‘Underappreciated’ poet Norwid honoured on his 200th birthday with events across the country

A friend of Chopin and an influence on 20th century Polish writers and musical artists, Kamil Norwid is often considered the fourth national ‘bard’ or ‘poet-prophet’ after the big three of Adam Mickiewicz, Julisz Słowacki and Zygmunt Krasiński. Public domain

One of Poland’s most inspirational poets is being honoured with a host of events across the country to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth.

A friend of Chopin and an influence on 20th century Polish writers and musical artists, Cyprian Kamil Norwid is often considered the fourth national ‘bard’ or ‘poet-prophet’ after the big three of Adam Mickiewicz, Julisz Słowacki and Zygmunt Krasiński.

A Romantic poet, talented novelist, playwright, sculptor and author of many sketches, his works were inspired by classicist subject matters and literary works such as Dante’s Divine Comedy.Public domain

Dying in poverty at the age of 62 in 1883, his work was little-known and even less appreciated in his own lifetime.

A Romantic poet, talented novelist, playwright, sculptor and author of many sketches, his works were inspired by classicist subject matters and literary works such as Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Norwid would later immortalise the last moments of the life of Chopin and Słowacki in his work ‘Czarne Kwiaty’ (Black Flowers).antykwariat.waw.pl

Having travelled across Europe, in 1849 he moved to Paris, where he often met with Mickiewicz, Słowacki and Krasiński as well as Fryderyk Chopin at a time when Poland had been wiped off the map by the three partitions.

He even tried to engage himself in the politics of the Hotel Lambert, a political faction of Polish emigrees centred around Prince Adam Czartoryski and fighting for an independent Poland.

It was not until the turn of the 20th century, some 20 years after his death, that Norwid’s idiosyncratic writings and artistry were rediscovered by artists of the modernist Young Poland art movement.Public domain

Norwid would later immortalise the last moments of the life of Chopin and Słowacki in his work ‘Czarne Kwiaty’ (Black Flowers)  

However, despite trying to engage himself in society, Norwid was essentially an enigmatic figure, a loner and independent thinker and his intellect and the originality of his artistic ideas were often either overlooked or misunderstood.

It was not until the turn of the 20th century, some 20 years after his death, that Norwid’s idiosyncratic writings and artistry were rediscovered by artists of the modernist Young Poland art movement, who found in him something close to their own worldview: the tragic fate of a poet misunderstood by his contemporaries and a concept of art which creates beauty and symbols as tools for understanding and expressing the essence of existence.

Some of Norwid’s most famous poems include ‘Promethidion’ which contains reflections on the function of art in social life.polona.pl

Some of Norwid’s most famous poems include ‘Promethidion’ which contains reflections on the function of art in social life, ‘Quidiam’, an epic poem about the titular hero lost in the chaos of a civilisational crisis and ‘On the Freedom of the Word’, an outline of the history of humanity which also touches on the societal and sacral functions of language.

However it was between 1865-66 that Norwid created the cycle of his arguably most beautiful lyric poems in ‘Vademecum’, which contains masterpieces like ‘Bema Pamięci Żłobny-Rapsod’ (To Bem’s Memory- a Funeral Rhapsody), a poem which became well known in popular culture through a song recorded by rock artist Czesław Niemen in 1970.

His poems were also an inspiration for other songs by popular artists Stan Borys and Krzystof Cugowski.

Earlier this year, ‘Vademecum’ was the subject of a film about Norwid produced by animators The Quay brothers to bring Norwid’s life and work to life for new audiences.

Norwid’s poem ‘Bema Pamięci Żłobny-Rapsod’ (To Bem’s Memory- a Funeral Rhapsody), became well known in popular culture through a song recorded by rock artist Czesław Niemen in 1970.Przemek Wierzchowski/PAP

On the 24th of September, which marks 200 years since the birth of Norwid, events are being held around Poland, including a special day of programmes on Radio Poland and the laying of flowers at the crypt of the national poets in the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków, where an urn is held with earth from the mass grave in which Norwid is buried.

At the Norwid Culture Centre in Kraków, anyone ringing the institution on his birthday will be read a poem selected by one the employees of the Centre as part of the initiative ‘Norwid? – on the phone’. The institution is also hosting two competitions, one for an artistic residency inspired by Norwid’s work and a Norwid award in which the institution wants to recognise artists who do not limit themselves to one genre.

In Warsaw, the Polish National Opera will host ‘Norwid’s Theatrum Mundi’ , a special concert of popular songs inspired by Norwid’s texts performed by stars of Polish opera and a symphony orchestra, accompanied by readings by actors from the Polish National Theatre who will present fragments of Norwid’s prose.

Dying in poverty at the age of 62 in 1883, his work was little-known and even less appreciated in his own lifetime.PAP

Meanwhile displayed in the refectory of the Ossolineum in Wrocław on the poet’s birthday and adjoining weekend, visitors will be able to view manuscripts, drawings, graphics and one of only four existing oil paintings carried out by Norwid in an exhibition drawing attention to Norwid as not just a literary figure, but as the title of the exhibition suggests, a ‘Total Artist’.

Celebrations also extend to schools, with many organising their own celebrations today. One school in Bydgoszcz, which is named after the poet, has organised a whole day of festivities instead of normal lessons, with students even dressing up in the artist’s characteristic dress, with prizes for the best likeness and reciting Norwid’s poems.

Events celebrating Norwid have been running and will continue to run throughout the remainder of 2021 as part of the ‘Year of Norwid’ and the writer being one of the honorary patrons selected by the Polish government to represent the year 2021, with the culmination of events honouring him being the Norwid Festival between the 26th-28th November in Kraków.