Nursia, where the pope describes a mystical vision that Benedict received: “Standing there, all of a sudden in the dead of the night, as he looked forth, he saw a light that banished away the darkness of the night and glittered with such brightness that the light which shone in the midst of darkness was far more clear than the light of the day. During this vision a marvelously strange thing followed, for, as he himself afterward reported, the whole world, gathered together, as it were, under one beam of the sun, was presented before his eyes.”251
24–26, 33–35 We tried to retain the crucial image of the centre and the wheel, even though we were not able to preserve all the details as they are in the original. However, this is a traditional image of experiencing the world as being within the soul rather than outside of it, as in an ordinary state of consciousness. Another facet of it is the abolition of any distinction between the centre of the circle and the whole of it or its circumference, which implies the abolition or relativisation of the ordinary sense of space by participation in God’s incorporeal omnipresence.
The sources for the symbol of the circle or the sphere can be traced back to the Presocratics: Parmenides (5th century BC) compares the eternal Being to the perfect, geometrical sphere. Later, Plato depicts the World Soul, which is created by God out of mathematical proportions. This image influenced mystical thought through Plotinus, who repeatedly speaks of God as both the centre of the sphere and an all-encompassing sphere.252 In the same way he describes the Soul.253 Through late-antique readers of Plotinus (St Gregory of Nyssa, St Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite) this motif finds its place in Christian mysticism and metaphysics, associated later mostly with an aphorism by Alan of Lille: “God is the intelligible sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”
The whole of Dante’s Comedy is permeated by that image of concentric spheres, circular movements, and the centre. In canto 28 of the Paradiso, Dante has a vision in which spatial relations begin to collapse; he sees that God (or His dwelling place in the Empyrean), who is the all-embracing, spaceless, infinite sphere, has become the shining point, while the planetary spheres are transformed into angelic choirs, moving circularly around it. The earth is no longer the centre, it is the outermost surface of being, but God is both the centre and the sphere containing everything in it. This is strengthened in canto 30, where God is contemplated again as the point which embraces all the spheres which move around Him:
So did the triumph that forever plays
around the Point that overcame me (Point
that seems enclosed by that which It encloses).254
Later, the river of light which Dante sees, turns into a luminous globe:
But as my eyelids’ eaves drank of that wave,
it seemed to me that it had changed its shape:
no longer straight, that flow now formed a round.255
The second important source of this metaphor, crucial for the Kabbalah mysticism, is the vision from the beginning of the Book of Ezekiel (later developed into the Merkabah mysticism), where the prophet sees God sitting at a throne on a sort of a chariot, with moving, concentric circles which have eyes (Ez. 1:4–26). Böhme refers to the vision of Ezekiel many times.256 Böhme compares God to concentric circles:
For the being of God is like a wheel, wherein many wheels are made one in another, upwards, downwards, crossways, and yet they continually turn, all of them together. Which, indeed, when a man beholdeth the wheel, he highly marvelleth at it, and, in its turning, cannot at once learn to conceive and apprehend it: But the more he beholdeth the wheel, the more he learneth its form or frame; and the more he learneth, the greater longing he has to the wheel; for he continually seeth somewhat that is more and more wonderful, so that a man can neither behold it, nor learn it enough.257
The motif is frequent in Angelus Silesius as well, for instance: “God is my center, if I do encompass Him,/ My circle He becomes, I am enclosed in Him.” (III.148) or “It is but you alone that moves and is the wheel,/ Running all by itself and never standing still.” (I.37).258
Saint-Martin already in his early works, independently of Böhme, describes God as “the Universal Principle or Centre, from which all Centres continually emanate.”259 Later, in his last work, he describes a mystical experience of the world as a diaphanous sphere:
And, as Man belongs to Unity, or the Centre, which is the middle of all things, he may grow old in his body, and not the less believe himself to be in the midst of his days. Thus the concealed origin of things is a speaking evidence of their eternal and invincible source, and we feel that there is nothing but death and evil which commence, but that life, perfection, happiness, could not be, if they had not always been. (…) Happy is he who can elevate his thought to this height, and maintain it there! He will thereby attain such clearness of intelligence, that the ground of all that exists, in the order of things invisible, as well as of those which are visible, will appear to him simple, active, permanent, and, so to speak, diaphanous; seeing that the Universal Being, by his continual living Actuality, must carry everywhere the Light  and limpidity of which He is the perpetual focus. But, if we can thus consider the living continual Actuality of this Supreme and Universal Focus, in all visible and invisible things, what will it be when we consider it in ourselves, and see what it works in our own being? For, we shall discover a remarkable difference, in regard to ourselves; that is, that we can, by reflection, readily observe this actuality in all individual things, but that we may feel it, in reality, and in nature, in ourselves.260
The experience of being a motionless axis (“Though motionless, I felt its every move”) appears, independently, of course, in T.S. Eliot Burnt Norton:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
32 Mickiewicz in the original says only that the sun (representing God) remains unseen at the centre of everything. We added “in its dark depth” for metrical reasons, but this is not unjustified, since the link between God’s unknowable and unseen nature and the metaphors of darkness and abyss exists at least since St Gregory of Nyssa and Pseudo-Dionysius. Later it is developed in significant ways in German mysticism which inspired Mickiewicz (as well as in St John of the Cross).
43–48 Cf. Plato, Phaedrus 246a-b. The main idea here seems to be that of the human spirit (the ray of light) mediating between the Creator and the world through palingenesis. The spirits not only move the world and give it life, as Mickiewicz says a few lines above, but also teach the world about God and “report” back to God what goes on in the physical world. Thus the difference between the human spirits and the angelic spirits is blurred (both function as messengers and mediators).
55–62 A strikingly similar image in St Gregory of Nyssa:
There is a doctrine (which derives its trustworthiness from the tradition of the fathers) which says that after our nature fell into sin God did not disregard our fall and withhold his providence. No, on the one hand, he appointed an angel with an incorporeal nature to help in the life of each person and, on the other hand, he also appointed the corruptor who, by an evil and maleficent demon, afflicts the life of man and contrives against our nature. Because man finds himself between these two who have contrary purpose for him, it is in his power to make the one prevail over the other.261
[The Profligate’s Regrets]
For information about the autograph of the poem and its date of composition: see the commentary to the previous poem, which was written on the same sheet of paper (above Profligate’s Regrets). The first printing was included in the Parisian edition in 1861,262 with a different title (Kochanek duchów, that is, “The Lover of Ghosts”) and numerous mistakes which were later corrected by other editors, including Józef Kallenbach, Stanisław Pigoń and Wacław Borowy (among others).263
The poem is in hendecasyllables. We decided to use the iambic pentameter in English. Previous translations:
“Prodigal’s lament”, tr. S. Barańczak, C. Cavanagh, in: Treasury of Love Poems, ed. K. Olszer, New York 1998.
The poem, as we indicated in the introductory study, differs from other Mickiewicz’s poems, since there is no trace of moral self-awareness or examination of conscience here; instead, the lyrical subject places all blame entirely on others. It is hard to discern the spirit of The Imitation of Christ, where we are advised: “To think nothing of ourselves, and to think always well and highly of others, is great wisdom and perfection.”264 Or: “Lord, we are blind, and are quickly misled by vanity. If I look rightly into myself, I cannot say that any creature hath ever done me wrong: and therefore I cannot justly complain before Thee.”265
This is a free translation of the Gregorian hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, from the beginning of the ninth century, and was originally planned for a prayer book entitled Ołtarzyk polski to jest zbiór nabożeństwa katolickiego (“A Polish Little Altar, or A Collection of Catholic Devotional Songs”), published in Paris in 1836 by Mickiewicz’s friends and fellow-emigrants Aleksander Jełowicki (1804–1877; from 1841 a Catholic priest) and the poet Stefan Witwicki (1801–1847). Witwicki, most likely in 1835, revised Mickiewicz’s translation, giving it a more prosaic form and making it semantically closer to the original (in this revised version it was published in Ołtarzyk on p. 283). The manuscript was preserved in a private collection from 1869, and was published with an editorial note by Stanisław Pigoń266 in his article “Veni Creator w przekładzie Adama Mickiewicza.”267
The scholars who compared Mickiewicz’s text with the canonical versions of the Latin poem were especially puzzled by the last stanza of his translation, which has the character of a doxology, which in Roman Catholic liturgy is a formula praising the greatness of God. In this last stanza the poet diverged most radically from the Latin text – in his critical edition Zgorzelski quotes this stanza in two original versions:
As Stanisław Pigoń noticed in his article mentioned above: “the conclusion of the poem in Mickiewicz has nothing to do with either of the Latin redactions and is completely different”. The scholar believed that Mickiewicz has “deliberately diverged from the original”, giving rein to poetic inspiration, because he was aware that in the ecclesiastic hymnody there is a phenomenon of “variety and diversity of doxology” and this emboldened him to transform the finale of the hymn freely in order to emphasise the role of the Holy Spirit as the source of poetic inspiration for, as Mickiewicz puts it, “human thought” which “shines and burns with holy flames”. We may accept those conclusions (as did Zgorzelski with approval) or challenge them, but it is beyond doubt that the way Mickiewicz formulated the conclusion of the hymn inclines us to speak here about a poetic paraphrase rather than a traditionally conceived translation.
Krzysztof Biliński calls this poem a “creative translation”.268 As we have said in the Introduction, on the whole, the translation is anything but creative. Rather, it strikes the reader as extremely literal, apart from the final doxology, whose last two lines, on the contrary, not only are creative, but correspond in no wise to the Latin original. The first Polish translation of the famous Latin hymn, ascribed to the ninth-century poet Rabanus Maurus, appears in The Life of Jesus Christ (Żywot Pana Jezu Krysta) by Baltazar Opec, one of the oldest printed Polish books (two editions in 1522). The second edition contains a Polish translation of Veni Creator Spiritus (Duchu Święty, raczyż przyjdź k nam) as well as other famous Latin mediaeval hymns (such as Venantius Fortunatus’ Vexilla Regis prodeunt and Ave maris stella).269
The second translation was by a popular Polish poet, Franciszek Karpiński (1741–1825) and was published as Pieśń o Duchu Świętym (“Song of the Holy Spirit”) in his collection of devotional songs.270 There is no question that Mickiewicz would have been familiar with that poetic translation, not only because it became quite popular at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Mickiewicz was a child receiving his early religious instruction, but also given how he mentions Karpiński in his lectures at the Collège.271 Karpiński’s translation is wholly literal. The Polish poet reproduces the number of syllables in each verse of the Latin hymn (eight), while also adding rhymes. Despite that, Karpiński manages to reproduce the content of the hymn very faithfully indeed, occasionally adding a word or two, that are not present in the original. However, the first stanza is strikingly different from the original, since it is, literally: “The Spirit of God, dwell with us;/ Visit erroneous thoughts,/ Enriching with the graces of Heaven/ The hearts created by you.” (“Duchu Boży mieszkay z nami; /Nawiedź myśli obłądzone,/Bogacąc Nieba łaskami,/Serca od Ciebie stworzone”). The crucial incipit, addressing the Third Person of the Trinity, as the “Creator Spirit” is transformed into “the Spirit of God”, while the equally crucial apostrophe: Veni! (“Come!”), which also appears in the second mediaeval hymn to the Holy Spirit (the sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus) is replaced there by an imperative: “dwell with us”. Was Mickiewicz inspired, in some strange way, by the fact that Karpiński allowed himself, for reasons that remain unclear, so much poetic license in the opening stanza of the translation, while he followed the Latin text so closely in the rest of them? After all, he did something similar with the last, closing stanza of Veni Creator.
