Newly Discovered Słowacki Poem Set in Paris
#language & literature
small, Juliusz Słowacki, photo: National Library, Polona.pl, center, juliusz_slowacki_by_barwicki.jpg
On the 210th anniversary of the beloved poet’s birth, the Polish National Library has resurfaced a full copy of one of his poems, previously only known in fragments.
One of the Three Bards of Polish literature and a rival to Adam Mickiewicz, the Romantic poet, playwright and philosopher Juliusz Słowacki is beloved by all Poles for his patriotic works. Now they have an unexpected new addition to enjoy.
The discovery began when the National Library obtained an album belonging to Kora Pinard, the daughter of a French printer, whom Słowacki hired to print his works. Inside the album: a full copy of a poem, written in his own hand. Titled Le Cimetière du Père la Chaise (Père-Lachaise Cemetery), the poem follows Słowacki as he meanders through Paris. Prior to this discovery, only the last 27 lines of the poem were known.
The full text begins with a quote from Byron’s The Prophecy of Dante:
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…can I return, though but to die
Unto my native soil…
Written 19th August 1832, the poem is full of Słowacki’s fears for the future of Poland and its citizens, scattered in the wind. A year earlier, the November Uprising had ended in failure and Poland seemed no closer to returning to its place on the world map than before. The motif of fog weaves through the poem, as Słowacki ends with an anxiety that he did not memorise his beloved country properly, and that it will disappear from his memory much like the fog that descends over Paris.
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Père-Lachaise is the largest cemetery in Paris. Considering the bard’s fears, the location is a fitting setting for the poem. But historical hindsight also gives the setting a new significance. The cemetery now houses many important Polish figures, from 19th-century uprising participants to Fryderyk Chopin and activists from after the poet’s death. Although Słowacki might have worried about Poland’s creep into obscurity, he would be happy to know the opposite is true.
Speaking to the Polish National Library, Professor Zbigniew Przychodniak said:
From the Polish perspective, finding a lost copy of Słowacki’s work is huge. […] It’s especially important considering the numerous irretrievable losses of the poet: many of Słowacki’s works in similar albums were either lost or destroyed.
A digitised copy of Kora Pinard’s album can be found on the Polona website. The poem currently exists in Polish and French. With hope, this happy discovery for scholars and literature lovers alike will soon be available in English.
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Père Lachaise Cemetery
Written by Alicja Zapalska, 4 Sep 2019