KRASINSKI, Zygmunt (LITERATURE)

Born: Paris, France, 19 February 1812. Grew up on family estate in Opinogora, Poland. Education: Educated at home, then in Warsaw until 1828; University of Warsaw until 1829; University of Geneva, c. 1830. Military Service: Short military service. Family: Married Countess Elzbieta Branicki in 1843. Career: Travelled to St. Petersburg with his father, where he met Tsar Nicholas I, 1832; returned to Poland, 1832, and in 1843-44. Seriously ill for much of his life; spent most of 1830s and 1840s in spas in France and Italy, rarely coming home. Published many works anonymously. Died: 23 February 1859.

Publications

Collections

Pisma [Works], edited by J. Czubek. 8 vols., 1912; also edited by L.Piwinski, 7 vols., 1931.

Dziela literackie [Literary Works], edited by Pawel Hertz. 3 vols., 1973.

Plays

Nie-Boska Komedia (produced 1902). 1835; as The Undivine Comedy, translated by M.W. Cook, in The Undivine Comedy and Other Poems, 1875; as The Un-Divine Comedy, translated by Harold B. Segel, in Polish Romantic Drama, 1977; as Undivine Comedy, translated by Charles S. Kraszewski, 1999.

Irydion (produced 1908). 1836; as Irydion, translated by Florence Noyes, 1927.

Fiction

Pan trzechpagorkow [Lord of Three Hills]. 1828.

Grob rodziny Reichstalow [The Tomb of the Reichstal Family]. 1828.

Sen Elzbiey Pileckiej [Elizabeth Pilecka's Dream]. 1829.


WladyslawHerman idwor jego [Vladislaw Herman and His Court]. 3 vols., 1830.

Agay-Han. 1834.

Verse

Modlitewnik [Prayer Book]. 1837.

Noc letnia [Summer Night]. 1841.

Pokusa [Temptation]. 1841.

Przedswit [Pre-Dawn]. 1843.

Psalmyprzyszlosci [Future Psalms]. 1845; enlarged edition, 1848.

Ostatni [The Last One]. 1847.

Dzien dzisiejszy [Today]. 1847.

Psalm zalu [Psalm of Regret]. 1848.

Psalm dobrej woli [Psalm of Goodwill]. 1848.

Niedokonczonypoemat [The Unfinished Poem]. 1860.

The Undivine Comedy and Other Poems (includes play), translated by M.W. Cook. 1875.

Other

Trzy mysli Henryka Ligenzy [Henry Ligenza's Three Thoughts].1840.

O stanowisku Polski z bozych i ludzkich wzgledow [About Poland's Position from the Viewpoint of God and People]. 1841.

Lettres a Montalembert et … Lamartine. 1847.

Listy opoemacie KajetaKozmianaStefan Czarniecki [Letters to S.C. Kozmian]. 1859.


Briefe. 1860.

Listy od roku 1835 do 1844 pisane do Edwarda Jaroszynskiego [Letters to Edward Jaroszynski]. 1871.

Listy [Letters]. 3 vols., 1882-87.

Correspondance de Sigismond Krasinski et de Henry Reeve. 2 vols., 1902.

Listy [Letters], with Ary Scheffer. 1909.

Listy do Augusta Cieszkowskiego [Letters to August Cieszkowski]. 2 vols., 1912.

Listy do A. Potockiego [Letters to A. Potocki]. 1922.

Listy do Delfiny Potockiej [Letters to Delfina Potocka]. 3 vols., 1930-38.

Listy wybrane [Selected Letters]. 1937.

Listy do ojca [Letters to His Father]. 1963.

Listy do Jerzego Lubomirskiego [Letters to Jerzy Lubomirski]. 1965.

Listy do Adama Soltana [Letters to Adam Soltan]. 1970.

Listy do Konstantego Gaszynskiego [Letters to Konstanty Gaszynski]. 1971.

Critical Studies:

Zygmunt Krasinski by J. Kallenbach, 2 vols., 1904; The Anonymous Poet of Poland: A Life of Zygmunt Krasinski by Monica M. Gardner, 1919; Zygmunt Krasinski: Romantic Universalist: An International Tribute by W. Lednicki, 1964.