Another striking aspect of this translation, however, is the lack of rhythm or rhyme, even though with his abilities he was surely able to reproduce the content of the hymn, within the rigors of versification. Yet the result is a rather unpoetical, literal translation that strives to retain the word sequence of Latin, which is much more possible in Polish than in English, since the first has flexion and syntactic flexibility similar to the classical language. It almost seems as though Mickiewicz were trying to provide the reader with an interlinear translation, so that a Latinless reader, following the original and the translation, would be able to know exactly which Polish word represented a Latin one. He asks Stefan Witwicki, for whom he produced the translation, to “revise this literal translation”, which Witwicki did, but not by giving it a verse form; rather, he abandoned versification altogether in favour of prose without stanzas.272
5 Instead of Paraclitus Mickiewicz, surprisingly, translates “the highest Brightness”.
11 Mickiewicz confesses in his abovementioned note to Witwicki: “I don’t understand the eleventh verse well. I guess it is connected to lumen, but it is very distant and against punctuation. I translated it as a noun, which is common in such Latin.” He translates “according to the Father’s promise”, but Stanisław Pigoń claims it is a mistake and writes: “It is an ellipsis: Tu rite promissum (donum) Patris. The fact that Mickiewicz misunderstood the verse caused the translation to be mistaken.”273 It is not so simple, however. Why would donum and not lumen or any other neuter noun be omitted here? Mickiewicz who says that promissum functions as an abstract noun is on the right track, since the verse means: “You are what was solemnly promised by the Father”. Mickiewicz seems to have understood the verse well, pace Pigoń, but he chose to translate it freely as “according to the Father’s promise”. Witwicki’s prose revision of the translation has “Tyś pierwszą Obietnicą Ojca” (“You are the first Promise of the Father”), which grasps the promissum better, but introduces “first” which is nowhere to be found in the original.
21–24 In the penultimate stanza, Mickiewicz becomes less rigorous in terms of the order of the words and, unexpectedly, rendering Noscamus atque Filium (“Let us know also the Son”) by “And acknowledge the Son”. He also inverted the syntax of the next two lines. Moreover, Mickiewicz made here some choices which touch upon theological aspects, such as replacing Te utriusque Spiritum (“And You, the Spirit of both [scil. the Father and the Son]”) by “the Spirit/ Who proceeds from both”. He also understands the Latin omni tempore, which means “at all times” or “at every moment” as “for ever” and suggests that the praying subject ask to make an act of faith in the Holy Spirit which will last for ever, as if he did not already believe (“uwierzyli” rather than “wierzyli” for the Latin credamus). This is impossible to translate without sacrificing linguistic simplicity.
27–28 The last two verses are Mickiewicz’s own gloss to the poem. From what he says in his Lausanne lectures, we may infer that he was inspired by Goethe. He says in 1840: “Goethe admired above all the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus. He composed a little commentary on this text. He used to say that an artist should begin his day by meditating on one of the verses of that song; he would call it ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ of art.”274 Goethe’s translation of Veni Creator (1820) was initially entitled “Appell ans Genie” (“Appeal to the Genius”); in this form Goethe send this text to his friend Carl Friedrich Zelter, a composer, asking him to write music for it.275 Julian Maślanka, in his editorial commentary to the Lausanne lectures, fails to solve the mystery of Goethe’s “little commentary” on Veni Creator that Mickiewicz mentions. He says that Goethe called Veni Creator also “a friend of an artist” and “a vesper song of an artist”, but gives no reference. It may well be a brief remark in Goethe’s Maximen und Reflexionen (182): “A beautiful church song, Veni Creator Spiritus, is, as a whole, an appeal to the Genius; in fact, also to Man’s creativity and power.”276 We are unaware of how Mickiewicz learnt that Goethe’s called Veni Creator “the Lord’s Prayer of art”. The expression “used to talk” may suggest a personal communication or hearsay. Mickiewicz met Goethe in 1829: is it possible that Goethe mentioned Veni Creator that summer in Weimar, speaking of the need to meditate on it daily?
[Spin Love …]
This poem, according to the note added by Mickiewicz to an autograph, was written in 1839 in Lausanne. The poet arrived there in June of the same year in order to work as a professor of Latin literature. The poem is in a personal notebook which also includes a manuscript of Sentences and Remarks. From the autograph we may infer that the poet neither felt fully satisfied with the first version of the poem nor considered it to final, as indicated by the (not entirely clear) underlinings and crossings-out of words, along with various mistakes which he did not bother to correct. A copy of the original was published by Stanisław Pigoń in his article “Autograf wiersza Mickiewicza Snuć miłość”.277 The first printing, including many mistakes, was included in the edition of Mickiewicz’s work in 1880.278 The poem belongs to the Lausanne lyrics, which were considered throughout the twentieth century to be one of the most original and innovative works in the history of Polish poetry.279
The poem is in the Polish 13-syllable alexandrines. We have used iambic pentameters in the English version.
“Spin love,” tr. K. Flaccus, in: Selected Poems, pp. 115–6.280
“Spin your love”, tr. J. Lindsay, in: Poems, p. 63.
“Spin love” (unidentified translator), in: Love Poems from Around the World, New York 2000, p. 329.
“To spin love as a silkworm spins its thread inside grown”, tr. M. J. Mikoś, in: Polish Romantic Literature: An Anthology, ed. M. J. Mikoś, Columbus, OH – Bloomington, IN, 2002, p. 68.
1 In his influential book Agape and Eros281 (first edition in Swedish 1930–1936), Anders Nygren argued that the Greek concept of eros, passionate longing, and the Christian concept of agape, charity or self-giving love, are not only distinct, but opposed to and irreconcilable with one another. However, the metaphysical tradition of the Church strived to harmonise the “ascending” movement of eros and the “descending” movement of agape. The key text for the mystical, erotic ascent of the soul from the sensible beauty to the supreme, eternal Idea of Beauty, is Diotima’s speech in Plato’s Symposium.282 The mysteries of love, as described there, begin with beautiful bodies and ascend through beautiful souls and virtuous ways of life and laws, through the beauty of knowledge itself to supreme philosophical knowledge. At this stage, a philosopher may experience “suddenly” the final vision of Beauty or “the ocean of the beautiful”.283
This metaphysical ladder was adopted by the Church Fathers who identified Plato’s Beauty with God (as St Augustine in his famous prayer: “Late have I loved you, Beauty so old and so new, late have I loved you!”).284 What troubled some of them was the fact that the word eros, so crucial to the Platonic metaphysical mysticism, was nowhere to be found in the New Testament, while agape appeared relatively rarely in Pagan Platonism.285 Origen, in his Commentary on the Song of Songs,286 argues that God must be both agape and eros, because those words refer to different aspects of love. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite speaks in even stronger terms, claiming that the meaning of agape and eros is the same and boldly asserting that God is eros, not only agape, as the First Letter of John declares (1 Jn 4:8).287 The tradition arising from Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa, and Pseudo-Dionysius thus emphasises the significance of an erotic ascent of the soul to God, even though it is seen as a response to the primary act of agape, which is already expressed in creation.
The motif of a silkworm is important for Mickiewicz, who believed that the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly is an exemplary image of spiritual transformation. Dante uses this image in his Purgatorio:
It can be found in Saint-Martin’s works.289 In his lectures at the Collège, Mickiewicz says:
If we, for instance, look at caterpillars, those caterpillars to which all the philosophers and poets of antiquity have always compared human souls, some of them still look for leaves in order to enclose themselves, others already sleep in its cocoon and seem immobile and dead, while others already manifest the vibration of their wings and are almost butterflies, still others fly towards the sky. The case is similar with human souls. Some of them continue to exist in an animal state, because they haven’t worked hard enough on their liberation, and haven’t acquired the essential skill of freeing themselves from the body, ripping off the insect-like cover in order to let the butterfly out. There are other souls which are so free that they pass among us with their words and deeds like meteoroids, like true butterflies. The ancients expressed this truth in images, placing on Psyche’s (that is, the soul’s) brow, a butterfly as a symbol of her freedom.290
The motif of a silkworm derives from St Teresa’s Interior Castle, where she writes:
The silkworm symbolizes the soul which begins to live when, kindled by the Holy Spirit, it commences using the ordinary aids given by God to all, and applies the remedies left by Him in His Church, such as regular confession, religious hooks, and sermons; these are the cure for a soul dead in its negligence and sins and liable to fall into temptation. Then it comes to life and continues nourishing itself on this food and on devout meditation until it has attained full vigour, which is the essential point, for I attach no importance to the rest. When the silkworm is full-grown as I told you in the first part of this chapter, it begins to spin silk and to build the house wherein it must die. By this house, when speaking of the soul, I mean Christ. I think I read or heard somewhere, either that our life is hid in Christ, or in God (which means the same thing) or that Christ is our life. It makes little difference to my meaning which of these quotations is correct. (…)
Forward then, my daughters! Hasten over your work and build the little cocoon. Let us renounce self-love and self-will, care for nothing earthly, do penance, pray, mortify ourselves, be obedient, and perform all the other good works of which you know. Act up to your light; you have been taught your duties. Die! Die as the silkworm does when it has fulfilled the office of its creation, and you will see God and be immersed in His greatness, as the little silkworm is enveloped in its cocoon. Understand that when I say “you will see God,” I mean in the manner described, in which He manifests Himself in this kind of union.291
8–12 In the second stanza, which describes the ascent of the soul through the metaphysical ladder of existence and knowledge, we were not able to retain every significant detail. Mickiewicz distinguishes between the power of Nature and the power of elements; we have compressed them into a single phrase (“Like Nature’s energy in elements”).292 This is by no means unjustifiable: in traditional metaphysics, at the bottom of the ‘ladder’ there is the level of inanimate nature, which until modern times was identified with the four elements (earth, water, air, and fire) which are endowed with neither life nor the power of growth. John Scotus Eriugena summarised the traditional ladder of being, giving the widely accepted division into five levels of created existence: (1) inanimate things, (2) plants, (3) animals, (4) human beings, and (5) angels, with (6) God as the highest level, but also the omnipresent reality encompassing all of them and giving them all existence.293
We rendered the Polish “moc krzewienia” by “the power of growth and life”. The Polish word is associated with plant life: while ‘krzewić’ now retains a merely metaphorical meaning of promoting or spreading, the noun ‘krzewy’, signifying ‘bushes’, is still used in plain everyday language. Our hendiadys “growth and life” underlines the traditionally conceived features of this metaphysical level. Mickiewicz curiously skips over the level of subhuman animal life to the human level of existence and, then, the angelic and divine level. We used ‘seem’ in the last line as the equivalent of Mickiewicz’s ‘jako’ (‘like’, ‘as if’).
