Pan Tadeusz
Category: Verse
Level 7.54 12:34 h
Pan Tadeusz (full title: Mister Thaddeus, or the Last Foray in Lithuania: A Nobility's Tale of the Years 1811–1812, in Twelve Books of Verse) is an epic poem by the Polish poet, writer, translator and philosopher Adam Mickiewicz. The book, written in Polish alexandrines, was first published by Aleksander Jełowicki on 28 June 1834 in Paris. It is deemed one of the last great epic poems in European literature.

Pan Tadeusz

the Last Foray in Lithuania

Adam Mickiewicz

Translated by George Rapall Noyes

Pan Tadeusz


The present translation of Pan Tadeusz is based on the editions of Biegeleisen (Lemberg, 1893) and Kallenbach (Brody, 1911). I have had constantly by me the German translation by Lipiner (ed. 2, Leipzig, 1898) and the French translation by Ostrowski (ed. 4, Paris, 1859), and am deeply indebted to them. The English translation by Miss Maude Ashurst Biggs (Master Thaddeus; or, The Last Foray in Lithuania: London, 1885) I did not have at hand until my own version was nearly complete; after that I consulted it only very rarely. I do not think that I am under obligation to it in more than a half-dozen scattered lines of my text. (Perhaps, however, my use of foray as a translation of zajazd is due to an unconscious recollection of the title of Miss Biggs’s volumes, which I looked over several years ago, before I had even formed the plan of my own work.) In my notes, however, my debt to Miss Biggs and her collaborators in her commentary on Pan Tadeusz is important; I have striven to indicate it distinctly, and I thank Miss Biggs heartily for her kind permission to make use of her work.

To my friend Miss Mary Helen Sznyter I am grateful for aid and advice in the rendering of several puzzling passages. But my greatest debt I owe to my wife, whose name, if justice were done, should be added to my own as joint translator of the volume. Though she is entirely unacquainted with the Polish language, nearly every page of the book in its phrasing bears traces of her correcting hand. The preparation of the volume for the press and the reading of the proof have been made easy by her skilful help.

Berkeley, California,

December 9, 1916.


“No European nation of our day has such an epic as Pan Tadeusz. In it Don Quixote has been fused with the Iliad. The poet stood on the border line between a vanishing generation and our own. Before they died, he had seen them; but now they are no more. That is precisely the epic point of view. Mickiewicz has performed his task with a master’s hand; he has made immortal a dead generation, which now will never pass away.… Pan Tadeusz is a true epic. No more can be said or need be said.”

This verdict upon the great masterpiece of all Slavic poetry, written a few years after its appearance, by Zygmunt Krasinski, one of Mickiewicz’s two great successors in the field of Polish letters, has been confirmed by the judgment of posterity. For the chapter on Pan Tadeusz by George Brandes, than whom there have been few more competent judges of modern European literature, is little more than an expansion of Krasinski’s pithy sentences. The cosmopolitan critic echoes the patriotic Pole when he writes: “In Pan Tadeusz Poland possesses the only successful epic our century has produced.”

Still more important than the praises of the finest literary critics is the enthusiastic affection cherished for Pan Tadeasz by the great body of the Polish people. Perhaps no poem of any other European nation is so truly national and in the best sense of the word popular. Almost every Pole who has read anything more than the newspaper is familiar with the contents of Pan Tadeusz. No play of Shakespeare, no long poem of Milton or Wordsworth or Tennyson, is so well known or so well beloved by the English people as is Pan Tadeusz by the Poles. To find a work equally well known one might turn to Defoe’s prosaic tale of adventure, Robinson Crusoe; to find a work so beloved would be hardly possible.

Pan Tadeasz is so clear and straightforward in its appeal that but few words of explanation in regard to its origin are required. Its author, Adam Mickiewicz, was born in 1798, near Nowogrodek in Lithuania. His father, a member of the poorer gentry of the district, was a lawyer by profession, so that the boy was brought up among just such types as he describes with so rare a humour in the Judge, the Assessor, the Notary, and the Apparitor. The young Mickiewicz was sent to the University of Wilno (1815-19), where he received a good classical education, and, largely through his own independent reading, became well acquainted with French, German, and Russian — even with English literature. On leaving the university he obtained a position as teacher in the gymnasium at Kowno (1819-23). Though even as a boy he had written verses, his real literary career began with the publication in 1822 of a volume of ballads, which was followed the next year by a second book of poems, containing fragments of a fantastic drama, The Forefathers, and a short historical poem, Grazyna. These volumes reflect the romantic movement then prevalent in Europe, of which they are the first powerful expression in Poland. They were in large part inspired by the poet’s love for a young woman of somewhat higher station than his own, who, though she returned his affection, was forced by her family to marry another suitor.

