CHAPTER V

 

RELIGIOSITY IN POLISH LITERATURE

 

STANISŁAW CIEŚLAK

 

 

Polish literature from its beginning was inspired by the values, contents, and metaphysical qualities provided above all by the Christian religion, and Catholicism in particular. Therefore it is no wonder that the sacrum that it perceives is its dominating artistic experience. That is why religion played in Poland a culture generating role, and, vice versa, literature inspired and contributed to religion.

The influence of religion on literature expresses itself in many ways. Religion determines literary topics, provides material for metaphors and ensures such values references to the Bible, and the invocational and moralizing character of texts. Moreover, it is an important component of the tragic and comic character of human existence. Religion also affects genre structures and inspires the construction of literary worlds, presented according to the demands of a religious ethics.

The experience of the sacrum constitutes in literature, especially in lyrics, a certain space between the human "I" and things. In this space the human subject, as Georges Brazzola argues, hears words whispered by things, deciphers messages encrypted into depths of existence, learns to apprehend the specific "something more" appearing beyond the empirical perception of the world.

Sacrum provides an artistic experience of fulfillment, consisting among others in poetic or narrative attempts on everything, even on impossibility. This is to confirm the paradoxical character of human existence and to proclaim its glory when the human subject realizes that it exists really only in the presence of the loving God.

 

"PEACE – BLISSFUL BUT STRUGGLING –EXISTENCE UNDER HEAVEN"

 

This elliptic phrase taken from Mikołaj Sęp Szarzyński defines most accurately the scope of experiences with the sacrum in the first centuries of our literature. To make this "struggling" efficient, Polish spirituality invokes the mediation of Mary, the Most Holy Mother of God. Her cult was reinforced in Poland by the Franciscans. It was they who wrote the lives of the saints, annals and chronicles; but they also created charming statues of Madonnas with the Infant Jesus. They did not care too much about mystical images, but rendered instead an ideal of earthly beauty, and thus aesthetically influenced the observer.

The first monument of Polish literature, Bogurodzica from the XIIIth century, is a prayer invoking the support of the Mother of God in "struggling" and referring to her with various distinctive names: Bogurodzica (Mother of God; "Mother-to-God"), Virgin, exalted by ("with") God, chosen by the Son and the Lord and thus entitled to become a medium through which the Lord sends his graces and guarantees "everlasting stay" (przebyt) in heaven after earthly life. The anonymous author as if at the same time highlights and obscures Mary’s presence, providing an artistic expression of the theological truth of mediation in mediation.

On the other hand, a full image of Mary is presented by Dolors of Our Lady under the Cross. Mary is here a subject who speaks, reticent in expressing her pain, remaining in the shadow of the cross, unhappy and weeping, similar to Franciscan statues from Cracow.

Equally eagerly contemplated in Polish poetry is the sanctity and divinity of Christ the Lord who saves the world through his passion and death on the cross.

Jan Kochanowski, the most prominent poet of the Polish Renaissance, was the first in his literary writings to depart from such a direct approach. For him faith was something much more difficult than only filial love of Christ and Mary. The object of his numerous artistic inquiries was God the Father, present in his writings as a strong "Thou," as object of desires and strivings, both fascinating and frightening. It is this "Thou" who is creator and giver of love, provides help, sends his grace, and involves the cognitive, volitional, and emotional capacities of the human "I". This "Thou" also leads a dialogue with man, expressing itself through signs, codes and hierophanies in order to allow man to unite with him as the highest value of good, truth, and beauty.

In his masterpiece of 1562 Czego chcesz od nas, Panie . . . ("What may you want from us, O Lord, for your generous gifts"), structured as a prayer, the poet confesses: "The church will not embrace you". That is why, confronted with the "lowness" of his own position, man is dependent on intuitive cognition, he must recognize signs and codes through which God communicates with him. This process of recognition is accompanied by admiration and emotional excitement. What dominates, however, is the sense of joy because of being in touch with God, as well as of discovering hidden meaning and sense in signs and codes that, as a matter of fact, are hierophanies. Man creates out of them a complex, total image that we could conventionally call a "hierophanic landscape". Components of this landscape are: abyss, sea, earth, heaven, stars, rivers, herbs, day and night, personified seasons. To be sure, these are data of everyday experience, but they exceed it through their deeper references. The "hierophanic landscape" is ordered by two lines -- vertical and horizontal:

 

Thou, O Lord, hath raised the whole world; heavens

Embroidered by thee with lovely stars; thou

Hath laid foundations of the earth prodigious

And cover’d its nudity with its countless herbs

 

These two spheres intermingle: the sacrum from above penetrates the earthly profanum. The structure of the poem -- a poetic prayer -- points to this kind of experience whose measure is the maxim "Love everything in God" (amare omnia in Deo).

Kochanowski’s writings carry on an ardent dialogue of man with God as ways of his justifications are sought. The experience of God’s proximity allows the human subject to utter various remarks about life, nature and human duties. This attitude, however, does not suppress unconcerned and bluff humor, sometimes a drunkard’s joke, or even obscenities. In spite of that, the source of the poet’s fascination is always man, set before the countenance of God. This topic occurs in all his writings, only the accent differs. The lyrical subject is enchanted by the beauty of creation, seeks union with the highest Beauty, defines itself as an accidental being, banteringly absolutizing oneself and others, for it understands that man cannot be the final reason and goal for himself. So he looks the more ardently for a possibility of self-transcendence in close touch with the absolute Being, seeing in him the Creator and Goal of human existence.

Man and the human world are in Kochanowski "God’s playground," "God’s clown". But in these images there is nothing pessimistic, offending human dignity. The opportunity of participation in God’s transcendence assures man a privileged position among other creatures, guarantees openness of heart, clearness of conscience, sensitivity to beauty and common human happiness. On this occasion he gained still other gifts, such as modesty, sense of justice, and ability to cultivate civil virtues.

This does not mean that doubt was alien to this poetry. We meet it above all in "Lamentations" (Treny). The reflection that the author draws from his grief touches the sense of existence of the human person, of his or her rooting in life and ways of transcending his or her own limitations towards new horizons and values. The questions of the "where from" and "where to" of life are the basic motive of this reflection. Its final discovery remains the statement that man is really human when he directs his eyes towards that which is infinite and transcendent, for, as the poet says, "miserable are earthly pleasures". This does not mean in turn that temporal life is to be conceived as the exclusive domain of God and his reign. According to Kochanowski, this life serves to solve matters assigned by God to men as tasks. In the last lamentation we read:

 

To this hold, o my son, and man’s destiny

Support as humans do. One is the Lord

of sorrow and reward

 

On the other hand, Marian sensibility was entirely alien to Kochanowski. However, it was exploited by the poets of the second half of the XVIth century. Mary was for them "Mother of the Polish Crown" (Stanisław Grochowski), a gentle, lovely, and gracious Mother in whom they seek "consolation and mediation"; "full of grace," "for centuries praised for her glory," "a living altar of bread" (Sebastian Grabowiecki), "an example of holy humility and innocence" (Paweł Ciekliński). These are only some examples of poetic contemplation of Our Lady. The same contemplation is cultivated by the poets of the end of the XVIth and the beginning of the XVIIth century. Mother of God is for them an example of virtues, especially of obedience; she is also a protectress of the church, guarding the teachings of her Son against all kinds of deformations. For it was the time of struggle not only for inner human truth, but also for the totality and integrity of the church -- the time of the Reformation and Counterreformation.

 

POETIC THEOLOGY OF JEWELS AND PLANTS

 

In 1601 Polish literature was enriched by "Rhythms or Polish verses" (Rytmy albo wiersze polskie) by Mikołaj Sęp-Szarzyński, a Protestant converted to Catholicism. His poems outshine the works of other authors through their boldness of thought. Sęp’s thought is close to Spanish mysticism. He claims that human life is "struggling" with Satan, world, and flesh; victory over them brings real peace which is the Savior himself. Sęp -- as a typical representative of Sarmatism -- did not highlight, however, the "dark night" of human soul nor ways and paths leading upwards; he preferred struggle, he loved it, for he knew that peaceful bliss is often subject to abuse. "Gold, scepter, glory, pleasure, beautiful countenance," symbolizing life in peace, lead away from happiness founded for man by God. The drama of human existence is therefore displayed in two dimensions: the first, "weak, forgetful, and split in himself," man is condemned to uncertain struggle that he has to undertake if he wants to be authentically human, and the second, consciousness that the body is formed from earthly elements, that "it is hard not to love but that loving consoles little" and that these elements generate fear of this existence. That is why the author entitles the sonnet with his explicit point of reflection: "On the perishable love of things of this world" (O nietrwałej miłości rzeczy świata tego).

Sęp, a righteous Sarmate, Polonus defensor Mariae, could not forget the Virgin Mary. His sonnet "To the Most Blessed Virgin" (Do Najświętszej Panny) astonishes with paradoxes. We find there the Mother of God, "incomparable Virgin, the second adornment (of humanity after Adam before his fall), miraculous Mother of her own Creator," exalted over the choirs of angels, enjoying genuine bliss, a real moon for human souls. So the author is interested neither in the virginity of Our Lady nor in her maternity, much discussed by the reformers, but in her assumption into heaven, thanks to which she became mediatrix of God’s light.