There are countless classical antecedents of such an ascent of love to God. St Gregory of Nazianzus, in one of his most famous orations, describes the soul’s ascent from inanimate nature through plants, insects (bees and spiders), to man as the rational animal. From there, we should pass to the angelic level, in order to contemplate God together with the holy angels.294 The idea of becoming equal to the angels (gr. isangelia) was popular in ancient Christianity; the angelic stage of contemplation preceded the final union with God. The important aspect of this is that the angels had the function of teaching and instruction, so the contemplation of God, according to Pseudo-Dionysius, had to be mediated by the angels, who reveal the Good to the souls, then raise them, making them equal to themselves:
After these sacred and holy intellects come the souls and all of their goods. That they are the intellects that they are, that they have an essential and indestructible life, are also due to the goodness beyond good; even their being itself is possible through their power to be raised up to the angelic life. Through the angels which act as good guides they are led upward to the good source of all goods, whence they come to be by a participation in the emanating illuminations according to their logos.295
Throughout the late Middle Ages and early modernity we continue to find this tradition in mystical and ascetic literature. Thomas à Kempis writes: “O sweet and delightful service of God, by which a man is made truly free and holy! O sacred state of religious service, which makes a man equal to the angels, pleasing to God, terrible to devils, and worthy to be commended of all the faithful!”296 For further examples, look no further than Angelus Silesius (whose chosen nom de plume means “an angel”), who says: “With love to walk and stand, love breathe and speak and sing/ That is to spend your life as do the Seraphim.” (II.254) and “Who would with just one glance above himself aspire,/ May join the Gloria of the Angelic Choir.” (II.72), and “Three things that I would be: radiant as Cherubim,/ As tranquil as are Thrones, on fire as Seraphim.” (III.165).
The classical Neoplatonic ladder of being could be also found by Mickiewicz in the writings of Saint-Martin who, in his Man of Desire, speaks about the sensible man, the moral man, the spiritual and wise man, and, finally, the divine man.297 Swedenborg refers to this as well:
There are many things that need to be said about levels of life and levels of vessels of life before I can give an intelligible explanation of the fact that other things in the universe, things that are not like angels and people, are also vessels for the divine love and wisdom of the Divine-Human One – for example, things below us in the animal kingdom, things below them in the plant kingdom, and things below them in the mineral kingdom.298
Interestingly, according to him the philosophy of the Enlightenment reduces Man to a status lesser than that of insects, by denying him his immaterial, immortal soul, especially on account of its deism and atheism, which prevail in what Saint-Martin believes to be the ages of the degradation of Man (the fourth and the fifth ages in his view of history of salvation).299 A description of the ascent of the soul from the material world through the angels to God himself is given by Saint-Martin towards the end of his Natural Table.300 There is also a Neoplatonic account of ascent or “climbing”, as he puts it, in Swedenborg’s Divine Wisdom and Love:
I need also to explain briefly how we climb – or rather, are lifted – from the last level to the first. We are born on the lowest level of the physical world, and are lifted to the second level by means of factual knowledge. Then as we develop our discernment through this knowledge, we are lifted to the third level and become rational. The three ascending levels in the spiritual world are within this, resting on the three physical levels, and do not become visible until we leave our earthly bodies. When we do, the first spiritual level is opened for us, then the second, and finally the third. However, this last happens only for people who become angels of the third heaven. These are the ones who see God.301
It may be noted that traces of the traditional metaphysical ascent of the soul can also be found in the famous Ode to Joy of Friedrich Schiller, the poet whom Mickiewicz greatly admired, imitated, and translated in his youth. A section of An die Freude was of course popularised by Ludwig van Beethoven, who adapted it for the fourth part of his Ninth Symphony (first performed in 1824). Although Schiller writes not about love, but joy and pleasure, the old Platonic understanding of pleasure as the enjoyment of the good and beautiful permeates his poem. He says: “Every worm knows nature’s pleasure,/ Every cherub meets his God.” (“Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,/ Und der Cherub steht vor Gott”). As in Mickiewicz, we have here an insect (“der Wurm”) as the lowest creature which seeks pleasure, while the angelic being (“der Cherub”), as the closest being to God, is able to contemplate Him directly and have the fullest enjoyment of the Good.
The juxtaposition of a worm and a Seraph as a poetic motif will be found as early as Angelus Silesius.302 Schiller uses the traditional metaphysical motif of experiencing God through the created world, and ascending to the vision of divinity by contemplating created beings, when he speaks, in the final words (of Beethoven’s version, not Schiller’s original text), about the loving Father (“ein lieber Vater”) who must live above the starry dome of Heaven, and asks whether the world is able to see his Creator (“Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?”), encouraging the creatures to search for their Creator above the stars (“Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!”).
The conclusion of the poem is similar to Angelus Silesius’ couplet: “To love is difficult, for loving’s not enough./ Like God we must ourselves become that very love.” (I.71).303 And love, as Mickiewicz seems to suggest, is the Supreme Reality itself. In Swedenborg’s words: “the divine reality is divine love and the divine manifestation is divine wisdom, these latter are similarly distinguishably one.”304 Also Saint-Martin alludes to the traditional concept of divinisation: “Let us go through the harmonic scale that the man embraces in his course. At the time of his fall, he became matter mixed with spirit. At the second law, he became spirit mixed with matter. At the third, it became pure spirit. At the fourth, he will become deified spirit.”305
[Above the Water Great and Clear …]
This poem included in the Lausanne lyrics cycle, which is usually dated 1839–1840. The first printing is in the Parisian edition in 1861;306 the autograph is now in the Mickiewicz Museum in Paris. It is written on a sheet of paper which includes also other Lausanne poems: [My Corpse Is Sitting Here …], [To Fly Away with a Soul …], [Already as a Child in Our House …]. In the manuscript the poet introduced no stanza divisions; these were later incorporated in critical editions (five four-verse stanzas and one distich after the third stanza).307
In the translation we used iambic tetrameter as the closest to the rhythm of the original.
“Within their silent, perfect glass,” tr. C. Hemley, in: Selected Poems, pp. 116–7.
“Over the water grand and clear”, tr. M. J. Mikoś, in: Polish Romantic Literature: An Anthology, ed. M. J. Mikoś, Columbus, OH – Bloomington, IN, 2002, p. 68–69.
“Above water vast and pure …”, tr. A. Czerniawski, in: A. Czerniawski, “Not Lost in Translation,” Toronto Slavic Quarterly 10 (2004).
2 In the original there are ‘opoki’ (‘rocks’), which we translated as ‘mountains’ (the word clearly alludes to the Alps that can be seen above the Lake Geneva).
4 In the Introductory Study we have already pointed out the significance of the metaphor of mirroring. It appears also in other Mickiewicz’s poems, both in the form of transparent water and of a mirror (Reason and Faith, To Solitude, [I Dreamt of Winter …], Vision). It is present in all the mystical texts which Mickiewicz studied intensely, including St Augustine’s Confessions or the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite who writes that intellects are ”Divine images, mirrors most luminous and without flaw, receptive of the primal light and the supremely Divine ray, and devoutly filled with the entrusted radiance, and again, spreading this radiance ungrudgingly to those after it, in accordance with the supremely Divine regulations.”308 But also later, in the Imitation of Christ: “If thy heart were sincere and upright, then every creature would be unto thee a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine.”309 And in Angelus Silesius, in the very first couplet of the Cherubinic Wanderer: “Pure as the finest gold, hard as the granite stone,/ Wholly as crystal clear your spirit must become.” (I.1). Also: “The soul a crystal is, the Godhead is her shine;/ The body you inhabit hides both as in a shrine.” (I.60).
Swedenborg emphasises: “What is created is suitable for this contact because it has been created by God in God. Because it has been created in this way, it is an analog; and because of the union, it is like an image of God in a mirror.”310 Saint-Martin too compares the human mind to a mirror: “man is the mirror of Truth.”311 And “our thought, a divine mirror; – existence of a superior Being, proved by this mirror when it is clean and pure.”312 This is also a classical view, expressed by Dante in the first canto of Paradiso: “All things, among themselves,/ possess an order; and this order is/ the form that makes the universe like God.”313
15–18 St Teresa also describes some of her advanced mystical visions, using the language of mirroring:
Once, when I was with the whole community reciting the Office, my soul became suddenly recollected, and seemed to me all bright as a mirror, clear behind, sideways, upwards, and downwards; and in the centre of it I saw Christ our Lord, as I usually see Him. It seemed to me that I saw Him distinctly in every part of my soul, as in a mirror, and at the same time the mirror was all sculptured – I cannot explain it – in our Lord Himself by a most loving communication which I can never describe. I know that this vision was a great blessing to me, and is still whenever I remember it, particularly after Communion.314
Later, she had another vision, this time not of herself as mirroring God, but of God mirroring or reflecting everything in His omniscience:
Once, when in prayer, I had a vision, for a moment, – I saw nothing distinctly, but the vision was most clear, – how all things are seen in God and how all things are comprehended in Him. (…) Let us suppose the Godhead to be a most brilliant diamond, much larger than the whole world, or a mirror like that to which I compared the soul in a former vision, only in a way so high that I cannot possibly describe it; and that all our actions are seen in that diamond, which is of such dimensions as to include everything, because nothing can be beyond it. It was a fearful thing for me to see, in so short a time, so many things together in that brilliant diamond, and a most piteous thing too, whenever I think of it, to see such foul things as my sins present in the pure brilliancy of that light.315
A similar image can be found in Adam’s speech in the 26 canto of Paradiso in Dante:
22 Mickiewicz combines the traditional image of a mirror, which is static, with the metaphor of flowing (associated with water, even though the waters of Lake Geneva self-evidently do not flow). However, the human soul was often compared to flowing waters by the Church Fathers, since the key difference between Man and God in authors such as St Augustine or St Gregory of Nyssa (and earlier, in Plotinus), is that the essence of the first is motion and change. It is also present in Saint-Martin’s anthropology.317 Only God is absolute immutability and rest. The human soul acquires peace of rest and immutability only by the union with God.318
Saint-Martin says in his Man of Desire: “But you, the universe, why aren’t you fixed, either in your essence or your faculties? It is because you are descended from agents who are produced and separate from God, as the immortal man; it is because you are only the result of the faculties of these agents and because you cannot be the fruit of their essence.”319 This is an echo of Augustine’s claim that the universe changes in substance and in time, the angelic and human spirits change in time, but not in substance, while God alone is changeless.320
[My Corpse Is Sitting Here …]
The poem included in the Lausanne cycle, dated circa 1839–1840. The autograph was written on a sheet of paper along with other poems: see the commentary above. The manuscript, as Zgorzelski writes, “bears all the marks of a hasty sketch”, it contains crossing out of words, unfinished words, omitted letters. Also its first printing, which was by no means free from mistakes, was published in the Parisian edition in 1861.321 These mistakes were corrected by later editors.322
The poem is in the hendecasyllables. In the translation we used iambic pentameters.
“My corpse …”, in: New Selected Poems, ed. C. Mills, New York 1957, p. 77.
“When my corpse sits here with you together”, tr. M. J. Mikoś, in: Polish Romantic Literature: An Anthology, ed. M. J. Mikoś, Columbus, OH – Bloomington, IN, 2002, p. 69.
1 Mickiewicz also calls his body “a corpse” in an earlier sonnet, To Solitude. This may echo the Platonic identification of the body with the tomb of the soul, and as something dead by itself, made alive only by the presence of the soul (Cratylus 400b–d, Gorgias 492e–493a, cf. also Phaedo 64a and Phaedrus 250b-c). Also, Böhme calls the body “half-dead”: “But the cold and half-dead body does not always understand this fight of the soul: The body does not know how it is with it, but is heavy and anxious; it goeth from one room or business to another; and from one place to another; it seeketh for ease and rest.”323 Saint-Martin proclaims contemporary man “a corpse”, and calls upon the powers of Nature to bury it and perform its funeral. He also says that “the unhappy man is like the dead”324 and that “human souls have become as walking corpses.”325
This corresponds to both Böhme’s and Saint-Martin’s belief that the world in its present fallen condition, caused by the fall of Adam, is a dead or half-dead world.326 The latter author says: “You must no more say the Universe is on its death-bed: it is in its grave! Putrefaction has got hold of it, infection issues from all its member and you, O man, are to blame! But for you, it would not have thus sunk into its grave; but for you, it would not have thus exhaled infection.”327 And: “But is not Man himself on his bed of suffering? Is he not on his death-bed? Is he not in his grave, a prey to corruption?”328
Apart from Platonic sources, Mickiewicz’s use of ‘corpse’ may well be inspired by such New Testament places as “let the dead bury their dead” (Mt 8:21–22) or St Paul’s references to the death of “the old man” (e.g. Rom 6:8, Gal 2:20).
