Cyprian Kamil Norwid

Portrait of Cyprian Kamil Norwid

Cyprian Kamil Norwid was a Polish poet, dramatist, painter, and sculptor. He is regarded as one of the second generation of romantic poets in that country. He was born in Gluchy, Poland on 24th September 1821 and died in Paris on 23rd May 1883 aged 61.

Major Works

“Wanda” (1851)
Poezje” (Poems) (1862)
“Krakus” (1863) 
“Milczenie” (Silence). (1882)

Biography

Cyprian Kamil Norwid was born on 24th September 1821 in Laskowo-Głuchy, near Warsaw, Poland. His father was a minor government official and a member of the minor polish nobility. 

1825: His mother dies when he is aged four.

1835: His father also dies and so Norwid and his brother Ludwik are orphaned and looked after by other members of the family. He is educated at schools in Warsaw.

1836: He enters a private art school and studies under Aleksander Kokular. From then on, he is self-taught in other subjects.

1840: The periodical “Pismiennictwo Krajowe” publishes his poem “Moj Ostatni Sonet”. His early work including a short story are praised and he tours the literary salons in Warsaw where he is seen as a “rising star”.

1841: He begins his travels through Congress (or Russian) Poland with Wladyslaw Wezyk.

1842: He receives an inheritance and a private scholarship and travels to Dresden in Germany and then on to Venice and Florence. He signs up for a sculpture course at the Accedemia di Belle Art di Firenze in Florence. His visit to Verona gives rise to the poem “W Weronie” (In Verona) which is published several years later.

1844: He settles in Rome and breaks with Kamila, his fiancé. He then travels to Berlin and attends several university lectures. He meets Maria Kalergis whom he is besotted with but both his proposals to her and her lady-in-waiting Maria Trebicka come to nothing. He refuses to join the Russian diplomatic service and has his passport taken away and then is arrested and imprisoned in Berlin for trying to cross into Russia without a passport.

1846: He is forced to leave Berlin by the authorities and moves to Brussels, Belgium.

1848: Escaping the 1848 Revolutions in many European countries he lives in Rome where he meets other polish intellectuals including Adam Mickiewicz and Zygmunt Krasinski.

1849: He moves to Paris where he meets fellow Poles Fredric Chopin and Juliusz Slowacki and attends salons given by Emma Herwegh. His sight and his hearing is beginning to fail and he is impoverished as his works are not selling. He publishes “Piesn Spoleczna” (Social Song) and writes for “Goniec Polski”, the Parisian journal in the Polish language.

1851: He writes the play “Zwolon” and a philosophical poem about the nature of art called “Promethidion”. The latter is not well received by the critics. He also puts the finishing touches to his drama “Wanda” and writes the poem “Bema Pamieci Zalobny Rapsod” (A Funeral Rhapsody in Memory of General Bem).

1852: He decides to travel to the United States in the autumn having received sponsorship from a Polish Nobleman, Wladyslaw Zamoyski.

1853: He arrives in New York City on 11th February aboard the liner “Margaret Evans”. He does a number of jobs such as a graphic designer for an album on the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London and the Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations in New York. In the autumn he hears about the Crimean War and decides to return to Europe after being disillusioned with the lack of history in the USA.

1854:  He sails to England during April with Prince Marcelli Lubomirksi and lives there for a while and then moves on to Paris where he lives an impoverished life. 

1856: His stories are collected as “Czarne Kwiaty” (Black Flowers) and “Biale Kwiaty” (White Flowers) published in the newspaper “Czas” over the next two years. 

1857: He publishes the “Quidam Przypowiesc” (Quidam: A Story)

1859: Whilst in America he had become a supporter of the abolitionist movement and he now writes two poems about John Brown “Do Obywatela Johna Brown” (To Citizen John Brown) and “Johna Brown” (John Brown).

1860: He gives six lectures on Juliusz Słowacki which are published the following year. 

1862: He publishes his poetry anthology “Poezje” (Poems) in Leipzig.

1863: He writes the play “Krakus” and follows keenly the Polish-Lithuanian uprising against the Russians, although his ill health prevents him from getting physically involved.

1865: “Fortepian Szopena” (Chopin’s Piano) has been seen as his response to the January Uprising which talks about the Russian troops throwing Chopin’s piano put of the window from the music school Norwid once attended. He also writes the play “Za Kulisami” (Behind the Scenes) but it meets with little success.

1866: He completes work on “Vade Mecum” an anthology of verse, but he cannot find a publisher.

1867: He writes the comedy “Aktor. Komediodrama” (Actor. Comedy-drama).

1869: He writes the long poem “Rzecz o Wolnosci SLowa” (A Poem About the Freedom of the Word).

1870: During the Franco-Prussian war Norwid is starving and his health further declines.

1871: He writes “Assunta” a poem about Christian love.

1872: He writes the play “Pierscien Wielkiej Damy” (The Ring of a Grand Lady), although, in common with a lot of his works it is not published or appreciated until the following century.

1877: His cousin Michal Kleczkowski pays for him to move into St Casimir’s Institute Nursing Home, run by Polish nuns, in Ivry on the edge of Paris. He is befriended by the exiled Teodor Jelowicki who provides him with some money.

1880: He writes the comedy “Milosc Czyata u Kapieli Morskich” (Pure Love at Sea Baths)

1881: He begins to write the novels “Ad Leones” and “Stygmat” (Stigmata).

1882: He writes the philosophical treatise “Milczenie” (Silence). 

1883: He writes “Tajemnica Lorda Singelworth” (The Secret of Lord Singelworth). Many of his works were not appreciated at the time due to their difficult and idiosyncratic literary style

Cyprian Kamil Norwid died on 23rd May 1883 in Paris of tuberculosis after weeks of being bedridden. The funeral costs were covered by Jełowicki and Kleczkjowski. After fifteen years he was moved to a mass grave of impoverished polish emigrants in Paris’ Montmorency Cemetery as the funds had run out. (On 24th September 2001 an urn of soil from this grave was buried in the “Crypts of the Bards in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, Poland next to fellow Polish poets Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki).

Further Information

List of books by Norwid.