 

But thou hath rais’d as a morning dawn

Show us desired brigthness of the Sun

 

concludes one of poems. After the pains of struggling with "flesh, Satan, and the world" comes twilight, as if after the night of the senses as presented by St. John of the Cross.

In Sęp’s poems there are distinct anthropological references. Man appears here as someone who fights for his "existence for heaven’s sake" when he realizes the "temporality of things of this world," someone to whom Mary reveals "the desired splendor". He struggles, situated between darkness and light, appearances and values, temporality and real perdurance. Military metaphors serve to describe the states of his experiences and religious feelings. It is these features that make Sęp’s poetry distinct among the poems of other authors.

The seventeenth century writers, mostly educated in Jesuit colleges, took intense interest in theology, especially in Mariology, developed by them in a poetic way, synthesizing all that had been expressed in matters of spirit by the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. We easily recognize in their poetry topics dear to Kochanowski: aquatic metaphors, sailing as the sense of life, hierophanies of the Sun, the stars, heavens as signs of invisible realms. Man and his environment here are still "God’s playground". But, in order to express their religious sentiments and commitments, with the greatest predilection these authors turn to the world of gemstones and plants.

Wacław Potocki in his "The New Jerusalem" (Nowe Jeruzalem) enumerates twelve jewels, as "marked with apostolic names": jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sard, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, hyacinth, amethyst. They constitute the foundations of the city through which flows "the river of crystal waters," with trees of life growing on its shores. Klemens Bolesławiusz, when he wants to render homage to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary also employs to this type of metaphor. Thus, Our Lady is compared to beryl, emerald, sapphire, carbuncle, chrysolite, topaz, agate, ligure, onyx, and jasper. But it is as if this series of gemstone metaphors did not satisfy the poet; in the conclusion, Mary is moreover a pearl whom he invokes to illuminate the darkness of death, to scare out the devil, for "the Most Holy Lady, gloriously presented in the Sacred Scripture, surpasses the beauty of flowers and the nobleness of precious stones". Similarly Wespazjan Kochowski praises Mary in his "Virgin Garden" (Ogród Panieński), as does Walenty Odymalski. Piotr Hiacynt Pruszcz ends his apology of Mary (Tota pulchra es o Maria) with the a confession:

 

Most splendid art thou, o Mother of God

More than gold, gardens, pearls, stars, sun, and roses

 

The Bible and a rose is Mary for Józef Bartłomiej Zimorowicz in his "On the day of visitation of the Virgin Mary" (W dzień nawiedzenia Panny Maryjej). Klemens Bolesławiusz in "Virgin, being a Mother, embraces the Child" (Panna, będąc Matką, piastuje Dzieciątko) uses all the possible metaphors of gems and flowers to praise the Mother of God. She is able even to turn a circle into a square, she has reared the flower of her womb that became a garden, for which she is praised by legions of the heavenly court.

Equally bold is Wespazjan Kochowski in his "The Most Holy Virgin Mary -- the sealed garden" (Ogród zamkniony Najświętsza Panna Maryja). Mary for him is a garden of astounding beauty. In it are cedar, cypress, sycamore and terebinth, and the living water disseminate the taste of their flavor. A little bit more modest in his wording is Kasper Twardowski ("Rose and Lily"; ża i lilia), but he allows himself a daring bachelor’s comparison: when speaking about Mary’s smile he notices "a pearly fence of teeth" and the "ruby brush" of her tongue. Jan Libicki solves the mystery of Mary’s virginity with a question:

 

You ask how was the Savior from a Virgin born?

The way a scent comes forth from herbs and flowers.

 

The poetic mariology of the Baroque period often contented itself with contemplating Marian feasts. Józef Bartłomiej Zimorowic ("A Hymn for the Day of Assumption of the Virgin Mary"; Hymn na dzień wniebowzięcia Panny Maryjej) personifies various natural phenomena: stars stopped, the moon forgot her course, elements, speechless, adored the Assumption. In a similar way Wojciech Chrościcki describes the Visitation and praises the day of birth of the Mother of God ("The Second Song on the Birth of Our Lady"; Na narodzenie NMP pieśń druga).

Baroque poetry adores God through Jesus Christ, in particular through his world redeeming passion. Łazarz Baranowicz, comparing the crucified Christ to a pearl encrusted cross of that time, is the first Polish author of concrete poetry, visually entitling his poem with the sign of a cross with an inscription ALBA on its arms. This visual form -- supported by words -- serves the poet to express his conviction that Christ is even more precious than a pearl, a pure value (ALBA), for he gave his life innocently and became a way leading to heaven.

In the poetic theology of gems, pearls occupied a privileged position. If precious gems served to make present sacral values, pearls were helpful in identifying divinity. Walenty Odymalski ("This Precious Pearl"; Ta droga perła) shares with us such a reflection about the divinity of Christ:

 

. . . he, infinite

hid by a splendid wonder all his godly treasure

In his humanity, in which he wrapped became conceal’d as in

a pearl conch.

 

In such a lyric context nothing is simpler than to use a hyperbolic apposition stating that in his beauty and value Christ "exceeds pearls and precious gems". Thus, Christ is something far more precious than carbuncle, than sardonyx adorned with its innocence, than emerald representing charm, than diamonds, sard, beryl, sapphire, jasper, chrysoprase, chrysolite, amethyst. As Christ’s power is infinite, even the sum of all the properties of gemstones cannot equal his might. This symbolism that, as a matter of fact, may be called "jeweler’s theology," inventive in its metaphorical diversity, draws our attention to the artistic labor whose ambition it was to bring the mystery of the God-man closer to our understanding.

Christ was also represented in the Baroque poetry through numerous images of his passion and death. Jan Andrzej Morsztyn ("For Good Friday 1651"; Na Wielki Piątek 1651 r.) provides us with such images and emotions. There are also plenty in Wespazjan Kochowski’s "The Seventh Greeting of the Countenance of Christ Our Lord"; Siódme pozdrowienie twarzy Pana Chrystusowej). The confession of a sinner who recalls Christ’s sufferings is put in antitheses and oxymora by Wacław Potocki in his "9th Song" (Pieśń IX). This poetry provides us also with occasional prayers: by Adam Wieszczycki ("The Third Lily Flower in the Garland of God’s Love"; Liliowy w wieńcu miłości Bożej trzeci kwiat) to the Infant, by Adam Wasilewski ("Jesus’ heart, heart divine"; Serce Jezusa, serce ubóstwione) to the Heart of Jesus; by Łazarz Baranowicz ("Christ is Sailing, Adored by the Wind"; Chrystus żegluje, wiatr mu hołduje) to Christ the Coxwain, leading each human ship to heaven.

Another way of developing poetic theology in the XVIIth century were ambitious enquiries concerning the essence of relation between God and man. In "Collection of Spiritual Rhymes" (Setnik rymów duchowych) by Sebastian Grabowiecki God is the Lord in the highest, who warms human hearts with a "beam of grace". Man could not exist without this grace ("Rhyme 51"), for its beam warms the human soul, "surrounded by ice". Grabowiecki loved metaphors of fire. For him, the "living flame" of God’s sanctity scares away the dragon (Satan), aiming at taking control over human souls ("Rhyme 80"). This divine flame is identified by the poet also with benevolent solar rays, thanks to which forests, hills, rivers, and the whole earth "abound with bliss". The human task is to recognize it and avoid yielding to "erroneous hope" ("Rhyme 154").

Some of Grabowiecki’s texts resemble the writings of the Spanish mystics. The fire of God’s grace, even "the slightest sparkle," purifies human hearts from darkness, so that the sight could perceive the Lord and thus ensure the "eternal joy" of the soul ("Rhyme 175"). Kasper Twardowski wrote in a similar vein. His fire was also innocuous, even beneficial, for it brought hope, caused benign tears, the swoon of the soul, and warmed up bowels. Thanks to it man deprived himself of himself as his body and bones "burnt with the fire of heavenly love" ("The Torch of Love"; Pochodnia miłości). "God is fire himself" -- Twardowski entitles one of his texts -- "in fire he came from heaven". Through Christ he lighted the fire of love needed by man who should burn with a "holy prayer," sustain its flames with meditations about the mysteries of the Lord, and finally become, out of such heavenly thoughts, himself "a burning stove".

Poets of the Baroque do not want to yield to the splendors and pleasures of the world. Wespazjan Kochowski judges them critically and inventively ("Family of pride"; Familia pychy):

 

Family Hubris, Profit, Splendor, earthly Beauty

Health, Strength, Fortune, Vigor, Freedom, Unrestraint

Office, Glory, Fame, Reason, Sanctity, and Virtue --

These are fans of pride of our earthly life.

 

Above all, however, this poetry is amazed by the fragility and instability of human existence on earth. "Amidst continuous circling passes fugacious time away" -- stated Daniel Naborowski ("Shortness of This Life"; Krótkość żywota), associating time with a circle, and, by the same token, with the mystical figure of Fortune. The only sure thing in this world is the craddle or grave, if man is unable to open himself for the action of God’s transcendence. Symeon Połocki, an Orthodox monk writing in Polish ("Man is a Bubble"; Człowiek jest bąbel) doubted entirely man’s privileged position among other creatures:

 

/He/ is a bubble, glass, ice, fairy tale, shadow, dust, and straw

Dream, point, voice, sound, wind, flower -- nothing to call

a king.