5–8 The beautiful “fatherland of thought” brings, of course, immediate associations with Poland (Lithuania), from which Mickiewicz was exiled and which he described with longing in the invocation to Pan Tadeusz. However, in the tradition of Western metaphysics the concept of the spiritual fatherland of souls has been associated with the realm of spirits in general, which lies above the material universe. Plotinus writes that our present state is similar to people who
sink down into the dark depths where intellect has no delight, and stay blind in Hades, consorting with shadows there and here. This would be truer advice: “Let us fly to our dear country”.329 What then is our way of escape, and how are we to find it? We shall put out to sea, as Odysseu did, from the witch Circe or Calypso – as the poet says (I think with a hidden meaning) – and was not content to stay though he had delights of the eyes and lived among much beauty of sense. Our country from which we came is there, our Father is there. How shall we travel there on foot; for our feet only carry us everywhere in this world, from one country to another. You must not get ready a carriage, either, or a boat. Let all these things go, and do not look. Shut your eyes, and change to and wake another way of seeing, which everyone has but few use.330
13–16 As we have noted in the Introductory Study (p. 71), the woman is not named in the poem. However, in line 12, just before her appearance, butterflies and sparrows are mentioned, which are invoked also when Ewa appears in [I Dreamt of Winter …] (see the commentary on this poem).
[I Shed Pure Springs of Tears …]
One of the Lausanne lyrics, dated to 1839–1840. Its autograph is lost; the last scholar who used it was Józef Kallenbach, at the end of the nineteenth century. The first printing was in the Cracow journal Czas in 1859 (issue 117). It appeared in the Parisian edition of Mickiewicz’s works in 1861,331 where editors wilfully corrected an epithet “durną” (“foolish”, describing youth) to “chmurną” (“cloudy”), probably with the intent of making it sound more noble; this changed the significance of the line, and the whole poem. The correct lectio was restored by Kallenbach who based his edition on the manuscript; this version remains a standard one.332
The poem is virtually impossible to translate. Julian Przyboś, a Polish poet, writes: “I don’t know a poem more unitary nor another lyric in which experience would be more tightly and concisely linked with the bond of words”.333 He praises it as “one of the most sophisticated poems” of Mickiewicz, “one of the most innovative poems in Polish language” and points out that its simplicity is that of the “art so sublime that it is not noticed”.
In every line of the poem there are internal rhymes (“czyste, rzęsiste”, “sielskie, anielskie” etc.) between the epithets which describe the tears and each of the stages of life. Or, as Przyboś calls them, “parallelisms of sound-complexes”, since not only the rhymes, but also the rhythm, run parallel in lines 1–3 and 5. He also coins a term to describe the peculiar quality of those rhymes: “not only sonoric, but conceptual rhymes” (since their meaning is akin to each other).
In verse 4 (Przyboś, again):
the poem has now broken down violently. The effect is so powerful that we are overwhelmed with emotions, as if we, too, were about to pour our own tears of aesthetic experience into the springs of the poet’s tears. The mature age of man wasn’t visually depicted, but with menace and austerity hit with a name as heavy as a rock: ‘wiek klęski’ [literally, “the age of failure”; “coming to fail” in our translation]. A horrifying contrast of this line with the images and the rhythmical shape of the two preceding lines, is shocking. I don’t know of any other poet who could achieve such a strong emotional effect within such a short space.
Apart from that, the poem has a refrain-like structure and many alliterations. Even though it is a single sentence, it never ends, it becomes, according to Przyboś, “a never-ending weeping”. In terms of meter, Przyboś claims that the poem fits into no existing canon or pattern, but has an innovative rhythm and meter of its own, which grow organically out of the syntactic structure of the sentence. It is both peaceful and restless; Przyboś compares it to a “lullaby performing aerobatics”.
We have tried to gesture towards what is going on in the poem, rather than attempting to create something similar or equivalent in the English language. Instead of the rhyme in line 1, we proposed “pure springs of tears”, with several of recurring sounds. “Angelic, bucolic” rhymes and imitates to a certain degree “sielskie, anielskie”, while “aloof and foolish” share similar sounds. Line 4 doesn’t “sound like a gigantic rock which crushes us” (Przyboś), but is different from the rest; the structural parallelism of the two parts of the line, with a sort of monotonous tone (“on my coming of age; on my coming to fail”), are a distant echo of what Mickiewicz achieved in the original.
“My tears …”, in: New Selected Poems, ed. C. Mills, New York 1957, p. 78.
“I shed pure tears, countless tears”, tr. M. J. Mikoś, in: Polish Romantic Literature: An Anthology, ed. M. J. Mikoś, Columbus, OH – Bloomington, IN, 2002, p. 69.
1 Shedding tears over one’s sins and mistakes was considered one of the greatest mystical graces both in the Eastern and the Western tradition (the so-called “gift of tears”). Thomas à Kempis writes: “In silence and in stillness a religious soul advantageth itself, and learneth the mysteries of Holy Scripture. There it findeth rivers of tears, wherein it may wash and cleanse itself; that it may be so much the more familiar with its Creator, by how much the farther off it liveth from all worldly disquiet.”334
This motif returns in Saint-Martin as well, who says:
Now, when Man looks at himself under this aspect, when he considers to what state of disorder, disharmony, debility and bondage, these powers are reduced, in his whole being, – grief, shame, and sadness take hold of him to such a degree, that everything in him weeps, and all his essences become so many torrents of tears. On these floods of tears, represented, materially, by the earthly rains, the Sun of Life sheds His vivifying rays, and, by the union of His powers, with the germs of our own, manifests to our inward being, the sign of the covenant He comes to make with us.335
[Already as a Child in Our House …]
A poem included in the Lausanne cycle, dated by most editors to 1838–1840. Zgorzelski narrows down its possible dates to those of Mickiewicz’s sojourn in Lausanne (1839–1840). On the other hand, Ksenia Kostenicz proposed including this poem among Mickewicz’s very final poetic fragments, which she dated between 1852 and 1855; though she produced no solid evidence to support this claim.336 The autograph, now in the Mickiewicz Museum in Paris, was written on a single sheet of paper alongside three other poems from the Lausanne period; this essentially solves the problem of dating – see the commentary on [Above the Water Great and Clear …].337
As with the previous one, this poem belongs to no traditional category in terms of versification. It is built of longer lines, alternating with shorter ones, but the number of syllables is, in fact, different in every single line (9, 5, 11, 3, 14, 7, 12, 15). Metre also differs, but the poem does not read as prose, or an unrhymed, irregular twentieth-century ‘Modernist’ poem without rhyme or rhythm, but follows its own rhythm and prosody. In the translation, we didn’t follow closely the number of syllables, but we represented the prosodic irregularity of the poem.
“When I was still small,” tr. B. Deutsch, in: Selected Poems, p. 116.
“Even at home …”, tr. C. Mills, in: New Selected Poems, p. 78.
1 The first line contains an expression “w rodzicielskim domu” (literally, “in a parental house”), which sounds cozy and familiar in Polish, but dry and formal in English, if translated literally. We used the pronoun “our” to convey the tone of this expression.
[To Fly Away with the Soul …]
It is a fragment of an unfinished poem, written down on a sheet of paper with other Lausanne lyrics [see the commentary on [Above the Water Great and Clear …], just above the poem [Already as a Child in Our House …]. Such a place of this text inclined the majority of scholars to a conclusion that it was written in 1838–1840 (Zgorzelski narrowed it down to 1839–1840). The manuscript contains no hints of possible directions in which Mickiewicz might have wanted to develop this poem, or its intended poetic form (or genre). Successive editors have struggled especially with a phrase which is traditionally read “na listek” (“on a leaf”): the lectio “na liście” (“on leaves”) would be also justified. What shifts the balance of opinion towards the first version is the use of diminutives in the fragment more generally (e.g. “domku i gniazdeczka”). The poem was first printed338 only in 1911.339
The fragment seems to begin in the Polish 13-syllable alexandrines, although the second surviving line finishes before the caesura (intentionally? See commentary on To Solitude).
“Flight with the Soul …”, in: New Selected Poems, p. 78.
The main feature of the poem is the use of diminutives which are predominant (“listek”, “domku”, “gniazdeczka”). The Polish language is very fond of diminutive forms, which can express familiarity and emotional attachment as well as disparagement, depending on the context. Diminutives also typically feature in the language of children, and in adults’ communication with children. The profusion of diminutives lends the fragment a peculiarly naïve or childlike quality, as well as a sense emotional warmth. In English the only available equivalent would be the qualifier “little” before each of the three nouns in question.
For the symbolic significance of a butterfly (oddly enough, not in a diminutive!) as a representation of the soul, see the commentary on [I Dreamt of Winter …]
St Teresa writes about the soul: “Oh, to see the restlessness of this charming little butterfly, although never in its life has it been more tranquil and at peace! May God be praised! It knows not where to stay nor take its rest; everything on earth disgusts it after what it has experienced, particularly when God has often given it this wine which leaves fresh graces behind it at every draught.”340
The autograph of this poem has been lost. Until 1939 it remained in the collection of the Faculty of Fine Arts of Stefan Batory University in Vilnius. It was written on the upper part of a sheet of paper and separated with a cross from another fragment: [To Listen to the Sound of Water Cold and Still …]. The first printing was issued by the poet’s son Władysław Mickiewicz, who mistakenly claimed that both fragments are one ‘sketch’ for a poem entitled Tree.341 The manuscript was supposed to contain a note that those fragments were written in Saint-Germain, which led Władysław Mickiewicz to date them to 1842. We know, however, that Mickiewicz also stayed there in February 1843 as well as in June 1846, and from November to December 1846. Władysław Mickiewicz suggested that the sheet of paper was saved from burning by a friend of the poet’s: “Mickiewicz was burning notebooks full of copied poems in the presence of Aleksander Chodźko. He saved a quarter of them from the fire, which devoured many other sheets.” We cannot be sure whether the sheet of paper with the two fragments in question was in fact among these.
In the wake of the first printing, the mistake of the poet’s son was repeated in subsequent editions for over thirty years. Both fragments were separated only by Stanisław Pigoń, after a careful study of the manuscript. The fragment in question appeared in a critical edition342 as a separate poem in 1929.343
The poem is in the Polish 13-syllable alexandrines.
