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This review is taken from PN Review 80, Volume 17 Number 6, July - August 1991.

FEROCIOUSLY TENDER Boleslaw Mazur and George Gömöri, editors, Cyprian Norwid (1821-1883): Poet, Thinker, Craftsman - A Centennial Conference (Orbis/School of Slavonic and East European Studies)

The face captured on the cover of this intriguing collection of essays looms with a kind of Dostoevskian power, a blend of compassion and ferocity. Gaunt, sharp-nosed, with a black beard and moustache and with long bedraggled dark hair, a cheap scarf beneath the collar of his worn greatcoat, Cyprian Norwid stares fixedly into the distance as if imagining the future, although dark rings round the eyes and the suggestion of a squint are more like emblems of a troubled past. For an apt caption there is a letter of 1869 to Joanna Kuczyńska in which he insists that 'it is not enough to suffer, one has to fight'; or, better still, a question Norwid seems never to have answered definitively: 'in what language can someone whose language is impossible to understand explain himself?' Having left his native Poland on attaining his majority, and thereafter mostly resident in Paris (although he spent eighteen months in America), Norwid could not help but confront the fact that his expressive medium remained a closed book to those with no Polish, and that his experimental use of the language guaranteed neglect or obloquy on the part of his fellow countrymen. Though overwhelmingly a poet, as the photograph emphasizes - in a letter of November 1867 Norwid outlandishly suggests 'there never was any prose' - he diversified his activity beyond the limitations of verse, manifesting the talents of omnicompetence found elsewhere in the 19th century, though nowadays very rare. In the eleven volumes of ...


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