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This report is taken from PN Review 216, Volume 40 Number 4, March - April 2014.

Norwid and I Adam Czerniawski
If Cyprian Kamil Norwid (1821–83) had not existed, I would have had to invent him as my Virgil to guide me after my quixotic teenage decision to aspire to become a Polish poet in exile, cut off from Poland by the Iron Curtain. I find it extraordinary to realise now, looking back over some sixty years of my writing career, that I can point to an event at its very beginning which has made such a remarkable contribution to shaping that career. That was my discovery of Norwid’s poetry. Throughout these years he has been my aesthetic and moral guide, and somehow at the very beginning I knew that it would be so, that like him I would have to struggle hard to maintain my aesthetic and moral integrity, that like him I would have to experience marginalisation and incomprehension as poet.

I am not only not a Norwid scholar, I did not even study him at school, never mind at university. The English language was the basis of most of my education. My minimal exposure to Polish literature certainly did not include either Juliusz Słowacki or Norwid. Yet it was through sheer coincidence that at the age of twelve I had my first significant encounter with Polish poetry through a slim volume containing Słowacki’s Anhelli and Ojciec zadżumionych [Father of Plague Victims], published in war-time Scotland, and which I encountered in Beirut, while attending an American school there. Norwid I discovered some three years later, while attending a British grammar school in a provincial English town, which didn’t even have a public library. I started acquainting ...

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