1 The symbol of a tree, comes, of course, from the Book of Genesis and the two trees of Eden, and remains prominent in the Christian tradition, signifying spiritual or eternal life. Böhme uses this allegory:
Now when I write of trees, plants and fruits, you must not understand them to be earthly, like those that are in this world; for it is not my meaning that there shall grow in heaven such dead, hard trees of wood, or such stones as consist of an earthly quality. No, but my meaning is heavenly and spiritual, yet truly and properly such: I mean no other thing than what I set down in the letter. In that same power grows up and is generated fruit according to every quality and species or kind, viz. heavenly trees and plants, which without ceasing bear fruit, blossom fairly, and grow in divine power, so joyfully that I can neither speak it nor write it down.344
Swedenborg says: “In every seed, then, there is an image of something infinite and eternal, an inherent effort to multiply and bear fruit without limit, to eternity.”345 And Saint-Martin points out: “Man is the tree, God is its sap.”346
He never ceased to water this seed with the spiritual favours he sent into the world through the ministry of His elect, until He came Himself to water it with His own blood. But Man, the tree, still remains charged to produce his fruits, in, by, and through his descendants. The Word could but give Himself for man; He could not cancel the law by which the tree must, itself, freely manifest what it had received in its essences. So it is allowed to advance each day towards the final epoch, when, supposing all its branches had fulfilled the beneficent intention of their redeeming Source, they would have been destined to show the majestic tree of Man, as he appeared in the garden of Eden; and adorned, besides, with the resplendent branches of all his posterity, who ought to second all his efforts, seeing that the work is common to both the children and the father.347
[To Listen to the Sound of Water Cold and Still …]
An autograph of this unfinished poem was lost and it was, until 1939, in the collection of the Faculty of Fine Arts of Stefan Batory University in Vilnius. It was written on a sheet of paper at the bottom, divided by a cross from a previous fragment, [Tree]. The penultimate line was provided with a note “nie wyczytam” (“I can’t read it”), which suggest that Mickiewicz was copying the fragment from some unknown notebook and that he wasn’t able to read the last words of lines 5 and 6. The first printing was published by the son of the poet, Władysław Mickiewicz, who mistakenly believed that both fragments are “sketches” for the same poem, entitled Tree.348
The manuscript was supposed to contain a note that those fragments were written in Saint-Germain, which led Władysław Mickiewicz to dating them to 1842. We know, however, that Mickiewicz stayed there also in February 1943 as well as in June and from November to December 1946. Władysław Mickiewicz suggested that the sheet of paper with both fragments was saved from burning by the friend of the poet: “Mickiewicz was burning down notebooks full of copied poems in the presence of Aleksander Chodźko. He saved one fourth of them from the fire which devoured many other sheets.” We cannot be sure, whether it was actually the very sheet of paper with the two fragments in question.
In the wake of the first printing, the mistake of the son of the poet was repeated in subsequent editions for over thirty years. Both fragments were separated only by Stanisław Pigoń, after a careful study of the manuscript. The fragments were separated from each other only by Stanisław Pigoń, after a careful study of the manuscript. The poem [To Listen to the Sound of Water Cold and Still …] was published as an independent fragment in an critical edition in 1929.349 The full edition was prepared by Czesław Zgorzelski.350
The poem is in the Polish 13-syllable alexandrines. We used free iambic pentameters.
The dominant linguistic feature is the use of infinitives, which we reproduced, except in line 3 (“To give myself to wind”). In the penultimate line there is a peculiar neologism “wnurzyć”, which we translated simply as “to dive in”. In the last two lines, our translation follows the assumption that the lyrical subject identifies with the fish, which is not explicitly stated in the original, but nonetheless is strongly suggested by the entire context of the poem.
[Just Like a Tree Before It Gives …]
This couplet was most likely written during Mickiewicz’s involvement in the Circle of God’s Work (Koło Sprawy Bożej), founded in Paris by Andrzej Towiański in 1841. After Towiański was exiled from France (1842), Mickiewicz became his deputy, until the Circle was dissolved in 1846. On the basis of an autograph, Stanisław Pigoń dated the poem to 1843 and this was accepted by the majority of scholars. Mickiewicz placed this distich above his Nota do Francuzów (“Address to the French”) written in 1843, where he speaks about the Napoleonic idea, the role of France and Towiański’s mission (it was probably intended for the French followers of Towiański). The manuscript is in the Mickiewicz Museum in Paris.
The first printing was published by Władysław Mickiewicz, who placed it in Kurier Warszawski in 1902 (issue 303). In older critical editions, including the one prepared by Pigoń, the distich was placed next to other unpublished micro-poems which were written in the style of the aphoristic cycle Sentences and Remarks (published in 1836). This practice was justified for two reasons. First, the distich is similar to those aphorisms in its content and form; second, it was written around the same time as the unpublished part of Sentences and Remarks. Czesław Zgorzelski considers it to be a separate poem, emphasising the fact that the poet did not write it down in a notebook which contains all the other aphorisms from that cycle, “which determines evidently a genetic difference of this separately noted down aphorism”.351
The epigram is in the Polish 13-syllable alexandrines.
The curious image of “giving its fruit to seeds” (“przed wydaniem owocu w zarodek”) seems to link the bearing of fruit with the fact that in a fruit there are seeds which contain the energy necessary for the growth of another tree. The prepositional phrase “w zarodek” (“to seeds” or “into seeds”), suggests the movement and dynamism of the situation. The fruit is the climax of the development of the tree and, also, the beginning of another tree. In the same way, spiritual fruit seems to be in the breast (or the heart), the centre of the human spirit, where it becomes the seed of something new. The idea of a seed as the centre of the soul appears in Vision as well (see commentary to the poem and the Introductory Study, pp. 59–61). Mickiewicz also uses it in Ahriman and Ormusd, to describe the centre of the respective realms of light and darkness.
Böhme uses this image of growth and transformation quite often, for instance:
You find nothing else but the Anguish, and in the Anguish the Quality, and in the Quality the Mind, and in the Mind the Will to grow and generate, and in the Will the Virtue [or h Power,] and in the Virtue the Light, and in the Light its forth-driving Spirit; which makes again a Will to generate a Twig [Bud or Branch] out of the Tree like itself; and this I call in my Book the Centrum, [the Center,] where the generated Will becomes an Essence [or Substance,] and generates now again such [another] Essence; for thus is the Mother of the Genetrix.352
He also claims “I am the Lord’s twig or branch.”353, which is, of course, partly an allusion to “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5). Saint-Martin writes:
When physical seeds produce their fruit, they are simply manifesting visibly the abilities or properties which they had received through the constituent Laws of their essence. When these seeds – an acorn for example – accomplishes its individual existence suspended from the branch of the oak which had produced it, it has, as it were, participated in everything that worked upon it in the atmosphere, since it received the influences of the air, since it existed in the midst of all living corporeal Beings, since it was observed by the Sun, the stars, the animals, the plants, men: that is to say, everything in the temporal sphere.354
Also, in his last work, Saint-Martin uses a very similar image to the one Mickiewicz employs in his couplet:
Man is a being, commissioned to continue God, where God is no longer known by Himself: not in His radical divine order; for, there, God ceases not to make Himself known by Himself; for, there, He works out His secret eternal generation. But he continues Him in manifestations, and the order of emanations; for, there, God makes Himself known only by His images and representatives. He continues Him, or, in other words, recommences Him, as a bud or germ recommences a tree, by being born immediately from that tree – without intermedium.355
The Words of Christ
An autograph is unknown; during the Second World War a copy of it was lost. The copy was made by Seweryn Goszczyński (1801–1876), a poet and émigré, who was involved, like Mickiewicz, in the Circle of God’s Work in Paris. The piece is a result of Mickiewicz’s Towianist activism and was, according to Goszczyński, read aloud by its author during a meeting of the Towianists on 14th October 1842. Undoubtedly it was intended for the spiritual consolidation of this group. The text was first printed356 in 1868.357
The tone of the prose poem, as explained in the Introductory Study (pp. 79–80) is solemn and scriptural. In the original it sounds much more archaic to a contemporary reader than in the translation.
The Words of the Virgin
The manuscript is in the National Museum in Cracow. It contains a note by Mickiewicz, precisely dating this piece: “on All Souls’ Night 1842”, that is, the night of 31st October/1st November. The poet intended to send it for evaluation to Andrzej Towiański and his associates, while the latter was staying in Switzerland, as the poet relates in a letter written on 3rd November 1842: “On the night before the Solemnity of All Saints I was very moved and I wrote a couple of poems in prose about the Most Blessed Virgin, which I will send later to Madame Karolina [Towiańska]”.358 The first printing359 was published in 1868 together with The Words of Christ.360
The biblical context for the prose poem is Revelation, chapters 11 and 12, as well as the account of Annunciation (Luke 1:26–38). See the commentary on the Hymn on the Feast of the Annunciation. Exquisite images surrounding the scene of the Annunciation can also be found in the 23rd canto of the Paradiso, where both violent and gentle elements of the event are seamlessly intertwined by Dante.
A. Mickiewicz, Poezye, Wilno 1822, pp. 6–10.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 16–18, critical remarks and alternative versions: pp. 184–193. In the subsequent commentaries we refer to Zgorzelski’s edition.
Dziennik Wileński, vol. I, p. 6.
Plato, Rep. VII, 533d.
Plotinus, Enneads, I.6.8.
Ibidem, III.5.2; cf. also VI.7.35.
See the sixth homily in St Gregory of Nyssa’s Homilies on the Beatitudes: Gregorii Nysseni Opera VII.1.136–148, English translation in: Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on the Beatitudes, ed. H. Drobner, A. Viciano, Leiden 2000.
Marta Skwara, in her study of Auden’s translation, writes: “Thus in Auden’s version (…) we ﬁnd numerous additions to the original on the one hand (actually, there are ﬁve additional verses in Auden’s rendition of Mickiewicz’s ballad), and many omissions on the other (particularly Polish cultural realities disappear). Serious changes of the original phrases can also be easily found, conﬁrming Auden’s unfamiliarity with Polish.” (M. Skwara, “(Mis)translation as a Literary Success”, Przekłady Literatur Słowiańskich 10, 1 (2019), pp. 29–46, on 34).
F. Hölderlin, Selected poems, tr. D. Constantine, Newcastle 1996.
On the importance of Hamann for Novalis and F. Schlegel see A. Regier, “Johann Georg Hamann: Metacritique and Poesis in Counter-Enlightenment,” in: The Oxford Handbook of European Romanticism, ed. P. Hamilton, Oxford 2015, pp. 165–183, on p. 166. On Jacobi’s influence on Frühromantik see M. Frank, The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism, tr. E. Millan-Zaibert, New York 2004, p. 77.
Mickiewicz seems to have read the Jena Romantics during his exile in Russia. In his letter to Joachim Lelewel (19th of January 1827) he mentions F. Schlegel’s seminal Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (Heidelberg 1818) as well as A.W. Schlegel’s Vorlesungen über dramatische Kunst und Litteratur (Heidelberg 1811) and L. Tieck’s Dramaturgische Blätter (Breslau 1826) in his letter to Odyniec (10th of May 1828), p. 470. He discusses Jacobi (particularly his concept of the experience of God through feeling) as well as his influence on F. Schlegel, in the third course of his lectures at the Collège, advancing a rather bold hypothesis that both Jacobi and Schlegel were influenced by de Maistre and Saint-Martin. (Course III, Lecture XVI; Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. X, pp. 216–222). Novalis is mentioned by Mickiewicz in Course I, Lecture XXX (A. Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. VIII, pp. 424–5).
A. Mickiewicz, Forefathers’ Eve, p. 204. Kraszewski renders “uczucia” as “sentiments”, while “feeling” seems more accurate, philosophically, in this whole passage.
David Hume on Faith, in: Jacobi, Main Philosophical Writings, p. 305.
Frank, The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism, p. 77.
G. di Giovanni, Introductory Study, in: Jacobi, Main Philosophical Writings, p. 30.
Athenaeum fragments 350, Schlegel, Philosophical fragments, p. 70–71.
