Polish Baroque and Enlightenment Literature: An Anthology

Article excerpt

Michael J. Mikos. Polish Baroque and Enlightenment Literature: An Anthology. Columbus, OH: Slavica Publishers, 1996. 382 pp. Illustrations. Select Bibliography, $29.95, cloth.

With the notable exception of their Russian branch, Slavic studies in North America have long lacked translations of belles lettres suitable for use in courses designed for the non-specialists, be they undergraduate or graduate students. The volume under review seeks to meet the needs of such students, and by and large does so quite well. The scope of authors and works represented in this anthology provides the general student with a broad and well balanced selection of prose and verse from Early Modern Polish Literature.

The Baroque period in Polish literature is often viewed as a period of decline and decay after the glorious but short lived Renaissance, which is typified, if not incarnated, by Jan Kochanowski and his aeuvre. It is true that the quality of Baroque literature is uneven. Nonetheless, its abundance testifies to the vitality of Polish letters. The significant body of texts produced in this period cannot be ignored in any serious consideration of the history of Polish literature and culture. Mikos' selection of lyric poets of the Baroque is notable for its inclusion of such a master of the ode as Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski, known throughout Europe during his life as the "Christian Horace" and whose works were translated into English already in the seventeenth century, as well as composers of the fraszka such as the exquisite Jan Andrzej Morsztyn and the robust but poetically unsophisticated Wadaw Potocki, both of whose works if known at all, remained in manuscript until the end of the nineteenth century. Mikos's judicious selection from the Baroque literary epic includes Piotr Kochanowski's rendition of Tasso's Gerusalemme libertata, Wadaw Potocki's Progress of the War of Chocim, and Stanislaw Herakliusz Lubormirski's Tobias Delivered. His selection from the drama includes Samuel Twardowski's Daphnis Changed into a Laurel Tree, and Fair Pasqualina .

Thematically, the selections well represent both those typical of the age throughout Europe (memento mori, the transient nature of life and the material world), as well as those peculiar to Poland: the sorry state of the body politic (Szymon Starowolski), including the vicious exploitation of the peasantry (Krzysztof Opalinski, Satire III. On Burdens and Oppression of Peasants in Poland); Sarmatianism (Starowolski, Wespazjan Kochowski). The prose in this anthology ranges from the erudite (Stanislaw Zolkiewski, Starowolski), the polished and intimate (Jan Sobieski's correspondence to his wife, Marysienka), to the rough and ready (Jan Chrysostom Pasek's Memoirs) .

The Period of the Enlightenment in Poland has been viewed as the dawn of a new day in Polish literature and culture following the so-called "Saxon Night" and preceding the catastrophe of the partitions. …