Zygmunt Krasinski came from a rich aristocratic family in Poland. His father, Wincenty, was a conservative general in the army of the Congress Kingdom and supported the Tsar and Poland’s Russian rulers even during the November Uprising of 1830. Young Zygmunt was sent abroad to finish his higher studies, and it was in Geneva that he began writing plays that reflected the major philosophical and social questions of the age. While Krasinski first published his works anonymously (as the ”Nameless Poet of Poland”) to avoid embarrassment for his family, his entire mature life was characterized by a struggle between his conflicting loyalties—whether to side with his father or with the cause of national independence, the fatherland. Krasinski made his home abroad (mostly in Germany), wrote poetry, a vast number of letters, and two plays which—though unstaged in his lifetime—belong to the best achievements of Polish Romantic drama.

Although of the plays Irydion was conceived first, the final version of Nie-Boska Komedia (The Undivine Comedy) came to be published first in 1835 in Paris. The latter is a poetic drama in four ”parts” (acts) which deals with one of the most crucial issues of the modern age beginning with the French Revolution—the struggle of the ”haves” and the ”have-nots,” that of aristocracy with revolutionary democracy. The background to this historic conflict is provided by the career of Count Henryk. He is first shown to be a failure in private life for he is much more interested in poetry (symbolized by a demonic maiden) than in domestic happiness with his newly wedded wife. In fact, he leaves his wife and is almost killed by the Maiden who wants to lure him to a precipice. At the end of Act I, Henryk’s wife dies with the wish that their son Orcio should become a poet—the wish is fulfilled, though Orcio remains incurably blind. The first two acts of the play are very sketchy, but they lead up to the powerful Act III, not unlike Juliusz Slowacki’s play Kordian (1834). In one of the scenes of Act II Count Henryk declares: ”Farewell, Mother Nature! I leave you, to become a man. I go to fight with my brethren.” Abandoning all other myths of romanticism, Henryk tests the last one: that of progress in society.

The third act takes place some time in the undefined future when the rebellious masses have managed to take over most of the civilized world. Only the Castle of Holy Trinity holds out in a vain attempt to stem the tide. Here all the rich and mighty (aristocrats, bankers, bishops) assemble; down in the valley the vast coalition of the poor and their radical leaders set up their camp to lay siege to the castle. Henryk, at night and in disguise, visits the camp and is appalled by the wrath of the masses and their thirst for revenge. All the same, Krasinski observes and indicates certain latent conflicts between the simple participants of the struggle, their ideologues, and the military ”technicians.” Henryk’s tour of the camp is followed by a return visit by Pankracy, the leader of the revolutionaries, to the castle; his confrontation with Count Henryk (who later is elected Commander-in-Chief by the beleaguered ”aristocrats”) produces some of the best scenes in the play. The values of both leaders are shown to be flawed; Henryk’s concept of ”honour” is hopelessly anachronistic, and Pankracy’s promise of a radiant future is utopian and clearly unrealizable.

The Undivine Comedy nearly ends with the victory of the revolutionary mobs. Count Henryk prefers to commit suicide at the moment when they take the castle by storm. Nonetheless, the victorious Pankracy is suddenly smitten by a vision of Julian the Apostate: ”Galileae vicisti!” (”You have won, O Christ!”). The message of this unexpected scene is fairly clear: no ”godless” revolution can be truly victorious; the new age will not dawn until it finds a way to reconcile democracy with Christianity.

Staged for the first time in the 20th century, The Undivine Comedy has been steadily gaining topicality with the rise of (basically anti-Christian) mass totalitarian movements. Adam Mickiewicz, in the middle of the 19th century, regarded it as ”the highest achievement of the Slavonic theatre”; Czeslaw Milosz called it, more recently, ”a truly pioneering work in its treatment of an unusual subject and in its visual elements.” Although several English translations exist, the play has been, on the whole, ignored outside Poland, even by directors otherwise interested in the Polish theatre.

Krasinski’s other play, Irydion, published in 1836, takes place in imperial Rome in the 3rd century ad. It is the story of a half-Greek, half-Germanic hero, Irydion (”the son of the rainbow”), who is bent on the destruction of corrupt, decadent Rome. To achieve this aim he is ready to sacrifice his sister Elsinoe to the lust of the Emperor Heliogabalus. His plot to subvert and then destroy Rome fails in the end because of the Christians’ reluctance to take up arms against their rulers. Irydion was written as an indirect response to Mickiewicz’s influential poem Konrad Wallenrod, a work which advocated revenge against the enemy by any means, including morally reprehensible methods. Krasinski’s play is written in an ”ornate arhythmical, utterly Romantic prose,” as described by Milosz, partly modelled on Chateaubriand, and while it enjoyed some popularity in the 19th century, it has not been resurrected on the stage in contemporary Poland.

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