Saturday, 15 January 2011 10:23

Mickiewicz and me

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I live in Weimar. Maybe you have heard of it. It is the town of Goethe and Schiller. The cradle of German culture and one of the numerous cradles of European culture. Every day I pass by their statue, standing sentinel on the theatre square: there they are, Schiller the dramatic, Goethe the classic, the two poet-friends, genius up above, tourist below, zoom in, click, go.

Every day I pass by trees and bushes, quiet, babbling and burbling waters behind, a gravel path around the back of the city castle, and there he is. Or rather his head in bronze, and I passed by many times before deciphering the inscription below: M-I-C-K-I-E-W-I-C-Z. Never heard of it. Later at an East Europe seminar I learnt it’s pronounced not like „Micky“, but like "Miez", the sound a German cat is said to make. Never heard of him, how could I?! The Polish Goethe! The neighbour's poet-duke! 

Born 1798 near Nowogródek (nowadays Belarus), educated in Wilna (Vilnius, nowadays Lithuania), exiled in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Odessa and Paris with intermezzi in Berlin, Venice, Florence, Naples, and Rome, deceased in 1855 in Constantinople while raising Jewish troops for Poland against Russia under a French mandate – a magnificent specimen of European biography!

So what was his œuve a specimen of? Poland, primarily. With his magnum opus Pan Tadeusz (published 1834 in Paris) he created the national epos for the state that did not exist during his life-time. Meanwhile, his Ksiegi Narodu Polskiego i Pielgrzymstwa Polskiego ("Books of the Polish people and the Polish pilgrimage", 1832) was a unifying signpost to Polish expatriates throughout Europe, and his dramatic cycle Dziady ("Funeral ceremony", first parts 1823) was scrupulously persecuted and confiscated by the occupying powers in Poland.

But the Romanticist with an eye for the humiliated and insulted had the big picture in mind, and to him the liberation wars were a pan-European phenomenon: "Europe's situation", he wrote in 1849, "is of the kind that it is unlikely that only one people for itself could embark on the path to progress; it would risk to be destroyed and at the same time to ruin the common cause." In 1848 French professors dedicated a chair to him, "the great Mickiewicz, whose words lead the worlds together, seemed to constitute a federation between orient and occident sounding from the Collège de France to Asia".

Perhaps the mystery of the bust in Weimar lies in a chance meeting, in 1828 he passed by the then village-like capital of Weimar, a politically meaningless but culturally ambitious duchy. It is here that he met Goethe, one of the greats of German and European Culture. Maybe the two had a nice chat on the idea of a "federation of free citizens and nations", grounded in a commonly shared culture and system of values, as Mickiewicz once wrote. The Polish romanticist was one of its forerunners for sure.

Photo By Most Curious [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

Last modified on Sunday, 16 January 2011 21:31
Christian Diemer

Christian Diemer, 28, is from Rottweil in South Germany. Having studied musicology, arts management, and composition in Weimar, he is now writing from Berlin and obscure spots in East Europe, where he is currently working on his PhD thesis about traditional music in Ukraine. 

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