Adam Asnyk

Pic. National Digital Archives

Adam Asnyk

Poets to their public

Translated by Joanna Gierlicka
Humbly, we need to bend our heads
Before thy tough, annoyed tirades.
And though they seem so harsh and crude,
Indeed! they have a grain of truth.
We must admit that our harps -
Their half-sacred and half-mourning sounds -
Alongst with sick imagination
Might bear the worst kind of creation.

After the bards had passed away
We took the lutes they’d play one day.
How sweet their air in our weak hands!
How mournful though, how full of pains!
‘Tis sad to hear these echoes fade,
‘This sad to know these lutes once played
To raise the souls from grief... But, pray,
Why do they sound so strange today?

‘Tis scary to touch these famous strings,
Which used to strain just like eagle’s wings,
Which knew how to move those souls asleep
And lashed lazy minds with a ruthless whip!

‘Tis scary to hear those songs from the past,
This marvellous work of bygone bards,
And sing different song amongst motley crowd:
a prisoner’s lament, this heart-breaking sound.

We know our impuissance, this treacherous snake,
In whose monstrous coils we suffer and shake;
We know our madness and its deadly force,
Which makes our singing sound weaker and worse.
We know we are silly, though tearful and lost,
We know we are shapeless like vapours or ghosts,
Now, we cannot deny that we bear the blame,
But first hear our reasons and let us explain.

For we are the children of a loveless age,
Without dreams of freedom or hope for a change,
The age which can’t tell true beauty and wit,
A dull, boring age, whithering from forfeit,
The age which grew old, though its face still looks young,
One which had forgotten its rights and its tongue.
We are its poor children, our lives sad and small,
We know it built nothing, just ruined it all.
Translated by Joanna Gierlicka

Adam Asnyk

(1838-1897) – a poet, playwright and independence activist. During the January Uprising he was a member of the National Government. He was born in Kalisz and studied, among others, in Warsaw, Wroclaw and Heidelberg, where he earned a doctoral degree in philosophy. From 1870 he lived in Krakow.

As a poet, he debuted with the collection Poezje [Poems] in 1869. His early poems were strongly inspired by Romanticism and took up the issues of individual crisis, disillusionment with history, and the need of rebellion. His later poems, particularly sonnets from the volume Nad głębiami [Over the Depths] (1883), are already a fulfilment of the intellectual model of poetry. He tried to reconcile philosophical idealism with ideas of positivism and scientism.

He published and edited the newspaper Reforma. From 1884 he was an alderman in Krakow, and in 1889 he was elected a Member of the Galician National Parliament. In 1890, he was the main organiser of the bringing home of Adam Mickiewicz's ashes from Paris to Wawel Hill.

He often travelled to places such as Italy, North Africa, Ceylon and India. Apart from that, he regularly went mountaineering in the Tatra Mountains and was a member of the Tatra Society. Many of his poems are devoted to Tatra landscapes.

He is buried in the Crypt of Distinguished Poles at Skałka.

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