10 Polish Quotes About Sadness
#language & literature
small, A drawing by Cyprian Kamil Norwid, photo: Biblioteka Narodowa/Polona.pl, 1-2.jpg
Despite galloping scientific progress and economic development, certain things remain universal and timeless, especially those linked to the nature of mankind. One such thing is sadness, an emotion that has always been experienced throughout history and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in the near future. Here we take a look at ten quotes by different Polish authors, dealing with this uneasy topic.
Jan Paweł Woronicz
O Sadness! Hideous friend
Sadness is an integral part of life. Even the most light-hearted and optimistic of us get the blues from time to time, and this quote expresses that simple truth in a straightforward yet intriguing manner. It’s taken from Kolęda na Rok 1784 (Carol for 1784), a verse written by prominent poet and clergyman (Primate of the Kingdom of Poland from 1828) Jan Paweł Woronicz. Despite two centuries passing since he penned those words, they have lost none of their relevance. That’s what you get when you capture a universal truth – the sense doesn’t grow old.
Sometimes, even when everything around you is pleasant, you just can’t help feeling bad. That’s basically what transpires from this quote from the 1836 verse Hymn by the classic Romantic poet Juliusz Słowacki. In his book 444 Zdania Polskie (444 Polish Sentences), published in 2007, linguist Prof. Jerzy Bralczyk writes of the cited poem:
(..) Although beautiful, it’s a rather peculiar hymn. You find parts that praise God and his creation, but it’s predominantly melancholic and sad. Słowacki in a poetical, and somewhat solipsistic formula presents himself as the addressee of nature’s splendour, ascribing to God the intention to please him, but that doesn’t at all change the fact that the young poet (…) simply feels sad. The poet sees fit to tell about this sadness. It’s all quite depressing.
All here is beautiful and all here is sad:
Death of a leaf, star, a wave and of music;
So, the moans, curses and screams have no uses
And futile is lamenting how fate is bad.
Taken from the 1893 verse Indulgencja (Indulgence) by the noted Romantic poet Teofil Lenartowicz, here’s another quote addressing the somewhat paradoxical co-existence of beauty, which is pleasant to the senses, and sadness, which usually isn’t. Like in Słowacki’s poem, a star and water (‘a wave’) are called upon as sights to behold, their appeal universal and timeless. However, Lenartowicz doesn’t seem to share Słowacki’s approach of seeing it ‘fit to tell about his sadness’. Instead, Lenartowicz seems to be saying ‘That’s just the way it is, no point in making a fuss about it’. In other words, quit whining…
We have to experience all that we’re given. All the happiness and all the sadness. We can’t evade that. Unfelt sadness we managed to escape from will catch up with us at a later time anyhow.
Since feelings of sadness are immanent to life evading them isn’t really an option. This quote from the 2011 book Co Się Stało z Naszą Bajką (What Happened to Our Fairy-Tale) by the eminent reportage author, Hanna Krall, suggests that it’s better to experience your sadness as it comes. Suppressing it will only lead to an accumulation, one that will inevitably take its toll someday. As one of Poland’s leading authors on the topic of the Holocaust, herself tragically affected by it, you can be sure that Hanna Krall knows more about sadness than most.
City shrouded in cloud
Sunless morning light
Slip down in my bed
Slip down out of sight
The air so heavy so heavy
Dampness on my cheek
Tatty ratty bird
Dismal preening beak.
Experiencing sadness is what’s described in this quote, the opening verse of the 1983 song City Spleen by the rock band Manaam (according to Poland’s PWN dictionary spleen is a ‘state of gloom, apathy and boredom caused by seeing life as hopeless’). The haunting lyrics by the group’s charismatic vocalist Olga Jackowska, better known by her stage name Kora, were originally written in Polish, but the British linguist Tom Wachtel translated them for an English-language version of the song. The tune, whose original title Krakowski Spleen calls on the name of the city of Kraków, takes a slightly more optimistic course in its chorus, where the lyrical subject expresses hopes of better times to come:
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I'm waiting right here for the wind
To blow my shutters away
Then maybe I can rise
With the sun in my eyes.
