LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2007 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Volume 53, No 3 - Fall 2007
Editor of this issue: M.G Slavėnas
Native Realm Revisited: Mickiewicz’s Lithuania and Mickiewicz in Lithuania
Tomas Venclova, poet, essayist and scholar. Presently Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University. He took part in the Lithuanian dissident movement and emigrated from the USSR in 1977. Among his books in English are Forms of Hope (Essays), Winter Dialogue (Poems), Aleksander Wat: Life and Art of an Iconoclast.
In more than one of his studies, Wiktor Weintraub dealt with a peculiar image (and self-image) of Mickiewicz as prophet, a leader of his people, the embodiment of its collective strivings and a charismatic teacher for generations to come. The messianic idea promoted by Mickiewicz and echoed by more than one of his contemporaries may seem bizarre to us, yet it fired the imagination of his readers and was instrumental in bringing momentous changes to Eastern Europe’s intellectual and political map. What is frequently overlooked in this connection is the fact that Mickiewicz’s prophesies have shaped the collective identity not of one nation but of two, namely, Poland and Lithuania. All prophets fail, and Mickiewicz did not foresee a significant event in his native region, that is, the appearance of one more modern state, Lithuania, next to Poland, even though he himself had contributed to its spiritual crystallization arguably more than anybody else. I am going to discuss two closely connected topics: firstly, the relation of the prophetic image of Mickiewicz to his Lithuanian background, secondly, his paradoxical role in the development of Lithuanian national identity.
I will start with two translations of Mickiewicz’s work into Lithuanian that are uncommon in more than one respect. The first was produced as early as 1822, but remained in manuscript form for a hundred-odd years and only made its way into print in 1929. The translated story has the title Żywila; its Lithuanian translation is inserted into a much larger whole, a Romantic history of the Grand Duchy entitled The Deeds of Ancient Lithuanians and Samogitians. The author of that larger whole was Simonas Daukantas, alias Szymon Dowkont, at that time still a student at the University of Wilno (Vilnius), which Mickiewicz had attended as well.
Strangely enough, Żywila appears to be the very first text by Mickiewicz translated into any language. The only other possible contenders would be two ballads, “The Nymph of Switeż” and “The Lilies,” translated into Russian by Kondratii Ryleev soon after their appearance in Mickiewicz’s first book, Ballads and Romances, published in Wilno also in 1822. Yet Ryleev most likely lags behind Daukantas by at least one year. Incidentally, Ryleev’s incomplete translations did not go beyond the draft stage and remained in manuscript for decades.
That alone would be enough reason to consider Daukantas’s translation noteworthy. Still, there are more oddities associated with it. Żywila obviously does not belong to the cardinal works of Mickiewicz. It is a youthful literary exercise patterned after the Greek and Roman historians. Written in 1819, before Mickiewicz’s decisive turn to Romanticism, it was discussed during a meeting of the secret Philomath society and at the end of February of the same year anonymously published in Tygodnik Wileński (Wilno Weekly) as “an excerpt from ancient Polish manuscripts conferred to the editors by Mr. S. F. Ż.” (Mickiewicz hinted at a known Wilno philologist and antiquary Szymon Feliks Żukowski). Tradition maintains that Mickiewicz’s colleagues jokingly presented it to their professor Leon Borowski as an authentic literary monument, and Borowski was consequently instrumental in Żywila’s publication. Therefore, it was a forgery characteristic of the period, though perhaps without any serious attempt to deceive. Mickiewicz never reprinted Żywila, and it was soon forgotten. His authorship was established beyond any doubt in 1884.
The short and concise story displays (in rather embryonic form) several motifs that became typical for the mature Mickiewicz: fatal passion, treason and, finally, a patriotic deed by a heroic woman. Żywila, daughter of Koryat, the Lithuanian prince of Nowogród, falls in love with a knight named Poray. Upon learning about her secret affair (though not about her lover’s identity), Koryat condemns her to death. In order to rescue Żywila, Poray opens the gates of Nowogród to the Russian enemies. With their help, he manages to bring Żywila out of prison, yet she kills him for his betrayal of the native city, chases out the Russians, sword in hand, and dies. (A rather unexpected tinge is given to the story by the fact that Poray was the heraldic title of Mickiewicz’s ancestors).
Daukantas might have known Mickiewicz personally: for two years, they were classmates in the Department of Literature and Liberal Arts in Wilno (though Daukantas was appreciably older). One may add that Daukantas was most likely considered a candidate for membership in one of the secret student societies that were extensions of the Philomaths. Still, he took Żywila for an authentic excerpt from Lithuania’s chronicles. Like many others, he was led into error by its language, patterned after the sixteenth century historian Maciej Stryjkowski. His translation was free enough. For unknown reasons, he shifted the time of the story by approximately a century, from 1400 to the much earlier period of Gediminas (Giedymin). Moreover, inserted into Daukantas’s treatise, Żywila changed its function: instead of a not-too-serious stylization, intended, at least in part, for pure entertainment, it became one more unequivocal example of Lithuanian patriotism. Incidentally, while Mickiewicz merely juxtaposed Żywila to heroic women of Greece and Rome, his translator rounded off the story with a statement that neither Rome nor Greece had given birth to so glorious a maiden. To put it succinctly, Daukantas, by placing Mickiewicz’s heroine into the context of his work, transformed her. Into Grażyna avant le lettre.
The specific status of the Lithuanian Żywila was corroborated by one more fact. This very first translation of a work by Mickiewicz was into a language virtually devoid of any literary tradition – a language considered close to extinction, or, in any case, bound to remain an obscure local dialect. In 1822, Lithuanian literature, for all practical purposes, was limited to a small number of devotional and linguistic books. The first rather pitiable collection of poems in Lithuanian had appeared in Wilno only eight years before. A significant eighteen-century work, The Seasons by Donelaitis (which Mickiewicz mentioned benevolently in a footnote to Grażyna), was printed in Königsberg in 1818 after half a century of precarious manuscript existence, during which time it was read by very few. If Żywila was a marginal part of Mickiewicz’s corpus, its translator was himself a marginal figure – incidentally, a marginal figure by choice. He could have become a notable historian and folklorist if he had chosen Polish as his medium. This would have presented no problems for him, since he was perfectly bilingual as all intellectuals of Lithuanian origin were in those days; yet as early as his student years, he decided to write exclusively in Lithuanian. His ambition was to resurrect the language and to create a distinct sense of Lithuanian identity based on linguistic criteria, and he proceeded toward this goal almost single-handedly. To generate the impression that there were many Lithuanian authors, he produced books under several pseudonyms. Most of these books remained unprinted, but they were read, copied and discussed.
Daukantas was the first Lithuanian representative of the “philological revolution” that swept Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century. His goal, as stated in the introduction to The Deeds of Ancient Lithuanians and Samogitians, was “to prove to all the enemies of Lithuanian and Samogitian that everybody endowed with sufficient will and ability could write in Lithuanian as successfully as in any other language cultivated at the present time.” He still considered his native Samogitian dialect a specific language, even if inseparable from Lithuanian. One of the enemies that hindered the cultivation of the idiom was obviously the Russian Empire, which ruled the Lithuanian lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth after the Third Partition. Yet Daukantas took the next step, which transformed him into the founding father of modern Lithuanian nationalism: he listed among the hostile forces the Polish-speaking gentry and educated strata as well. The social conflict between Lithuanian-speaking peasants and Polish (or Polonized) upper classes was interpreted as a conflict between two different nations, each of them with its separate past and separate future. In The Deeds of Ancient Lithuanians and Samogitians, one already finds a diatribe concerning the “evil forces of this world,” which “under the guise of unity. . . kept the [Lithuanian] tribe in contempt.” In Daukantas’s words, these unnamed evil forces first deprived Lithuanians of freedom, then shackled them with irons and finally handed over their slaves to the highwaymen. One may easily identify the evildoers here with the Polish aristocracy and the highwaymen with the czarist regime (the only partitioning power Lithuanian peasants were aware of). That would not necessarily have raised the eyebrows of many Polish ideologues of the period. But in Daukantas’s later writings, and even more in the writings of his numerous followers, the guilt came to be implicitly assigned to any Polish speaker.
Therefore, Daukantas created an ideological framework that differed significantly from the framework of his classmates, the Philomaths. The collapse of the Commonwealth, even if undesirable, was, for him, not the worst misfortune. It was preceded by a more profound disaster, namely, the collapse of a free pagan Lithuania under the impact of the union with Christian Poland.
In this context, Żywila could be interpreted anew, as a symbol of maidenly Lithuania, whose beloved (Poland) committed a despicable treason handing her, together with her country, to the Russians. To be precise, that interpretation was never stated explicitly, either by Daukantas or by other Lithuanian writers dealing with the topic. Yet, the immense popularity of Żywila’s story in Lithuania, especially in the periods of Polish-Lithuanian tension, is indicative enough. A marginal story by a young Mickiewicz, never well-known in Poland, became one of the paradigmatic texts of Lithuanian culture, 45 virtually eclipsing Grażyna and Konrad Wallenrod. Rather similarly, Daukantas himself was promoted from marginal figure to archetypal “father of the nation” by the Lithuanian national movement. Żywila’s translation appeared for a second time in Daukantas’s next large treatise, A Samogitian History (1838). Incidentally, he assigned the authorship to his friend Teodor Narbutt, a dilettante Wilno historian. Then, Żywila was translated anew (in 1890), included into school readers (either as authentic history or a genuine folk legend), retold by various authors and adapted for the stage more than once. Mickiewicz’s authorship was rarely if ever mentioned. The very name Żywila, in its Lithuanized form Živilė, became one of the most popular female names. It was (and still is) perceived as strictly ethnic, authentically Baltic, devoid of Slavic or any other foreign tinge. This, of course, is a paradox. The name’s root, in contrast to Grażyna, is not a Baltic, but a Slavic one (Mickiewicz concocted it by conflating the names of several Pomeranian and Masovian deities). As late as 1947-48, Żywila was dramatized by the modernist emigre playwright and novelist Antanas Škėma. In his version, the story of Żywila and Poray is repeated three times in three different historical contexts. At first, it develops in medieval Lithuania, in strict accordance with Mickiewicz’s pattern; then, during the uprising of 1863 Żywila is a young daughter of a landowner and her lover an insurrectionist; finally, in Vilnius occupied by the Soviets in the spring of 1941 (both heroes are fighters in the Lithuanian underground; this time, the young man redeems his bad karma – he refuses to save his beloved by means of treason, and perishes together with her).
The other translation of Mickiewicz’s work I would like to discuss at some length was almost as bizarre. After the uprising of 1831, a small booklet in Lithuanian (seven pages in all) appeared in Paris. It consisted of “The Pilgrim’s Litany” followed by “The Prayer of the Pilgrim” – the two final and arguably most impressive parts of Mickiewicz’s messianic manifesto, The Books of the Polish Nation and of the Polish Pilgrims. Władysław Mickiewicz incorrectly listed it as a complete translation, an error which found its way into several bibliographies. Yet it was, 46 in any case, a remarkable event in the history of Mickiewicz translations. The booklet lacks a date: according to some conjectures, it appeared as early as March 1833, five months after the original Polish edition. That would make it the very first (if partial) translation of The Books, preceding translations into French, German and English that were printed later that year. Since Lithuanian literature in 1833 remained at the same embryonic stage it had been in 1822, this would have been nothing short of amazing. It would also have been uncommon if the booklet was published in 1836, as is usually assumed now. On the other hand, the translation of The Books into Lithuanian seemed somewhat natural, given the Polish-Lithuanian relations during the uprising and its aftermath.
The translator was, in all probability, Kiprijonas Nezabitauskas, alias Cyprian Józef Lubicz Niezabitowski. Nineteen years older than Mickiewicz and fourteen years older than Daukantas, he belonged to the pre-Philomath generation brought up in the still independent Commonwealth. A Catholic priest, he was involved in the uprising and had to emigrate. Haunted by the typical bad luck of an exile, Nezabitauskas may have committed suicide in Nancy in 1837, although the circumstances of his death remain obscure. In France, he became a utopian radical and a follower of Lamennais (whom he translated into Lithuanian). No wonder he was susceptible to Mickiewicz’s messianist doctrine as well.
The Books of the Polish Nation and of the Polish Pilgrims, written in a simple style and addressing the émigré masses, provided didactic and soul-elevating reading for former insurrectionists of Lithuanian origin, the number of whom living in Paris at the time was considerable. All of them were, of course, bilingual, yet at least for some of them, as presumably for Nezabitauskas himself, Lithuanian was their first and native language. They might have perceived Mickiewicz’s messianist text as one more prayerbook.
Incidentally, Nezabitauskas wrote a book of poetry in Lithuanian that he sent to Mickiewicz, asking him for sponsorship. The book opened with a dedication in verse, entitled “For Eminent Sir Adam Mickiewicz, a Famous and Great Poet, Our Distinguished Lithuanian Fellow-Countryman Writing in the Polish Language.” Mickiewicz did not comply with Nezabitauskas’s request, and the book, like The Deeds of Ancient Lithuanians and Samogitians, remained unprinted for almost a century (it was published in 1930). It consisted mainly of translations and imitations of Lamennais. Highly rhetorical and written in awkward syllabic verse, it would not merit much attention if it were not the first consistent attempt to produce political and philosophical poetry in the Lithuanian language. Nezabitauskas shared Daukantas’s conviction that Lithuanian could become as cultivated and flexible as Polish: according to him, it possessed a “rich treasure of adequate words” and the “power of precise and pleasant expression.” Yet ideologically, he was Daukantas’s diametric opposite. He never perceived Lithuanians as a separate nation. Most of them were, for him, just “uneducated native ploughmen,” worthy of attention, yet having no particular place in history. And educated Lithuanians, including Nezabitauskas himself, were part and parcel of the Polish nation, even if they sometimes used a different idiom. In his poetry, Nezabitauskas defined himself as a Pole, using the word as a virtual synonym for Lithuanian. As any émigré of 1831, he professed faith in resurrection of the Commonwealth: here, in the integrated Polish-Lithuanian universe, he saw the ideal text and plenitude of truth. Mickiewicz’s work was accepted by Nezabitauskas and presumably by his émigré readers word for word, without the slightest attempt at reinterpretation.
This soon ceased to be the case. The same Lithuanian national movement that had brought Daukantas from marginality into the limelight, condemned Nezabitauskas to virtual oblivion. Incidentally, the fate that befell The Books of the Polish Nation and of f the Polish Pilgrims in Lithuania was as distinctive as the fate of Żywila. After Nezabitauskas’s attempt, it was translated anew only in 1919, in the context of the struggle for Lithuania’s independence (which led to an armed conflict with Poland). “Translation” is probably not the right term here, since 48 Mickiewicz’s work was transmogrified by changing “Poland” into “Lithuania” and “Poles” into “Lithuanians.” The magical number of three partitioning powers (Russia, Prussia and Austria), emphasized by Mickiewicz as the unholy opposite to the Trinity, remained intact in Lithuanian popular mythology, with the sole difference being that, in the list of the historical enemies, the place of Austria, which was never involved in Lithuanian affairs, was assigned to Poland.
According to some sources, The Pilgrim’s Litany was translated into Lithuanian for the third time in 1991 and distributed in the form of a leaflet to the defenders of the Parliament in Vilnius on January 13 of that year. I did not have the opportunity to verify that information, neither did I see the text, but I am sure it was also adapted by excising all mentions of Poland and references to Polish history (which, in any case, is less than well-known in contemporary Lithuania).
Thus, Mickiewicz’s influence on Lithuanian culture was rife with extraordinary contradictions. The very image of his native land, its past and its ethnic character, which became a standard paradigm for generations of Polish (and foreign) readers, underwent peculiar reinterpretations in the country he had, not without reason, considered his own. The process of the establishment of the modern cultural identity of Poland and Lithuania, which owes much to Mickiewicz and to Polish Romanticism in general, reveals an intense love-hate relationship: one may say that Lithuanian and Polish cultures are complementary and yet, at the same time, provide a polemical background for each other. In the development of Lithuanian culture, one easily discerns two conflicting if sometimes interwoven threads that start with Mickiewicz’s classmate Daukantas and Mickiewicz’s correspondent Nezabitauskas. Let us look more closely at Mickiewicz’s own concept of Lithuania that contributed to the birth of those opposite ideologemes.
The terminus a quo of Polish Romanticism is traditionally identified with the same year (1822) that Daukantas wrote his Romantic manifesto of modern Lithuanian nationalism, The Deeds of Ancient Lithuanians and Samogitians. There is unity of place as well, since both currents crystallized in Wilno. One important difference consists in the fact that the Lithuanian current stayed, for a long period, underground, while the Polish current became immediately visible. In contrast to Daukantas, who could not count on publishing his treatise, Mickiewicz managed to print Ballads and Romances, even if not without some trouble, and gained fame overnight. Of course, the two classmates were personalities of different caliber. Moreover, only one of them worked in a well-developed linguistic and cultural milieu. But perhaps the more significant cause of their different fates was that Daukantas’s pattern of thinking was historically premature while Mickiewicz’s answered some real social and spiritual needs.
The eighteenth-century intellectual order, which was rationalist, Europocentric and referred back to the Greco-Roman heritage, underwent a profound crisis throughout the civilized world – a crisis aggravated in Poland and in Lithuania by a loss of independence and the Napoleonic wars. It was proven beyond a doubt that history moves in unpredictable ways. The new episteme advanced to the fore the activity of the subject who was entitled to criticize reality and to create it anew; only a mystic and a clairvoyant, that is, a poet, could foresee the future; irrational faith and emotion prevailed over reason. These commonly known traits of Romantic Weltanschauung were complemented by a regionalism that was opposed to Classicist centralization. Interest in the dark, nonrational side of the psyche found its counterpart in the reorientation of cultural pursuits towards the periphery, be it social, historical or geographical. The magisterial culture of the overdetermined center was supplanted by subcultures marked by metaphysical strivings and the spirit of revolt; the urban setting had to yield to primitive scenery and Europe had to give way to the Orient.
Mickiewicz was fortunate enough to have been born in a border region that could be easily perceived as an Eastern European Scotland or Brittany. In his introduction to Ballads and Romances, he praised the works of Scottish poets (writing in English), patterning himself as their counterpart, a Lithuanian poet 50 of Polish language. He was also fortunate to be brought up in Wilno, since it was a civilized European city with a large Western community yet at the same time the epitome of “otherness” and exoticism. To a degree, it was even Oriental (St. Petersburg was more Westernized, even though it was geographically farther east). Marked by conservative Catholicism and Baroque architecture, the city preserved much of the Baroque carnivalistic tradition. The heritage of the Middle Ages and remnants of paganism were also visible. And Wilno was surrounded by an unusual and picturesque landscape that, by a small stretch of the imagination, could be construed as “wild.”
The medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania was created and ruled by a heathen tribe speaking an ancient Baltic language incomprehensible to the Slavs, but it also included numerous Slavic nations professing the Eastern Orthodox faith. After entering into a close alliance with the Polish Crown, it was usually perceived as sort of Poland’s eastern extension. The upper classes of the Grand Duchy became, for the most part, Catholic and Polonized, yet the country preserved much of its unique character. The Lithuanian language and Eastern Slavic (Ruthenian) dialects, which later developed into Belorussian, survived mainly among the peasants. There was an old tradition of juxtaposing “sylvan” Lithuania to “agricultural” Poland and also of opposing Lithuanian backwardness to Polish civilization. At the same time, Lithuanian gentry more often than not interpreted their lack of refinement as a sign of antiquity and nobleness, looking at the “people of the Crown” (koroniarze) with ill-concealed disdain. In the context of Mickiewicz’s times, all of this provided a splendid chance for Romantic imagination. Lithuania was patterned as “the other half” of the civilized country, one of those fascinatingly different lands that promised the chance of reassessing the entire European culture. For Mickiewicz (who, incidentally, never visited Warsaw or Cracow), his native periphery presented a world which was equal and even superior to that of Poland proper, that is, of the West. Like the mad peasant girl in his programmatic ballad “The Romantic,” Lithuania could not be assessed through the lenses of learning (mędrca szkiełko i oko). One had to read just the focus and discover in “the other” an aesthetic and ethical value. As the land of spiritual vision, Lithuania was implicitly opposed to the Crown, to the land of reason. Here, the feeling of infiniteness and miraculousness had survived; there, limited common sense reigned.
In a talk with Stefan Garczyński in Dresden (1832), Mickiewicz defined himself as “a wild Lithuanian,” having in mind primarily his nonconformist character and independence of mind. But there was more than that in his self-identification. An exotic and untamed country became a symbol for the untamed powers of the psyche. The lands of the former Grand Duchy provided a specific chronotope, a symbolic space of forests and lakes permeated with spiritual fluidity and, for all practical reasons, merging with the other world. Here was a universe of isolation and magic, of mystery and horror, of melancholy, suffering and anxiety – all the paradigmatic Romantic traits, corroborated, incidentally, by the actual situation of those backward regions, especially in the Belorussian half of the Grand Duchy. The dialogue in Mickiewicz’s ballads usually developed as the dialogue of two worlds, one of day and the other of night (the latter was metaphorically presented as the sunken city of Świteź). In that oneiric landscape, the tension between life and death and between nature and culture was supplemented by the tension between different historical eras, social strata and, last but not least, different languages. The poet himself became a medium of the spirits who had previously expressed themselves in the unintelligible idiom of heathen tribes. The miraculous incursion of transcendental powers into everyday life became virtually analogous to the incursion of the peripheral Romantic poet into the established world of “central” culture.
The image of Lithuania as a land of primeval unity was complemented by its past. For the Romantics, the Middle Ages were a privileged era, the main focus of history. And Lithuania possessed a medieval past of Shakespearean dimensions, happily conflating all the traits of Romantic North and Romantic Orient. On the one hand, it was a semimythical barbarian country endowed with weird creative powers, quite similar to that of Germanic and Celtic Europe, which Romantic poets had opposed to the Mediterranean world. On the other hand, the Lithuanian heathen faith substituted for Islam: Lithuanians withstood the attacks of the crusaders who called them “Northern Saracens,” and later renounced paganism by their own choice. To add one more Romantic tinge, Lithuanian language and identity were perceived as something bound to disappear, and not without reason, since Lithuanian letters, as we have said, had not yet gone beyond the embryonic stage. The past was apparently preserved only in the folklore among the uneducated people, whose illiteracy equalled historical memory. It lingered there, to quote Mickiewicz’s ballad, as a “hieroglyph, adorning moss-grown rocks, an inscription entwined with a meaning fallen asleep.” This myth of Lithuania as “the shadow” of Poland, the counterculture that presented a foil for the West – in a word, the archetypal “other” for the Polish Crown – enabled Mickiewicz to create an anticanonical paradigm that supplanted the cultural soliloquy of the Polish Enlightenment. The scarcity of reliable knowledge about Lithuania and the vagueness of her spatiotemporal borders could not but help a Romantic imagination. First of all, one may note, so to speak, the oscillating semantics of the very term “Lithuanian.” It might be applied either to the former Grand Duchy in its entirety, that is, to the lands that were ethnically Lithuanian as well as to those that were ethnically Belorussian, or to the old pagan Lithuania, with its non-Slavic language and specific cultural heritage. Mickiewicz more frequently than not used the first concept; in other words, he perceived Lithuania rather as a historical region than a linguistic and cultural entity. He was well aware that the Grand Duchy consisted of two linguistically separate parts. In his article on Franciszek Karpiński (1827), he wrote: “The common people in Lithuania use either the Ruthenian dialect, mixed with Polish idiom, or the Lithuanian language, which is totally different from Polish.” It is more than plausible that Mickiewicz heard some Lithuanian in Wilno, Kowno, perhaps even in his native Nowogród region where Lithuanian-speakers survived in several villages until the middle of the twentieth century, and during the émigré meetings attended by the countrymen of Nezabitauskas. Fragments of three Lithuanian folksongs, written down in Mickiewicz’s hand in Paris, were published by Michal Brensztejn and Jan Otrębski in 1927: they demonstrate a rather remarkable sense of Lithuanian grammar. On the other hand, Mickiewicz never clearly distinguished Lithuanians from Latvians or Prussians. And, notwithstanding the obvious linguistic difference, he also used the term “Lithuanian” for the speakers of Slavic dialects, as long as they lived in the territory of the former Grand Duchy. The concept of Belorussia as a particular cultural realm crystallized only around 1830, and one finds the term “Belorussian” in Mickiewicz’s corpus only once (in his 1853 letter to Ignacy Domejko).
This semantic confusion was amplified by the fact that the Nowogród region, although inhabited mainly by Belorussian speakers, was for several centuries considered part and parcel of so-called Lithuania Propria – Lithuania in the narrow sense; as different from the “Ruthenian” regions of the Grand Duchy. In any case, Mickiewicz’s ballads, such as “Maryla’s Grave” and “The Three Brothers Budrys,” allegedly free translations of authentic Lithuanian folklore, were either typical Romantic forgeries or, at best, distant echoes of Belorussian laments and songs. (The same can be said about the ritual texts in Part II of Forefather’s Eve).
“Lithuanian” blended not only with “Ruthenian.” On another hierarchical level, both Lithuanian and Ruthenian were interpreted as regional variants of Polish. In the well-known poem “The Review of the Army,” in Pan Tadeusz and many other works, Mickiewicz (just like the Lithuanian speaker, Nezabitauskas) used the word “Litwin” (“Lithuanian”) as a perfect substitute for “Polak” (“Pole”). Though Romantic Lithuanian studies were much in vogue during Mickiewicz’s university years and afterwards, the linguistic concept of the nation at that time was accepted and elaborated by only a few marginal figures. Baltic folklore and ethnography were considered an inseparable part of Polish heritage, a valuable legacy from the independence period; the ancient Baltic Olympus was interpreted as a variant of the common Slavic Olympus. “The shadow side” of Poland was, for Mickiewicz and his milieu, still Poland, just as the far side of the Moon never ceased to be part of the Moon.
However, this attitude towards the Lithuanian language and Lithuanian identity was not without its fine points and diachronic nuances. In his commentaries to Grażyna, Mickiewicz agreed with Ksawery Bohusz, a Wilno scholar who insisted that Lithuanian was a perfect, uncommonly rich and consistent language that, in ancient times, most likely served as a medium for a vast literature. Here, he opposed Joachim Lelewel, who ridiculed Bohusz mercilessly. He also supported Bohusz’s assertion that Christianity and union with Poland were detrimental for that imaginary ancient Baltic culture – an idea that was to have a substantial career in the writings of Daukantas and other ideologues of the Lithuanian national movement. On the other hand, if Bohusz considered preservation of Lithuanian a matter of honor for the Poles, Mickiewicz would have probably subscribed to the ambivalent attitude of fellow Philomath Jan Czeczot, in whose opinion the demise of the native (Lithuanian and/or Belorussian) idiom was deplorable, yet had to be accepted, since its development would have harmed the unity and purity of Polish
In the oft-quoted introduction to Konrad Wallenrod, Mickiewicz stated: “Lithuania is now altogether a thing of the past... It is just such subjects that Schiller bids us to seek: Was unsterblich im Gesang soll leben, Muss im Leben untergehen, (What is to have eternal life in song must perish in actual life.) These words are usually interpreted as a strategic move aimed at concealing the actual message of Konrad Wallenrod from the censor. Indeed, medieval Lithuania in Mickiewicz’s epic poem figured as a rather transparent pseudonym for the entire Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the resurrection of which was the first article of the author’s creed. Yet, a characterist ambiguity persisted: if applied to real medieval Lithuania with its separate historical identity, Mickiewicz’s statement had to be taken quite literally.
In The Books of the Polish Nation and of the Polish Pilgrims, the Commonwealth was praised as a prefiguration of a united Europe and a united humanity: “And God rewarded them [the Poles], for a great nation, Lithuania, united itself with Poland, as husband with wife, two souls in one body. And there was never before this such a union of nations. But hereafter there shall be. For that union and marriage of Lithuania and Poland is the symbol of the future union of all Christian peoples in the name of faith and freedom.” Characteristically, according to Mickiewicz, Lithuania played a dominant male role in that marriage (in agreement with the real historical marriage of Władysław Jagiełło, the Lithuanian, and Jadwiga, the Pole). Still, by the same token, Lithuania’s separate identity became redundant. Now, it was indivisible from the Polish Crown, even if it retained primeval mystical powers unavailable to its partner.
In his courses in Slavic literatures at the Collège de France (particularly in the lecture on March 24, 1843) Mickiewicz presented a summary of his views on Lithuania, introducing some new important elements into it. He noted that ancient Lithuanians, “the least known tribe in Europe,” were neither Slavs nor Germans; their language was “the oldest language spoken on the European mainland,” akin to Sanskrit and at the same time the least polished by literary usage. In Mickiewicz’s words, the country, although negligible on the map, was extremely significant historically. That significance pertained primarily to the spiritual area. Among Lithuanians, one found “primordial thought, the soul of every tradition.” “Nowhere did religious beliefs constitute as extensive and as complete a whole.” In his dilettantish though characteristic argument, Mickiewicz related ancient Lithuanian animism to old Indian religion and defined it as the purer form of the Brahman faith, extending also to the political realm. He even put forth a bizarre hypothesis that ancient Lithuanians were a colony of Hindus who wandered as far as the shores of the Baltic. According to him, Lithuania was spiritually connected to Poland by a unique link, “by a certain great mystery,” the external expression of which was the political union of both countries, “the most significant turning point event in the history of the North.” Notwithstanding all the vicissitudes of fate, the union continued up to Mickiewicz’s own days, at least at the metaphysical level. To give one more quote, contemporary Lithuanian people do not have “any feeling of national identity, do not exist as a state, do not even cherish such a project: the concept of nation and fatherland is absent in its language.” Nevertheless it is endowed with a certain great if nebulous mission. As fits a prophetic text, the lecture on Lithuania ends with a somewhat perplexing sentence: “Therefore, that people is one of those which abide in expectation.”
Mickiewicz’s words should not be interpreted as a prediction of that sea change in Lithuania’s political fate which actually occurred in the twentieth century. After the union, Lithuania’s separate historical existence became, for Mickiewicz, not only redundant but unimaginable. He could also hardly form a notion of a mature, fully developed culture in the Lithuanian language. Texts in Lithuanian (though he was aware of their existence) were, for him, an exotic appendage to Polish culture, a bizarre if likeable minority phenomenon which could only affirm the domination and all- embracing value of Polish. The Books of the Polish Nation and of the Polish Pilgrims put it in the most succinct form: “The Lithuanian and the Masovian are brothers: do brothers quarrel because one hath for a name Władysław, another Witowt? Their last name is the same, the name of Poles.” Lithuanian separatism was, in this perspective, an extravagant and transitory deviation at best, a mortal sin at worst. What Mickiewicz actually had in mind while speaking of Lithuania’s mission was something strictly spiritual. Lithuania had to produce a mystical leader, whose exploits would cause the resurrection of the Commonwealth. Mickiewicz himself could pretend to that leadership. He combined in his personality both the Pole and the Lithuanian “other” (a trait he shared, incidentally, with Andrzej Towiański). This split provided him with an inner tension that could be interpreted as the source of his prophetic gift.
To a degree, one might compare Mickiewicz’s attitude toward Lithuania to the attitude of conservative Catholic theologians of his era towards the Jews. According to their reasoning, the Jews gave birth to the Savior, yet their historical role ended with this act.
This myth of the savior coming from Lithuanian lands became virtually a central paradigm of post-Romantic Polish culture and contributed appreciably to the actual development of Poland’s history. Still, the words about Lithuanians as a people abiding in expectation also opened a different vista for which Mickiewicz would not take responsibility.
Incidentally, one should note a specific version of the Lithuanian myth that found its embodiment, not in Mickiewicz’s messianic texts, but in Pan Tadeusz. Here, Lithuania appeared as private homeland, the idyllic chronotope of childhood and early youth, locus amoenus colored by nostalgia. In contrast with another mythical space of Polish culture, the Ukraine, its nature was far from extravagant and its customs free from excessive cruelty and horror. It was an abode of happy and conservative daily life, of national, social and generational concord. Its supra-ethnic identity, transcending the differences of language and denomination, included Jews, Tartars and vaguely perceived common folk, speaking either Belorussian or Lithuanian. It might have had certain particularist ambitions, but was bound for everlasting reconciliation with the Polish Crown. In fact, it was the better, more traditional part of Poland, unspoiled by foreign influences and unfailingly patriotic. This mythic Lithuania to a large degree substituted for the actual Lithuania in Polish political and cultural discourse, existing as a sort of parallel space that rarely, if ever, intersected with the real one.
Let us return to that real Lithuania, where the Lithuanian national movement was gradually gaining strength. If Daukantas was a lonely precursor, his ideas fell on fertile ground in the second half of the nineteenth century. One may say that 58 the problem consisted in a prefix. Mickiewicz, as all the Poles of his milieu and his generation, differentiated between ród (gens) and naród (nation): one might at the same time belong to the Lithuanian ród and the Polish naród. Adding the prefix na- to the definition of the Lithuanian people (and thus making concepts of the Pole and the Lithuanian mutually exclusive) became the order of the day.
This semantic and ideological shift occurred after Mickiewicz’s death – to be precise, after the uprising of 1863, when social developments in the eastern half of the former Commonwealth resulted in the birth of the Lithuanian-speaking educated strata of peasant origin. It conducted a linguistic revolution, analogous to simultaneous revolutions in Czech or Finnish lands: a standardized language was forged out of many peasant dialects, and a new community of writers and readers in the Lithuanian language crystallized. Repressive reality led to the over-semantization of the language phenomenon. Lithuanian, which had already been described by Mickiewicz and many others as the oldest language of the continent, the relic of the ancient Indo-European period and the vessel of vaguely defined spiritual truths, obtained a mythical prestige: it referred to the lost sacral world of harmony and freedom – to put it otherwise, that world was still present in the language, if only in an embryonic form. Moreover, following Daukantas’s example, Lithuanian intellectuals interpreted the social conflict between peasants and the upper classes primarily as a language conflict. Language had to give a clear-cut, legible contour to the identity of the Lithuanian people. According to the old Romantic belief, it was declared the most decisive and hierarchically the highest element of that identity: contamination of the language signified impending annihilation of the group and its culture. Language was hypostatized: it took the place of the individual, it could be victimized and even martyred. The rights of language substituted for civic rights, hence the tendency for linguistic purism, usually directed against Polish borrowings, syntactical patterns and even orthography. (One may add that even Lithuanian versification became a sort of ideological construct:Mickiewicz’s syllabic poems were translated employing syllabotonic, that is emphatically non-Polish, verse).
