In the first decades following Norwid's death, critics tended to argue about the place of his work within the currents of European Romanticism, Neoclassicism, or Parnassism. Today it is increasingly often assumed that Norwid, active at the end of the Romantic era, is a separate, out-of-the-grid author.
Translation of passages from the Odyssey (1870) by Cyprian NorwidOriginal Source: https://polona.pl/item/przeklad-fragmentow-odysei-homera,Nzk1MDEzNg/0/#info:metadata
Romanticism shaped Norwid strongly: the romanticism of Mickiewicz and Słowacki, whom he later met in Paris. He independently studied the works of French Romantics. But he constantly returned to classical authors and was fascinated by the legacy of ancient Rome and Greece.
This is particularly evident in his sculptures and painting studies. His readiness to record subjective experiences, word and graphic games allows him to be associated with modernism.
One of the most characteristic features of Norwid's creative output is his lack of adherence to a single poetics, to complete and closed works. He reworked his manuscripts and prints many times, and many of them remain unfinished or lack a clear point.
The secret of a triple dot
Perhaps the most closely associated typographic mark is the "triple dot"... Norwid's life situation, his personality, and his poetic courage all contributed to the "incomplete" and "wide-open" status of his work
An exceptional erudite who engages in conversation with "actors of history", Norwid used to treat dozens of figures - from Emperor Hadrian to Solon, from Socrates to Chopin, from legendary Polish rulers to American abolitionists - as equivalent characters to whom one can still ask questions and argue with. This readiness to treat past heroes as guides to contemporary dilemmas allows him to be juxtaposed with Kawafis, Auden or Herbert.
Rooster (1841/1883) by Cyprian NorwidOriginal Source: https://polona.pl/item/kogut,Mzk2Nzc1/0/#info:metadata
The power of awareness
Among the elements of Norwid's legacy, professor Józef Fert distinguishes the poet's ability to evoke two planes at the same time: the "macro" perspective (historiosophical, moralistic, apocalyptic) and the perception of the smallest details that are ostentatiously trivial.
An artisan of detail
Thus, for many, Norwid remains perhaps the only poet able to perceive various types of single gestures, reflections, and associations, to note noises, clusters, and sequences. This talent for combining perspectives brings him close to the classic, Maciej Sarbiewski.
A variant of this ability to perceive two planes, two scales of reality, is Norwid's vision of man: profoundly realistic, not devoid of elements of misanthropy, irony, or sarcasm, and at the same time - postulating constant self-improvement, transcending limitations, habits, and routine in the pursuit of a "superhuman" dimension. This also leads to the above-mentioned need for "openness", the incompletion of the work.
The above-mentioned characteristics of Norwid's view of the world - realism, perspicacity, and curiosity about detail - had to have resulted in his characteristic inclination toward humor, irony, and caricature. It has many varieties, particularly evident in his artistic output.
The artist was close to nature studies, depicting human and animal types and vices, the ridiculousness of social life and the burden of convention. Equally often, however, he reached for ironic metaphors and emphasized the artificiality of romantic "poses" and heroism.
Christianity remains one of Norwid's primary areas of reference: both the testimonies of the Gospels (the oft-recurring motifs of the resurrection of Lazarus, Pieta, and the Crucifixion) and the figures of the saints, as well as his personal attitude to the truths of faith that he meditated upon and practiced.
This is probably the source of Norwid's unusually elaborate reflection on love as an "interpersonal" experience. Romantic culture tended to trivialize the phenomenon of love, reducing it to a sentimental or erotic level. Norwid focuses on its ethical and theological dimension. In the frequently quoted, though "dark" and not easily translatable verse, "Beauty is the shape of love - and that's it", he refers - over the centuries - to the Athenian ideal of kalokagathia...
It is worth emphasizing once again the multifaceted nature of Norwid's talents (can we speak of their dispersal?). Perhaps the only aspect of his activity that he did not practice was composing and acting. He wrote poetry, poems, short stories, novels and essays, was an outstanding translator and epistolographist. He was a graphic artist (etching, aquatint, ink drawing, sketches), painter, sculptor, and medal maker. He was an reciter and performer of musical pieces, too.