 

"Hierophantic landscapes" according to patterns left by Jan Kochanowski were hardly ever used in the Baroque Sarmatian poetry in Poland. It preferred to talk about God and man using metaphors of precious gems, plants, fire, water, and thus describing human spiritual experiences, rises and falls, sins and frailties and proclaiming God’s glory. In spite of that, some artistic works are close to the above mentioned patterns. Stanisław Grochowski, for instance, was persuaded that the whole world praises the might and "charming radiance" of its Lord ("The Sun and the Moon speak"; Słońce i miesiąc mówią). Christ is in this text a peculiar light, since it surpasses both "solar" and "lunar" brightness. Józef Jan Wadowski used a paraphrase of a hymn from Daniel’s prophecy (III 57-88; "All Creatures, Praise the Lord"; Wszelkie stworzenia chwalcie Pana), inspired also by Kochanowski’s hymn "What do you want from us, O Lord, for your generous gifts" (Czego chcesz od nas, Panie . . .). Józef Baka ("A Text about God’s Love"; Tekst o miłości Bożej), praising the infinite goodness of the Creator, admitted that

 

Animals, lively birds, mighty elements

Ants and worms teach us; they are our school

In which we learn your mercy,

 

So he recognized a hierophany in the whole work of God’s creation. The originality of the poetical expressions of the sense of the sacrum, sensitivity to transcendent values and the diverse forms of religiosity that occur in Baroque times are impressive. The XVIIth century way of perceiving the sacrum did not, however, go beyond the frames determined by the Catholic and Orthodox religion. The poetry of this time may be treated as a record of the religious thinking of Poles and as an amateurish, because poetic, theology.

 

FLASHES OF THE SACRUM AMONG THE CLOUDS OF THE XVIIITH CENTURY DEISM

 

The culture of the XVIIIth century in Poland judged many values to be uncertain. Beauty ceased to have its transcendent character, and became only an aesthetic category, confirmed by history. Poetry, sensitive to metaphysical qualities, was no longer an art of guessing spiritual elements behind the surface of things perceived by the senses. What counted was the practical force of the word that was supposed to help make the world better, to support social and political reforms, or to amuse with laughter from various human vices.

The paradox of the literature of that time consisted in the fact that it was created overwhelmingly by people sanctified with the priesthood, yet it was not attracted by an enchanting call of God. The instinct for beauty did not force the authors to treat earth and its landscapes as a reflex of heaven, but contented itself with the surface of things, with the common experience of mores and with their threats. That is why the poetry of these times was rather a rhymed journalism, and journalism was a way of making politics. Prose in such conditions was a way of describing states of public consciousness.

The writings of Elżbieta Drużbacka were a modest flash of literarily represented experiences of the sacrum. In her "Collection of Spiritual, Panegyrical, and Worldly Rhymes" (Zbiór rytmów duchowych, panegirycznych i światowych -- 1752) she put in verses the lives of saints as well as her own moral and religious feelings. In her poem "Describing Four Seasons of the Year," imitating Kochanowski, she anthropomorphized the world, seeing in it God’s signs.

On the other hand, the poetic activity of Konstancja Benisławska was a joyful flash of the sacrum. Her "Songs sung to myself" (Pieśni sobie śpiewane -- 1776) in the far Livonia were written in spite of the literal fashion supported by three poet-bishops: Adam Naruszewicz, Ignacy Krasicki, and Jan Paweł Woronicz, as well as by Tomasz Kajetan Węgierski, Franciszek Dionizy Kniaźnin, Stanisław Trembecki and later Franciszek Karpiński Her poems constitute a poetic meditation inspired by such prayers as "Our Father" and "Hail Mary". What astounds in them are the neologizing inventiveness, the phonic diversity and, above all, the depth of mystical rapture and ardent ecstasies of the soul experiencing the direct touch of God.

Who is man before God’s countenance -- asked the poetess restlessly, answering herself: "a feeble mud hut," "a poor fellow," a sinful little woman, a perishable creature, whom the Son of God ordered to call God "father". Death should not be something terrible for us, for, depriving us of life, it shows us at the same moment God, without whom even heaven would be hell. As in Kochanowski, man is a mockery ("Song II," "Our Father . . ."; Pieśń II, Ojcze nasz . . .). That is why the poetess prays:

 

O Father! Make me your daughter, give strength

To renounce deadly flesh of the old base Adam

For I am wrongly born from him, crippled and wounded

Inclined towards the world, desirous of blood.

 

Benisławska’s prayers are always supported by ethical experience. When the poetess meditates over subsequent phrases of "Our Father" or "Hail Mary," she paints as if internal landscapes, thanking Christ for daily bread, asking for the grace of sanctity, telling all creatures to praise their Lord for they are signs of His might and goodness.

Quite another type of religious feelings and experiences is expressed in the poetry of Franciszek Dionizy Kniaźnin. This leading representative of sentimentalism wrote pathetic odes ("To God"; Do Boga; "To the Mother of God"; Do Bogarodzicy), entirely deprived of mawkishness. God in his poetry resembles for this reason the austere Jahoveh of the Old Testament. Even if he is the guarantee of the sense of human life, who may even be invoked to have mercy on the fallen Poland, it is rather not possible to open before him one’s heart.

The works of Franciszek Karpiński present themselves somewhat differently. His set of "Songs of Piety" (Pieśni nabożne, 1792) contains ritual, moral, religious, supplicatory, and patriotic songs and poems. In them God is a righteous and merciful Father, Savior of human kind. He takes care of his servants, listens to complaints, supports in frailness ("A Song on God’s Mercy"; Pieśń o miłosierdziu Boskim). "The Morning Song" (Pieśń poranna) and "The Evening Song" (Pieśń wieczorna) were most popular thanks to their simplicity of wording, easily followed melodies and sincerity of feelings. But Karpiński was also a sophisticated master of the word. His Christmas carol "On God’s Nativity" (O narodzeniu Pańskim) is an artistical performance composed of a series of antitheses and oxymorons used to make present the mystery of the Word who deigned to become Flesh and to live among us:

 

God is born, power quakes

Lord of heavens stripped and naked;

Fire freezes, splendor fades

Knows our bounds the Infinite;

Despised -- cover’d with glory

Mortal -- reigns over the ages . . .

 

Next, metaphors serve to describe the mystery of the Crib to which shepherds arrive and kings come with their gifts. In accord with Franciscan spirituality, God comes to abide among "his beloved people," blessing houses, cities, villages, and the "dear fatherland," for he takes care of poor men who are given the favor of experiencing their proximity even before kings. By this literary accomplishment Karpiński outstripped all the achievements of the XVIIth century masters -- Stanisław Grochowski and Jan Żabczyc -- in the domain of Christmas carols. He was able also to combine religious qualities with patriotic needs.

 

TRANSCENDENT WAYS OF WORSHIPPING GOD IN ROMANTICISM

 

One of the features distinguishing the culture of Romanticism in Poland is its discrediting of the exaggerated claims of reason. In his program ballade "Romanticism" (Romantyczność) Adam Mickiewicz wrote:

 

. Feeling and faith appeal to me stronger

Than glass and eye of the wise

 

According to this confession the author had to find such measures of transcendence for the heroes of his compositions that they can make present whatever is above "glass and eye of the wise". In a poem "Ode to the Youth" (Oda do młodości), an expression of his youthful enthusiasm, he praised these measures with following phrases: "reach where sight cannot reach," "break what reason cannot break," recognizing in youth the basic component of the world order, without, however, any biological connotations. The consequence of this had to be also acknowledgement of faith as a factor leading to awareness of God. For Mickiewicz, devotee of the Mother of God, it is she who was supposed to help in this awareness. The poet dedicated the work to her in beginning his poem "Hymn for the Day of Annunciation" (Hymn na dzień Zwiastowania N. P. Maryi -- 1820).

The incarnate God and His Mother are frequent objects of Mickiewicz’s poetical reflection. He always finds for them subtle artistic forms of expression. Christ should be an educative model for young Poles, for them also awaits the death of martyrs ("To the Polish Mother"; Do Matki Polki). God is the absolute Master, creator of the world of spirits and human hearts, communicating with man by means of images painted "on the azure of heavens," for man could not otherwise grasp the thoughts of his Creator. God is also a doctor of souls, a confessor, and a psychotherapist, with whom man can "chat" (gadać), finding an attentive listener ("An Evening Talk"; Rozmowa wieczorna). God, Creator and Benefactor, is in Mickiewicz’s poetry a frontier of reason for those who believe only in reason, who -- as the poet argues -- "go and hunt" God in the way of those who went to capture Christ and bring him to Pilate’s court. The wise, if they only could, would proclaim the death of God ("The Wise"; Mędrcy) or would confirm his existence if only he let them explain his entity, for instance through "hierophantic landscapes" that he would create himself ("Reason and Faith"; Rozum i wiara). God is also giver of blessed tears when the lyrical subject, a mature man, epitomizes and judges his life ("Tears were Gushed"; Polały się łzy; "Regrets of a Waster"; Żale rozrzutnika).

