Wojciech Wencel
Jan Lechoń: Knight and Faun

Armed with knowledge and empathy, Wencel guides us through the labyrinth of Lechoń’s life and work

To live up to sanctity, one must first become a saint. As we follow Leszek Serafinowicz’s life story, it is hard to resist the impression that these were the stakes of his internal struggle. Perhaps the psychasthenia-afflicted poet was ultimately too weak and too mortal to defeat his inner demons, but he never renounced classical beauty, in which he perceived a reflection of God.

Certain parts of this biography are obscured, entwined in the vines of falsehoods, half-truths, illusions, phantasms and dreams. Other parts are illuminated with the blinding light of the sacred, expressed in Polishness and poetry, and ultimately through religion. Finally, there is the man himself: hot or cold, but never lukewarm.

Lechoń was never alone on the stage where his drama played out. He was accompanied by angels: those loyal to the Creator, and the fallen angels – career litigants. To some extent, he himself was not of this world. He resembled a seraph-become-human whose incarnation was never complete. As Lechoń wrote in his diaries, “[…] I had always felt as if I had fallen to Earth from another planet. Despite all my sensations of reality, I truly am Jean Lechoń de la lune [French: Jan Lechoń from the Moon” (Dziennik II, p. 230).

If, at the Last Judgment, the author of Marble and the Rose were to be judged according to the law, the outcome would likely resemble that of the test he took to receive American citizenship: denunciation and, in the best case, termination of the proceedings. But he believed in mercy. Two weeks after the poet’s New York funeral, the Polish primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, under house arrest in Komańcza, wrote to Zygmunt Serafinowicz:

“I have said holy mass for the poet Jan Lechoń, and I calmly trust that the Good Lord will increase his fortunes sevenfold, as he did for Job. After all, he once allowed a foe to strike Job’s body, but gave him no right to his soul. Let us trust that his soul escaped the terrible ordeal of life with a longing for the True Father”.

Most poets leave nothing to future generations but their works and polished biographies. But there are also those who, after their death, become heroes of the collective consciousness. Stanisław Baliński was right in predicting that “Lechoń, his wonderful poems, the vicissitudes of his life, and his love of Poland would give rise to a legend […].” The legend typically centres around the poet’s various personal dramas, but its fullest version assumes a social dimension. It is the story of the angelic, militant and creative Poland that Lechoń carried inside him on the roads of exile. His tragic death essentially marked the end of the “indomitable” émigré milieu, the last bastion of the Second Polish Republic, but his ideals never lost a bit of their brilliance. “Was he the last Romantic?” Jan Fryling mused in 1957. “Or should we think of him as the John the Baptist of a new Romanticism, one who will assuredly emerge like a blue island from sea of blood mixed with mud.”

Matarnia, 8 June 2021

Excerpt translated by Arthur Barys

Wojciech Wencel
Jan Lechoń: Knight and Faun

Armed with knowledge and empathy, Wencel guides us through the labyrinth of Lechoń’s life and work

Publisher: Instytut Literatury, Kraków 2022
Translation rights: Instytut Literatury,
Foreign language translations: Wojciech Wencel’s poetry collections have been published in Russia and Ukraine. His poems have also been translated into Czech, German, Spanish, and Serbian (published in anthologies). Wierzyński: Sense Beyond Catastrophe. A Biography of the Poet was published in English in 2021.

Following his biography of Kazimierz Wierzyński, Wierzyński. Sens ponad klęską [Wierzyński: Meaning Beyond Defeat], Wencel has written a book about Jan Lechoń (1899–1956), arguably the pre-eminent Polish poet of the twentieth century. The cover features Jacek Malczewski’s painting Knight and Faun (1909). It is also the title of the book, and a superb allegory of Lechoń’s life: the two faces of a bifurcated man; a warrior and advocate for a free Poland who fears being held responsible for his words, and a buffoon who seeks escape in carnal pleasures.

Lechoń was a child prodigy. As a boy, he read everything he could find in his family library: mostly poetry by Mickiewicz and Słowacki, and plays by Wyspiański. At the age of six, inspired by the events of the 1905 Revolution, he wrote a poem titled “God Save Poland”. At twelve he authored his first volume of poetry. He penned the first poem published in the 1920 collection The Crimson Poem at seventeen. Lechoń was hailed as the greatest literary phenomenon of post-independence Poland. The price of his success was deteriorating health: he began to suffer from psychasthenia, the crippling fear of never being able to write another poem. This was followed by suicide attempts, psychotherapy and a change of setting. He got better. He wrote satirical political sketches, frequented the Ziemiańska café, and became increasingly involved in politics. During his stint as a diplomat (1930–1940), Lechoń rubbed elbows with the leading figures of Paris’s intellectual circles. France’s military defeat and the poet’s subsequent emigration returned him, paradoxically, to the world of literature.

Armed with knowledge and empathy, Wencel guides us through the labyrinth of Lechoń’s life and work. He does not gloss over the ups and downs of the poet’s dramatic life, which ended in suicide in New York. Though he analyses dozens of poems, essays, speeches, letters and diary entries, he never bores the reader. Written in beautiful, lucid Polish, the book is a pleasure to read in a single sitting.

