Adam Mickiewicz in St. Petersburg (Jennifer Moore)

On a little street off of Nevsky Prospekt in the center of St. Petersburg there is a little monument to the Polish nationalist writer, Adam Mickiewicz.  Next to the simple monument is a Polish language school named after the respected poet.  They commemorate Mickiewicz’s two-month sojourn in St. Petersburg in 1824.    Mickiewicz was born on December 24, 1798 in Zaosie in the Russian federation, then the Third Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  He died on November 26, 1855 in Constantinople.   In his poems regarding Poland and Russia, Mickiewicz focused mainly on patriotic themes and the nations’ fantastic, dynamic, and turbulent pasts.  He was the poetic leader during the Romantic and patriotic movements in

Poland and rallied the masses through his poetic pen by rallying them around nationalism.  The Russian city of St. Petersburg, its culture, and its people altered his ideas about nationalism, and the significance of his short stay there had implications for the ways in which this great poet was commemorated both in Russia and in Poland. and added to his writing style.  Firstly the background of Mickiewicz will be detailed, as well why he was exiled to St. Petersburg, what he did there, who he met, and finally how meeting those people and seeing the city affected and impacted
In 1817, Warsaw was still under Russian rule.  Many Polish people felt isolated and suffered economically, socially and psychologically.  Mickiewicz was a patriot; he loved Poland, and was disheartened by the dissolution of his Polish homeland.  He grew inspiration from his fellow suffering Poles and joined with his like-minded friend Tomasz Zan, as well as others, to form a secret society, the Philomaths (Lovers of Knowledge).  The organization initially concentrated on education and was split into two factions; mathematics/scientific and literary.  However, by 1819 the increasing suffering of the Polish people pushed some of the organizers into taking a more active role in helping Poland regain independence.  Unfortunately, for Mickiewicz such activism was banned by the Russian government and led to an investigation of secret student organizations.  A large number of activists were arrested, including Mickiewicz.  After his trial, in 1824 Mickiewicz was banished to central Russia for his pro-independence beliefs.  After Mickiewicz was exiled and went on a journey through Russia and Europe, his pro-independence works were written and circulated. his life.  Lastly, the significance of the monuments in Krakow, Warsaw, Lviv, and St. Petersburg, and the significance of their placement will be discussed.

Prison life changed the tone of Mickiewicz poems.  Before prison the keynote of his poems was disappointed love but after prison he concentrated on the suffering patriotism concerning Poland (Tarnowski).   He was then exiled in Russia where he wrote sad but extremely evocative pieces.  During his time in St. Petersburg and Russia he developed his pieces with wonderful “patriotism, inspiration, and an artistic finish” that was a step above anything else he had yet written (Tarnowski).  In 1832 Mickiewicz wrote the poem “Dziady” (“Дзяды- Forefathers”) He did not glorify St. Petersburg,  but represented it from the viewpoint of the locals in its founding years.    The Russian people did not want to move the capital to St. Petersburg, a city located on a barely inhabitable swamp.  Therefore the people thought the city was built by Satan, an inference to Peter the Great:

Rome created by the hand of man,

Venice created by the gods;

But everyone would agree with me,

What made PetersburgSatan.


Рим создан человеческой рукою,

Венеция богами создана;

Но каждый согласился бы со мною,

Что Петербург построил сатана

In spite of the obstacles and loss of life, the Russian people endured and accomplished this huge feat of building a capital city on swampland.  Peter’s “Window to the West” became a reality; Russia was now connected to the West through its port and large fleet of ships.  Russians were also introduced, often forcibly, to western ideas and technology thus improving the living conditions of the country. Even with this new connection to the west, living in St. Petersburg was still difficult especially because of the terrible floods which occurred regularly in 1724, 1824, and 1924 (Petersburg).  Mickiewicz in fact arrived in St. Petersburg two days after the Neva flooded the city in 1824.  According to Pushkin, nature seemed to resist the creation of St. Petersburg by washing it, blowing it into the sea, trying to kill all the people.  Even through these seemingly unbelievable conditions, St. Petersburg and its people survived and continued to prosper.  In this poem Mickiewicz showed what the people had to overcome to build the magnificent capital.  The poem emphasized the hatred for Peter, referred to as ‘King of the Swamp.’  It also depicts, the new capital, St. Petersburg, was not a place of the people.  Its first residents were the nobles who made up Peter’s court and government.  They were forced to move to the new capital, build grand mansions on the main canal in order to display to the country and the world the wealth and new prosperity of ‘modern’ Russia.

The wind, fog and mud constantly,

And the sky is sending a cold or heat,

Wrong, as a wild temper tyrant.

No people, no, that king of the swamp

Stood and said: “Here we will build!”

And laid the Empire stronghold,

Currently the capital, but not the city for the people.

Здесь ветер, мгла и слякоть постоянно,

И небо шлет лишь холод или зной,

Неверное, как дикий нрав тирана.

Не люди, нет, то царь среди болот

Стал и сказал: “Тут строиться мы будем!”

И заложил империи оплот,

Себе столицу, но не город людям.

 Although it is natural for the Poles to admire Mickiewicz, other states respected him as well.  After Adam Mickiewicz’s death, in cities across Europe, ideas about erecting monuments in honor of the poet began.  People from the Polish diaspora wanted to honor his life, by the  means of spreading their cultural and nationalist views throughout Europe.   In response, statues have been erected in Kraków and Warsaw in Poland, in Lviv in Ukraine, and in St. Petersburg in Russia.  Mickiewicz never visited the city of Krakow, but due to the insistence of the mayor a sculpture was placed in the Main Market Square of Krakow. Once the city (Krakow) was decided upon, a contest was held in order to decide who would be honored as the sculptor.  First prize was awarded to the famed sculptor Cyprian Godebski, a professor at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg.  However, it was Teodor Rygier, a little known sculptor, who won the third and final competition for this project.  He sculpted the grand statue that now stands in the Main Market Square in the Old Town (Stare Miasto) district of Kraków.  The statue has four allegoric

groups that symbolize the Polish “Motherland (from the face of the monument along Sienna Street), Science (facing north), Courage (facing Sukiennice Hall) and Poetry (facing Church of St. Wojciech, south)” (Wikipedia).  Each side of the statue signifies a portion of Mickiewicz’s life; his love of country and science; the courage he used to face his adversaries and his poetic talents.  At the pedestal of the monument the inscription reads: “To Adam Mickiewicz, the Nation.”  This inscription as well as the layout of the statue itself, portrays the deep national pride the Poles feel towards Mickiewicz and his work.  In 1890, two years after the monument was built, 35 years after his death, his remains were brought to and laid to rest in St. Leonard’s Crypt under the Wawel Cathedral (Wikipedia).

Krakowskie Przedmieście is one of the best known and most prestigious streets in the capital of Poland, Warsaw.  Here stands the monument to Adam Mickiewicz built in 1897-1898 by the sculptor Cyrian Godebski, who was overlooked in Krakow but was given the honor of constructing a monument in Warsaw.   The monument is surrounded by historic palaces, churches, and manor-houses, located in the center of Warsaw. At this time, the Russians still had influence over Poland but once the Warsaw intelligentsia became aware of the project the Russians relented and permitted its construction.  The statue is a representation of Mickiewicz standing high, with his head slightly raised and his right hand placed across his chest resting on his heart.  To commemorate the poet’s 100th birthday, the monument was unveiled on December 24, 1898.  After the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, the Nazis destroyed the monument. Lviv, Ukraine was another location chosen to honor Mickiewicz.  The column is situated in the center of the historic Adam Mickiewicz Square; one of the most visited cultural sightseeing places.  For Poles living in Lviv, this was a symbol of great national consciousness and Polish pride (AMML).