In Mickiewicz’s poetic activity experiencing the mysteries of faith had a serious impact on the way he experienced Poland, especially after the fall of the November uprising. Poland appeared to Mickiewicz almost as a repetition of the sacrifice of Christ. Analogies between the passion of Christ and the sacrifice of Polish martyrs constituted the essence of the prophetic message in the third part of "The All Saints Eve" (Dziady) The sacrifice of Christ brought to the world redemption, and the sacrifice of Poland will also bring salvation to the world. Evil in this world, spreading not without the fault of nations claiming to be Christian, is a moral scandal as well as an impenetrable design of God. He uses Poland as his epiphany so that nations can understand their own fault so that his plans could be fulfilled.

In this drama, against the backdrop of the experiences and spiritual transformations of its characters, there is a great dialogue on understanding these divine designs. One of these characters is Konrad, a great poet endowed with an unusual strength of spirit, an individualist and egoist comparing himself to God in his creative abilities. He wants to reign over souls in order to rule the world by love, not by wisdom. It is because God lacks love, that there is so much suffering everywhere. For this suffering, as well as for the helplessness towards evil, Konrad charges God. Had he power, he would organize a happy world, based on love, even against people’s will. He admits to be such a tyrant of love, a dictator of hearts, launching a dangerous challenge:

 

And, if they resist,

Let them suffer and perish. . . .

 

This is a fatal perspective. A quite different point of view is proposed by the second interlocutor, humble servant of God, a Bernardine monk. Piotr wishes to save Konrad, to rescue him from a moral downfall through prayer and brotherly care. He is a personification of Franciscan humility, which is a means of maintaining unity with God, of endowing history with meaning, a way of self-transcendence. That is why only Piotr understands that the sufferings of Poland are a divine epiphany, that through them will come, with God’s consent, true liberty of Poland and other nations. In spiritual polemic with Konrad he may feel the winner. It is to him that it is given to see the future of Poland, just as he experiences its crucifixion for its own liberty and for the liberty of others.

So it is not pride, not great individuality, even not mighty talent that are measures of the self-transcendence of individuals, but Franciscan humility, assuring the possibility of meeting God who recompenses our misery with gifts we did not dare to dream of.

The extent to which Mickiewicz was dependent upon Franciscan spirituality is witnessed by Pan Tadeusz, the national epoc of Poles. The poet created in this work a certain model of Polish identity and hierarchy of values, ordering the course of action based on the universal brotherhood of beings created by God. That is why animated and personified nature feels, loves, enjoys, becomes angry, supports people, provides impressions. Above all, however, it neutralizes the action of history that smells blood and divides the continuity of time into a series of periods hostile to man.

In a world thus conceived, a special role is played by a certain Jacek Soplica, a squabbler obsessed by pride and pleasures of life. He is characteristic of nobility and becomes a soldier for the Polish cause, a partisan of divine laws, a Bernardine priest. He combines in his life various discordant elements, achieving what may be called elevating the profanum to the range of the sacrum. This is a permanent feature of a well understood priesthood, as well as of a righteous and meaningful life in general.

In Mickiewicz’s poem events happen also on a metaphysical level. They are formally initiated by an apostrophe to the Mother of God opening the epoc, imagined as represented on the two icons especially dear to Poles: Our Lady of Częstochowa and Ostra Brama, and closed by a fragment at the end of the poem describing a celebration of a Marial feast of Our Lady of Flowers that does not exist in the calendar of the Catholic liturgy and has been invented by the poet.

The second great poet of this epoc, Juliusz Słowacki -- similarly to Mickiewicz -- based the whole literary axiology of his works on the Christian faith. He lived it so dramatically that sometimes he behaved as a religious dissenter, defending his views in spite of the tradition of the Church.

Słowacki began his artistic adventure with an ardent prayer to the Mother of God that was intended to carry the appeal for liberty of the nation, the blood and labor of insurrectionists, before the throne of God ("A Hymn"; Hymn). Already as an emigrée in numerous poetical prayers he expressed his filial adoration of the Father (Hymn), prostrated before him, humbled himself under the burden of sins ("So help me, o God"; Tak mi Boże dopomóż). He gave thanks for the gift of talent ("I believe"; Wierzę), asked for help for his nation ("O Lord, if you close the ears of your nation"; Panie, jeżeli zamkniesz słuch narodu), and augured the coming of a Slav pope ("Amidst discord God rings a huge bell"; Pośród niesnasek Pan Bóg uderza . . .). But this artist with the soul of a mystic was also capable of a sober asssessment of the convictions confirmed by the most renowned authorities. He ridiculed the universal sense of the Polish sacrifice proclaimed by Mickiewicz, he laughed at Pope Gregory XVI who did not want to acknowledge Polish claims to liberty, and yet at the same time created some strange world of gnosis ("Fr. Marek"; Ks. Marek; "A Silver Dream of Salomea"; Sen srebrny Salomei) with no rational laws, where inconceivable misfortunes destroy collective life, where mysterious signs from beyond the earthly realms reach the earth, where prophecies come true. In the last years of his life he created an image of himself as a mystical thinker, spiritualizing the represented world and elaborating an allegedly primordial ethical codex ("Genesis from the Spirit"; Genezis z Ducha). Słowacki was persuaded that by means of illumination man is capable of penetrating the mysteries of being. He hoped that everything exists through the Spirit and for the Spirit, inspired by St. Augustine’s Confessions and by St. Francis’ "Song of Creation". Beings are subject to metempsychosis, constantly changing forms of existence and striving towards ever more complex states, and never moving back.

The poet was especially interested in work of the Spirit in the history of Poland. The Spirit certainly was incarnate in the first rulers of Poland and endowed Polish identity with its essence, perceivable even in the symbolism of Polish topographic names. Słowacki expressed his views on these matters in the poem "Spirit the King" (Król Duch), but he did not complete his enterprise, writing only five rhapsodies. As a matter of fact, his main intention was the one defined in his prayer at the end of "Genesis from the Spirit": "Allow that this unique way of bifurcations and enlightenments, way of love and understanding, shine stronger and stronger with suns of knowledge . . . and that it lead your people [o God], marching now on a dolorous way, to the kingdom of God".

The next great poet of the epoch, Zygmunt Krasiński, was also a believer in ideas of genesis. Słowacki held that he was led to this "by flashes of his mind" and awaited impatiently the effects of the synthesis that it guarantees. This eminent artist liked to examine history (Iridion), understood as nobody else the mechanisms of the function of social movements ("A Non-Divine Comedy"; Nie-Boska komedia), and recognized individual human ambitions with the precision of a psychoanalyst. Inclined to Dantesque moods, he passed through such fashionable maladies as melancholy and spleen, but managed to avoid the Romantic fashion of quarreling with God. He held Christianity for the only value in reference to which all ethical and social concepts should be judged. He confirmed the vanity and senselessness of social revolts, for they are contrary to the sense of divinity. Non-divinity, in strong conflict with divinity, is human fury, hatred, revenge that leads to the fall of civilization and depreciates man reducing him to the level of a zoological species. Only acceptance of God and fidelity to God’s design of the world can assure the development of history. Pankracy, who rejected this order of things, at the end of "A Non-Divine Comedy" dies in the face of the countenance of the real Master of history with a confession "Galileae vicisti!"

Krasiński also believed that, in God’s design and thus understood, Poland awaits great deeds. Poland is the people of peoples, and therefore is destined to bring the kingdom of God into modern times, morally transformed and faithful to the spirit of love and faith.

These ways of transcending were alien to Cyprian Kamil Norwid. He was a faithful son of the Church, and even tried to enter the religious community of Resurrectionists (Zmartwychwstańcy). He developed his own original thought and ways of its artistic expression in continuous clash with the reflection of Romanticism.

If he prayed through his artistic realizations, he did it as if learning the world in the experience of soul. For he understood prayer as a labor of Love from which man takes real happiness ("A Monologue"; Monolog). Following St. Francis, he asked Mary that the will of her Son be fulfilled ("Mary, Lady of Angels"; Maryjo, Pani Aniołów!).

Norwid, as an artist and as a man, with "premeditation" strove for sanctity, finding for it "words proper to things" in his poetry. He broke with the natural appearances of things as for him sanctity was always something more; thus he appealed to his imagination. In his "Prayer" (Modlitwa), he wrote:

 

Though everything you talked to me, o Lord!

 

Enumerating things, affairs, plants, values, qualities of spirit, he stated finally: "I am a stigma," a sign readable only in God’s presence. That is why he prayed, changing the sense of the words of "Our Father": "Thy will be done, not as it is on earth," and confessing that everything, that is, "dreams, feelings, songs, thoughts and actions" tend towards God, "the acting cause" (przy-czyna).

Such is also the relation between God and man in Norwid. Man is an elevated creature, for God made him a "stigma," that is, his sign, and prized him in the following way: "Your angel have I in my chest and worship" ("A Prayer").

