Norwid. Work and Vision

Ideas and motifs

By Polish History Museum

Ballad, Cyprian Norwid, after 1873, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/ballada,MzkwMzU1/0/#info:metadata
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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.

Crossed out manuscript, Cyprian Norwid, 1869, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/rzecz-o-wolnosci-slowa-poemat,MjY4NTA3/0/#info:metadata
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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. 

Poems, Cyprian Norwid, 1847/1883, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/wiersze,OTYyMDAwMTg/4/#info:metadata
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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. 

Triple dot (1860/1870) by Cyprian NorwidOriginal Source: https://polona.pl/item/bizancjum,OTQyODg4/0/#info:metadata

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

Diogenes, Cyprian Norwid, 1841/1883, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/diogenes-fotografia-rysunku-c-k-norwida,NTg0MzkyOQ/0/#info:metadata
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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.

Rooster (1841/1883) by Cyprian NorwidOriginal Source: https://polona.pl/item/kogut,Mzk2Nzc1/0/#info:metadata

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. 

Falcon with a broken wing, Cyprian Norwid, 1850, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/sokol-ze-zlamanym-skrzydlem,MzkxMzc2/0/#info:metadata
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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. 

Emigrés' gathering, Cyprian Norwid, 1873, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/zebranie-emigracyjne,Mzk3MTIz/0/#info:metadata
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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. 

On the way out to visit, Cyprian Norwid, 1873, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/na-wyjsciu-z-odwiedzinami,MzkxNDky/0/#info:metadata
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A nobleman with a book, Cyprian Norwid, 1873, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/z-ksiazka-spac-do-ogrodu,MzkxNjEw/0/#info:metadata
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Capitalist, Cyprian Norwid, 1841, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/kapitalista-fotografia-rysunku-c-k-norwida,NTg0MzY5OA/0/#info:metadata
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Fancy storytelling, Cyprian Norwid, 1841/1883, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/androny-fotografia-rysunku-cypriana-kamila-norwida,NTg0MzcxOQ/0/#info:metadata
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Asking for a hand, Cyprian Norwid, 1873, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/oswiadczyny,MzkxNDcy/0/#info:metadata
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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.  

Christ on the cross, Cyprian Norwid, 1870, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/chrystus-na-krzyzu,MzkyMTY4/0/#info:metadata
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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. 

Hallelujah, Cyprian Norwid, 1841/1883, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/alleluja-fotografia-rysunku-cypriana-kamila-norwida,NzQ1OTQ3MQ/0/#info:metadata
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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... 

In the flesh (Ipse ipsum), Cyprian Norwid, 1857, Original Source: https://polona.pl/item/ipse-ipsum-1857,NjEzOTEw/0/#info:metadata
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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. 

Credits: All media
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