Concerning the Doctrine of Spinoza (1785 version), in: Jacobi, Main Philosophical Writings, p. 230.
Frank, The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism, p. 78. We know that Mickiewicz was reading Schelling two years after publishing The Romantic (possibly even earlier). In a letter to Franciszek Malewski dated to July 1824 he writes: “I think and read little, but I’m in the middle of Schelling. I don’t find in it anything unintelligible or even hard to understand, except for some termina which are aus der Schulsprache. But it’s beautiful.” (A. Mickiewicz, Dzieła. Wydanie Rocznicowe, t. XIV: Listy. Część pierwsza 1815–1829, Warszawa 1998, p. 315).
Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 4.
Ibidem, p. 9.
Concerning the Doctrine of Spinoza (1785), in: Jacobi, Main Philosophical Writings, p. 244.
Jacobi to Fichte, in: Jacobi, Main Philosophical Writings, p. 517.
“Bei Spinoza findet man nur das Petrefakt von diesem Begriff der göttlichen Substanz, den der Philosophus Teutonicus lebendig uns gab.” (Fermenta cognitionis II.7, p. 23).
Course II, Lecture XXXI; Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. IX, p. 396.
B. Pascal, Thoughts §277, English translation by W.F. Trotter in: B. Pascal, Thoughts. Letters. Minor Works, New York 1910, p. 98.
W. Wordsworth, S.T. Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads: 1798 and 1802, ed. F.J. Stafford, Oxford 2013.
Mickiewicz, Poezye, Wilno 1822, pp. 117–119.
A. Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. C. Zgorzelski, pp. 75–76, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 238–241.
See Introductory Study, p. ##.
A. Mickiewicz, Pan Tadeusz or the Last Foray in Lithuania, tr. G.R. Noyes, London – Toronto 1917, p. 1.
For instance: St Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 2.17.
Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae III.10.88–90; English translation by H.F. Stewart, E.K. Rand, S.J. Tester in: Boethius, The Theological Tractates; The Consolation of Philosophy, Cambridge, MA – London 1973, p. 281.
St Augustine, City of God XI.1.
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, De divinis nominibus II.11; English translation by J.D. Jones: The Divine Names. Mystical Theology, Milwaukee, WI, 1999, p. 128.
See, for instance, St Augustine, Sermones 186.1 and 188.3.
Paradiso 33.1–12 (the Italian text and the English translation by A. Mandelbaum we use as well as the commentary by T. Barolini, New York 2014, can be found on: digitaldante.columbia.edu).
On pp. 20–21.
Issue 2, p. 6.
Issue 2, pp. 87–88.
A. Mickiewicz, Poezje, t. VIII, Paryż 1836, pp. 196–7.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 7, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 120–124.
On the history of frequent communion see: T. Scannell, “Frequent Communion,” in: The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6, New York 1909.
Thomas à Kempis, De imitatione Christi IV.3.
De imitatione Christi IV.3.3; anonymous English translation: Thomas à Kempis, Of the Imitation of Christ, London 1901, p. 240.
A. Arnauld, De la fréquente communion, Paris 1643.
F. Fénelon, On frequent communion, in: The Spiritual Letters of Archbishop Fénelon: Letters to Men, tr. H.L. Sindey Lear, London 1880, pp. 277–305; St Alphonsus Liguori, Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Charlotte, NC, 2001.
The Imitation of Christ IV.14.1, p. 268.
Summa Theologiae IIIª q. 80 a. 2 co. English translation by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province: The Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, London 1920.
The Imitation of Christ IV.3.4, p. 241.
Ibidem, IV.11.2, p. 260.
St J.M. Vianney, Eucharistic Meditations of the Curé d’Ars, Meditation 2.2, Dublin 1961, p. 8.
Ibidem, Meditation 21.1, p. 26.
St Alphonsus Liguori, Visits to the Blessed Sacrament, “First Visit”.
St Faustina Kowalska, Diary §1804, Stockbridge, MA, 2005, p. 395.
See S.M. Manelli, The Most Blessed Sacrament, Havertown, PA, 1973, chapter: “Holy Communion: Jesus is mine”.
L.-C. Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, tr. E.B. Penny, London 2011 (reprint of 1st ed. of 1864), p. 71.
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, p. 70. There is no doubt Mickiewicz read this work of Saint-Martin (he could have read others as well, of course), because in a letter to Garczyński (23rd of May 1833) he refers to an idea that God wrapped Man in the material body as doctors cover burnt flesh with cotton or plaster (A. Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. XV, p. 209–210). This thought comes from Man, His True Nature and Ministry, pp. 277–8. Both in a letter from the 31st of October 1834 to Hieronim Kajsiewicz and later, in his lectures at the Collège, Mickiewicz quotes this work again: “We wrote too much for entertainment or with aims too base. Remember, I beg you, those words by Saint-Martin: on ne devrait écrire des vers qu’après avoir fait un miracle. It seems to me that times will return, when you will have to be a saint in order to be a poet, that you will need inspiration and knowledge from above about things which reason can say nothing about.” (Dzieła, t. XV, p. 285). This quotation can be found in Man, His True Nature and Ministry, where Saint-Martin ascribes it to an unspecified poet: “For this reason, a lover of religious poetry has said that a poet, Qui du Suprême Agent serait vraiment l’Oracle,/ Ne ferait pas un vers qu’il n’eût fait un miracle! ” (p. 384).
Confessions VII.10.16, p. 123–4. In a letter to Hieronim Kajsiewicz and Leonard Rettel from the 16th of December 1833 Mickiewicz writes: “Do you have De imitatione Christi and Confessiones S-ti Augustini? I would like you to read it in Latin.” (Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. XV, p. 253).
The Imitation of Christ IV.1.5, p. 232.
Modern readers often forget how zealously the official Church used to be criticised in the Middle Ages and how conventional such criticisms had become. Dante utters a harsh condemnation of the pope and cardinals whose “thoughts are never bent on Nazareth,/where Gabriel’s open wings were reverent.” (see Paradiso 9, 121–142, esp. lines 136–138). In cantos 12–14 of Paradiso, Dante makes St Thomas Aquinas accuse his own Dominican order of degeneracy, while St Bonaventure does the same towards his fellow Franciscans. And St Peter himself, in an astonishingly vitriolic speech (by heavenly standards, at least), says that Lucifer surely delights in the Vatican, occupied currently by the one “who on earth usurps my place, my place,/my place that in the sight of God’s own Son” and suggests a vacancy at the papal throne (occupied by Boniface VIII according to the internal time of the Comedy: Paradiso 27.22–27).
L.-C. Saint-Martin, Natural Table of Correspondences Which Exist Between God, Man and the Universe, tr. P.A. Vaughan, Bayonne, NJ, 2018, pp. 274–6. Mickiewicz himself believed in the transformative power of this sacrament throughout his life. In a letter to Kajsiewicz and Rettel (the 16th of December 1833), he writes: “The greatest aids for me in everything are (De imitatione Christi): Evangelium et corpus Christi. Do you remember what has been written, that the Apostles, having met the risen Christ on their way and talked to him for a long time, couldn’t recognise him until he began to break the bread and give them to eat: this was the moment their eyes were opened. I’ll tell you about my own experience. I was once having a discussion with a simpleton priest and I outsmarted him. Then he said to me: ‘I appeal to Christ: let us talk about it again tomorrow, once we have taken Holy Communion.’ Indeed, after that I realised that he was right, not I.” (Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. XV, p. 252). In a letter to Jakub Tomkowicz (the 10th of November 1841), he writes: “We live in times when similar miracles are easier and more frequent. I warn you that the first condition of your son’s healing is to fulfil religious duties. Let him immediately go to confession and receive the Most Blessed Sacrament. Why wouldn’t he want to do it? Because of worldly prejudices or philosophical theories? Oh! Dear Sir, I have been studying for ages and I have come to see that philosophers are like doctors: they have a lot to advise on small things, but when it comes to serious things, they leave you alone. As the doctors couldn’t heal his body, the philosophers won’t heal his soul. If I were permitted, I’d gladly talk to your son. I allow myself to send him a little book the Imitation of Christ. Let him accept it and keep it, until he is well.” (Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. XV, p. 671).
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, p. 260.
St Ambrose of Milan, De virginibus, I.3.11; English translation by H. de Romestin, E. de Romestin, H.T.F. Duckworth, in: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. 10.
St Ambrose of Milan, De virginitate XIV.
Translation according to: The Watching Angel, in: The works of Victor Hugo, New York 1888.
St Augustine, Confessions VII.14.20.
St Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job V.31.54 and XXX.16.54.
St Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermones super Canticum canticorum 52.4–6.
Hugo of St Victor, De contemplatione (Hugues de Saint-Victor, La contemplation et ses espèces, ed. R. Baron, Tournai-Paris 1958), pp. 88–89.
Meister Eckhart, Sermons 18 .
F. Hölderlin, Selected poems, tr. D. Constantine, Newcastle 1996.
F. Hölderlin, Hyperion, or the Hermit in Greece, tr. R. Benjamin, Brooklyn, NY, 2008, p. 13.
Novalis, Hymns to the Night, tr. G. MacDonald, in: G. Macdonald, Rampolli, London 1897.
A. Mickiewicz, Poezje, t. VIII, Paryż 1836, pp. 150–151.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, pp. 6–7, critical remarks and variants of the text: p. 119.
Course I, Lecture V; Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. VIII, p. 64.
Course I, Lecture VIII; ibidem, p. 92.
Plato, Republic 590a–b (gr. to leontodes te kai opheodes).
Plato, Republic 507b-509c.
J. Böhme, Aurora 3, 41–46. See also Saint-Martin’s description of the function of the sun in Böhme: “This place, or centre, according to our author, is the place in which our sun is kindled. Out of this place or centre all kinds of qualities, forms, or powers, which fill and constitute the universe, are engendered and produced, all in conformity with the laws of divine generation; for he admits, in all beings, and eternally in the Supreme Wisdom, a centre in which a sevenfold production or subdivision takes place. He calls this centre the Separator.” (Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, p. 111).
“Take care not to think that the spiritual world’s sun is actually God. The real God is a person. The first emanation from his love and wisdom is something fiery and spiritual that looks like a sun to angels. When the Lord makes himself visible to angels in person, then, he does so in human form, sometimes within the sun, sometimes outside it.” (E. Swedenborg, Divine Wisdom and Love, tr. G.F. Dole, West Chester, PE, 2010, p. 38)
L.-C. de Saint-Martin, The Man of Desire, tr. F.M. Lonji, 2017, §198.
A. Mickiewicz, Poezje, Paryż 1836, pp. 148–9.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 8, critical remarks and variants of the text, pp. 124–128.
See e.g. Epistulae 18 and 169.11.
See e.g. Confessions XII; The City of God XII.9.
Saint-Martin, Natural Table, p. 34.
Salloustios, De deis 3.
See St Augustine Epistulae 138.5 and 166.13 as well as Confessions IV.10.15 and XI.6.8.
See J.-L. Chretien, “From God the Artist to Man the Creator,” in Hand to Hand: Listening to the Work of Art, tr. S.E. Lewis, New York 2002.
J. Kochanowski, Pieśni, Wrocław 1970 (tr. M.S.).
Saint-Martin, Natural Table, p. 37.
Ibidem, p. 39.
De ecclesiastica hierarchia IV.3.1.
Saint-Martin, Natural Table, see e.g. the whole of chapter ten. On Pasqually’s influence see ibidem, p. 52, n. 30.