Equally interesting is Norwid’s mariology ("To the Most Holy Virgin Mary"; Do Najświętszej Maryi Panny; "A Litany"; Litania). Paraphrasing the Loretto litany, Norwid records states of spiritual excitement, wants to approach and appease the guardian angel, tormented by human "bodily vices," and finally develops reflection concerning the relation between the Mother of God and Christ.

In this text Mary is the Mother of God as well as our Sister in humanity. Thanks to her man can shorten his infancy and approach her Son, thanks to her we can address him with less fear and, above all, "melt into tears" contemplating the great Love. The drama of human existence would be unbearable indeed, for it would be determined by "the past drunk with poisons of sin" and by "the void future"; that is why it is soothed by Our Lady, Sister in humanity. Christ, says the poet, is the one who "is not indebted with time," but at the same time is human, for he was raised and buried by the "womanly Person" who was "the biggest Confidant of the Cause".

The Norwidian sense of the sacrum is in accord with the traditional teaching of the Church. Nobody, however, in the Polish literature prayed as ardently and so realized the influence of sanctity on human life as did he. Through the incarnate Word, the profanum has been elevated above the expected measure, becoming an important component of the divine plan of salvation and, finally, humanizing man.

The time of Polish Romanticism was a time of searching the possibilities of individual self-transcendence desired in order to praise the Transcendence presented by the Catholic Church. It was also a time of joining affairs of the nation suffering from political enslavement with the highest metaphysical values. Artistic activity was then almost always on the edge of blasphemy, if we can call blasphemy attempts to rationalize the sufferings of people who deeply live the truths of the Catholic faith.

 

THE POSITIVIST PRACTICALITY TOWARDS THE SACRUM

 

Monism with regard to nature, organicism, evolutionism, determinism in thought, and in social praxis so-called "organic work" and democratic ambitions -- all could not neglect common feelings, especially religious sentiments and experiences. Therefore, prosaic works could not neglect in the worlds of imagination they constructed the meaning-conferring role of religion in individual and collective life. That is why heroes of eminent works by Bolesław Prus, Eliza Orzeszkowa, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Maria Konopnicka, and others pray to God in words of their own or prayers proposed by the Church. Eliza Orzeszkowa in her novel "On the shores of Niemen" (Nad Niemnem -- 1888), depicting a panorama of the life of Poles in that area, used an interesting way of sacralizing the space around Niemen as a natural environment developed by Polish civilization. It was threatened by the policy of russification practiced by the invaders aiming at eliminating Polish identity. This stylistic maneuver consists among others in sanctifying two graves that become symbols of national pains and sites that are sacred for the whole neighborhood. In other words, they are hierophanies of the Polish identity defended at the price of the civilizing labor of Jan and Cecylia (the first grave), initiated in the Jagiellonian epoch, as well as at the cost of the blood of martyred soldiers of the January uprising. They are buried in a grave where provincial noblesmen and a rich landowner have been interred. Edifying acts of love of the neighbor are committed by the most popular character of the Polish XIXth century prose, Stanisław Wokulski (Bolesław Prus, “The Doll”; Lalka -- 1890). Professor Dębicki, a hero of another novel by Prus (Emancypantki -- 1894), philosophizes about the value of suffering and proves the existence of a personal God, whose might "does not frighten at all; we think about it without fear, with trust and hope, like children about their father."

Henryk Sienkiewicz dedicated his "Trilogy" (Trylogia -- 1884, 1886, 1888) to hope, desiring to induce trust in God’s justice. Though it tests the nations, finally it brings the joy of fulfillment. He indicated lacunae in the Christian understanding of ethical principles in his other novels, such as "Without dogma" (Bez dogmatu -- 1891) and "The Połaniecki Family" (Rodzina Połanieckich -- 1895). In Quo vadis (1896) he puts us in touch with the sanctity of the first Christians in ancient Rome in the times of Nero.

The positivist fashion of libertine thinking was the object of attack by Teodor Jeske-Choiński. Heroes of his novel were granted the grace of spiritual rebirth.

Poetry, composed mostly of syllabic verses with distinct syntax and well ordered rhymes, humbly petitioned the Lord. Intellectual novelty evaporated from these poems, together with artistical creativity. These lacks were compensated by sincerity of confessions, pathos of emotions, and fidelity to the truth of the catechism. A master of such poetry was Maria Konopnicka, writing, liturgical texts, as before her had Alojzy Feliński with his "Hymns for the holy Mass" (Pienia do Mszy św). Adam Asnyk laid his filial trust "At the Feet of the Cross" (Pod stopy krzyża), and Wiktor Gomulicki praised the Lord through purity of dreams and begged for mercy for the beloved city of Warsaw.

 

THE FRANCISCAN TRACE AND MODERNISTIC STRUGGLES WITH GOD

 

The honesty of representatives of the Polish fin-de-sičcle -- called modernists in the Polish tradition of literary critique -- was not exhausted in desperate hedonism, in praises of absinth, coffee, punch, champagne, hashish, and lust. They relished nirvana, death, eschatological depths, all kinds of spiritism, and holism in particular. This justified a joke that the Polish soul at the end of the XIXth century was most strongly marked both by Satan and by Tatry (a mountain chain in Poland, discovered and exploited by artists at that time).

But in this enchantment by the Tatra mountains there was an element of fascination with the person of St. Francis of Assisi, his spirituality and his attitude towards nature and people. For it is an undeniable fact that St. Francis, at least in the Austrian and Russian sectors of the partitioned Poland, impressed Polish minds. There were three eminent expressions of this influence. The first is esthetic exploitation of the great cultural symbol of St. Francis. The second is the figure of Albert Chmielowski who entirely overwhelmed the intellectual elites of Cracow and Galicia by rejecting his career as a painter and taking care of the miserable and homeless. Finally, the third is a founder of numerous religious communities, popularizing Franciscan spirituality among the social masses -- Honorat Koźmiński.

The figure of St. Francis of Assisi was known already in Old Polish literature, and took solid roots in the romantic literature, inspiring the impression "Genesis from the Spirit" by J. Słowacki, quoting "The Song of Creation". During the fin-de-siecle period the spirituality of St. Francis was popularized among the educated part of the society thanks to "The Little Flowers of St. Francis," translated by Leopold Staff and enjoying great popularity, as well as splendid artistic works by Jan Kasprowicz ("A Hymn of St. Francis"; Hymn św. Franciszka), Tadeusz Miciński ("Stigmas of St. Francis"; Stygmaty św. Franciszka), and Jerzy Hulewicz ("To St. Rebel"; Do św. Buntownika), to mention only the most outstanding examples.

Kasprowicz has his hero speak about the grace of stigmata and disclose in a long monologue the sense of spiritual experiences. In this way he brings closer to the public the concept of the sanctity of Francis and Clare, for whom holiness means "being a happy sharer of immortal life." The Francis of Miciński, on the other hand, experiences the grace of stigmata, suffers and rejoices. Stigmata hurt, and Francis, listening to the whisper of flowers, worries above all that he might unwillingly stain the flowers with his blood. The extent of the development of this fascination with St. Francis’s sanctity is testified by the characters of numerous pieces of prose, not to mention the unusually abundant devotional literature. They are most frequently figures, mysterious in their past, who pass through dramas of spiritual metamorphosis, thanks to which they give up the life rules they confessed hitherto in order to sacrifice themselves without restraint to some kind of service, either patriotic, public, or to the poor in a religious community. This dynamism of lives of these heroes constitutes the inventive essence of the Franciscan topos. Stefan Żeromski uses it in "Converting Judas" (Nawracanie Judasza -- 1916), creating the interesting character of brother Guide, with distinct traits of Albert Chmielowski. Brother Wysz in Tadeusz Miciński’s Nietota ("Nietota. A Mysterious Book of the Tatras" -- 1910) is a figure endowed with all features of Franciscan spirituality. Lipce Roch, a character from "Peasants" (Chłopi -- 1904-1909) by Władysław Reymont lives and works like a Franciscan Tertiary. The painter Wysz in Adam Krechowiecki’s novel "I am" (Jestem -- 1894) has traits of character proper to brother Albert.

The literature of Polish modernism had its clashes with God. The most famous, because in an original artistic form, is to be found in "Hymns" (Hymny -- 1904) by Jan Kasprowicz, especially in his "God the Holy, God the Mighty" (Święty Boże, Święty Mocny) and in Dies irae, depicting, by means of numerous symbolizations and onomatopoeic series, a procession of humanity marching towards its demise. It is accompanied by the original mother of sin, blondhaired Eve, and by Satan. Utilizing the tradition of religious hymns -- Dies irae is ascribed to a Franciscan, Thomas of Celano. Quoting them abundantly the poet asks about the role of God in the world in which evil prevails, about the sense of suffering of the innocent, about God’s salvific power. Provocatively he demands a sign of his presence, and because God remains silent he forlornly calls Satan to occupy the empty space left by God.

Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer in moments of despair ("Unfaithful"; Niewierny) had accounts to settle with God. But before he proclaimed that he does not believe in anything he asked God that he give himself to men. Bolesław Leśmian in his pantheistic but also biblical way, and even atheistically oriented Andrzej Niemojewski tried to find the best forms of artistic expression when they allowed characters of their works to transcend themselves before God’s transcendence. A similar attitude was represented by Leopolf Staff when he wrote: "Who seeks yo has already found you" and "everyday meet me your signs" ("Signs"; Znaki).

Through depths of adoration, desperate doubting, atheistic negation, the ability of self-transcendence, which is evidently an art of taming pride and of perseverance in deciphering signs, symbols, codes, and recognizing hierophanies the literature of the Polish modernism rendered present the sacrum of God’s transcendence. It attempted to understand the sacral sense of things as suggested by the great saints of the universal Church. On this occasion, it tried to decipher the truth about the fallen (Stanisław Wyspiański, Klątwa -- 1909) or the decent man. It always remembered him as expressed by the words of Stanisław Brzozowski: "The most difficult is to awake Christ in man convinced about his virtue". "Speaking with every single man you have to speak as if you spoke with Christ, and you have to act as if it were Christ." On such a basis the Polish intelligentsia shaped their attitude, in large part leftist or inclined to the left, learning to understand dolori et amori sacrum -- the sacrum in pain and love.

 

IN THE SAME WAY -- AND YET DIFFERENTLY

 

Polish literature prayed ardently and heretically for a war of nations that was supposed to bring the nation its desired freedom. God was asked for it by Mickiewicz, by Stanisław Wyspiański appealing to "educe action from the faith of centuries" (the hymn Veni Creator), and by the poets of the Polish Legions, Józef Mączka and Józef Relidzyński, calling the Lord to bless the military actions of their army. When the miracle of independence came true, literature, in all its creative ambitions, departing from various religious positions, rendered homage to the One who is the Lord of ages.

Janusz Korczak humbled himself before the Lord searching for expressions to name the human debility that equals God’s greatness ("Prayer of Debility"; Modlitwa niemocy). Bronisława Ostrowska read the signs of nature as traces of God’s presence ("You, who poured into the morning of life such a joyful charm"; Któryś wlał w ranek życia taki wdzięk radosny). Emil Zegadłowicz, with his revolutionary attitude towards social order, contemplated images of the Lord’s passion ("With an olive branch"; Z gałęzią oliwną), and Witold Wandurski, persuaded to Communism, attempted to inquire into the sense of the words uttered by Christ on the cross. Julian Tuwim, whose attitude in life may be called agnostic, was the author of moving religious poems. One of them "O Christ" (Chrystusie), an expression of longing for Christ, was for years sung in Polish Churches. Tuwim made pacts with God, asked for grace for "all habitants of the world" ("A Prayer"; Modlitwa), and at the time of the second World War for "grandiosity of hearts" that will found the coming great Poland ("A Litany"; Litania). Tuwim was in his poetry a homo religiosus. The exaltation of prayer and a thirst of grace were not alien to him, for he understood that the fullness of poetic ethos may be gained by an artist only if his word is ready to measure its strength with the Immeasurable. That is why he compared poets to barbarians who got acquainted with God.

The richness of religious lyrics of the period between the first and the second World War in Poland is evident in a group of poets who saw in the possibility of transcending the lyrical I a chance for artistic fulfillment. Kazimierz Wierzyński expressed this ambition ("I do not Know if You Exist, O God"; Nie wiem czy jesteś Boże):

 

I want to pull out something from behind me

. . .

From behind of everything that here

Is devoid of all content

From there, from above, where eternity

Plays and rustles with clouds.

 

His poetry convinces us that he pulled "something" out, learning humility before God’s transcendence. This allowed him to recognize his real self through admiration for the beauty of creation or through enduring the victories and defeats sent by God as graces and punishments of the national community with which the poet identified himself.

The literature of the period between the world wars in Poland was strongly influenced by Franciscan spirituality. The Polish nation was moved by such centers as Niepokalanów ("The City of the Immaculate"), founded by Fr. Maximilian Kolbe. His popular religious magazine Rycerz Niepokalanej "The Knight of the Immaculate"), popularized ideals of the Militia of the Immaculate (also founded by Fr. Kolbe), supporting in the masses the knightly ethos, close to the Sarmatian commitment expressed in a saying Polonus defensor Mariae ("Pole -- a defender of Mary"). Another center, widely influencing intellectual milieus was founded and led in Laski by the Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross. In Laski a couple of intellectuals quit Judaism or bade farewell to their religious indifferentism which came from positivism. In a periodical Verbum, edited by this group, they discussed Catholic literature, bringing Polish and foreign writers closer to the Polish public, even though they disliked Franciscanism.

The seven hundred year anniversary of St. Francis’s death inspired some authors who in their own way wanted to interpret the message left in the Franciscan model of sanctity. They wondered anew that St. Francis was conquered by God, that he let himself be transformed into a holy wonderworker, God’s beggar, and yet combined in himself medieval with modern art. Leopold Staff, who stressed Franciscan spirituality already in the modernist period of his poetic activity, rendered homage to him. In the later period of his poetry Staff, using biographical data, evoked such features of this spirituality as the joy of life, humility, uncompromising love of God through all His creatures, traces of His wisdom ("The Poor of Assisi"; Biedaczyna asyski; "Colors of Honey"; Barwy miodu -- 1936). Józef Wittlin in turn asked God through the intercession of St. Francis for the possibility of reconciling man with the world and for the conversion of this world, so mindlessly devoted to materialism ("Repentance in Assisi"; Skrucha w Assyżu):

 

To your basilicas we bring our hearts burning with faith

We change our dollars in di Spirito Sancto bank

. . .

With your bleeding hand, sealed with a stigma divine

Make eternal peace between the world and us.

 

Other poets too wrote about St. Francis: Artur Maria Swinarski, Beata Obertyńska, Jerzy Liebert ("Little Birds of St. Francis"; Ptaszki św. Franciszka).

The character of St. Francis also interested prose authors. Zofia Kossak-Szczucka ("Without Arms"; Bez oręża -- 1937) sketched his interesting psychological silhouette, and called him "God’s madman" in a hagiographical collection bearing the same title (1929). Pia Górska wrote a biographical novel ("St. Francis, Servants of God"; Św. Franciszek, Sługi Boże -- 1921).

Poetic mariology did not disappear from the literary landscape in the period between the wars. Beata Obertyńska ("Be praised, Mary"; Bądź pochwalona) called Mary "Mother of beautiful love" and "Genitrix of the King of Glory". Jan Lechoń prayed to Madonna as depicted in her icon from Częstochowa ("Our Lady of Częstochowa”; Matka Boska Częstochowska). Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński, departing from conventional poetic images of the Mother of God, greeted her like a buddy: "Hi, Madonna," adorned her with cowslips, and called her Ark, Victory, and Muse. Nobody hitherto wrote in such an unceremonious manner about the Mother of God, which is why Stefan Sawicki considered this poem "religiously suspicious."

Unsuspicious and doctrinally correct poems to the honor of Mary were written by other poets. Jerzy Liebert ("A Lithany to the Virgin Mary"; Litania do Maryi Panny) asked for intercession so that faith may grow. Calling Mary "a cedar footbridge" and "a guide of hearts," he praised her as having been introduced to the greatest extent of all people into the divinity which became man in her Son. An author of many lyrical Marian works, Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna composed prayers ("To the Hidden Mother of God"; Do Matki Boskiej ukrytej) and litanies ("To Our Lady of Ostra Brama"; Do Matki Boskiej Ostrobramskiej). Through innovatory literary means, she confirmed the common devotion of Poles. Jalu Kurek, among representatives of the avant-garde, not only was sensitive to the action of the sacrum, but also adored the Madonna represented in the form of a folk statue. He used such sophisticated metaphorical expressions as "Blessed are thy feet bleeding with lips of mothers" ("To the Mother of God"; Do Matki Boskiej).

The licentia poetica of the period between the wars made it possible to highlight sacral values. It identified them most usually with the ecclesiastical, that is, religious understanding of the sacrum. Among works of numerous writers we find successful artistic performances whose subject of literary reflection is God, Mary, the saints. If we look for the sources of lyricism between the inner being of things and the inner being of the human "I," then the sanctity perceived in these works will also point to its religious source.

Poets and writers as well as all other human beings are called by God. The works they produce may contribute directly to creating and shaping religion, just as the religion they live contributes to their literary activity. The imagined worlds of the great novels of the interwar period confirm this truth. They drew from components provided by the publicly professed Catholic faith: examples are "Crusaders" (Krzyżowcy) by Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, "Nights and Days" (Noce i dnie) by Maria Dąbrowska, or "The Early Spring" (Przedwiośnie) by Stefan "Żeromski," a work born from opposition to Catholicism. The same truth was also confessed by Maurycy Szymel, speaking about God hidden "in the light of Sabbath candles," and "descending to a small, smoking synagogue" ("A Prayer to My God"; Modlitwa do mego Boga). It was understood by Józef Czechowicz when, addressing the Lord "hidden in conches of the firmament" ("A Prayer of Grief"; Modlitwa żałobna), he stated that even flowers are a manifestation of something else, not necessarily identical to them.

