What were literary Nobel Prize winners doing in Małopolska?
We should start with Wisława Szymborska, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996 for her atmospheric poems, full of simple reflection on life. The news about the award reached the poet, born in 1923, in Zakopane, which is almost symbolic. Her father, Wincenty Szymborski, was for many years the administrator of the Tatra estates of Count Władysław Zamoyski – the man who gave the Tatra Mountains to Poland, a nationalist politician and social activist, one of the most distinguished citizens of Zakopane. Wisława was born in the estate of Count Zamoyski near Kórnik, but from 1929, the family lived in Kraków at 29 Radziwiłłowska street (commemorative plaque). One of the schools she attended was the Ursuline Sisters' Gymnasium at 3-5 Starowiślna street, which still holds her school certificates. She published her first volume of poetry in 1952, although her pieces had already been published right after the war in Dziennik Polski, an arena for many writers who accepted the imposed communist power. The editorial office of the newspaper was located in one of the most characteristic buildings in Kraków, called the Krążownik Wielopole (Cruiser Wielopole) (at the corner of Starowiślna and Wielopole streets). All her life, Szymborska was connected with the city that shaped her and accompanied her life. She lived, among others, in the famous House of Writers at 22 Krupnicza street, a post-war haven for many outstanding writers. Her usual meeting spot in her final years, already after receiving the Nobel Prize, were the "Prowincja" and "Nowa Prowincja" cafes (3 and 5 Bracka street, known from the song by Grzegorz Turnau) – a meeting place for Kraków writers and scientists. The Nobel Prize winners Czesław Miłosz and Adam Zagajewski, who was nominated for this award several times, were also regulars there. It is where Szymborska gave first public readings of some of her works. There is even a book of works by several writers related to "Nowa Prowincja", and Szymborska's secretary, the poet and writer, Michał Rusinek, together with Grzegorz Turnau’s daughter, Antonina, wrote a crime novel set in the cafe.
Wisława Szymborska wrote: "I live in Kraków, which means that I do not visit it", but the city was her place in the world, which she left rarely and not very willingly. However, she also loved Lanckorona – a witness to her fully reciprocated love for the short story writer, Kornel Filipowicz, Zakopane – where she spent long months due to lung disease (an occasion for fascinating correspondence with Filipowicz), and she eventually grew to like fishing trips with Filipowicz to the Dunajec, Vistula and Nida rivers, as well as canoeing trips.
Wisława Szymborska died in Kraków in 2012, and is buried in the Cmentarz Rakowicki (Rakowicki Cemetery) (section GD, row 10, site 10).
Czesław Miłosz, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980, was born in Vilnius, but claimed that of all Polish cities it was Kraków that reminded him of Vilnius the most. Here, near Wawel, he settled after half a century of emigration, in 2004. He lived on the first floor of a tenement house at 6 Bogusławskiego street (commemorative plaque). He died in 2014 and was buried in the Crypt of Merit in the church on Mount Skałka.
After his death, the words of the poet's favourite poem "Dar" (“The Gift”) were embedded in the concrete on the Vistula boulevards, right on the western side of the Grunwaldzki Bridge:
A day so happy
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.