In 1833 Mickiewicz was arrested as a political criminal, his offence being membership in a students’ club at the University of Wilno that had cherished nationalistic aspirations. With several others, he was banished from his beloved Lithuanian home to the interior of Russia; the following years, until 1829, he spent in St. Petersburg, Odessa, and Moscow. During this honourable exile he became intimate with many of the most eminent men of letters in Russia, and continued his own literary work by publishing his sonnets, beyond comparison the finest ever written in Polish, and a romantic poem, Konrad Wallenrod, based on the stubborn resistance of the Lithuanian folk in the fourteenth century to their German foes, the Knights of the Cross, and showing in its style marked Byronic influence. The poem unfortunately admitted, or rather invited, an application to the resistance of the Poles to the Russians; Mickiewicz, fearing with reason the anger of the Russian authorities, succeeded in obtaining, just in time to save himself from serious consequences, a passport permitting him to leave the country.

Arriving in Germany in 1829, Mickiewicz travelled through Switzerland to Italy. His residence in Rome, with its sacred associations, and the meeting with new friends of a deeply religious temperament, brought about within him a new birth of Catholic faith that strongly affected bis later writings, notably Pan Tadeusz. In Rome also he became intimate with the family of the rich Count Ankwicz, for whose daughter Eva he conceived an affection that is reflected in the passion of Jacek Soplica for the Pantler’s only child. On the outbreak of the insurrection in Warsaw, at the end of the year 1830, the poet meditated returning home to join the national forces; but he delayed his departure, and never came nearer the scene of action than Posen and its vicinity. The grief and discouragement caused by the failure of the insurrection, instead of crippling Mickiewicz’s powers, seemed to spur him on to new activity. During 1833 he wrote a continuation of The Forefathers, in an entirely different tone from that of his youthful poem of ten years before. The action is based on the persecution by the Russian authorities of the Polish students in Wilno; the lovelorn Gustaw of the earlier poem is transformed into the patriotic martyr Konrad. In this same year he settled in Paris, along with many other Polish exiles or “emigrants,” who were made homeless by the downfall of the national cause, and who, if the truth be said, were split up into bitterly hostile factions. Mickiewicz was now beginning to assume the role of prophet and seer. For the reproof and instruction of his fellow-countrymen he composed his Books of the Polish Nation and of the Polish Pilgrimage, a mystical work, written in biblical prose, and intended to bring comfort and harmony to the distracted exiles. In Paris also, in the course of about fourteen months (1832-34), he wrote Pan Tadeusz, his greatest poem — and (with insignificant exceptions) his last.

The story of Mickiewicz’s closing years may be passed over very briefly. In 1834 he married; his wife was subject to attacks of insanity, and all his later life was saddened by the struggle with misfortune and poverty. In 1840 he was called to a newly founded professorship of Slavic literature at the Collège de France. His lectures as holder of this chair are the only literary work of great importance that he produced during this last period of his life. Soon after the completion of Pan Tadeusz he had become absorbed by a religious mysticism that caused him to turn entirely aside from poetry. In 1841 he fell under the influence of Andrzej Towianski, a teacher who announced himself as the prophet of a new religion. His acceptance and promulgation of a doctrine which was pronounced heretical by the Catholic Church, and which inculcated a religious reverence for Napoleonic traditions, made it impossible for the French government to retain his services in a government institution, and in 1844 he was deprived of his professorship. The accession to power of Napoleon III. filled him with new hopes. In 1855 he journeyed to Constantinople, wishing to aid in the war against Russia, and there he died of the cholera. His remains, first laid to rest in Paris, were transferred in 1890 to the cathedral at Cracow.

Pan Tadeusz was not the result of a momentary inspiration, but grew gradually under the author’s hand. On December 8, 1832, he wrote to a friend: “I am now at work on a poem of life among the gentry, in the style of Hermann and Dorothea. I have already jotted down a thousand verses.” He had evidently planned a village idyl of no great length, probably based on the love of Thaddeus and Zosia. In a draft of the first book that is still preserved, Thaddeus sees on the wall a picture of Joseph Poniatowski at the battle of Leipzig (October 19, 1813), “riding a mettled steed” but “stricken with a mortal wound.” Thus the action of the poem could not have taken place earlier than 1814. Later, Mickiewicz threw back the time of his action to the autumn of 1811 and the spring of 1812; thus, by giving his poem a political background in the invasion of Russia by Napoleon, he transformed his village idyl into a national epic. The Monk Robak, or Jacek Soplica, and not his commonplace son Thaddeus, now became the real hero of the poem. Nor was this hero wholly a product of the writer’s invention. There has recently been discovered a petition by Mikolaj Mickiewicz, the father of the poet, praying the authorities to grant him protection from one Jan Soplica, “a man of criminal sort,” who had slain the uncle of the petitioner and was now threatening to kill the whole Mickiewicz family and burn their house. With the character of this person the description of Jacek Soplica’s early years agrees as closely as his name. Mickiewicz even mentions his own kindred as the ancestral enemies of the Soplicas. Yet one of that hated family he now made the hero of his greatest poem. By introducing him in the guise of Father Robak, repentant and striving to atone for past misdeeds through heroic service to his country, he infused into his poem a romantic charm. The mystery surrounding this figure connects Pan Tadeusz, an epic that is truly classic in its dignified elevation and restraint of feeling, with Konrad Wallenrod, a romantic tale conceived in the spirit of Byronic passion

