Polish literature

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The term Polish literature covers about 1000 years of literature. The first Latin chronicles of the Polish Middle Ages were written as early as the 12th century , as well as the lives of saints, anonymous poems and songs, which were rarely written down.

The poet and storyteller Mikołaj Rej , who lived in the 16th century and was the first to write his texts in Polish, is considered the father of Polish literature . In his words A niechaj narodowie wżdy postronni znają, iż Polacy nie gęsi, iż swój język mają (in German roughly: May the nations of the world know that Poles are not geese, that they have their own language) on the one hand he wanted the interest of Awakening Poland by their own language, on the other hand showing that in Poland you don't need to write in Latin. Until then, Latin was used almost exclusively as the official written language.

Oldest monuments, Middle Ages

The oldest known writings are the lives of saints and so-called Roczniki , initially short, later longer annual chronicles or notes (initially as a marginal note on the margin of a book, later as a separate book in which important events were noted with the year). The oldest document in Poland (although it does not mention Poland) is the Regest Dagome Iudex from the 11th century, written in Latin , which names a certain Dagome iudex and an Ote senatrix and their sons. According to one of the interpretations of the text, this refers to Duke Mieszko I and his second wife Oda von Haldensleben .

The Chronicle of Gallus Anonymus (Polish: Gall Anonim ), which was probably written in the second decade of the 12th century, is the first large and important work of Polish literature. In Latin it follows - in detail, if not completely - events in the life of King Bolesław III. Crooked mouth and is about to describe the origins and history of Poland. Other important chronicles come from Wincenty Kadłubek (13th century), Janko z Czarnkowa (14th century), Jan Długosz (15th century) and Johannes a Lasco as well as the Holy Cross yearbooks as well as the noble privileges (see constitutional history of the noble republic ) and religious Texts from the Sermons of the Holy Cross (the oldest documents in Polish), Queen Zofia's Bible (first translation of the Bible into Polish), the Puławy Psalter and the David's Psalter .

The texts of the Church are particularly important for the development of the written culture. The first words in (partly) Polish can be found in the Heinrichau Foundation Book in Heinrichau Monastery , which was recorded in 1270. The first known Polish church song and at the same time the oldest Polish lyric text is Bogurodzica (Mother of God), which was probably written in the 13th century. According to tradition, the song was sung by the Polish army before the battle of Tannenberg . The surviving copies are probably from the beginning of the 15th century, the song was first printed in 1506. Another important lyric text is Rozmowa Mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią ( Master Polikarp's Conversation with Death ), which is known from a manuscript from the 60s of the 15th century. It is the longest known medieval poem in Polish. The incompletely transmitted text has 498 lines.

In 1488 the world's first brotherhood of poets, Sodalitas litteraria Vistulana ( Nadwiślańskie Bractwo Literackie ), was founded by the German Conrad Celtis and the Italian Kallimachus at the University of Krakow , where the first printing works in Poland, set up by Kasper Straube , were already located.


The origins of Polish literature in the vernacular go back to the 2nd half of the 15th century . It was not until the 16th century, however, that poets known by name appeared. In their works they go beyond religious topics and deal with earthly life, everyday life, politics and satire.

The two most important authors are Mikołaj Rej and Jan Kochanowski . Both came from the nobility. Rej (1505–1569), who is called the father of Polish literature, was essentially self-taught. In literary terms, he worked a lot, quickly and without subsequently refining his writings. He has dramas ( Żywot Józefa , German life of Joseph ), dialogues ( Krótka rozprawa między trzema osobami, Panem, Wójtem a Plebanem ), satirical poetry ( Źwierzyniec , Figliki ), moral prose ( Żywot człowwego ) as well as the domestic use of texts composed.

Jan Kochanowski (1530–1584), on the other hand, acquired a comprehensive education through studies at the Cracow Academy , later also in Königsberg and Padua . His work is well-groomed and very varied, the language is mature and colorful. He was also politically active. His most important works include the drama Odprawa posłów greckich (German The clearance of the Greek envoys ) as well as the short lyrical, satirical poems Fraszki (over 300 different content, didactic, about court life, people, etc.), the Treny (collection of funeral poems , written after the death of his daughter) and his many songs of religious, historical, philosophical, everyday content.