(translation source: New & Collected Poems 1931-2001 (Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 2001))
Henryk Sienkiewicz, the first Pole to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1905), is not commonly associated with Małopolska, and yet... without our region there would be no “Krzyżacy” ("Teutonic Knights") and “W pustyni i w puszczy” ("In Desert and Wilderness") would be less interesting. Sienkiewicz was a regular visitor to Zakopane in 1886-1909, coming even several times a year. His local social life was very rich and he was friends with the highlanders. He is the author of “Sabałowa bajka” ("Sabała’s tale"), which was read at schools for decades. He learnt the highlander dialect very well and built the speech of the characters in "Krzyżacy" on it. “Maćko from Bogdaniec and others oftentimes in the novel sound like every gazda (landholder in Podhale region) from Gubałówka”, wrote the historian of Zakopane, Maciej Pinkwart. Sienkiewicz was one of the founders of the Sanatorium Dłuskich (the Dłuski Sanatorium) (now the Wojskowe Sanatorium im. Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego (the Military Sanatorium named after Józef Piłsudski) – 101 Nędzy Kubińca street) and contributed to the construction of the brick building of the Muzeum Tatrzańskie (the Tatra Museum) (ul. Krupówki 10). However, the real surprise awaits in a small town in Jura Krakowsko-Częstochowska, near Krzeszowice. Sienkiewicz spent August 1908 in Rudawa. He lived in the local brick villa, writing novellas and the novel "Wiry". A young boy who brought him milk every morning drew his attention. His name was... Staś Tarkowski. They talked a lot, which helped to define the main character of the novel "W Pustyni i w Puszczy”, named – in memory of those meetings – Staś Tarkowski. His grave is located in the cemetery in Rudawa, and a statue of a boy carrying milk to the Nobel Prize winner was erected in the town square.
Władysław Reymont, author of "Chłopi" (“The Peasants”), as well as “Ziemia Obiecana” ("The Promised Land") (Nobel Prize in 1924) also visited Zakopane and socialized there, but he was mostly connected with Kraków, which witnessed one of the most important events in his life – in the Carmelite church “Na Piasku” he married Aurelia Szabłowska. It was July 15, 1902.
It should also be remembered that Stefan Żeromski and Adam Zagajewski were also strong contenders for the Nobel Prize in Literature. The former lived almost permanently in Zakopane, in 1918 he was the president of the Republic of Zakopane (the first formal takeover of power in Poland from the partitioning powers). A doctor from Zakopane, Tomasz Janiszewski, became the prototype of one of the most famous Polish literary figures - Doctor Judym, the hero of “Ludzie Bezdomni” ("Homeless People"). Żeromski wrote this novel right there, at the foot of the Tatras. The most dramatic events of another novel that he wrote – “Popioły” ("Ashes") are also set in the Tatra Mountains. Zagajewski, on the other hand, one of the greatest poets of the New Wave, moved to Kraków at the beginning of the 20th century after twenty years of emigration. He died in 2021 and was buried in the National Pantheon in the crypts of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul.
How Witkacy took over Zakopane, i.e. the Hub of the universe
What is zakopianina? “It is a terrifying drug that overwhelms people who come to Zakopane. It penetrates their bodies and disturbs their souls”, stated Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz in "Demonizm Zakopanego" (“The Demonism of Zakopane”). Witkiewicz, known as Witkacy, was the son of Stanisław Witkiewicz, one of the most outstanding painters and writers of the Young Poland period. His godparents were: one of the world's greatest dramatic actresses of their time, Helena Modrzejewska, and a highlander bard and drunk, Sabała. No wonder that Witkacy was no ordinary man. In his time (first half of the 20th century), considered rather a weirdo, an eccentric, "a madman from Krupówki", with time he became one of the most interesting artists of that period. Author of novels with a key, plays, philosophical treatises and art theory, as well as a painter, founder of the famous Portrait Company, under which he created portraits of the social elite who came to the Tatra Mountains while under the influence. He was not the greatest artist living in Zakopane, but he undoubtedly created the most buzz. His legacy is referenced by Teatr imienia Witkacego (The Witkacy Theatre) in Zakopane, which you must visit to get to know the intellectual taste of zakopianina – a drug that overwhelmed almost all Poles, and, above all, the Polish artistic elite.
