Poland Literature – From the Origins to the 17th Century

According to picktrue, Polish culture enters the orbit of the Latin-Germanic tradition during the Middle Ages, with the progressive acquisition of Middle-Latin literary models and their adaptation to the language and needs of a vast majority of the ecclesiastical class. The ‘high’ literature is written in Latin: the chronicle and historical works starting from the so-called Gallus Anonymus (12th century) and from Kadłubek (Vincentius magister, 12th-13th century) to Janko da Czarnków (14th century) and J. Długosz (Longinus, 15th century); the philosophical-theological treatises, such as those of the founders and reformers of the Academy of Krakow (later the Agellonic University), Matthew of Krakow, Stanisław da Skarbimierz and Poland Włodkowic (all 14th-15th century), and of the exponents of the so-called conciliarism Polish; the first works of a political nature (J. Ostroróg, 15th century) and almost all religious poetry. Documents in Polish are rare until the 15th century, and testify to the adoption as models of Latin and then Czech schemes: this is the case of the hymn Bogurodzica (“Mother of God”), perfect in form and elaboration of the theological content, then risen to the rank of carmen patrium of the Agellonian dynasty. Other works of religious content are popular adaptations of subjects, forms and motifs dear to the literature of the Latin Middle Ages: texts both of a homiletical character, such as the Kazania Świętokrzyskie («Sermons of the Holy Cross», 14th century) and the Kazania Gnieźnieńskie (« Sermons of Gniezno “, beginning of the 15th century), both of a liturgical nature, such as the famous Psałterz Floriański (” Psalter of St. Florian “, 14th century), or in any case devotional, such as the Lament Świętokrzyski (” Lament of Saint Croce »), 15th century planctus Mariae, the Zołtarz Jesuzow (“Psalter of Jesus”, 1488) by Władysław da Gielniów, first and most fruitful religious poet of the medieval Poland, or the anonymous Rozmowa Mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią(“Dialogue of the Master Polycarp with Death”, 15th century). Among the few works with a profane theme are Wiersz Słoty or zachowaniu się przy stole (“Słota’s poem on table behavior”, 1400) and the socio-political pamphlet Wiersz or zabiciu Andrzeja Tęczyńskiego (“Poem on the killing of Andrzej Tęczyński”, 1462).

Around the middle of the 15th century. The new solicitations of Humanism become strong, both through the work of Italian immigrants such as F. Buonaccorsi or Germans such as C. Celtis, and thanks to the patronage of local lovers of humaniora studia, such as the archbishop of Leopoli Gregorio di Sanok and Cardinal Z. Oleśnicki. In this phase, and especially in the first half of the 16th century, Latin poetry records its maximum flowering with the works, even very profane, of the primate A. Krzycki (Cricius), of J. Dantyszek (Dantiscus), of K. Janicki (Janicius) and M. Hussowski (Hussovius). The work of N. Copernicus is also placed in the same humanistic tradition.

Latin-Polish bilingualism, the influence of the Protestant Reformation, Italianism (favored by increasingly frequent studies in universities such as Padua and Bologna) and in general the comparison with the situation in other countries are the catalysts for the rapid development of literature. in the national language in the Renaissance period. Only in Polish wrote M. Rej z Nagłowic, a Calvinist, whose work can be considered a sort of summa of the life, customs and culture of the early sixteenth century; alongside him another sympathizer of the Reformation, M. Bielski, author of the first universal history in Polish, halfway between still medieval encyclopedism and more recent historiographical models (J. Nauclerus). Political thought had its most significant expressions in the Latin writings of A. Modrzewski Frycz and in the bilingual ones of S. Orzechowski. Italianism, also connected to the influence of Queen Bona Sforza, found a firm believer in Ł. Górnicki, who with his Dworzanin polski (“Polish courtier”, 1566), inspired by the work of B. Castiglione, marked the ways and limits of the adaptation of Italian fashion in Poland.

