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Mikołaj Rej

Illustration from the digital collections of the National Library’s Polona website

Mikołaj Rej

Bestiary

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Read by Marta Meissner, recorded by Radiofonia Association
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English translation: Robert Olechnowicz
Zygmunt, the bell of the Royal Castle

Ring, o noble Zygmunt, with thy all three voices,
Sweep the people’s faces with mighty gusts of noises;
So they wake up each morning to Lord and to His praise,
And in the Kingdom of Poland spend all their earthly days.
Thou can hear it happen; the peaceful days are ending,
So brittle is the thread by which fate left us hanging.
The chime of smaller bells makes our attention scatter,
And lifts our minds away from all important matters.

Kraków’s City Hall

This place was for order and righteousness designed,
Thus should it by this one unspoken law abide:
That Justice stands here tall upon its glorious nest,
While pitiful Corruption in shame can find no rest.
But one should start with rulers who came here to be,
As if chosen by powers which mortals cannot see.
When the trunk is in decay the fruit is also rotten,
And bad soil gives birth to nettles misbegotten.
English translation: Robert Olechnowicz
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Mikołaj Rej

Mikołaj Rey (or Rej) of Nagłowice (1505–1569) hailed “the father of Polish literature”, lived mostly in his estates in the Land of Lublin, but he would frequently visit Krakow, staying in a townhouse he owned on Grodzka Street. A highly versatile man, he was a deputy to the Sejm (the Polish Parliament), a poet and prose writer, and a Calvinist theologian, with a lively interest in music. Together with his musical band, he performed in 1545 before King Sigismund the Old in Wawel Castle.
Rej wrote and published a lot, and his diverse works enjoyed great popularity. Most of his books were published in Krakow, notably Krótka rozprawa między trzema osobami (A Short Debate Between Three People), Postylla (Postille), Psałterz (Psalter), and Źwierciadło (Speculum). Moreover, Krakow was frequently present in his works. The philosophical work Żywot człowieka poćciwego (The Life of the Honest Man) includes a lively portrayal of the Main Market Square, while Źwierzyniec (The Zodiac) contains descriptions of characteristic buildings and sights in Krakow. (jn)
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