But the artistic labor of the period between the wars was not only in the service of kerygma of the Catholic Church. Maurycy Szymel, Janusz Korczak, and others manifested their sentiments and commitments without having anything in common with the Church. An interesting case is an example of poetic negative theology. This was developed by Władysław Sebyła when in the mood of pious prayer he wrote "Our Father, who are not" but who is at the same time, "in heaven, blue and void" ("Our Father"; Ojcze nasz). Thus, God is, necessary, after all even if only to maintain the logic of words, imminently breaking into the poem.

 

A HALF CENTURY OF "STRUGGLING" FOR DIVINE TRUTH AND HUMAN DIGNITY

 

The years of the second World War open a half century of "struggling for God’s truth and for human dignity in Polish literature." Poet-soldiers of the Warsaw uprising, such as Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, Tadeusz Gajcy, Andrzej Trzebiński, Wacław Bojarski, Zdzisław Stroiński confirmed this truth with their own life. There is no despair in their poems, even if they are full of apocalyptic scenes. Similar to the literature of Romanticism, they convince us that Poland has a special role to perform among other nations. Hence, everything that is Polish acquires in them a religious, messianic sense.

Also elder writers nourished such convictions. Antoni Słonimski compared the chosen character of the Polish nation with that of the Jews ("The Ultimate Reign"; Regnum ostatnie). Józef Wittlin deplored extermination of the Polish Jews ("To the Polish Jews"; Żydom w Polsce), and the afflicted Poland he saw as the Dolorous Mother standing under the cross. The Mother of God became a hero of numerous works written during the war. In Baczyński, she taught Polish mothers how to suffer ("A Prayer to the Mother of God"; Modlitwa do Bogarodzicy); in Mieczysław Jastrun’s "Escape" (Ucieczka) she is warned against a street roundup. The Mother of God was given diverse names and was now called Our Lady of the Soldiers (of the Warsaw uprising), Our Lady of Forests, Our Lady of Soldiers, Our Lady of Stalags, Our Lady of the National Army (Armia Krajowa), the Hidden Our Lady, Our Lady of the Fighting Poland, Our Lady of Kozielsk, and, traditionally, Our Lady of the Polish Crown.

The war poetry utilized all possibilities provided by genres of religious literature. It made reference to religious feasts and celebrations. It refreshed Christmas carols, hymns, lenten lamentations, antiphons, legends, and popular prayers.

One feature makes this literature distinctive in a quite unique sense -- hatred of enemies was quite alien to it. Its poems and novels prayed for the intention of the oppressed, for its own nation, it prayed God to absolve the nation from the fact that it had become for the world love, truth, and a cause of remorse, as in the poem by Józef Maciej Kononowicz, "When the Shadow of the Cross" (Kiedy cień krzyża). And they begged, as in the poem by Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna, for mercy for enemies ("A Prayer for the Enemies"; Modlitwa za nieprzyjaciół):

 

Have mercy, O Lord, on Germans

. . .

On the people hurled by folly and dread

. . .

On those who are bent before a false god.

 

Poets drew different conclusions from experiences of the war. Wojciech Bąk, expressed most fully the experience of the Polish community during the war and directly thereafter. The Communist regime began, without consent of the nation, to try on the Polish identity a Deianira’s gown sewn according to Russian standards. In the collection "The Fifth Gospel" he warned against human malice to prevent its return. Referring to biblical figures and Christian symbols ("This Happens in the Twentieth Century"; To się dzieje w dwudziestym wieku), he wrote that everything is possible:

 

Until from Adam a new shape emerges

New and upright, the shape of a new Adam.

 

But very soon in the Polish literature from Adam emerged a "Hegelian devil". Thanks to him, those who such a short time ago wrote splendid religious lyrics now organized the sounds of words so that it is only him they praised. Nothing was any longer possible -- neither doubts nor filial revolt, neither quarrel nor even request, for the devil allowed only admiration of himself. Reflection on the passing of human time has ended, everything had to be started from scratch.

Neophytes of the Communist religion, before they convert again to Christianity, will fight even more ardently with attitudes of Christian humanism, represented by a group of writers who remained faithful to its ethos Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna was. Condemned to remain of the margin of life. Kazimierz Wierzyński, Jan Lechoń and the others remained in exile to witness the truth and save the honor of the enslaved nation. The values of Christian culture were defended by writers related to the editorial board of Tygodnik Powszechny ("The Universal Weekly") in Cracow: Stefan Kisielewski, Hanna Malewska, Antoni Gołubiew, Leopold Tyrmand, Zofia Starowieyska-Morstinowa, Jerzy Zawieyski, Zbigniew Herbert. They were accompanied by writers from other milieus, such as Wojciech Bąk, Zofia Kossak-Szatkowska, Władysław Jan Grabski, Jan Dobraczyński, Maria Kuncewiczowa.

A particular place in the literature of the whole period after the second World War is occupied by the literary activity of Roman Brandstaetter, a convert from Judaism, who willingly used Franciscan motives ("A Return to Assisi"; Powrót do Asyża; "Two Muses"; Dwie muzy -- 1965; "Other Flowers of St. Francis"; Inne kwiatki św, Franciszka -- 1976). His way of writing is faithful to the biblical intuition ("The Song about my Christ"; Pieśń o moim Chrystusie -- 1974; "Jesus from Nazareth"; Jezus z Nazaretu 1967-1972). In his texts there is no romantic wrestling with God; they are, however, full of ambition to meet Him and to learn more about Him, to strengthen one’s faith. Similar content is evoked in the author’s dramaturgical writings ("Return of the Prodigal Son"; Powrót syna marnotrawnego).

Traditional Franciscanism, especially the figure of the saint of Assisi, is present in writings of many contemporary writers: Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna, Kazimierz Wierzyński, Jan Twardowski, Anna Kamieńska, Jacek Łukasiewicz, Józef Szczawiński, Sergiusz Riabinin, Teresa Ferenc. They present the saint as patron of ecology, and stress his role as a great moral authority for the corrupted world; they make him a mediator in bringing God closer to contemporary man. Fascination with the sanctity of St. Francis is the subject of prose of Ewa Szelburg-Zarembina. To this she devoted a trilogy: "In Love with Love" (Zakochany w miłości -- 1961), "Her Name was Clara" (Imię jej Klara -- 1964), "And the Door Opened." "Meditations about brother Elijah" (I otwarły się drzwi... O bracie Eliaszu medytacje -- 1971).

Another form of Franciscanism in Polish literature is fascination with St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, as this saint touched the sensibility of contemporary generations of Poles. It reflects a special set of motives: the value of personal sacrifice in the name of love of neighbor, the knightly ethos of fight with the evil, uncompromising philosophy of action in spite of commonsense obstacles, finally the cult of the Virgin Mary. The spiritual silhouette of this saint inspires many contemporary writers. Interesting poetic writings were devoted to him: Bogdan Ostromęcki, Maciej Józef Kononowicz, Jerzy Stanisław Sito, Sergiusz Riabinin, Ziemnowit Skibiński, Feliks Rajczak, Kazimierz Kozłowski OFMConv. The saint is also present on the prose of Jan Dobraczyński, Gustaw Morcinek, Jan Józef Szczepański.

The connection between aesthetics and the power and charm of nature often leads to discovering sanctity. In such a way, artistic creativity really becomes listening to watchwords and mysterious messages, according to the above mentioned intuition of G. Brazzola. Hidden connections reveal themselves and encoded messages concealed in existence are made clear. The writer perceives then this specific "something" on earth and in heaven.

In this manner Zbigniew Bieńkowski proceeds in his poem "Infinity" (Nieskończoność, in: "Three Poems"; Trzy poematy -- 1959). He listens -- through accumulating epithets, parabolic comparisons, astonishing personifications, innovative catecheses -- to what infinity says. The poetic ego confirms in this way its status and essence, pointing beyond itself to greatness that at the same time attracts it and frightens it. There, from the infinite distance, it perceives finally "the huge eye of Providence, always open, as if it never had an eyelid" A similar practice we may meet in Wisława Szymborska. In her poem ("A Talk with a Stone"; Rozmowa z kamieniem; "Salt"; Sól -- 1962) a stone is proud of its sense of sharing, its power is overwhelming, it is eternal. Szymborska’s poetry is never satisfied with finding "common miracles" in this "best of all worlds" ("People on the Bridge"; Ludzie na moście -- 1986).

Beginning from fidelity to biological truth, Ernest Bryll ("A Little Animal"; Zwierzątko -- 1975) first discovered aquatic symbolism, especially symbols of the ocean. Then he let himself be fished out of "the dark silence", putting himself with trust into the hands of the Divine Hunter, reconciling with Him, telling about Him and praising Him in Christmas carols and in poetic prayers. Anna Kamieńska wrote through a similar evolution: from the biological truth of life to poems that are records of mystical enthusiasm. She asked in them that "her heart may grow from love" ("An Everyday Prayer"; Modlitwa codzienna), for she already knew "that what is always myself boils and surges over my body" ("The Body"; Ciało). Kamieńska’s poetry, without denying the truth of homo libidinosus, discovered homo religiosus who tastes of the heavens.