The point of arrival of the sixteenth-century poetic elaboration is the work of J. Kochanowski, a bilingual writer, who in his later production (Treny “Lamenti”, 1580) foretells the next temperature: his work will be an obligatory point of reference until all the 17th century. and beyond, both in terms of style (as is evident from the contemporary M. Sęp ​​Szarzyński, who introduces a syntactic involution of clear mannerist taste into Polish lyricism) and for the theme, increasingly marked by the progressive affirmation of the Counter-Reformation, as in the works of the ‘metaphysicians’ S. Grochowski, K. Miaskowski and K. Twardowski. Influenced by Kochanowski is also the use of forms and subjects taken from oral and popular poetry and refinedly reworked, which can be found in the idylls of SF Klonowic, S. Szymonowic and S. Zimorowic. In the prose, the Counter-Reformation gives its best fruit in the powerful rhetoric of the Jesuit Poland Skarga, while in general the decisive influence that the Society of Jesus had in the artistic and literary culture of the late sixteenth century and Baroque should be noted. The arrival point of sixteenth-century Italianism and the undisputed model for the great poetry of the following century was the excellent translation of the liberated Jerusalem conducted by Poland Kochanowski and entitled Goffred (1618), which rose almost to a national epos, also because the internal political events seemed to transform the Taxian poem into a sort of allegory of the contemporary situation. In these conditions ideologies such as Sarmatism, the exaltation of the regime of ‘noble democracy’ and of Poland as antemurale christianitatis had free play in the szlachta class, which became almost cultural dogmas in the 17th century.

The first half of the 20th century

Although some avant-garde trends were already present before 1918 – such as the expressionism of Poznań ‘, of which the magazine Zdrój (“The source”) was the spokesperson and which had the main representative in J. Wittlin – it is with the end of World War I and the return to independence that cultural life underwent a turning point, marked by the birth of new magazines, new groups and new currents. Cafes and literary cabarets, dominated by the figure of the multifaceted T. Żeleński Boy, became the centers of artistic creation. If the brief experience of the two futurist groups, led in Krakow by B. Jasieński and in Warsaw with almost Dadaist inclinations from A. Wat, it is representative of the revolution taking place also in the literary field, it is the group of the Skamander magazine that attracts around it the greatest poets of the twenty years between the two wars: M. Pawlikowska Jasnorzewska, J. Tuwin, K. Wierzyński, J. Iwaszkiewicz, A. Słonimski, J. Lechoń. From 1923, Skamander’s traditionalism was opposed, with greater fortune than futurism, by the magazine Zwrotnica (“The Exchange”), an organ of the Krakow avant-garde led by T. Peiper ; his constructivist poetics were joined by poets whose influence lasted until after the Second World War, such as J. Przyboś and J. Brzękowski.

The continuous worsening of the socio-political situation after the putsch of 1926 definitively closed experiences of a revolutionary nature such as that of the communist poets headed by W. Broniewski. The resulting climate of mistrust and pessimism led in the 1930s to the catastrophism of the ‘second avant-garde’, represented by the magazine Żagary (“Fascine”) of Vilnius, where J. Zagórski and the young C. Miłosz published, as well as the prophetic visionarism of a great isolated as J. Czechowicz. The interwar prose is dominated by SI Witkiewicz, B. Schulz and W. Gombrowicz, who deal, in very different ways, with central questions of early-twentieth-century literature: the identity and anxieties of the individual in the face of mass society, the difficult relationship with tradition, nostalgia for childhood. The work of the narrators Z. Nałkowska, M. Dąbrowska and M. Kuncewiczowa is of a more traditional nature, while a phenomenon of the cassette not lacking in literary qualities is represented by the novels of S. Piasecki. In the theater the main figure is still Witkiewicz, who with his bewildered and distorted world and with his archetypal characters of an insatiable and desperate humanity exerted an enormous influence on the whole Polish drama of the twentieth century.

The clandestine literature of the period 1939-45 gave rise to themes (the war, anti-fascism and anti-communism, the Jewish question and the Shoah) which then recurred almost obsessively in the best works of the following decades. Among the poets who made their debut in this period is KK Baczyński, who died on the barricades in the Warsaw uprising.

Poland Literature - From the Origins to the 17th Century

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