Biography
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

Biography
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, wydawnictwo@instytutliteratury.eu
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

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Urszula Honek
Honek
Radek Rak
Agla
Mariusz Staniszewski
Staniszewski_Kartel
Paweł Rzewuski
Adriana Szymańska
Kazimierz Orłoś
Orlos
Rafał Wojasiński
Tefil
Antonina Grzegorzewska
Grzegorzewska_drama
Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz_Sprawa
Tobiasz Piątkowski, Marek Oleksicki
Piatkowski_Oleksicki_Ekspozytura
Daniel Odija
Bronisław Wildstein
Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz_Droga
Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz_Bunt-rojstow
Witold Szabłowski
Szablowski_Rosja-od-kuchni
Andrzej Muszyński
Muszynski_Dom-ojcow
Wiesław Helak
Helak
Bartosz Jastrzębski
Jastrzebski_Dies-irae
Dariusz Sośnicki
Sośnicki_Po-domu
Łukasz Orbitowski
Orbitowski_chodz
Jakub Małecki
Malecki_SO
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
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

69

Marta Kwaśnicka
Piotr Mitzner
Paweł Sołtys
Wacław Holewiński
Anna Potyra
Wiesław Helak
Urszula Zajączkowska
Marek Stokowski
Stokowski
Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
HKD
Jakub Małecki
Malecki_Horyzont
Łukasz Orbitowski
Orbitowski
Małgorzata Rejmer
Rejmer
Rafał Wojasiński
Olanda
Wojciech Kudyba
Kudyba
Włodzimierz Bolecki
Bolecki
Jerzy Liebert
Liebert
Wojciech Zembaty
Zembaty
Wojciech Chmielarz
Chmielarz
Bogdan Musiał
Musiał
Joanna Siedlecka
Siedlecka
Krzysztof Tyszka-Drozdowski
Drozdowski
Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz
Marek Bieńczyk
Bienczyk
Leszek Elektorowicz
Elektorowicz
Adrian Sinkowski
Sinkowski
Szymon Babuchowski
Babuchowski
Lech Majewski
Majewski
Weronika Murek
Murek
Agnieszka Świętek
Swietek
Stanisław Szukalski
Barbara Klicka
Klicka
Anna Kamińska

She climbed her first peaks in a headscarf at a time when women in the mountains were treated by climbers as an additional backpack. It was with her that female alpinism began! She gained recognition in a spectacular way. The path was considered a crossing for madmen. Especially since the tragic accident in 1929, preserved … Continue reading “Halina”

Wojciech Chmielarz

First, Marysia, a student of an exclusive private school in Warsaw’s Mokotów district, dies under the wheels of a train. Her teacher, Elżbieta, tries to find out what really happened. She starts a private investigation only soon to perish herself. But her body disappears, and the only people who have seen anything are Gniewomir, a … Continue reading “Wound”

Anna Kańtoch

A young girl, Regina Wieczorek, was found dead on the beach. She was nineteen years old and had no enemies. Fortunately, the culprit was quickly found. At least, that’s what the militia think. Meanwhile, one day in November, Jan Kowalski appears at the police station. He claims to have killed not only Regina but also … Continue reading “Penance”

Marek Krajewski

The year is 1922. A dangerous time of breakthrough. In the Eastern Borderlands of the Republic of Poland, Bolshevik gangs sow terror, leaving behind the corpses of men and disgraced women. A ruthless secret intelligence race takes place between the Lviv-Warsaw-Free City of Gdańsk line. Lviv investigator Edward Popielski, called Łysy (“Hairless”), receives an offer … Continue reading “A Girl with Four Fingers”

Ks. Tomasz Stępień

This question is closely related to the next one, namely: if any goal exists, does life lead us to that goal in an orderly manner? In other words, is everything that happens to us just a set of chaotic events that, combined together, do not form a whole? To understand how the concept of providence … Continue reading “Order and Love”

Jakub Małecki
Szczepan Twardoch
Wiesław Helak
Maria Wilczek-Krupa
Anna Kańtoch
Rafał Kosik
Paweł Sołtys
Dorota Masłowska
Wiesław Myśliwski
Martyna Bunda
Olga Tokarczuk
Various authors
Mariola Kruszewska
Waldemar Bawołek
Marek Oleksicki, Tobiasz Piątkowski
Wojciech Tomczyk
Urszula Zajączkowska
Marzanna Bogumiła Kielar
Ks. Robert Skrzypczak
Bronisław Wildstein
Anna Bikont
Magdalena Grzebałkowska
Wojciech Orliński
Klementyna Suchanow
Andrzej Franaszek
Natalia Budzyńska
Marian Sworzeń
Aleksandra Wójcik, Maciej Zdziarski
Józef Łobodowski

The work of Józef Łobodowski (1909-1988) – a remarkable poet, prose writer, and translator, who spent most of his life in exile – is slowly being revived in Poland. Łobodowski’s brilliant three- volume novel, composed on an epic scale, concerns the fate of families and orphans unmoored by the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war and … Continue reading “Ukrainian Trilogy: Thickets, The Settlement, The Way Back”

Piotr Zaremba
Wacław Holewiński
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