Thus, language provided one focus for the crystallization of the modern Lithuanian nation. Another focus was found in the mythic image of Lithuania created by the Wilno school of Polish Romanticism, that is, primarily by Mickiewicz. As I have said before, it was, to a degree, patterned after the Romantic image of Scotland and Brittany: and not unlike Gaelic and Breton nationalists, Lithuanians accepted it as their own. Mickiewicz’s opposition of untamed Lithuania versus civilized Poland supplied a ready-made paradigm for the affirmation of Lithuanian national uniqueness. The old cultural code juxtaposing “I” and “the other” remained in place, yet was transformed in the new nationalist discourse. If Polish culture of the Romantic period found its quasi-natural supplement in the exotic and sacralized culture of Lithuania, the budding Lithuanian culture of post- Romantic times readily accepted the notion of its own sacred character, yet construed the Polish culture as its perfect antipode, the embodiment of all the negative and prohibited qualities: nonauthenticity, anarchy and corruption. This change of discourse, comparable to a geological shift, created different meanings for most of the words and categories inherited from Mickiewicz’s writings. Together with Daukantas, the new Lithuanian ideologues considered union with Poland original sin, which brought Lithuania into the degenerating Western world and meant disintegration of her harmonious and noble prehistoric life. Characteristically, Konrad Wallenrod and the story of Alpuhara became metaphors for “eternal Polish perfidy,” allegedly directed against Lithuanians (a transformation similar and genetically related to the transformation of Wallenrod’s image in Slavophile discourse). And since Wallenrod, according to Mickiewicz, was of Lithuanian origin himself, he could also become a semantic mask for the Polonized gentry that, in the opinion of Lithuanian nationalists, renounced ties with its own ethnic group and finally found itself beyond redemption.
Incidentally, this was not the first time that Lithuanian nationalist discourse employed a ready-made paradigm endowing it with new senses. Even before Daukantas, a conservative Sarmatian cult of the native tradition served for some Lithuanian speakers as a vehicle for new political currents. Now, a semantic paradox of the same kind appeared: the Romanticism of Polish provenance became a vehicle for a movement striving for separation from Poland. Mickiewicz’s cult of language, folklore and history brought a result that would be, for him, a manifest aberration. Lithuanian culture adapted for its own needs Mickiewicz’s recognition of the past as an area of resistance and activity, where human personality was tested, as well as his image of the poet as a spiritual leader of the nation. The elements borrowed from Polish literature finally crystallized into a native tradition living by its own rules. Moreover, Mickiewicz’s very existence helped to affirm Lithuanian national pride. There was more than one attempt to set him and other writers of the “Wilno School” apart from Polish letters and to incorporate them into a separate Lithuanian culture. In a similar vein, the entire history of the Grand Duchy was appropriated as a Lithuanian, that is strictly ethnic, phenomenon.
This creation of the counter-myth and development of a new set of rhetorical strategies took a long time. The opposite ideologeme, which we noticed in Nezabitauskas’s writings, survived in Lithuanian letters at least until the beginning of the twentieth century. A case in point was Antanas Baranauskas, alias Antoni Baranowski, a poet and religious figure who at the end of his life, in 1897, became the bishop of Sejny. He was acquainted with Mickiewicz’s writings through one of his teachers, a Polish Catholic priest, Alexander Gabszewicz (who was soon exiled to Kola, exactly for providing his pupils with banned literature). It is said that Gabszewicz publicly expressed doubts about the suitability of the Lithuanian language for poetry that could equal Mickiewicz’s. In response, Baranauskas wrote a long and brilliant poem, The Forest of Anykščiai, patterned after the descriptive parts of Pan Tadeusz and developing the Lithuanian sylvan myth. Another poetic text by Baranauskas, A Journey to St. Petersburg, was also obviously a response to Mickiewicz, namely, to his Digression. A bizarre melange of rather naive descriptions and apocalyptic visions in folksong style, it obtained immense prestige during the era of the Lithuanian national movement. Just like Digression, it possessed very strong anti-Russian overtones (for that reason, it was only printed in Lithuania in full as late as 1989, although many people knew its banned passages by heart). Baranauskas never doubted the messianic role of Poland for Lithuania. The integrated world of the Commonwealth was, for him, paradise lost, as it was for Mickiewicz. Although held in high esteem by the Lithuanian nationalist ideologues, Baranauskas never sympathized with their goals and their rhetoric. Nevertheless, his poetry was accepted as their manifesto precisely because it was written in the Lithuanian language.
The transformation of language choice into an ideological sign also finally sealed the fate of Mickiewicz in the country he called his own. He was liked and read by several generations in the Polish original as well as in Lithuanian translations, which were and are abundant. Early Lithuanian intellectuals, who were perfectly bilingual, considered the very act of translating Mickiewicz a patriotic statement, affirming the rights of their native language and serving as the best means of its cultivation. Later, as knowledge of Polish in Lithuania faded, the translations became the only way of bringing Mickiewicz to the Lithuanian reading public. Simultaneously, the attempts to integrate him fully into Lithuanian culture failed.
The highly ambivalent attitude towards Mickiewicz perhaps found its best expression in two statements presumably written by the same man and virtually at the same time, yet directly opposed in their message. Commemorating the centennial of Mickiewicz’s birth, Vincas Kudirka, a follower of Polish Positivists and the leading figure of the Lithuanian national movement (who translated Forefathers’ Eve into his native language, characteristically omitting “The Great Improvisation” and all other mystical scenes), greeted the erection of the poet’s monument in Warsaw in the first issue of the illegal Lithuanian journal that appeared under his editorship. There, he called Mickiewicz “the man whose famous name is for all times connected with Lithuania, and from whom we should learn to love her.” Yet there is also a note, most likely in Kudirka’s hand, on the margins of a Polish pamphlet Who was Mickiewicz, printed in 1898: “For us, genuine Lithuanians ... Mickiewicz with his false prophecy about the impending finis of our nation (which fortunately and contrary to his opinion did not take place) is an alien and irrelevant genius who does not merit much of our interest. Mickiewicz did not recognize Lithuania, Lithuania leaves him to the Poles.” To make the paradox perfect, the note was written not in Lithuanian but in Polish.
