Dziady (Forefather’s Eve) is a cycle of poetic dramas by Adam Mickiewicz, published between 1822 and 1860 and widely considered one of the greatest works of European Romanticism.
It consists of four loosely connected parts – in sequence: II, IV, III and I (unfinished and published after the poet’s death). The only element linking all those parts together is the motif of pagan rites, the eponymous “dziady”, celebrated by the Lithuanian peasants and described in detail in part II. The rites consist in summoning the spirits of the dead in order to ensure them access to heaven.
The Dziady cycle is also a supreme realization of the Romantic drama theory in all of its key elements, such as: loose composition, genre syncretism, breaking with the classical principles of dramatic construction (for example, the unity of action, place and time), as well as the presence of metaphysical elements within the storyline, references to local folklore, or a motif of a tragic love that leads to suicide.
The cycle may be also treated as a kind of manifesto of the Polish version of Romanticism, which was focused primarily on fighting for national freedom against the Russian conqueror in the times of the Partitions of Poland. The third part of the cycle, written shortly after the failure of the November Uprising, is where the messianic ideas, typical for Polish Romanticism, are most directly expressed, with the concept of Poland as the Christ of Nations at the forefront.
Dziady has played a significant role in shaping national identity for many generations of Poles. A ban on Dziady’s performance directed by Kazimierz Dejmek is considered to have triggered the 1968 Polish political crisis.