Compared to the two other monuments, the landmark in St. Petersburg honoring Mickiewicz is much smaller and not as elegant as the others.  It stands in front of the Polish Language school honoring Adam Mickiewicz.  While the statue stands in a back alley, it is close to the center of St. Petersburg in front of the language school off of Nevsky prospekt.   A regular tourist would have great difficulty finding or knowing who the statue represents. The school was built on the corner of the alley across from the Fontanka River.  The full name of the school is the State Educational Institution Secondary School Number 216 for the In-Depth Study of the Polish Language at the Adam Mickiewicz Central District of St. Petersburg.  In 1991, the school received the status of advanced study in Polish language.  The school is considered a multicultural educational institution.  Even though the school focuses on Polish language and culture, it also incorporates the patriotic upbringing of the younger generation with historical examples of St. Petersburg, Leningrad, and Russia as a whole (Школа No 216).

In 1824 while in St. Petersburg, Mickiewicz spent two months meeting famous Russian writers and visiting their homes. It was during this period he became good friends with Alexander Pushkin and the inner circle of Russian literary geniuses including Aleksandr A. Bestuzhev and Kondraty F. Ryleev.  Bestuzhev and Ryleev were two leaders within the literary circle of St. Petersburg and were conspirators who initiated a republicanist revolt against the tsar in 1825.    Mickiewicz and the Russian writers had strong influences on one another.  It was these men who showed Mickiewicz that the Russian people “were not to be equated with those who ruled them” meaning the Russian people did not necessarily agree with what the Russian nobility and rulers stood for (Koropeckyj).   This was very much part of the Romantic Nationalist movement which argued that  state derived its political legitimacy from the unity of the people it governed.  This unity derived from the common language, race, culture, religion, and customs of a nation.    Romanticism “opened a window to their nation’s past and folk and at the same time offered visions of liberty for the individual as well as a people (Koropeckyj).” While Mickiewicz was born in the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth, he mostly related and connected to the Polish people and their nation more so than the Lithuanian people.

Despite the two writers only spending a minuscule amount of time with each other, Mickiewicz clearly felt strongly towards Pushkin and looked to him not only as a writer but as a friend.  In the obituary Mickiewicz wrote for Pushkin, he claimed that he “observed in him a character too much given to fleeting impressions and sometimes shallow, but always generous, noble-minded, and capable of passion. His faults seemed to be connected to the circumstances in which he grew up, while what was good in him came from the depths of his heart.”  (Dixon, A Translation).  At the end of the obituary Mickiewicz signed it “A Friend of Pushkin.”  Tensions and a general distrust have existed between the Poles and Russians for many years.   These tensions were due to at best border disagreements and at worst various periods of Russian occupation.    The relationship that developed between the Polish Mickiewicz and the Russian Pushkin was an unlikely one. Mickiewicz was from a country with a “moral mission: to regain independence from the government that so many of the Russian literary figures criticized” (Dixon, Pushkin and Mickiewicz).  Pushkin recognized the difference between the two poets:  “the great difference that separates us comes from our opposed positions: you are the poet of an oppressed nation, and this decides your superiority over me. You would not believe with what joy I would change places with you (cited in Dixon, Pushkin and Mickiewicz).”  It is quite amazing that these two people who came from opposing counties could become friends and influence one another.  Although Pushkin and Mickiewicz were committed patriots to their respective countries, Mickiewicz was considered a prophet who became the voice and inspiration for the Polish people. After his visit to St. Petersburg, revolutions began in Europe in 1848 and during that time he moved to Italy to help organize Polish legions to fight Austria over contested areas in the south of Poland (Lituanica).  Later, a war between Russia and Turkey began to revive hopes to re-establish the republic of Poland- Lithuania.

Adam Mickiewicz was considered to be a “gente lithuanus, natione polonus” [Lithuanian person, a native of Poland] (Lituanica).

Although born on Lithuanian land, he was always considered a true Pole.  Adam Mickiewicz is remembered today in Poland, Ukraine, and Russia as a talented and amazing poet as well as a courageous man.   Through his pen united the Polish people through the use of common history and powerful writing his artistic style was influenced by the places he visited and the people he met.


Works cited