Zakopane, which was called "The Hub of the Universe" by the writer and painter Rafał Malczewski, was a centre for the life and work of hundreds of Polish artists. They came here for inspiration, they wrote here, or just relaxed. In the 19th century, the great national myth of the Tatra Mountains as the altars of freedom was born. Conquering them was a way to exercise will and spirit, and the highland culture became a symbol of the most sublime Polish values. Artists perpetuated these myths and symbols in the society. Among those artists there were: Adam Asnyk, Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, Roman Brandstaetter, Władysław Broniewski, Michał Choromański, Józef Conrad Korzeniowski, Andrzej Strug, Ferdynand Goetel, Witold Gombrowicz, Seweryn Goszczyński, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, Stanisław Lem, Kornel Makuszyński, Tadeusz Miciński, Ludwik Hieronim Morstin, Zofia Nałkowska, Magdalena Samozwaniec, Adolf Nowaczyński, Władysław Orkan, Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska, Wincenty Pol, Stanisław Przybyszewski, Władysław Reymont, Karol Hubert Rostworowski, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Jan Kazimierz Przepański, Jan Sztauderynger- Tetmajer, Julian Tuwim, Henryk Worcell, Stanisław Wyspiański, Stefan Żeromski, Jerzy Żuławski, Juliusz Żuławski and Wawrzyniec Żuławski. Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki had already written about the Tatra Mountains before them.
The poet Jan Kasprowicz spent his final years in Zakopane with his wife Maria Bunin, the daughter of the tsarist general. They bought a Harenda villa from the English painter and translator, Winifred Cooper, and it became the centre of artistic life in Zakopane. After his death, the poet was buried in a special mausoleum at Harenda. Maria Kasprowiczowa turned the villa into the Jan Kasprowicz Museum, which is a branch of the Tatra Museum.
Kornel Makuszyński also spent his final years in Zakopane. One of the most popular writers of the Second Polish Republic, he came to Zakopane in 1944, straight from the Warsaw Uprising, and settled there permanently, in the Opolanka villa at 15Tetmajera street. He was considered an enemy by the communist authorities. His books were not published, and he was harassed. He and his wife lived in poverty. He died in 1953 and is buried in the cemetery ”Na Pęksowym Brzyzku”. Since 1966, you can visit the Kornel Makuszyński Museum in Zakopane.
Famous funerals and one famous wedding
The list of Małopolska places and towns related to literature includes over half a thousand items. Sometimes the history of these places is really surprising. Let's look at just a few.
Krakow, Wawel, Krypta Wieszczów Narodowych (the Crypt of the National Poets) – it is where Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki and Cyprian Kamil Norwid are buried. Cardinal Adam Sapieha did not allow Henryk Sienkiewicz to be buried here. Let us add that at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Kraków became the site of over a dozen great funerals of famous Poles, mainly writers. These celebrations sometimes lasted several days, and they attracted Poles from all partitions. They helped create a national myth in a society devoid of the state, but strongly cultivating culture. Also, it was suggested that Mickiewicz and Słowacki should be buried in the Tatra Mountains.
Krakow, Krypta Zasłużonych w Sanktuarium Świętego Stanisława na Skałce (Crypt of Merit at the Sanctuary of Saint Stanislaus on Mount Skałka). It is the burial place of: Jan Długosz, Wincenty Pol, Lucjan Siemieński, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, Teofil Lenartowicz, Adam Asnyk and Stanisław Wyspiański. The funerals of Kraszewski, Asnyk and Wyspiański were events that united all Poles.
Krakow, Planty. Monuments of the writers: Michał Bałucki and Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński and literary figures from the works of Adam Mickiewicz – Grażyna and Litawor, and the heroine of Julisz Słowacki's work – Lilla Weneda. The monument of Bałucki, the author of positivist theatre plays, stands at the back of The Juliusz Słowacki Theatre. The writer committed suicide in Kraków's Błonia Park, and a malicious rumour has it that he did it after watching Stanisław Wyspiański's "Wesele" (“The Wedding”). Indeed, Bałucki was conflicted with the artists of Young Poland and was disappointed with the failure of his plays, but his desperate step resulted from the progression of his mental illness.
