Kinga Eminowicz Galica
In typically Central European fashion Adam Mickiewicz, the greatest poet of the Polish language, might be claimed by three adjoining nations as one of their own. Though he was born in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and called it his motherland, the village of his birth, Nowogrodek (or nearby Zaosie), is located in present-day Byelorussia, and the folklore of the Byelorussian-speaking local population enriches his poetry. His father was a small-town lawyer, and although the family lived modestly, the poet had a happy childhood. The first significant event in his adolescence was the entry of Napoleon's army into his village (1812) on its way to Moscow, stirring high hopes for the rebirth of the dismembered Polish state—hopes that hinged on France. A Polish Legion had been created in Napoleon's army in 1797 and remained with it until his fall. In 1807 Napoleon had created the so-called Duchy of Warsaw, whose army marched with him to Moscow in 1812. Mickiewicz witnessed the triumphant march eastward and the humiliating defeat—events that help in understanding the poet's lifelong devotion to Napoleon and his descendants. In 1815 Mickiewicz entered the University of Wilno, where he concentrated on the field of languages and literature. The intellectual atmosphere in Wilno being permeated by the spirit of the Enlightenment, he read the writings of Diderot, Rousseau, Condillac, and Helvétius, as well as the works of Voltaire, which he translated and imitated.
His first book of poems, Ballady i romanse (1822), drawn from local folklore, appeared at the beginning of Romanticism in Poland. The originality of the poems lies in the fact that, unlike classical poetry, they could be understood even by uncultivated people. The second volume (1823) contains parts of the Dziady (Forefathers' Eve), a major Romantic drama recalling the old Lithuanian folk ritual of conjuring the dead and offering them food on All Saints' Day.
Despite czarist officials' efforts to suppress them, clandestine and semiclan-