Jerzy Gizella

Translated by Arthur Barys

Selected samples

Julita Deluga
Wojtek Wawszczyk, Tomasz Leśniak
Anna Kańtoch
Andrzej Bobkowski
Wisława Szymborska
Zdzisław Kranodębski
Andrzej Nowak
Wiesław Myśliwski
Jarosław Jakubowski
Anna Piwkowska
Roman Honet
Miłosz Biedrzycki
Wojciech Chmielewski
Aleksandra Majdzińska
Tomasz Różycki
Maciej Hen
Jakub Nowak
Elżbieta Cherezińska
歐菈·沃丹斯卡-波欽斯卡(Ola Woldańska-Płocińska)
作者:沃伊切赫·維德瓦克(Wojciech Widłak), 插圖:亞歷珊德拉·克珊諾夫斯卡(Aleksandra Krzanowska)
文字:莫妮卡·烏特尼-斯特魯加瓦(Monika Utnik-Strugała), 概念和插圖:皮歐特·索哈(Piotr Socha)
作者:亞格涅絲卡·斯特爾馬什克(Agnieszka Stelmaszyk)
尤安娜·日斯卡(Joanna Rzyska)、阿嘉妲·杜德克(Agata Dudek)、瑪格熱妲·諾瓦克(Małgorzata Nowak) Druganoga出版社,華沙2021
艾麗莎·皮歐特夫斯卡(Eliza Piotrowska)
米科瓦伊·帕辛斯基(Mikołaj Pasiński)、瑪格熱妲·赫爾巴(Gosia Herba)
歐菈·沃丹斯卡-波欽斯卡(Ola Woldańska-Płocińska)
瑪麗安娜·奧克雷亞克(Marianna Oklejak)
拉法爾·科希克(Rafał Kosik)
亞歷珊德拉·沃丹斯卡-波欽斯卡(Aleksandra Woldańska-Płocińska)
巴托米耶·伊格納邱克(Bartłomiej Ignaciuk), 阿嘉塔·洛特-伊格納邱克(Agata Loth-Ignaciuk)
文字和插圖:皮歐特·卡爾斯基(Piotr Karski)
文字和插圖:皮歐特·卡爾斯基(Piotr Karski)
羅珊娜·延澤耶夫斯卡-弗魯貝爾 (Roksana Jędrzejewska-Wróbel)
作者:普舎米斯瓦夫·維赫特洛維奇(Przemysław Wechterowicz) 插圖:艾米莉·吉烏巴克(Emilia Dziubak)
尤斯提娜·貝納雷(Justyna Bednarek) 插圖:丹尼爾·德拉圖爾(Daniel De Latour)
尤安娜·巴托西克(Joanna Bartosik)
瑪格熱妲·斯文多夫斯卡(Małgorzata Swędrowska)、尤安娜·巴托西克(Joanna Bartosik)
Jan Kochanowski
Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz
Olga Tokarczuk
Władysław Stanisław Reymont
An Ancient Tale
Stanisław Rembek
Elżbieta Cherezińska
Henryk Sienkiewicz
Maria Dąbrowska
Stefan Żeromski
Bronisław Wildstein
Zbigniew Herbert / Wisława Szymborska
Karol Wojtyła
Wiesław Myśliwski
Czesław Miłosz
Anna Świrszczyńska / Melchior Wańkowicz
Tadeusz Borowski / Gustaw Herling-Grudziński
Wiesław Helak
Góra Tabor
Adriana Szymańska
Paweł Rzewuski
Mariusz Staniszewski
Radek Rak
Urszula Honek
Kazimierz Orłoś
Rafał Wojasiński
Antonina Grzegorzewska
Józef Mackiewicz
Tobiasz Piątkowski, Marek Oleksicki
Daniel Odija
Bronisław Wildstein
Józef Mackiewicz
Józef Mackiewicz
Witold Szabłowski
Andrzej Muszyński
Wiesław Helak
Bartosz Jastrzębski
Dariusz Sośnicki
Łukasz Orbitowski
Jakub Małecki
אנדז'יי ספקובסקי
Elżbieta Cherezińska
Wiesław Myśliwski
Jakub Małecki
Aleksandra Lipczak
Jacek Dukaj
Wit Szostak
Bartosz Biedrzycki
Zyta Rudzka
Maciej Płaza
Wojciech Chmielewski
Paweł Huelle
Przemysław "Trust" Truściński
Angelika Kuźniak
Wojciech Kudyba
Michał Protasiuk
Stanisław Rembek
Krzysztof Karasek
Elżbieta Isakiewicz
Artur Daniel Liskowacki
Jarosław Jakubowski
Zbigniew Stawrowski
Szczepan Twardoch
Wojciech Chmielarz
Robert Małecki
Zygmunt Miłoszewski
Anna Piwkowska
Dominika Słowik
Wojciech Chmielewski
Barbara Banaś
Rafał Mikołajczyk
Jerzy Szymik
Waldemar Bawołek
Julia Fiedorczuk
Jakub Szamałek
Witold Szabłowski
Jacek Dukaj
Grzegorz Górny, Janusz Rosikoń
Paweł Piechnik
Andrzej Strumiłło


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Piotr Mitzner
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Wacław Holewiński
Anna Potyra
Wiesław Helak
Urszula Zajączkowska
Marek Stokowski
Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
Jakub Małecki
Łukasz Orbitowski
Małgorzata Rejmer
Rafał Wojasiński
Wojciech Kudyba
Włodzimierz Bolecki
Jerzy Liebert
Wojciech Zembaty
Wojciech Chmielarz
Bogdan Musiał
Joanna Siedlecka
Krzysztof Tyszka-Drozdowski
Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz
Marek Bieńczyk
Leszek Elektorowicz
Adrian Sinkowski
Szymon Babuchowski
Lech Majewski
Weronika Murek
Agnieszka Świętek
Stanisław Szukalski
Barbara Klicka
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Dorota Masłowska
Wiesław Myśliwski
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Olga Tokarczuk
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Marek Oleksicki, Tobiasz Piątkowski
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Ks. Robert Skrzypczak
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Anna Bikont
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Wojciech Orliński
Klementyna Suchanow
Andrzej Franaszek
Natalia Budzyńska
Marian Sworzeń
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