In the work of Mickiewicz as a whole two characteristics predominate: a great intensity of feeling, which sometimes sinks into sentimentality, and at others rises into lyric fervour; and a wonderful truth, not only to the general impressions of his experience, but to the actual concrete facts of it, even to such trifles as the names of persons and places. Thus The Forefathers, despite all its fantastic elements, reproduces many incidents in which the poet himself was concerned. Furthermore, in certain works, as in his early tale Grazyna, Mickiewicz had shown a wonderful ability suddenly to detach himself from passing currents of emotion and to rise into regions of Olympian calm, giving to his work a classic, rounded completeness worthy of Grecian art. All these aspects of his genius are present in Pan Tadeusz. Echoes of the poet’s personal emotion are heard in Jacek’s tale of his passion for Eva; and an ardent love of country permeates the poem and breaks out again and again with lyric force. On the other hand the book is faithful to reality in its picture of Lithuanian manners and customs; the great romantic poet is at the same time the first realistic novelist of Poland. Minor details beyond number are introduced from the writer’s personal recollections; “even the Jew’s playing of the dulcimer the poet had heard in St. Petersburg from the famous Silbermann.” Through the whole book runs a humour not often found elsewhere in Mickiewicz; the reports of the debates in Jankiel’s tavern and in Dobrzyn hamlet are masterly in their blending of kindly pleasantry with photographic fidelity to truth. The poet sees the ludicrous side of the Warden, the Chamberlain, the Seneschal, and the other Don Quixotes who fill his pages, and yet he loves them with the most tender affection. In his descriptions of external nature — of the Lithuanian forests or of the scene around Soplicowo on the moonlight night just before the foray — Mickiewicz shows a genius for throwing a glamour of poetic beauty over the face of common things such as has never been surpassed. Finally, the whole poem is perfect in its proportions; from its homely beginning, with pictures of rural simplicity and old-fashioned hospitality, it swells into rustic grandeur in the panorama of the hunt, and at last reaches the most poignant tragedy in the scene about the death-bed of Jacek Soplica: then, lest the impression should be one of total sadness, the narrative concludes with the magnificent epilogue of the last two books, full of hopes of rescue for Poland, full of gaiety and courage. A large epic calm pervades the whole. The age-long conflict between Pole and “Muscovite” is the theme of the epic, but the tone is not that of passionate hatred and revolt such as fills The Forefathers; human kindliness breathes through the whole work; not indignation and rebellion, but faith, hope, and love are at its foundation.

This brief introduction may fitly close with some verses that Mickiewicz wrote as an epilogue for Pan Tadeusz, but which he never finally revised and which were never printed during his lifetime. Since his death they have most frequently been inserted as a prologue to the poem rather than as an epilogue.

“What can be my thoughts, here on the streets of Paris, when I bring home from the city ears filled with noise, with curses and lies, with untimely plans, belated regrets, and hellish quarrels?

“Alas for us deserters, that in time of pestilence, timid souls, we fled to foreign lands! For wherever we trod, terror went before us, and in every neighbour we found an enemy; at last they have bound us in chains, firmly and closely, and they bid us give up the ghost as quickly as may be.

“But if this world has no ear for their sorrows, if at each moment fresh tidings overwhelm them, reverberating from Poland like a graveyard bell; if their jailers wish them an early doom and their enemies beckon them from afar like grave-diggers; if even in Heaven they see no hope — then it is no marvel that they loathe men, the world, themselves; that, losing their reason from their long tortures, they spit upon themselves and consume one another.

“I longed to pass by in my flight, bird of feeble wing — to pass by regions of storm and thunder, and to search out only pleasant shade and fair weather — the days of my childhood, and my home gardens.

“One happiness remains: when in a grey hour you sit by the fireside with a few of your friends and lock the door against the uproar of Europe, and escape in thought to happier times, and muse and dream of your own land.

“But of that blood that was shed so lately, of the tears which have flooded the face of all Poland, of the glory that not yet has ceased resounding: of these to think we had never the heart! For the nation is in such anguish that even Valour, when he turns his gaze on its torture, can do naught but wring the hands.

“Those generations black with mourning — that air heavy with so many curses — there — thought dared not turn its flight to a sphere dreadful even to the birds of thunder.

“O Mother Poland! Thou wast so lately laid in the grave. No man has the strength to speak of thee!

“Ah! whose lips can dare to fancy that to-day they will at last find the magic word that will soften marble-like despair, that will lift the stony lid from men’s hearts, and will open eyes heavy with so many tears?

“Some time — when the lions of vengeance shall cease to roar, when the blare of the trumpet shall be stilled, when the ranks shall be broken, when our eagles with a flight like lightning shall settle on the ancient boundaries of Boleslaw the Brave, and, eating their fill of corpses, shall be drenched with blood, and finally fold their wings to rest; when the last enemy shall give forth a cry of pain, become silent, and proclaim liberty to the world: then, crowned with oak leaves, throwing aside their swords, our knights will seat themselves unarmed and deign to hear songs. When the world envies their present fortune they will have leisure to hear of the past! Then they will weep over the fate of their fathers, and then those tears will not soil their cheeks.

“To-day, for us, unbidden guests in the world, in all the past and in all the future — to-day there is but one region in which there is a crumb of happiness for a Pole: the land of his childhood! That land will ever remain holy and pure as first love; undisturbed by the remembrance of errors, not undermined by the deceitfulness of hopes, and unchanged by the stream of events.

“Gladly would I greet with my thoughts those lands where I rarely wept and never gnashed my teeth; lands of my childhood, where one roamed over the world as through a meadow, and among the flowers knew only those that were lovely and fair, throwing aside the poisonous, and not glancing at the useful.

“That land, happy, poor, and narrow; as the world is God’s, so that was our own! How everything there belonged to us, how I remember all that surrounded us, from the linden that with its magnificent crown afforded shade to the children of the whole village, down to every stream and stone; how every cranny of the land was familiar to us, as far as the houses of our neighbours — the boundary line of our realm!

“And if at times a Muscovite made his appearance, he left behind him only the memory of a fair and glittering uniform, for we knew the serpent only by his skin.

“And only the dwellers in those lands have remained true to me until now; some as faithful friends, some as trusty allies! For who dwelt there? Mother, brothers, kindred, good neighbours! When one of them passed away, how tenderly did they speak of him! How many memories, what long-continued sorrow, in that land where a servant is more devoted to his master than in other countries a wife to her husband; where a soldier sorrows longer over his weapons than here a son over his father; where they weep longer and more sincerely over a dog than here the people weep for a hero!

“And in those days my friends aided my speech and cast me word after word for my songs; like the fabled cranes on the wild island, which flew in spring over the enchanted palace and heard the loud lament of an enchanted boy: each bird threw the boy a single feather; he made him wings and returned to his own people.

“O, if some time I might attain this joy — that this book might find shelter beneath roofs of thatch, and that the village girls, as they spin and turn the wheel, humming the while their much-loved verses, of the girl who so loved to make music that while fiddling she lost her geese, or of the orphan, who, fair as the dawn, went to drive home the birds at eventide — if even those village girls might take into their hands this book, simple as their songs!

“So in my own day, along with the village sports, they sometimes read aloud, under the linden tree on the green, the song of Justina, or the story of Wieslaw; and the bailiff, dozing at the table, or the steward, or even the master of the farm, did not forbid us to read; he himself would deign to listen, and would interpret the harder places to the younger folk; he praised the beauties and forgave the faults.

“And the young folk envied the fame of the bards, which in their own land still echoes through the woods and the fields; of bards to whom dearer than the laurel of the Capitol is a wreath plaited by the hands of a village girl, of blue cornflowers and green rue.”

List of the Principal Characters in “pan Tadeusz” with Notes on Polish Pronunciation

The principal characters in Pan Tadeusz are as follows. The approximate pronunciation of each proper name is indicated in brackets, according to the system used in Webster’s New International Dictionary.

Thaddeus (Tadeusz) Soplica [Ta-dĕ’ōōsh Sŏ-plē’tsä].

Jacek Soplica, his father [Yä’tsĕk],

Judge Soplica, brother of Jacek.

Telimena, a distant relative of the Soplicas and of the Horeszkos [Tĕ-lĭ-mĕ’nä, Hŏ-rĕsh’kŏ].

Zosia, ward of Telimena [Zŏ’shä],

Hreczecha, the Seneschal [Hrĕ-chĕ’hä].

The Chamberlain.

Protazy Brzechalski, the Apparitor [Prŏ-tä’zĭ Bzhĕ-häl’skĭ].

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