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On 27 June 1890, as a delegation of dignitaries from Poland, a handful of émigrés, and surviving members of Mickiewicz’s family looked on, the poet’s remains were disinterred in preparation for their translation to Poland. Upon opening the coffin, the gravediggers found a covering of rotten grass..., which [they] began to rake away with pitchforks and to place into wheelbarrows. After two or three more clumps of soppy grass were moved, a pair of shoes appeared and then the skull...and the remains, which were difficult to examine satisfactorily on account of the herbs sticking to them. They were moved in this state to a metal casket with the greatest of care. As they were being lifted, the shoes fell off and the skull slipped. They were laid [in the new casket] in the same position as they had been found, covered with ash, and bespread with flowers. Among the herbs, the workers also came across “a metal figurine of Christ, from a cross, apparently, with its right arm broken off, as well as a rusty copper coin...and a white porcelain button, which objects Władysław Mickiewicz kept as mementos.” With the transferal completed, the gravediggers immediately set to cutting up the original zinc coffin into little pieces, to sell, like so many holy relics, as souvenirs at what for Poles would be one of the most momentous events of the century.2 1 Much had changed in the thirty-five years following Mickiewicz’s death. What had not was Poland’s predicament. The efforts the Hôtel Lambert had invested in what has since come to be known as the Crimean War proved but an irritant in the face of the Great Powers’ postscript For they will open Your grave yet again, And proclaim Your achievements in a different way, Ashamed of the tears they shed today, They will shed tears to the power of two... —Cyprian Norwid1 464 adam mickiewicz desire for stability. The Peace Congress of Paris, concluded in March 1856, in effect restored the post-Vienna order, and at the same time disposed of the Polish emigration once and for all as a factor to be reckoned with, if it ever really was. Seven years later, the January Uprising of 1863 in Russian Poland, bloodier and more futile than those that preceded it, sealed its fate. Although largely a home-grown affair, it was nonetheless the work of a generation brought up on the ideals of the Great Emigration, on romantic poetry, messianism, conspiracies,andaconcomitantwillingnesstosacrificeblood,ifonlyforthesakeofdemonstrating the will to exist. With nothing to show for it, however, but yet another crop of martyrs and repression even more brutal than before, the insurrection left the nation exhausted, and questioning the romantic politics that had precipitated the disaster. For the next two decades, as the focus of Polish national life shifted back to the homeland, Poles in all three partitions settled into a state of unwilling acquiescence, turning inward and pinning their hopesofsurvivalon“sensible”cooperationwiththepartitioningpowerswhilecontinuingto test, whenever possible, the policies put in place to demoralize them. In this uneven contest, inwhichculturalartifacts,perforce,functionedassimulacrafornationalinstitutions,thefigure of Adam Mickiewicz, domesticated and adapted to the new environment, came to serve Poles as a constant point of reference—the nation’s wieszcz, the first and the greatest, whose life and works at once shaped and embodied the ethos of modern Poland. The idea of transferring Mickiewicz’s remains to Poland first surfaced as a possibility after 1866, and was guided as much by political realities as by the potential for a symbolic statement. Whereas in dealing with his Polish population Bismarck had settled on a campaign of expulsion and deracination, and tsarist Russia continued to suppress ruthlessly any untoward expressions of national sentiment in its Polish provinces, Austria had opted for extending a measure of autonomy to its (Galician) portion of the old Commonwealth. Polish national identity was allowed to flourish, together with limited self-rule, in return for the loyalty of the land’s conservative aristocracy to the Habsburg throne. Were Mickiewicz ’s “bones” to indeed find “a grave...in [his] land” (“Pilgrim’s Litany”; Dz. 5:62), from a practical perspective Cracow was the only option. With its medieval royal castle and cathedral on Wawel Hill as seemingly indestructible reminders of Poland’s independence , its symbolic function as the nation’s old capital was indisputable. That the poet had never set foot in the Galician city...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780801460524
Related ISBN
9780801444715
MARC Record
OCLC
726824365
Pages
568
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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