Baader, Fermenta cognitionis I.2, p. 37–39. In their fallen condition those three activities are allegorically linked by Baader to Lucifer (thinking), Adam (willing) and Eve (acting). In the redeemed state, thinking should become admiring, willing should be praying, and acting should be serving others (I.17, p. 39).
The Imitation of Christ II.1.5.
Mickiewicz, Poezje, Warszawa 1833, vol. 3, pp. 236–137.
Mickiewicz, Poezje, Paryż 1836, pp. 156–158.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 75, critical remarks and variants of the text, p. 133–136.
The Imitation of Christ I.2.1, p. 5.
Ibidem, I.3.5, p. 9.
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, p. 292.
“For leaving behind everything that is observed, not only what sense comprehends but also what the intelligence thinks it sees, it keeps on penetrating deeper until by the intelligence’s yearning for understanding it gains access to the invisible and the incomprehensible, and there it sees God. That is the true knowledge of what is sought; this is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of darkness.” (Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, p. 80).
Mystical Theology I.3, English translation by J.D. Jones in: Pseudo-Dionysius, The Divine Names. Mystical Theology, p. 214.
See Summa theologiae I, q.12, a.1, co.
Jacobi to Fichte, in: Jacobi, Main Philosophical Writings, p. 500.
Novalis, Hymns to the Night.
Hölderlin, Hyperion, p. 56.
F. Schelling, Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom, tr. J. Love, J. Schmidt, New York 2006, p. 29.
J. Böhme, The Three Principles of the Divine Essence, tr. J. Sparrow, Nashville, AR, 2016, 24, 4.
Sur la notion de temps, vol. 2, in: F. von Baader, Sämmtliche Werke, vol. 2, Leipzig 1851, pp. 47–68, on p. 58. The paper appeared originally in French, but a German translation by Baader is included in his collected works (as Über den Begriff der Zeit). English translation by J.G. Friesen: https://jgfriesen.wordpress.com/franz-von-baader/.
Hamann, Aesthetica in nuce, p. 77.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. XIII, p. 341.
“In demselben Sinne hat man auch jenes naive Gebet St. Martins zu verstehen, welcher Gott bittet, dass Er ihn (den Bittenden) hindern möchte, Ihn (Gott) in such zu tödten! Denn die Sünde hemmt Conjunction des sich im Menschen bittenden (suchenden) und erhörenden (findenden) Gottes; eine Conjunction, welche die französischen Mystiker la celebration des saintes noces nennen.” (Fermenta cognitionis IV, p. xv)
Saint-Martin, Man, His Nature and Ministry, p. 87.
Ibidem, p. 414.
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads.
Lines 229–238. J. Keats, Poetical Works and Other Writings, New York 1970.
E.A. Poe, The Complete Tales and Poems, New York 2015.
Course II, Lecture XII; Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. IX, pp. 167–8.
See the commentary on Evening Conversation.
Mickiewicz, Poezje, Warszawa 1833, vol. 3, pp. 232–235.
Mickiewicz, Poezje, Paryż 1833, pp. 152–155.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 10, critical remarks and variants of the text: p. 130–133.
Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis I.18.3–4.
It is believed that it was primarily a Latin translation of Plotinus’ Enneads and possibly some works by his disciple and editor, Porphyry.
The Imitation of Christ IV.18.5, p. 278.
F. von Baader, Über den Zwiespalt des Religiösen Glaubens und Wissens als die geistige Wurzel des Verfalls der religiösen und politischen Societät in unserer wie in jeder Zeit, in: Sämttliche Werke, vol. I, Leipzig 1851, pp. 357–82.
G. di Giovanni, Introductory Study, in: Jacobi, Main Philosophical Writings, pp. 163–167.
See D.D. Allman, “Sin and the Construction of Carolingian Kingship”, in: The Seven Deadly Sins: from Communities to Individuals, ed. R. Newhauser, Leiden 2007, pp. 21–40, on pp. 37–40.
Pseudo-Dionysius, De coelesti hierarchia XV.8, English tr. by J. Parker: On the Heavenly Hierarchy, in: The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite, London 1897, p. 177.
Which is the body of rules, principles, and traditions relating to the Scriptures.
Hamann, Aesthetica in nuce, p. 80.
W. Kubacki, Żeglarz i pielgrzym, Warszawa 1954, pp. 188–194.
A. Mickiewicz, Poezje, Warszawa 1833, vol. 3, pp. 238–240.
Mickiewicz, Poezje, Paryż 1836, pp. 159–162.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, pp. 8–9, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 128–130.
It is a prose translation.
Mickiewicz, Forefathers’ Eve, London 2016.
The Imitation of Christ III.3.5, p.100.
Ibidem, III.8.1, p. 113.
Confessions I.1.1, p. 3.
Ibidem, I.5.6, p. 6.
The Imitation of Christ IV.1.3, p. 231.
Saint-Martin, The Man of Desire §46.
See e.g. St Augustine, Sermones 187 and 202.
Saint-Martin, The Man of Desire §249.
Peter Damian, Opusculum decimum nonum. De abdicatione episcopatus 5, Patrologia Latina 145, p. 432AB.
Aelred of Rievaulx, Speculum caritatis I.5.16.
St Angela of Foligno, Instructiones XXII, English tr. by P. Lachance in: Angela of Foligno, Complete Works, New York 1993.
The motif of Christ the Physician derives from the Gospel, where a significant part of Jesus’ mission is healing physical and spiritual diseases. Jesus himself compares sin to disease, pointing to a symbolic character of his healing mission (Mt 9:12; Mk 2:17; Luke 5:31). Due to the popularity of the motif in St Augustine’s writings, it is also prevalent in the Middle Ages (for instance, in St Bonaventure, where the sixth part of his work Breviloquium is entitled “On Sacramental Therapy” (De medicina sacramentali, see St Bonaventure of Bagnoreggio, Doctoris seraphici S. Bonaventurae opera omnia, Quaracchi 1882–1902, vol. 5, p. 265).
The Imitation of Christ IV.16.1, p. 272.
See S. Pigoń, “Jakiego Mickiewicza znamy?”, Przegląd Warszawski 12 (1922).
A. Mickiewicz, Pisma, eds. E. Januszkiewicz, J. Klaczko, Paryż 1860–1861, t. 1, p. 417.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 54, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 248–251.
J. Łukasiewicz, Wiersze Adama Mickiewicza, p. 137.
K. Poklewska, “Poeta i żywioły. O wierszu Do samotności,” in: Mickiewicz mistyczny, pp. 123–128, on 128.
Beatrice of Nazareth, Seven Ways of Love IV.
Hadewijch of Antwerp, Letters XVIII.63. See also Visions I.163, XI.1, XII.1, 42 and 105; XIII.31 and 252; Poems in stanzas VII.4; Poems in couplets I.11–15; XIII.1–3; XIV.3–8; English translation by C. Hart in: Hadewijch, The Complete Works, New York – Toronto 1980.
Mechtild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead I.2, II.16; VI.26.
Iacopone da Todi, Lauds 90 and 91; Angela of Foligno, Instructiones IV, XIX, XXXII, XXXV, XXXVI; Ubertino of Casale Arbor vitae crucifixae Iesu IV.7.
Meister Eckhart, Sermons 13b [5b], p. 109.
Sermon 51 , p. 273.
J. Böhme, Second birth III.6.147.
Angelus Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer, p. 42, n. 10. See also e.g. V.29 and V.339.
Origen, De principiis II.8.3, English translation by F. Crombie in: Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, Buffalo, NY, 1885.
The Poems of William Wordsworth, vol. I, ed. J. Curtis, Penrith 2009.
A. Mickiewicz, Dzieła, Paryż 1880–1885, t. 5, pp. 11–13.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, pp. 51–4, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 244–248.
Plato, Ion 534b.
St Ambrose of Milan, De virginitate XVII–XVIII.
Mickiewicz, Forefathers’ Eve.
Aristotle, Historia animalium 551a; Theophrastus, Historia plantarum II.4.4; Plutarch, Moralia II, 636c.
J. Lemprière, Bibliotheca Classica; or, a Classical Dictionary, London 1788, s.v. “psyche”. On the motif of Psyche in Keats see: R. May, “Keats’s ‘Ode to Psyche’. Psyche as poetry and inspiration”, in: Cupid and Psyche. The reception of Apuleius’ Love Story since 1600, ed. R. May, S. Harrison, Berlin – Boston 2020.
Mickiewicz was translating parts of the Commedia in 1827. In his letter to Malewski (20th of November 1830) he says he continues to be impressed by Dante (Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. XV, p. 82).
See St Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua ad Iohannem X.34, X.52, X.59, English translation by N. Constas: St Maximus the Confessor, On Difficulties in the Church Fathers, 2 vols., Cambridge, MA, 2014.
St Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua ad Iohannem X.41.
“Warianty – Dziady cz. III”.
Nieznane wiersze Adama Mickiewicza, “Przegląd Polski” 1889, R. XXIII, pp. 1–4.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, pp. 71–2, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 305–9.
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature, pp. 57–8.
Saint-Martin, Natural Table, pp. 30–31.
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature, p. 29.
Angelus Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer I.16.
“Wer Gott will gleiche sein, muß allem ungleich werden,/ Muß ledig seiner selbst und los sein von Beschwerden.”
J. Böhme, Aurora 23.17.
“Gott ist unendlich hoch. Mensch, glaube das behende;/ Er selbst findt ewiglich nicht seiner Gottheit Ende.”
See Baader, Fermenta cognitionis I.2, p. 3.
He quotes Eckhart: “Weil Gott frei ist von allen Dingen, ist Er alle Ding.” (Fermenta cognitionis VI.6, p. 40).
Paradiso 1, 1–3.
Swedenborg, Divine Wisdom and Love, p. 5.
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, p. 358.
Confessions III.6.11 [tr. M.S.].
“Wo nämlich nicht von dem immanenten Leben Gottes, sondern von seinem Gemeinleben mit der Creatur die Rede ist.” (Fermenta cognitionis II.22, p. 54).
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, p. 376.
See St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies III.19.1, III.22.3 (English translation by A. Roberts and W. Rambaut in: Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1).
Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom, p. 6 and p. 84.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 72, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 309–10.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 73, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 311–12.
The first verse of the poem was, for some reason, entirely omitted by the translator; hence the title is derived from the first line of the translation.
W. Lutosławski, “Widzenie Mickiewicza,” Przegląd Współczesny 182 (1937), pp. 95–113.
See M. Dernałowicz, Kronika życia i twórczości Adama Mickiewicza. Od “Dziadów” części trzeciej do “Pana Tadeusza”, Warszawa 1966, p. 284.
See H. Szucki, “Mickiewicz i Boehme,” Pamiętnik Literacki 26 (1929), pp. 315–341.
Mickiewicz, Pisma, Paryż 1860–1861, pp. 250–3.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, pp. 73–4, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 312–8.
Plotinus, Enneads IV.8.1.
St Ambrose of Milan, De Isaac sive de anima IV.11.
See S. Heinte, “Dogen Casts Off ‘What:’ An Analysis of Shinjin Datsuraku”, The Journal Of The International Association Of Buddhist Studies 9, 1 (1986), pp. 53–70.
D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism. First Series, London – New York 1926, p. 24.
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads.
Jacques de Vitry in his biography of Mary of Oignies says that she was following “naked the naked Christ” (nudum Christum nuda; see his Vita B. Mariae Oigniacensis II.5.45, in: Acta Sanctorum Iunius 5, Paris 1867, p. 557E). He also used the phrase “to follow naked the naked [Christ]” with regard to the whole Franciscan order (in his Historia occidentalis 32). The image is also present in St. Bonaventure (De triplici via II.10). Meister Eckhart speaks about “pure nakedness” and “pure naked being” (e.g. Sermons 51 , p. 271 and 273).
Saint-Martin, Of Errors and Truth, pp. 94–95.
Saint-Martin, Man, His Nature and Ministry, p. 84.
Ibidem, p. 133.
Ibidem, p. 405.
“Ein Senfkorn ist mein Geist; durchscheint ihn seine Sonne,/ So wächst er Gotte gleich mit freudenreicher Wonne.”
Böhme, Three Principles 9.45. See also Ibidem, 24.32.
St Angela of Foligno, Instructiones III.
Beatrice of Nazareth, Seven Ways of Holy Love 6.
Marguerite Porete, Le mirouer des simples âmes 28.
Gertrude the Great, Exercitia 4.
Iacopone da Todi, Lauds 92.
Meister Eckhart, Sermons 72 , p. 368.
Meister Eckhart, Sermons 94 , p. 457.
Paradiso 1.113. Also Paradiso 3, 85–7.
St Teresa of Ávila, Interior Castle, Seventh Mansion, II.5, p. 273.
See also: I.3, III.168, IV.139, IV.153, IV.157; V.50, VI.172.
Hamann, Aesthetica in nuce, p. 67.
Novalis, The Hymns to the Night IV.
Hölderlin, Hyperion, p. 12.
The Poems of William Wordsworth, vol. I.
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, p. 160.
Meister Eckhart, Sermons 57 , p. 298.
Hadewijch of Antwerp, Daughter of the Father, p. 342.
St Gregory the Great, De vita et miraculis sancti Benedicti 35; English translation: The Life of St. Benedict, in: St Gregory the Great, Dialogues, Saint Pachomius Library 1995 (reprint of the Parisian edition of 1608).
Plotinus, Enneads V.1.8, V.1.11, VI.6.17, VI.7.15, VI.8.18.
Plotinus, Enneads IV.3.17, VI.4.7, VI.5.9.
For instance: Aurora 3.20.
Böhme, Aurora 21.64–65.
See also I.5, I.88, I.94, II.183, IV.62.
Saint-Martin, Of Errors and Truth, p. 184.
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, pp. 150–1.
St Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses II.45–47, p. 43.
Mickiewicz, Pisma, Paryż 1860–1861, p. 419.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 75, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 318–21.
The Imitation of Christ I.2.4, p. 6.
Ibidem, III.41.1–2, p. 177.
S. Pigoń, “Veni Creator w przekładzie Adama Mickiewicza,” Tęcza 18 (1929), pp. 1–3.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 71, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 302–5.
K. Biliński, “Utwory mistyczne Adama Mickiewicza,” Czasopismo Zakładu Narodowego Imienia Ossolińskich, 11 (2000), pp. 43–53, on p. 50.
T. Karyłowski, Dzieje hymnów kościelnych i ich przekładów, in: Hymny kościelne, tr. T. Karyłowski, ed. M. Korolko, Warszawa 1978, p. 30.
Pieśni nabożne, 1792, p. 10.
“Franciszek Karpiński was the only author of the Stanislaus Augustus era who remained faithful to religion. He was the only one who could strike the tone of prayer; he deserved the high honour of being accepted by the common people. Already during his lifetime his devotional songs, honest, simple, and heartfelt were sung throughout village churches in all Catholic Poland.” (Course II, Lecture XX; Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. IX, p. 254).
See Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 71, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 302–5.
S. Pigoń, “Veni Creator”, pp. 1–3.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. VII, p. 243. J. Maślanka,who edited the Lausanne lectures, notes that Goethe entitled his 1820 translation Appell ans Genie, also calling it “a friend of an artist” and “a vesper hymn of an artist”.
J.W. Goethe, Sämtliche Werke nach Epochen seines Schaffens Münchener Ausgabe, ed. J. John, K. Richter, bd. 13 I, München 1992, p. 625. As O’Brien points out, in the eighteenth century genius is still a spirit or a muse distinct from the artist’s self, while in the nineteenth century “the artist himself was seen as a creative genius” (W.A. O’Brien, “Friedrich von Hardenberg (pseudonym Novalis),” in: Oxford Handbook of European Romanticism, ed. P. Hamilton, Oxford 2015, pp. 202–218, on p. 206).
Ibidem, bd. 17, p. 749. We owe this information to the kind efforts of Professors Norbert Oellers and Stefan Kaszyński, for which we cordially express our gratitude.
S. Pigoń, “Autograf wiersza Mickiewicza Snuć miłość”, Przegląd Warszawski 1 (1925), pp. 383–5.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła, Paryż 1880–1885, p. 14.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 75, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 321–6.
The translation is in verse, but extended to twenty four verses.
A. Nygren, Agape and Eros. A study of the Christian idea of love, tr. A.G. Hebert, London 1932.
Plato, Symposium 209e–212c.
St Augustine, Confessions X.27.38.
Although Plotinus said not only that the One is “the beloved (erasmion), and love (eros), and love of itself” (VI.8.15), but also that it “loves itself” (gr. egapese, derived from the verb agapan; VI.8.16).
Origen, In Canticum canticorum, Prologus. English translation by R.P. Lawson: Commentary on the Song of Songs, New York 1957.
Divine Names, IV.11–17, 708B–713D, pp. 143–147.
Saint-Martin, Natural Table, p. 90.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. IX, p. 394.
St Teresa of Ávila, Interior Castle, Fifth Mansion, II.3–6, pp. 130–132.
Plotinus, Enneads III.2.3, VI.7.9–11.
John Scotus Eriugena, Periphyseon (De divisione naturae) II, 580d-581a. English translation by tr. I.P. Sheldon-Williams in: John Scottus Eriugena, Periphyseon (the Division of Nature), Montréal 1987. Mickiewicz may have come across Eriugena while reading Baader who refers to him every once in a while (Fermenta cognitionis I.2 and III.2). He points out that John Scotus is too rarely read: (“Scotus Erigen in seinem zu wenig gekannten Werk, De Divisionae Naturae”, IV.23, p. 59).
Oratio XXVIII.22–31 (Second Theological Oration).
On the Divine Names IV.2, p. 134.
Imitation of Christ III.10.6, p. 118–9.
Saint-Martin, The Man of Desire §241.
Swedenborg, Divine Wisdom and Love, pp. 21–22.
Saint-Martin, Natural Table, pp. 281–2.
Ibidem, pp. 298–302.
Swedenborg, Divine Wisdom and Love, p. 25.
“Wär ich ein Seraphin, so wollt ich lieber sein,/ Dem Höchsten zu gefalln, das schnödste Würmelein” (I.59) and “In Gott ist alles Gott: ein einzigs Würmelein,/ Das ist in Gott so viel, als tausend Gotte sein” (II.143).
Also “Die Lieb ist unser Gott, es lebet alls durch Liebe:/ Wie selig wär ein Mensch, der stets in ihr verbliebe” (I.70).
Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom, p. 13.
Saint-Martin, The Man of Desire §84.
Mickiewicz, Pisma, Paryż 1860–1861, t. 1, pp. 420–1.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 75, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 326–8.
De coelesti hierarchia III.2, p. 149. Cf. De ecclesiastica hierarchia III.3.10.
Imitation of Christ II.4.1, p. 68.
Swedenborg, Divine Wisdom and Love, p. 21. He continues: “While the created universe is not God, it is from God; and since it is from God, his image is in it like the image of a person in a mirror. We do indeed see a person there, but there is still nothing of the person in the mirror.” (p. 22).
Saint-Martin, Of Errors and Truth, p. 48.
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, p. 186.
Paradiso 1, 103–15.
St Teresa of Avila, Life XL.8, p. 387–8.
Ibidem, XL.13–14, p. 390–391.
Paradiso 26, 103–108.
Saint-Martin, Natural Table, p. 65.
As St Gregory of Nyssa points out, this stability is reached when: “[Man] places his own soul, like a mirror, face-to-face with the hope of good things, with the result that the images and impressions of virtue, as it is shown to him by God, are imprinted on the purity of his soul.” (The Life of Moses, p. 44).
Saint-Martin, The Man of Desire §66. Saint-Martin also writes about the transformed flow of human spiritual life, through the power of the living waters of the Holy Spirit: “Who will dare to say that the evil is something else than a deviation of the good? Who will dare to consider it as stagnation in the direct line? There are stagnations only next to the bed of rivers; we cannot have them in the flowing waters. In the region of life, this line is a big and eternal flowing water, which by its speed pulls everything in his course, and attracts all which is on its edges. Where would be his edges, because it is acting everywhere? Is it anything in the region of life which can resist its impulse? Down here this line also proceeds without moving of its course; it acts ceaselessly on the evil, to straighten the deviation. But it proceeds only in partial and limited flows, and the evil has the power to oppose their action.” (Ibidem, §17).
St Augustine, Epistula 18.
Mickiewicz, Pisma, Paryż 1860–1861, p. 412–3.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 75–6, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 331–4.
Böhme, Aurora 11.139.
Saint-Martin, The Man of Desire 34 and Natural Table, p. 298.
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, p. 413.
See J. Böhme, Aurora 6.41–44; Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature, p. 25 and 111.
Ibidem, p. 75.
Ibidem, p. 76.
It is a quotation from Iliad 2.140.
Plotinus, Enneads I.6.8, vol. I, pp. 257–9.
Mickiewicz, Pisma, Paryż 1860–1861, p. 418.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 77, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 334–5.
J. Przyboś, “Wiersz-płacz”, in: Strona Lemanu, p. 115–120.
Imitation of Christ I.20.6, p. 38.
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, p. 142.
K. Kostenicz, Kronika życia i twórczości Adama Mickiewicza. Styczeń 1850–26 listopada 1855), Warszawa 1978, p. 216.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, p. 76, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 328–9.
Mickiewicz, Pisma, ed. J. Kallenbach, Brody 1911, t. 7, p. 69.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, Warszawa 1981, p. 76, critical remarks and variants of the text: p. 329.
St Teresa of Ávila, Interior Castle, Fifth Mansion, II.6, p. 133.
W. Mickiewicz, Żywot Adama Mickiewicza, Poznań 1890–1895, t. 3, p. 168.
A. Mickiewicz, Poezje, ed. S. Pigoń, Lwów 1929, t. 1, p. 485.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, Warszawa 1981, p. 93, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 376–7.
Böhme, Aurora 4.30–33.
Swedenborg, Divine Wisdom and Love, p. 22.
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature, p. 72.
Ibidem, p. 284.
W. Mickiewicz, Żywot Adama Mickiewicza, p. 168.
Mickiewicz, Poezje, ed. Pigoń, Lwów 1929, p. 485.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, Warszawa 1981, p. 93, critical remarks and variants of the text: p. 378.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, Warszawa 1981, p. 379.
Böhme,Three Principles 10.40.
Böhme, Aurora 3.111.
Saint-Martin, Natural Table, p. 53.
Saint-Martin, Man, His True Nature and Ministry, p. 162–3.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła, Paryż 1868, pp. 205–6.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, Warszawa 1981, pp. 94–95, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 380–1.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła, t. XIV, p. 115.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła, Paryż 1868, pp. 203–4.
Mickiewicz, Dzieła wszystkie, ed. Zgorzelski, Warszawa 1981, p. 95, critical remarks and variants of the text: pp. 381–4.