Julian Tuwim with his wife Stefania on the terrace of their Warsaw apartment, 1946, photo: Stanisław Dąbrowiecki/PAP
I have these sentimental days
When I’m as happy as a child to be sad
I read Dickens and Walter Scott
Feeling like an old-fashioned lad.
Here we have a more distanced approach. Rather than succumbing to apathy and sinking in his bed, this author devotes his gloomy time to reading. He even manages to find a certain kind of joy in being sad (another paradoxical situation) through playing out the role of a person in a melancholic mood – the sentimental ‘old-fashioned lad’. This charming quote is part of the 1920 poem Epistoła Sentymentalna (‘Sentimental Epistle’) by the much-lauded poet Julian Tuwim.
A poet is one who’s capable of being unhappy in a nice way.
These words by Stanisław Lem, a writer best remembered for his world-famous sci-fi books, seem almost a comment on the various other quotes here. They remind of the famous words of American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox in her poem Solitude:
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Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
Since sadness is such a tricky issue, it takes an artist (or a poet) to present it in an appealing way. The quotation is part of Lem’s novel The Hospital of the Transfiguration, published in 1975.
When I look out my balcony in the morning, I realise this, the world is fading, dying. The environment. Humanity, utterly degraded. Overweight, obesity, sadness everywhere (…) Do you understand all these facts?
For a long time, the lack of simple things like food and clothing was a major concern for many people, and too often a cause of sadness (as shown, for example, in Dickens’ Oliver Twist). In our times, however, excess has become a common source of problems. The abundance of cheap junk food lies behind many a health issue and a deluge of trash and pollution caused by the world’s galloping consumption is ruining the planet on an unprecedented scale (The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which according to National Geographic is ‘the world’s largest collection of floating trash’, is estimated to cover an area over twice the size of France). The specific sadness caused by the excess of our times has been skilfully addressed by the writer Dorota Masłowska in this quote from her acclaimed 2002 novel Snow White and Russian Red.
Maybe there’s too much of everything
After all, computers won’t stop the flow of
Modern sadness is also something that’s treated in this quote, the chorus of the 2001 song Pank is Dead by the rock band T. Love. Apart from addressing the already-discussed issue of excess, the quote also deals with computers, devices that have had an enormous impact on our world, especially since the emergence of the Internet. But even the seemingly miraculous qualities of these devices (imagine telling somebody in the Middle Ages they could chat with a person on another continent through a screen showing that person in real time – surely they’d call you either a sorcerer or a lunatic!) haven’t put an end to the blues that’s always accompanied mankind. Moreover, some argue that the Web, despite making it possible for us to connect with almost anybody else on the planet, is actually a catalyser of alienation, one that’s responsible for substituting meaningful interpersonal relationships in real life with shallow virtual ones – a trend that adds to the overall pool of sadness. The lyrics for Pank is Dead were written by T.Love’s celebrated singer Zygmunt Staszczyk.
And when your heart will be overwhelmed
By the thought that there’s no worth in life
Dry the tears from the eyes of other men
Even though yours haven’t been dried.
The last quote is by the renowned 19th-century realist poet and novelist Maria Konopnicka. The exact origin of this highly popular citation is hard to establish, for instance, the poet Krystyna Jadamska-Rozkrut calls it simply Konopnicka’s ‘message’ (without pointing to its source) in her 2010 article about the author, published at polskiemuzy.pl. The fact that Konopnicka was an immensely prolific writer, one who created countless poems, dozens of short stories, as well as a number of journalistic writings doesn’t make the search any easier.
In her ‘message’ she tries to give a positive response to the sadness that’s in this world, a world that can be not only gloomy to the point of ‘overwhelming’ but also unfair (‘Even though yours haven’t been dried’). The humanistic answer Konopnicka proposes is to be of service, and cheer others up.
Author: Marek Kępa, Mar 2018