Cyprian Norwid

Cyprian Norwid (1821-83) from the middle of the twentieth century has been considered – next to Mickiewicz, Słowacki and Krasiński – one of the four most important Polish poets of the nineteenth century. He was also an artist: sculptor, painter, graphic artist. His work, difficult, sometimes incomprehensible, was ahead of its time. Feted in his youth in Warsaw as a star of new poetry, after leaving for the West to study art (Florence), he developed his literary work in various genres (poetry, poetic prose, drama). Still highly regarded by few, he faced misunderstanding and ridicule from readers.

In 1846, after a row at the Russian Embassy in Berlin, Norwid became a political emigrant. His first place of residence, from 11 August 1846 to 24 January 1847, was Brussels. He probably lived in the House of Antoni Czaplicki, a lace manufacturer, at rue de Sols 23 (Czaplicki later moved his lace factory to Fossé aux Loups 56).

During his stay in Belgium, Norwid was a frequent guest at the house of General Jan Skrzynecki in Brussels, on the rue du Grand Cerf, and in Ostend, he received a room in a house rented to the Skrzynecki family; three sketchbooks of Norwid (later dispersed) were kept in the collections of the general’s family. The general’s daughter, Sophia, remembered him as a beautiful and interesting young man, very subtle and sickly. Norwid would also visit Joachim Lelewel in Brussels, as evidenced by his drawings depicting the Polish historian (inter alia, a caricature of Lelewel as a bat) and a copy of Dzieje Polski Joachim Lelewel potocznym sposobem opowiedział with Lelewel’s dedication to Norwid.

He spent all his days in Brussels at the Museum of Fine Arts, studying ancient painting (there is a letter from François Joseph Navez, painter and director of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, to Norwid, inviting him to freely use the museum’s collections; Norwid’s protector in this matter was duke Amédée de Beauffort, Inspector General of Fine Arts, Literature and science, mayor of Wemmel). 

In Ostend in the summer of 1846, Norwid worked on an (unfinished) translation of Divine Comedy by Dante. In the Belgian bathing resort, he used mainly wind baths – his health condition (suspected tuberculosis) did not allow him to bathe in the sea.

The composition of Kazimierz Lubomirski Memories of Ostend is also associated with this place. It was music to two poems.: The sad farmer by Norwid and To the sea by Lucjan Siemieński (barcarolle). The music was published in 1847 together with another composition by Lubomirski, to a poem by Zygmunt Krasiński Always and everywhere. The poem by Norwid, stylistically referring to a folk song, takes up the traditional theme of requests made by farmers to the sky for favourable weather and successful harvests. The hero of the poem personally ascends to heaven and hangs a sickle on a cloud, thereby causing direct divine intervention.

On November 29, 1846, the sixteenth anniversary of the outbreak of the November Uprising, Norwid participated in the celebrations and gave a speech. The tour took place in the Hall of the Brussels city hall, rented by Lelewel. Norwid, most likely in reference to the poem by Mickiewicz and Joachim Lelewel he began with the subject of truth. He said the nation has an (instinctive) sense of truth. He also spoke about the concept of the Fatherland as a means, in the sense of the centre and in the meaning of the way to achieve the goal. He quoted a letter from Rubens about loving the motherland, regardless of its size. Finally, he stressed the role that the elderly, who still had the opportunity to experience, “touch” the free homeland, can play in relation to young emigrants.

Most likely, in December 1846, a well-known poem anticipating a dream trip to Italy Italiam! Italiam! was written. At the same time, the poet received, through the mediation of gen. Skrzynecki and duke Félix de Mérode, Minister of State, received a monthly salary (45 francs) from the Belgian authorities, but already on January 24, 1847, Norwid left Brussels, going to Rome.

The poet passed through the capital of Belgium again at the end of 1854, on the way from London to Paris, and two drawings were created at that time.

In 1866, Norwid came briefly to the spa resort of Liège in an attempt to help his brother (whose gambling had led to bankruptcy) and his family.

In 1874, a medal designed by Norwid with the inscription “Braciom Rusinom pomordowanym przez carat moskiewski za wierność dla Kościoła i Polski” (“To the Ruthenian brothers murdered by the Tsardom of Moscow for their loyalty to the Church and Poland”) was cast in Belgium.

In 1961, at the Université libre in Brussels, organized by Marian Pankowski, Anthologie de la poésie polonaise published in the Belgian town of Aalter (publishing house André de Rache) published a translation of one of the most beautiful poems of the Norwegian, Chopin Piano (Le piano de Chopin).

Jan Zieliński