The famous invocation to Lithuania in the opening line of Pan Tadeusz, predictably, also underwent an unusual transformation. It became a sort of motto for the entire Lithuanian national movement. None other than Vincas Kudirka incorporated Mickiewicz’s words “Lithuania, my fatherland” as the first line of the Lithuanian national anthem (banned during the Soviet era, yet recently resurrected). Characteristically, he changed the pronoun “my” into “our.” This plural could include those inhabitants of Lithuania who, like Mickiewicz himself, considered Polish their native language. Actually, it excluded them as socially and linguistically alien. To be precise, the first line of Pan Tadeusz was the only significant line of the poem for Lithuanian nationalist discourse. In contrast to Żywila, Grażyna or Konrad Wallenrod, Mickiewicz’s epic was never successfully adopted by the Lithuanian reading public. If Konrad Wallenrod, for instance, was already translated into Lithuanian three times in the nineteenth century (starting in 1860, five years after the author’s death), Pan Tadeusz only appeared in the 1920s, although its opening part was translated as early as 1848. The problem consisted not so much in the poem’s length and its complicated stylistics as in the fact that there was a glaring gap between the mentality that found its expression in Pan Tadeusz and the mentality of modern Lithuanian nationalists. One could easily imagine Soplicowo on ethnic Lithuanian territory (there were many such instances), yet it was perceived as a locus of total – and fatal – difference. Only the critical and satirical parts of the poem could elicit a positive response. The attitudes of Polish-speaking gentry were, for Lithuanian speakers, grotesque if not pernicious; the idea of union, so dear for Mickiewicz, was judged to be a tool for perpetuating the dominance of that supposedly colonialist and anachronistic group. This reevaluation went to virtually any length. In 1927, the translation of Pan Tadeusz was reprinted for use in Lithuanian schools, with the excision of all the references to Poland (General Dšrbowski became a nameless “commander”). No wonder this bizarre operation stirred strong Polish protests.
On the other hand, Lithuanian ideologues adopted Mickiewicz’s messianism very easily, though also with a characteristic shift. The image of Poland as a crucified nation, whose unjust suffering would redeem the world and bring freedom to all, was applied to Lithuania, though in a reduced form. Lithuania hardly had an eschatological task to perform, but her fate was nevertheless perceived as unique and significant for the whole world. Her mission consisted mainly, if not exclusively, in providing the example of a saintly martyr trampled upon by innumerable enemies. Mickiewicz’s stereotype of Poles as a chosen group and of Poland as the only nation loyal to faith and freedom, while all the other nations sinned against it, was, not without reason, interpreted as imperialist or, in any case, leading to dangerous aberrations. Yet virtually the same intellectual mythologeme, in its strictly Lithuanian variant, met with an enthusiastic response. The concept of the ideal peasant milieu marked by uncommon kindness and wisdom, of a pacifist society opposed to cruel neighbors, be they Slavic or Germanic, bizarrely mixed with the Romantic image of a warlike and victorious medieval Lithuania. Both myths consolidated under Mickiewicz’s very strong influence. The idea of one’s own group as the embodiment of mutual help, brotherly love and disdain for the material side of life was taken, to a significant degree, from The Books of the Polish Nation and of the Polish Pilgrims, and the imagery of Lithuanian heroism owed much if not everything to Mickiewicz’s earlier works.
This mythology was double-edged. It gave a feeling of integration to the Lithuanian ethnic community, that is, it sub64 stantiated a Lithuanian identity that finally gave birth to a mature culture and to an independent and democratic Lithuanian state. Incidentally, that state, just like Poland, was resurrected not once but twice, in 1918 and in 1991. On the other hand, the fear of the evil “other” contributed to the culture of vengeance, mutual suspicion and restriction that, unfortunately, is still present in Lithuania, as well as in her larger neighbor (the alienation and the emergence of the recriminations were, of course, bilateral processes). Mickiewicz underrated the power and persistence of linguistic nationalism, which was brought into being by Romantic discourse. Today, hopefully, it has started to recede. The poet who came from the multiethnic, multireligious Grand Duchy and emphasized reconciliation and coexistence, may yet become a symbol of interethnic solidarity and of solidarity between two independent modern states.
There are telling details in the posthumous fate of the cultural figures I have discussed in the course of this paper. Simonas Daukantas, the marginal historian who became the founding father of Lithuanian separatism, recently gave his name to the square in Vilnius (formerly Napoleon’s Square) where the presidential palace stands. There is a project to erect a monument to Antanas Baranauskas in Sejny, but it is opposed by the Polish church (quite a paradoxical situation, if one remembers that Bishop Baranauskas was pro-Polish and pro-Union). No square, street or monument whatever commemorates Kiprijonas Nezabitauskas, another partisan of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. As for Mickiewicz, his monument in Vilnius (which, incidentally, has only a Lithuanian inscription on its pedestal) became a rallying point for Lithuanian dissidents in 1988. Their demonstrations soon developed into an avalanche-like movement which finally resulted in the regaining of Lithuania’s independence. This modern Lithuania shares her capital, some historical relics and historical memories, but not much else, with the old Grand Duchy that was Mickiewicz’s native realm.
The story of Mickiewicz’s appropriation by Lithuanian culture elucidates the dynamics of ideological constructs and 6565 myths typical for more than one Eastern European society. The history of modern Lithuania may be reasonably well described as the history of the semantic shift between two concepts of the Lithuanian: that of an inhabitant of the former Grand Duchy and that of a person loyal to a new, Lithuanian-speaking national state. Any attempts to conflate these two concepts failed, reflecting a larger failure of endeavors to postulate direct historical continuity between the Grand Duchy and modern Lithuania. There is a lacuna here that cannot be either filled or ignored: actually, it represents the constituent element of modern Lithuanian identity. Mickiewicz, the most illustrious Lithuanian in the first sense of the term, provides a sort of litmus test for this semantic shift. His life and work are symbolic, and to a large degree responsible, for the watershed between two ideologemes. Speaking about Mickiewicz’s role in this historical context, one is tempted to employ – and to alter – his own famous formula: hic obiit Magnus Ducatus, hic nata est Lituania.
Wiktor Weintraub Memorial
Harvard University, April 2, 1998