At the same time, Klemens Janicki was considered the most talented Latin-writing poet of the Renaissance in Europe.

Other important literary figures of this period were: Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski (1503–1572), a politically active writer who called for progressive reforms; Szymon Szymonowic (1558–1629), who wrote bucolic bucolic ( Sielanki , German idylls ) as well as short lyrical forms such as epigrams or odes ; Piotr Skarga (1536–1612), who described the lives of saints, was a strong defender of Catholicism and advocated political reforms of the state. Other authors were Biernat z Lublina (1465–1529), who created adaptations of Aesop's fables , Łukasz Górnicki (1527–1603), who wrote the dialogue treatise Dworzanin polski ( The Polish Nobleman ), which was trained at Castiglione and whose poetry is of great value, and Andrzej Krzycki , Mikołaj Hussowski and Johannes Dantiscus .

Mikołaj Sęp Szarzyński (approx. 1550 - approx. 1581) is considered the final poet of the Polish Renaissance and a forerunner of the Baroque. He wrote lyrical sonnets and elegies of great urgency, his themes are transience, death and sin. It is believed that a large part of his work was lost.


The most important poetic creation of the Baroque period is the heroic poem Wojna Chocimska by Wacław Potocki (1622–93), which deals with the brilliant victory of the Poles at Chotin over the Turks (1621) and is characterized by lyrical verve and excellent description of individual scenes. In the 17th century, the anti-clerical, often erotic verses by Jan Andrzej Morsztyn , secular poetry by Daniel Naborowski and , on the other hand, strictly Catholic poems by Wespazjan Kochowski, were written . The prose was also of great importance. The most famous memoirs include those by Jan Chryzostom Pasek and Krzysztof Zawisza (1666–1721). The epistolography was not without importance . The letters formed extensive rows full of content, e.g. B. Letters from King Jan III. Sobieski to his wife Maria. In the late baroque period, as early as the 18th century, the first Polish quasi-encyclopedia by Benedykt Chmielowski was written , often mentioned as a sign of intellectual stagnation. Stanisław Morsztyn translated the Andromache by Racine and wrote elegies that led to French classicism; and Zbigniew Morsztyn proves in his poems as a master of graceful diction.


The Enlightenment brought mainly political writers who were connected with the reforms of King Poniatowski . Ignacy Krasicki (1735-1801) and Adam Naruszewicz (1773-1796) wrote satires in which they denounced the moral decline and the hostility to education in the country. Many were committed to the Constitution of May 3 , 1791. In particular, Ignacy Krasicki (1735-1801), Adam Naruszewicz (1733-1796), Wojciech Bogusławski , Franciszek Bohomolec , Franciszek Salezy Jezierski , Franciszek Karpiński , Franciszek Dionizy Kniaźnin , Hugo Kołłątaj , Stanisław Konarski , Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz , Stanisław Staszic , Stanisław Trembecki and Franciszek Zabłocki should be mentioned here.

Polish romance

Adam Mickiewicz , one of the greatest among the Polish "poet princes"

In 1772, 1793 and 1795 the three partitions of Poland took place. The Polish state was divided among the neighboring powers of Russia , Prussia and Austria , until it was finally dissolved completely for 123 years. After the last partition of Poland, two opposing poetic directions emerged, the classical and the romantic . Because of the political situation, the works of Polish Romanticism - strongly promoted by the romantic historian and freedom fighter Joachim Lelewel (1786–1861) - increasingly took on messianic features. The conviction of the historical destiny of one's own people led to increased preoccupation with the philosophy of history .

The Three Bards of Polish Romanticism Juliusz Słowacki (1809–1849), Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855) and Zygmunt Krasiński (1812–1859) wrote from the exile to which they had fled after the defeated November Uprising. The novelist and moral educator Klementyna Hoffmanowa also went into exile. The comedy writer Aleksander Fredro exercised hidden criticism against the Austro-Hungarian rule. Other well-known representatives of Polish Romanticism are Narcyza Żmichowska (1819–1876) and Cyprian Kamil Norwid (1821–1883), who was often referred to as the Fourth Bard . The creator of the Polish "Faust" Pan Twardowski , Józef Ignacy Kraszewski , the collector of Polish folk songs Wincenty Pol , the novelist Henryk Rzewuski who is loyal to Russia , the romantic lyric poet Kornel Ujejski and Eleonora Ziemięck, who is known for her moral-philosophical-religious writings, should not go unmentioned .

