Art and Politics : The Spiritual Nationhood of Romantic Poland
Powers, Suzanne B.
MetadataShow full item record
The impulse which leads man to seek balance, harmony and restraint had gained tremendous support in Europe during the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. The only feasible means, it appeared, by which man might attain a happy state of equilibrium were his amazing powers of reason. Paradoxically enough, the impulse which leads man to view life as a dazzling symphony made up of an infinite range of opportunities, experiences and challenges was already stirring the hearts of some daring individuals. The trend toward this impulse during the latter part of the eighteenth century progressed through the medium of artistic expression, by which it gained the name of "Romanticism." It wasn't until the very end of the eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth century that the romantic mood began to permeate the atmosphere of European struggles and upheavals. It was then that it became intertwined with another growing phenomenon,that of nationalism. Although it was France which first established the form and content of modern nationalism, the sentiment did not remain confined there. Its influence spread from Western Europe to Central and Eastern Europe, undergoing a more marked infusion of emotionalism by the Romantic elan. The resultant intensification of nationalist sentiment and belief in the nation's spiritually-based existence was especially keen in a nation whose statehood was subject to debate, namely, the fractured country of Poland. Poland had suffered a slow, pathetic degeneration of its political power and cohesion before it was finally dissected in the three partitions of 1772, 1793 and 1795. Polish patriots, however, persisted in their claims that Poland comprised a distinct .cu1tural entity and hence, should possess its rightful autonomy. As its political powers had been eclipsed by those of the partitioning powers of Austria, Prussia and Russia, Poland, for Polish Romantic nationalists, became an elusive ideal embellished with a poignancy and significance that protected and isolated it from the dictates of reality. Faith in a resurrected Poland was consequently fed by the emotive creations of Polish artists and writers, amongst whom one of the most eminent is the Romantic poet, Adam Mickiewicz. Mickiewicz's words served as an inspirational force in the struggles of Polish nationalists who had come to rely upon the emotional impact of the imaginary as necessary to the maintenance of their vision for Polish independence. They believed, as the poet and essayist Kasimierz Brodzinski expressed it, "the nation is an inborn idea, which its members fused into one, strive to realize." The Polish nationalist movement began its long struggle as an intensely inward-looking quest which transformed it, like other Romantic nationalist movements, into political messianism.