or The Last Foray in Lithuania
By Adam Mickiewicz
Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz is a Romantic poem with a strong emphasis on the nation. Mickiewicz dedicated his life and creative work to the cause of the liberation of Poland, and this work is a fine example. The plot may have typical elements of a romantic, historical, and descriptive novel, but the treatment transforms it into a national epic. It clearly represents what Mickiewicz saw as the basis of a nation: a unity of people, united by a common language, history and tradition, and in certain cases, a geographical homeland. A new national consciousness is presented as a replacement for older patterns of group identity, as a means for achieving national unity, which for Mickiewicz, was the only way to gain independence and freedom.
For Mickiewicz, an essential element constituting the nation is a common history. In as much as this common history serves the purpose of unifying the people within the nation, its accuracy is irrelevant. Pan Tadeusz represents a myth of the past, "the land of dreams and memory the only country left to the Pole." There is but one place in this planet whole
Where happiness may be for every Pole
The land of childhood! That shall aye endure
As holy as a first love and as pure,
Unshattered by the memory of mistake,
That no deceitful hopes can ever shake,
And that the changing tide of life cannot unmake.
The entire poem is written in this golden glow of memory, showing an idyllic, peaceful and harmonious setting. With the exception of the few cantos describing the foray, there is very little storm or tragedy within the poem. Everything is peaceful. Pan Tadeusz demonstrates how the myth of a golden, happy age can constitute the nation by uniting its peoples. Nevertheless, Mickiewicz makes it clear to his readers that this idyllic state of being has now past. The recurring of the word last' Last Foray in Lithuania, last wony (Court Apparitor), last steward of Horeszkos - suggests to Dr Kallenbach that it is a "reminder that all the types of humanity and the customs old as the history of the nation [represented in the play] were
gathering to the dead." However, Pan Tadeusz is written in a manner that offers hope for the future, that such a harmonious state can once again be achieved.
Pan Tadeusz demonstrates the important role of tradition in constituting a nation. Mickiewicz looks back to the Lithuania of the years 1811-12, when Polish society appeared to have achieved order, stability and harmony if only for a short time. The poem itself is perfectly ordered according to the thirteen-syllabic meter, with its rhymed couplets, which had been a traditional meter in Polish poetry since the 16th century. For the reader it soon becomes obvious that for Mickiewicz, order and stability lie in tradition. Each kept his proper place of his own will.
The Judge observed the ancient customs still,
Nor suffered disrespect or negligence
For age or birth, rank or intelligence.
Such order,' he would say, makes nations great
And families, and without it they abate.
The Judge is thus presented as an example of the good old-fashioned Pole, an upright and honourable man, who loves his country and his family. The many meals mentioned within the poem are celebrated with all the observance of rite and ceremony, with Mickiewicz's careful repetition of the following before each: The Chamberlain took the highest place of all,
By right of age and office; as he passed
He bowed to ladies, old men, young men last.
The food and drink served are themselves traditional, and are often made according to special recipes, served by special individuals entrusted with their preparation, and eaten and drunk with special utensils. These traditions and customs had been for the most part already blotted out from the face of the earth by the time Pan Tadeusz was written. This is symbolically represented in the final scene by...
Bibliography: Gardner, M., Adam Mickiewicz: The National Poet of Poland, London: J.M.Dent & Sons 1971
Mackenzie, K., Pan Tadeusz, London: The Polish Cultural Foundation 1964
Welsh, D., Adam Mickiewicz, New York: Twayne 1996
Helsztynski, S., (ed.) Adam Mickiewicz: Selected Poetry and Prose, Warsaw: Polonia 1955
Davies, N., Heart of Europe; A Short History of Poland, Oxford: Clarendon 1984
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