With Beniowski (Słowacki) and Pan Tadeusz (Mickiewicz) the verse epic became one of the most popular genres. Many literary critics see the Polish Romanticism as the epoch that most influenced the Polish national spirit and influenced the other directions the most. Of course, the choice of subjects was limited to the problems of the Szlachta and the so-called Polish question ; the life of the peasants was hardly ever taken into account in literary work. Klaus Staemmler, a good expert on Polish literature, reports on a bon mot widespread in Poland, according to which books “About the elephant” are written in other countries, but in Poland “About the elephant and the Polish question”.


After the disenchantment of the defeat of 1864 came the period of positivism , which turned from poetry to prose, especially the realistic novel. Its most important representatives were Eliza Orzeszkowa , Bolesław Prus , Maria Konopnicka , Adolf Dygasiński , Wiktor Gomulicki , Maria Rodziewiczówna , Henryk Sienkiewicz , Gabriela Zapolska , Stefan Żeromski and Adam Asnyk .

Józef Ignacy Kraszewski (1812–1887) and Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846–1916) contributed to the development of the historical novel with his Nobel Prize-winning novel Quo Vadis . The realistic novel celebrated its climax a. a. with Henryk Sienkiewicz 'trilogy; Ogniem i mieczem (With Fire and Sword), Potop (Deluge) and Pan Wołodyjowski (Mr. Wołodyjowski), with Bolesław Prus' (1847–1912) Lalka (The Doll) and with Eliza Orzeszkowas (1814–1910) Nad Niemnem (An der Memel).


Main article : Young Poland

Literary modernity began among the Poles around 1891. Aesthetic and philosophical concerns were dealt with in this context. Jan Kasprowicz (1860–1926), Stanisław Wyspiański , Stefan Żeromski (1864–1925) and Władysław Reymont (1867–1925) belonged to the so-called Młoda Polska ( Young Poland ) association. Her work is rooted in the tradition of European symbolism and social novel . Young Poland was characterized by a symbolism-based mystification of reality.

Jan Kasprowicz , Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer , Mieczysława Przybylska-Łuczyńska , Stanisław Przybyszewski and Leopold Staff were among the most important poets of this era .

Interwar period

Poland, which was resurrected in 1918, was a culturally relatively homogeneous state in which poets and writers who had cultivated their mother tongue in the 19th century enjoyed a high reputation. Warsaw clearly became the country's intellectual hub. Nevertheless, Polish literature did not show a uniform face in the interwar period. In Poland there were a number of outstanding writers who experimented with different directions from neo-romanticism to modernism to the avant-garde and formed various poets ' associations ( Skamander , Zielony Balonik, etc.). These included Jan Brzechwa , Zofia Charszewska , Józef Czechowicz , Bruno Jasieński , Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz , Maria Kuncewiczowa , Bolesław Leśmian , Kornel Makuszyński , Czeslaw Milosz , Stanislaw Młodożeniec , Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska , Andrzej Strug , Julian Tuwim , Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz and Aleksander Wat . Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński , who was murdered by Ukrainian nationalists in 1941 , made French theater known in Poland through his translations.

Zofia Nałkowska (1884–1954), Maria Dąbrowska (1889–1965) and Bruno Schulz (1892–1942) campaigned for the authenticity of literature as an expression of experienced reality . Schulz and his younger colleague Witold Gombrowicz (1904–1969) were masters of the grotesque , the fantastic and the humor.

Polish literature during the Second World War

During the Second World War, the later so-called generation of the Columbus, year 20, was literarily active: Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński , Tadeusz Borowski and Tadeusz Gajcy , who all died very young and addressed this premonition in their poems.