Zbigniew Herbert was never satisfied with discovering traces, signs, and codes in the universe. The heroes of his poems discover the Highest Name in themselves, in their conscience, in the sacred place -- as St. Bonaventure would say. God gives himself to them attracting them with the beauty and diversity of the world, even if this world ("A Prayer of Mr. Cogito -- A Wanderer"; Modlitwa pana Cogito -- podróżnika) above all makes them recognize man’s limitless finiteness.

Czesław Miłosz’s experience of God’s transcendence often recalls the method of apophatic theology. We never know if life fulfills the plans of the hidden God. Poetry becomes a kind of wisdom, a sort of light kindled over the mind -- a universal purifying light -- so that from within the ego might itself express the need of contact with God or so that God himself might speak,

 

For only He is able to enlist all pain

Reconciliations, bliss, fear, ecstasies,

 

("An Argument"; Argument; "Chronicles"; Kroniki -- 1988).

Then poetry becomes like a natural mystical experience (Oeconomia divina; "Where the Sun Rises and Where it Sets"; Gdzie wschodzi słońce i kędy zapada -- 1974). Such a poetry knows also spells of prayer (Veni Creator; "A City Without Name"; Miasto bez imienia -- 1969). It claims the right to be in the direct presence of God without processions with statues, and praises the magnanimity of the Spirit of Enlightenment.

It is impossible to describe all literary experiences, perceptions, discoveries of the holy and touches of God’s transcendence. The lyrics of Józef Szczawiński are sometimes inspired by liturgical ceremonies. The bible is the domain of Tadeusz Nowak, Mikołaj Bieszczadowski, Jan Bolesław Ożóg, and Roman Brandstaetter. "The Miracle of the Lasting God" (Cud trwającego Boga) is discovered in the lyrics of Tadeusz Szaja. The four elements stimulate the artistic activity of Zbigniew Jankowski, but his poems are acts of a revolution in faith that finally convince us that the world is meaningful, for it is founded by God. The carnal metaphysics in the poetry of Szymborska, Janusz Stanisław Pasierb, Zbigniew Dolecki, Andrzej Piotrowski always refers us to "what boils and surges over our body," as Anna Kamieńska writes. The poetry of Anna Pogonowska and Bogdan Ostromięcki confirms the constant presence of God’s transcendence, and some of their works have simply the nature of religious acts. The poetic reflection of Maciej Józef Kononowicz warns against time deprived of the sacrum. "You come from sign and in sign will you turn" -- admonishes the poetry of Mieczysław Kucner ("In the Rhythm of Analogy"; W rytmie analogii; "Trying to Be Honest"; Próba wierności -- 1976). Drawing inspiration from modern physics he states that nothing brings profit without "the Lord of the unitary field" and of "inconceivable plans" who allows us to drink transcendence and to settle in human destiny. There is reflection on the limited character of human perception of the Word in the poetry of Stanisław Jerzy Sito. Christ, the Mother of God, angels, devils and liturgy are independent subjects or bases of metaphors in the rich lyrics by Zdzisław Łączkowski.

To confront the inexpressible, to confirm one’s humanity was an ambition of many contemporary writers. Andrzej Biskupski prays to God "who does not exist," like in Sebyła, for he is unthinkable as a pure thought. Nevertheless, he is practically indispensable, for man is a handicapped being, for whom God is a value in his egoistic calculation (François Villon, "Community"; Wspólnota -- 1976).

The generation of writers debuting in the eighties discovers the subjective context of their works in participation in God’s transcendence.

An exceptional phenomenon in recent Polish literature is the artistic activity of a milieu consisting of about forty priests. We can meet there members of the church hierarchy, of religious orders, as well as usual workers in the Lord’s vineyard. Karol Wojtyła is a poet and a dramaturge who developed poetic contemplation. In his poems ("Thinking Fatherland"; Myśląc ojczyzna; "Considerations on Fatherhood"; Rozważania o ojcostwie) man finds the sense of his existence in God, deeply hidden and inducing us to think and look "deeper and deeper". In his drama "A Brother of Our God" (Brat naszego Boga) the author "attempts to penetrate man" in order to show, by means of scenic structures, the dynamics of the everyday influence and presence among us of a great Franciscan, brother Albert Chmielowski.

A poet whose works significantly marked the sensibility of contemporary Poles is Jan Twardowski. He develops a Franciscan type of poetry, full of cheerfulness, wilful, joking and ironic. In this poetry the world laughs with clouds, trees, plants, insects, animals; there laugh also God, the Mother of God, and saints. The object of jokes are learned theologians, grandiloquent preachers, all too modest priests. Twardowski’s poetry does not acknowledge any dualism between sacrum and profanum, it rarely resorts to mediation of hierophanies. In its world everything has its unique and autonomous value.

Janusz Stanisław Pasierb banters that his writing is inspired by some demon of the south, for he started to write in his forties. So he wanders, learns and assesses landscapes of European culture, willingly using biblical motives and his experiences of the Holy Land ("Experiences of the Land"; Doświadczenia ziemi -- 1989). But this poetry is also a praise of matter in that in it has been constituted the mystery of human transcendence, elevating the human subject to God.

Bonifacy Miązek, a subtle poet and an inquiring literary critic, Franciszek Kamecki, Janusz Ihnatowicz, Paweł Heintsch, Kazimierz Wójtowicz, Jerzy Czarnota, Kazimierz Kozłowski OFMConv. -- to name only these personages -- determine the course of a stream that, following Paul Ricoeur, may be called without exaggeration "poetry of shining meaning. This poetic style teaches us respect for the work of creation, restores laughter to the sense of joy proper to the children of God, makes present sanctity and divinity convincing that they are accessible for human will if only man opens to the action of Grace. Finally, this poetry leads its readers in the sphere of this darkness that breeds a thirst of Transcendence.

If contemporary poetry is a more or less mature artistic awareness of what joins earth and man with heaven, then also prose in its represented worlds -- though necessarily horizontally oriented, if we are to believe Gustaw Herling-Grudziński -- never can renounce sacral values. "We will never get rid of the temptation of perceiving the world as a secret code, always insistently trying to find a key to it: a blessed temptation, a living source of all civilizations, a secret writing of gods. But in the nature of this divine secret code lies in spite of incessant efforts and attempts the impossibility of its hieroglyphic character being deciphered."

This wise reflection is confirmed in the prose writings of this author, in which sacrum and profanum are always present with "marvelous naturalness and latitude". His "Another World" (Inny świat) is a work that reveals the truth about a man who was subject to practices of the Gulag Archipelago, where "forging souls" meant releaving man of all values and reducing him to a merely zoological level.

Ethical subjects, resulting from the Christian way of conceiving values, are present in very popular novels by Tadeusz Konwicki ("The Polish Complex"; Kompleks polski -- 1989) and Andrzej Szczypiorski ("The Beginning"; Początek -- 1989). Both authors point to the lack of ethics and to its bitter consequences in the lives of the characters of their books. In Szczypiorski this is a concrete lack of love of neighbors.

Christian ethical inspiration is visible in many other works of contemporary prose. It constitutes the basis of evaluation of the represented world in the novels of Tadeusz Nowak and Wiesław Myśliwski. Similarly interesting prose emerges from biblical inspiration. Jan Dobraczyński, Roman Brandstaetter, Jerzy Andrzejewski, Julian Stryjkowski are authors of eminent works of this type.

An interesting literary practice of contemporary prose writers consists in making reference to important events from the history of the Church. Teodor Parnicki wrote several novels inspired by such motives. Events in the Council of Constance served Apoloniusz Zawilski ("The Mission"; Misja -- 1986) to prove how great importance they had for the destiny of the Polish state. But not all writers use such events in this manner; some treat them instrumentally. Jerzy Andrzejewski, in order to describe the terrorizing power of the political police in Poland and the way of functioning of the totalitarian regime, creates a parabolic story ("Darkness covers the earth"; Ciemności kryją ziemię -- 1957), referring to practices of the Spanish inquisition. Andrzej Szczypiorski describes the disaster of pest and famine, causing lawsuits and accusations of imaginary heresies in the city of Arras in 1458, knowing that the reader will associate these events with experiences of the Polish Communist reality in 1968.

Maria Jasińska-Wojtkowska, examining religious motives in the Polish prose of 1976, enumerates 46 items in which they occur, though with various intensity. This fact, even if taken only statistically, seems very significant.

 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

 

Polish literature never despised the values suggested by religion. In various literary periods they played different roles, but Polish writers hardly ever neglected these motives. Sometimes seemingly distant from any metaphysical sentiments, their works revealed essential values of the sacrum, most often of a religious nature.

It is commonly known that poetry tries to shed light on what is concealed in persons and objects. It follows the traces and deciphers codes to make their depth present to its readers. In this way it describes sacral feelings and sensibility to transcendence and to the action of Grace. If it is able to persuade readers to yield to these qualities, it becomes a religious act, leading to God.

Prose, on the other hand, usually is horizontally oriented, for its vocation is to create epic universes. Wherever in their construction it refers to religious or ethical values it facilitates the human fulfillment of readers brought up in Poland in the context of its Christian culture. Even a functional way of treating these motives cannot stifle the final message of such works, for spontaneously they point out the lack of love and the deficiency of ethics in individual and public life.