Krakow, the Main Market Square – Adam Mickiewicz Monument. One of the most recognizable places in Krakow. It was created with contributions from the entire nation, unveiled in 1898, it became a symbol of Polishness in a country deprived of independence. Destroyed by the Germans during World War II, it was restored in 1955.
Krakow, Rydlówka. A legendary place. The manor was owned by the painter, Włodzimierz Tetmajer. Here, in November 1900, the most famous Polish wedding took place. The groom and the bride were the author of “Betlejem Polskie” ("Polish Bethlehem"), Lucjan Rydel, and the peasant daughter, Jadwiga Mikołajczyk. It was observed by the painter, poet and playwright, Stanisław Wyspiański (Kraków by Wyspiański). The wedding guests were the then elite of Kraków and the peasants from Bronowice – a village near Kraków at that time. This is how the Polish national drama "Wesele" (“The Wedding”) was born, in which Wyspiański also portrayed national myths in the form of ghosts. One of them is Chochół, the planting of which on a rose bush is cultivated in Rydlówka to this day. It always takes place on November 20, on the anniversary of the wedding of Rydel and Mikołajczyk, which took place in St Mary’s Church. At the moment, the Rydel family lives in the manor house, and some of the rooms hold a museum that is part of the Kraków Museum.
Krakow and its surroundings, Pławowice – the Morstin Palace. The Classicist building hosted the elite of Polish writers in the interwar period. The host, Ludwik Hieronim Morstin, organized reunions of Polish poets in 1928 and 1929. They were attended, among others, by Julian Tuwim, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, Leopold Staff, Maria Pawlikowska, Jan Lechoń and Antoni Słonimski.
Podhale, Łopuszna – Tetmajer Manor House Estate. It hosted such poets and writers as Seweryn Goszyński (he described the manor in the famous "Dziennik podróży do Tatr" (Diary of a Journey to the Tatra Mountains)) and Bohdan Zalewski. Currently, the museum is part of the Tatra Museum.
Beskid Mały, the area of Wadowice, Gorzeń Górny – The Manor House of Emil Zegadłowicz. Its owner was a writer, author of one of the most scandalous novels of the interwar period – "Zmory". The rich collection on the writer and the era in which he lived is displayed in the City Museum in Sucha Beskidzka.
Gorce, Poręba Wielka – The Władysław Orkan Museum (description of the Władysław Orkan Museum). A peasant son who pushed his way into the history of literature. When, as a young boy, he was attending a gimnazjum in Kraków, his mother would walk from the heart of Gorce to deliver him food once a month. Since autumn 2021, in Pcim, you can see the monument to "Mothers Devoted to Children – Mother of Władysław Orkan", which commemorates this extraordinary woman. Orkan became a recognized writer and poet, he was an officer of the Legions and the Polish Army, and a eulogist of the Gorce and Tatra Mountains.
Gorlice area, manor house in Kwiatonowice. The residence of the Swiss woman Linda Bogli, and a starting point on her round-the-world-trip. A governess at the manor, unhappily in love with a Polish officer, she decided to travel the world. Back at the end of the 19th century, it was a great challenge for a woman. Bogli returned happily to Kwiatonowice and wrote an epistolary novel about her journey (published in 1904, Polish edition in 1908). At the beginning of the 21st century, her life became the basis for a novel by the Swiss to Polish translator Judith Arlt.
Where was "Rota" (The Oath) sung for the first time?
Here’s an interesting fact: Maria Konopnicka’s connection with Kraków wasn’t strong. It was just the celebration venue for her literary jubilee, but the premiere performance of one of her most famous Polish songs – "Rota" took place in Kraków anyway. It was written in 1908 in Cieszyn Silesia, and the music was composed by Feliks Nowowiejski, who lived in Kraków at the time. On July 15, 1910, on the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald, several hundred choristers from all over Poland sang it during the unveiling of the Grunwald Monument (now Jan Matejko Square).
Also read: On the traces of literature in the Beskid Niski and the Gorce Mountains.