Over 1,000 works were published in underground printing houses during the war. The literary discussion continued underground; many prominent authors took part in it. These included, among others: Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, Lesław Bartelski , Tadeusz Borowski, Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, Maria Dabrowska , Tadeusz Gajcy, Zuzanna Ginczanka , Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, the future Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz , Zofia Nałkowska , Jan Parandowski , Leopold Staff , Kazimierz Wyka , Jerzy Zawiejski and Jerzy Andrzejewski . The authors wrote about the poor conditions in the POW camps ( Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński , Stefan Flukowski , leon kruczkowski , Andrzej Nowicki and Marian Piechała ), in the ghettos and concentration camps ( Jan Maria Gisges , Halina Gołczowa , Zofia Górska (Romanowiczowa) , Tadeusz Hołuj , Kazimierz Andrzej Jaworski and Marian Kubicki ). Many authors did not experience the war's end, they include Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, Wacław Berent , Tadeusz Gajcy, Zuzanna Ginczanka, Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski , Stefan Kiedrzyński , Janusz Korczak , Halina Krahelska , Tadeusz Hollender , Witold Hulewicz , Ferdynand Antoni Ossendowski , Włodzimierz Pietrzak , Leon Pomirowski , Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer and Bruno Schulz.

post war period

Post-war Polish literature is very diverse. Initially a main topic was the processing of the Second World War; literary creation dominated longer than anywhere else in Europe, as many authors had actively fought in the resistance or had been in concentration camps, so u. a. Kornel Filipowicz , Zofia Posmysz and the well-known poet and playwright Tadeusz Różewicz . Among the most talented representatives of this generation of writers is Tadeusz Borowski (1922–1951), who voluntarily divorced from life at an early age and who made his first literary work after the war. These were under the impression of the atrocities of the German occupation and their concentration camps.

Due to the political situation, which made uncensored publishing in the country impossible, many writers were only able to continue their work in exile after the Second World War . The works of Witold Gombrowicz , Henryk Grynberg , Józef Mackiewicz , Czesław Miłosz , Marek Hłasko, Sławomir Mrożek and Leszek Kołakowski were first printed in the Paris journal of Polish emigration Kultura . The most controversial of them were only allowed to appear in Poland in the second half of the 1980s.

In 1956, Władysław Gomułka initiated a general and cultural-political liberalization at the 8th Plenary of the Polish Workers' Party. Many political prisoners were given amnesties. The “little realists” of the present generation , so named after the magazine Współczesność (1956–1971), then increasingly turned to the Polish present: for example, the blatant generational contrasts and the change in the rural world. This realism also had absurd, cynical or surreal features. It is also to be understood as a reaction to the difficult living conditions of the time.

This pessimism , partly also nihilism , cynicism and skepticism are the works of Jerzy Andrzejewski, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz ("Sława i chwała" - "Fame and Honor", a trilogy published 1956-62 about the life of three generations in a time of political upheaval) ) and Marek Hłasko , the Polish James Dean (1934–1969), who went into exile in 1958. A countercurrent revived fairy tales, myths and archetypes of rural life in literary terms. She was z. B. represented by Tadeusz Nowak and ties in with the novel The Peasants by the Polish Nobel Prize winner Reymont (1924).

The poets Miron Białoszewski , Ernest Bryll , Zbigniew Herbert and Julian Przyboś are also important representatives of post-war literature .

Stanisław Lem became one of the most internationally successful authors of the Polish language with his philosophical-futurological science fiction novels (“ The Astronauts ” 1951).

After the March riots in Poland in 1968 , which were sparked by the cancellation of the play Funeral by Polish prince poet Adam Mickiewicz, censorship was tightened; In some cases, there was a resignation of the cultural workers.

The period from 1970 to 1989

After Edward Gierek was appointed First Secretary of the Polish Workers' Party, cultural and political liberalization began again. Psychology became more complex, and the continued existence of the religion that had been declared dead became an issue. The satire became a more popular genre.

The works of the prose, theater and screenwriter Ireneusz Irediński , who was born in today's Ukraine, deal with topics such as loss, loneliness and manipulation. The work of the poets Ewa Lipska and Jan Twardowski and the novelist Andrzej Szczypiorski , who raises the question of the coexistence of the Polish, German and Jewish people in the face of collective crimes in the name of the nation or religion , also focus on the work of the poets Ewa Lipska and Jan Twardowski in the 1970s and 1980s . His novel Die Schöne Frau Seidenman first appeared in the Parisian exile publisher Instytut Literacki . After martial law was declared , Szczypiorski was interned temporarily in 1981/82. The novelist and playwright Remigiusz Napiórkowski ("We from Hiroshima" 1972) went to Sweden in 1983.

