Adam Mickiewicz: a naive or sentimental poet?

Marysia Dzienduszycka, Columbia University

The paper proposes a re-examination of the image of the Polish Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz in Pushkin's works.

In several of Pushkin's poetic works as well as in his letters and memoirs of his contemporaries who recorded his opinions about Adam Mickiewicz during the Polish poets stay in Russia (1824-1829), Mickiewicz emerges as an example of a poet-bard ("pevets") who possesses a natural, divine poetic gift and spontaneously creates his verses. Moreover, the image of Mickiewicz in the eyes of Pushkin is almost identical to that of Ovid, another example of a poet of the naive but refined culture, a simple and humble poetic genius. Pushkin juxtaposes the images of poets like Mickiewicz and Ovid over himself and other Romantic poets like Byron, who represent the opposite mode of poetic creation: a poet-prophet ("prorok") acutely aware of the discrepancy between the world and himself, a reflective mind that always strives for an ideal perfection in his work whilst knowing that he will never achieve it.

Pushkin's juxtaposition of poet-bard vs. poet-prophet (Gasparov: 211) follows Friedrich Schiller's system of the naive and sentimental categories of poets set out in his essay On the Naive and Sentimental in Literature. According to Schiller a naive poet is one whose character and poetic works are harmonious reflection of nature (a prime example of a naive is Schiller's contemporary Goethe, as well as ancient poets such as Homer); a sentimental poet (Schiller himself and among many other, ancient Horace), lives separated from nature and tries to recreate nature in his art. Pushkin "pevets" corresponds to Schiller's naive, while "prorok" represents the sentimental.

The examination of Schiller's text however, reveals that the author of the naive and sentimental system himself classified Ovid as an example of the sentimental poet (Schiller: 35, 49). It would follow than that Mickiewicz, whose image so closely resembles that of Ovid in Pushkin's works, should also be considered a sentimental poet.

This contradiction between the classification of Ovid, and consequently Mickiewicz, by Schiller and Pushkin suggests that the Polish poet can be simultaneously viewed as both, a naive and sentimental poet, or that perhaps Pushkin uses Schiller's categories in reverse. The paper however, following Schiller's theory, proposes to look at the image of Mickiewicz as a synthesis of the naive and sentimental. Schiller claims that the sentimental is not in itself the opposite of the naive but is produced by a union of the naive with its opposite, the reflective understanding. Thus the sentimental corresponds to the ideal, in which a perfect art returns to nature. Therefore paradoxically, only by being sentimental can the modern poet Mickiewicz regain his naivite. Such a synthesis would also remove the opposites "prorok" and "pevets" created by Pushkin between himself and his fellow Romantic poet Mickiewicz. In fact both Pushkin and Mickiewicz strove to achieve the same ideal of the naive.