‘Perhaps some day I’ll disappear forever,’ muses the master-builder Psymmachus in Cyprian Kamil Norwid’s Cleopatra and Caesar, ‘Becoming one with my work…’ Today, exactly two hundred years from the poet’s birth, it is difficult not to hear Norwid speaking through the lips of his character. The greatest poet of the second phase of Polish Romanticism, Norwid, like Gerard Manley Hopkins in England, created a new poetic idiom so ahead of his time, that he virtually ‘disappeared’ from the artistic consciousness of his homeland until his triumphant rediscovery in the twentieth century.
Chiefly lauded for his lyric poetry, Norwid also created a corpus of dramatic works astonishing in their breadth, from the Shakespearean Cleopatra and Caesar cited above, through the mystical dramas Wanda and Krakus, the Unknown Prince, both of which foretell the monumental style of Stanisław Wyspiański, whom Norwid influenced, and drawing-room comedies such as Pure Love at the Sea Baths and The Ring of the Grande Dame which combine great satirical humour with a philosophical depth that can only be compared to the later plays of T.S. Eliot.
All of these works, and more, are collected in Charles S. Kraszewski’s English translation of Norwid’s Dramatic Works, which along with the major plays also includes selections from Norwid’s short, lyrical dramatic sketches — something along the order of Pushkin’s Little Tragedies. Cyprian Kamil Norwid’s Dramatic Works will be a valuable addition to the library of anyone who loves Polish Literature, Romanticism, or theatre in general.
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Cyprian Kamil Norwid (1821 – 1883) is known as the ‘fourth bard’ of Polish Romanticism (along with Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki and Zygmunt Krasiński), a title he was accorded only in the twentieth century when, after the manner of Gerard Manley Hopkins and William Blake in England, he was discovered by a new literary generation. Prior to the ‘Young Poland’ period of the early twentieth century, Norwid’s penchant for coinages and dense philosophical verse was received less enthusiastically, although he did have his admirers, such as the novelist Jóżef Ignacy Kraszewski, who called him a ‘dislocated genius’ [zwichnięty geniusz]. Norwid was born in Warsaw. On his mother’s side, he is descended from one of the greatest Kings of Poland — Jan III Sobieski, who delivered Vienna from the Ottoman siege of 1683. Norwid’s literary genius is multifaceted. Some of his lyrics, such as ‘Fortepian Szopena’ [Chopin’s grand piano] and ‘Bema pamięci żałobny rapsod’ [A rhapsodic lament in memory of General Bem] are among the best known works of modern Polish verse. Besides his poetry, he authored works of prose fiction and short aesthetic sketches, as well as eleven works for the stage and six minor dramatic pieces — all of which are found in the present volume. Norwid was a talented graphic artist. Following his emigration from Poland, he supported himself in France and Great Britain, as well as during a short stay in the United States, as an illustrator. He died in Paris, in virtual poverty.
Charles S. Kraszewski (born 1962) is the author of three volumes of original poetry, as well as numerous translations from Polish and Czech, including classics such as Adam Mickiewicz’s Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve) and experimental poets of the modern period like Tytus Czyżewski A Burglar of the Better Sort: Poems, Dramatic Works, and Theoretical Writings, both published by Glagoslav.
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