Mention should also be made of the highly respected but controversial journalist and author Ryszard Kapuściński , whose travelogues have been translated into 30 languages, and who has worked for Radio Free Europe and radio journalist Władysław Terlecki , who has written several historical novels since 1966 wrote about the Polish uprising tradition and also became known in Germany for his political-historical reflections on the uprising of 1863 ( Die Zwei Köpfe des Adler , German 1990).

After 1989

Polish literature produced talents in the 1980s who only flourished and developed after the political change in 1989. This includes the two Gdańsk authors Paweł Huelle and Stefan Chwin , who continue the tradition of Gdańsk literature. In addition, the period after 1989 is marked by the return of exiles such as Czesław Miłosz and Sławomir Mrożek . A high point in Polish literature in the 1990s was the awarding of the Nobel Prize to the poet Wisława Szymborska in 1996. The literary hopes of the young generation include Andrzej Stasiuk , Olga Tokarczuk and the young Dorota Masłowska , who was born in 1983 and thus the first author worth mentioning who grew up in the post-communist era.

Science fiction and fantasy play an important role in the latest Polish literature . SuperNOWA and Fabryka Słów have distinguished themselves as the most prominent publishers in this area. The most important authors include Jacek Dukaj , Andrzej Sapkowski , Jacek Piekara , Rafał A. Ziemkiewicz , Andrzej Pilipiuk , Jarosław Grzędowicz , Feliks W. Kres . The renowned Janusz A. Zajdel Prize is awarded annually for the best novel and the best novel.

Polish Nobel Prize for Literature

So far, Polish writers have received the Nobel Prize for Literature five times: 1905 ( Henryk Sienkiewicz ), 1924 ( Władysław Reymont ), 1980 ( Czesław Miłosz ), 1996 ( Wisława Szymborska ) and 2018 ( Olga Tokarczuk ).

See also


  • Karl Dedecius : Von Polens Poeten , Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1988, ISBN 3-518-37979-8 .
  • Eugen Lipnicki: History of Polish national literature clearly presented , Nabu Reprint 2010 of the edition from 1873 (Verlag F. Kirchheim), ISBN 978-1-147-95203-2 .
  • Waclaw Walecki: Polish Literature. Approaches: A literary history from its beginnings to today , Igel Verlag 1999, ISBN 978-3-89621-082-1 .
  • Dietger Langer: Polish literary history: A demolition. Wilhelm Fink Verlag 2010, ISBN 978-3-7705-4805-7 .
  • Czeslaw Milosz: History of Polish Literature. Francke 2012, ISBN 978-3-7720-8456-0 (first 1969, German 1985).
  • Karl Dedecius (ed.): Polish prose of the 20th century: A reading book. Munich: Hanser 1969.
  • Poland. (= Modern storytellers of the world, Vol. XLVI). Selection and translation: Klaus Staemmler. Erdmann Verlag Tübingen / Basel 1975.

Web links


  1. On the “Polish Question” from an Austrian point of view, see Friedrich Schütz: Das heute Russland , 1897, chap. 11.
  2. ^ Klaus Staemmler: Introduction , in: Poland. Modern storytellers of the world , p. 11.
  3. Named after the novel by Roman Bratny : Columbowie. Rocznik 20 (1957)
  4. a b c Stanisław Salmonowicz: Polskie Państwo Podziemne. Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne, Warsaw 1994, ISBN 83-02-05500-X , 236f.
  5. Stanisław Salmonowicz: Polskie Państwo Podziemne. Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne, Warsaw 1994, ISBN 83-02-05500-X , p. 244.
  6. ^ Klaus Staemmler: Introduction , in: Poland. Modern storytellers of the world , pp. 9–17.
  7. ^ Karl Dedecius (ed.): Polish punchlines, satires and small prose of the 20th century. Ullstein book, 1981, ISBN 3-548-20125-3 .
  8. http://www.culture.pl/baza-literatura-pelna-tresc/-/eo_event_asset_publisher/k3Ps/content/wspolczesna-polska-proza-fantastyczna