JULIUSZ SLOWACKI (1809-1849)
Slowacki was born in Krzermeniec. His father taught literature in the local lycée and, from 1811 until his death in 1814, rhetoric and poetry at the University of Wilno. In 1818, Slowacki’s mother Salomea married August Bécu, professor of medicine at the University, who died struck by lightning in 1824. From 1825 to 1828 Slowacki studied law and in 1829 went to Warsaw, where he embarked on an administrative career and wrote patriotic poems. In 1831 he was sent on a diplomatic mission to London and then he settled in Paris. From 1832 to 1836 Slowacki lived in Geneva, later travelled in Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Palestine. In 1838 he returned to Paris, where he stayed until 1849, when he succumbed to tuberculosis. He was buried at Montmartre cemetery, but in 1927 his ashes were brought to Cracow and laid to rest next to Mickiewicz in the crypt at Wawel Cathedral.
Slowacki’s first two volumes of poetry were published in Paris in 1832. They were inspired by Shakespeare, Byron, and Mickiewicz and included the Romantic tales in verse Hugo, The Monk, Jan Bielecki, and The Arab, and two historical tragedies in a Classical style, Mindowe and Mary Stuart. In response to Mickiewicz’s criticism of his works, Slowacki wrote Kordian (1834), a drama which showed the weakness of a young protagonist in a moment of trial, quite unlike the lofty strength of purpose displayed by Mickiewicz’s hero in Forefathers’ Eve (III). In Anhelli (1838), he depicted the earthly hell of the Polish exiles in Siberia, in contrast to the Books of the Polish Nation and of the Polish Pilgrimage in which Mickiewicz called upon his countrymen to carry the light of a new spirituality across Europe.
Many of Slowacki’s lyric masterpieces date from the period of his travels. They include, for example, his nostalgic Hymn, a poignant My Testament, a love poem In Switzerland, his reflective message to his compatriots, entitled Agamemnon’s Tomb, and several moving poems, in addition to numerous letters, addressed to his mother.
Slowacki’s historical poem Beniowski (1841), intended to describe the life and adventures of a Polish-Hungarian nobleman, grew into a digressive discourse on Slowacki’s own life, friends, poetry, his opinions about critics and events of the day. In his plays Balladyna (1839), inspired by Shakespeare, Mazeppa (1840), Lilla Weneda (1840), Zawisza the Black (written in 1844-45, published in 1908), The Golden Skull (written in 1842), Father Mark (1843), and The Silver Dream of Salomea (1844), Slowacki returned to the important people and events in Poland’s history, while in Fantazy, written around 1844, he ridiculed Polish aristocrats, suppressed by Russian authorities in the period following the 1831 Uprising.
Slowacki’s brief association with Andrzej Towianski and his circle (1842-1843) inspired him to create his own mystical system, which found expression in his short lyrics, e.g. [A Fiery Angel : Angel at My Left Side...] and [When the First Cocks Sing Unto the Master...], as well as in his poems The Genesis of the Spirit (written in 1844) and The King-Spirit (written 1845-49).
M. J. Mikos
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee