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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

The First Pole

Henryk Sienkiewicz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905. He is best known for his epic historical novel Quo Vadis, which depicts the persecutions of the early Christians. There have been a couple of film adaptations of the novel, a Hollywood version in 1951 and another from Poland in 2001.

Sienkiewicz was born in Poland in 1846 and raised during the country’s partitions. He was a constant fighter for his nation’s independence but died a couple of years before that event took place.

In his presentation speech, Carl David af Wirsén commented:

If one surveys Sienkiewicz’ achievement it appears gigantic and vast, and at every point noble and controlled. As for his epic style, it is of absolute artistic perfection. That epic style with its powerful over-all effect and the relative independence of episodes is distinguished by naive and striking metaphors. In this respect, as Geijer has remarked, Homer is the master because he perceives grandeur in simplicity as, for example, when he compares the warriors to flies that swarm around a pail of milk, or when Patroklos, who all in tears asks Achilles to let him fight against the enemies, is compared to a little girl who weeping clings to the dress of her mother and wants to be taken in her arms. A Swedish critic has noticed in Sienkiewicz some similes that have the clarity of Homeric images. Thus the retreat of an army is compared to a retreating wave that leaves mussels and shells on the beach, or the beginning of gunfire is compared to the barking of a village dog who is soon joined in chorus by all the other dogs. The examples could be multiplied. The attack on the front and rear of an army surrounded and subject to fire from both sides is compared to a field that is reaped by two groups of mowers who begin their work at opposite sides of the field with the purpose of meeting in the middle. In Krzyzacy the Samogites rising from furrows attack the German knights like a swarm of wasps whose nest has been damaged by a careless wanderer. In Pan Wolodyjowski we also find admirable images; in order to judge them we should remember that, as often in Homer, the two terms of the comparison converge only in one point, while the rest remains vague. Wolodyjowski with his unique sword kills human lives around him as rapidly as a choir boy after the mass snuffs the candles on the altar one after the other with his long extinguisher.

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