Polish literature is the literary tradition of Poland. Most Polish literature has been written in the Polish language, though other languages used in Poland over the centuries have also contributed to Polish literary traditions, including Latin, Yiddish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, German and Esperanto. According to Czesław Miłosz, for centuries Polish literature focused more on drama and poetic self-expression than on fiction (dominant in the English speaking world). The reasons were manifold, but mostly rested on historical circumstances of the nation. Polish writers typically have had a more profound range of choices to motivate them to write, including historical cataclysms of extraordinary violence that swept Poland (as the crossroads of Europe); but also, Poland's own collective incongruities demanding adequate reaction from the writing communities of any given period.〔Czesław Miłosz, ( ''The History of Polish Literature.'' ) Google Books preview. ''University of California Press'', Berkeley, 1983. ISBN 0-520-04477-0. 〕〔( "Experience Poland: Polish culture", ) ''"Polska" official promotional website of the Republic of Poland.'' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2008-2011.〕
The period of Polish Enlightenment began in the 1730s–40s and peaked in the second half of the 18th century. One of the leading Polish Enlightenment authors included Ignacy Krasicki (1735–1801) and Jan Potocki (1761–1815). Polish Romanticism, unlike Romanticism elsewhere in Europe, was largely a movement for independence against the foreign occupation. Early Polish Romantics were heavily influenced by other European Romantics. Notable writers included Adam Mickiewicz, Seweryn Goszczyński, Tomasz Zan and Maurycy Mochnacki. In the second period, many Polish Romantics worked abroad. Influential poets included Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki and Zygmunt Krasiński.
In the aftermath of the failed January Uprising, the new period of Polish Positivism began to advocate skepticism and the exercise of reason. The modernist period known as the Young Poland movement in visual arts, literature and music, came into being around 1890, and concluded with the Poland's return to independence (1918). Notable authors included Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer, Stanisław Przybyszewski and Jan Kasprowicz. The neo-Romantic era was exemplified by the works of Stefan Żeromski, Władysław Reymont, Gabriela Zapolska, and Stanisław Wyspiański. In 1905 Henryk Sienkiewicz received a Nobel Prize in literature for his patriotic Trilogy inspiring a new sense of hope. Literature of the Second Polish Republic (1918-1939) encompasses a short, though exceptionally dynamic period in Polish literary consciousness. The socio-political reality has changed radically with Poland's return to independence. New avant-garde writers included Tuwim, Witkacy, Gombrowicz, Miłosz, Dąbrowska and Nałkowska.
In the years of German and Soviet occupation of Poland, all artistic life was dramatically compromised. Cultural institutions were lost. Out of 1,500 clandestine publications in Poland, about 200 were devoted to literature.
Much of Polish literature written during the Occupation of Poland appeared in print only after the conclusion of World War II, including books by Nałkowska, Rudnicki, Borowski and others.〔 The situation began to worsen dramatically around 1949–1950 with the introduction of the Stalinist doctrine by minister Sokorski. Poland had three Nobel Prize winning authors in the later 20th century: Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978), Czesław Miłosz (1980) and Wisława Szymborska (1996).
Almost nothing remains of Polish literature prior to the country's Christianization in 966. Poland's pagan inhabitants certainly possessed an oral literature extending to Slavic songs, legends and beliefs, but early Christian writers did not deem it worthy of mention in the obligatory Latin, and so it has perished.〔
Within the Polish literary tradition, it is customary to include works that have dealt with Poland, even if not written by ethnic Poles. This is the case with Gallus Anonymus, the first historian to have described Poland in his work entitled ''Cronicae et gesta ducum sive principum Polonorum'' (Deeds of the Princes of the Poles), composed in sophisticated Latin. Gallus was a foreign monk who accompanied King Bolesław III Wrymouth in his return from Hungary to Poland. The important tradition of Polish historiography was continued by Wincenty Kadłubek, a thirteenth-century Bishop of Kraków, as well as Jan Długosz, a Polish priest and secretary to Bishop Zbigniew Oleśnicki.〔
The first recorded sentence in the Polish language reads: "''Day ut ia pobrusa, a ti poziwai''" ("Let me grind, and you take a rest") — a paraphrase of the Latin "''Sine, ut ego etiam molam.''" The work, in which this phrase appeared, reflects the culture of early Poland. The sentence was written within the Latin language chronicle ''Liber fundationis'' from between 1269 and 1273, a history of the Cistercian monastery in Henryków, Silesia. It was recorded by an abbot known simply as Piotr (Peter), referring to an event almost a hundred years earlier. The sentence was supposedly uttered by a Bohemian settler, Bogwal ("Bogwalus Boemus"), a subject of Bolesław the Tall, expressing compassion for his own wife who "very often stood grinding by the quern-stone." Most notable early medieval Polish works in Latin and the Old Polish language include the oldest extant manuscript of fine prose in the Polish language entitled the ''Holy Cross Sermons'', as well as the earliest Polish-language ''Bible of Queen Zofia'' and the ''Chronicle of Janko of Czarnków'' from the 14th century, not to mention the ''Puławy Psalter''.〔
Most early texts in Polish vernacular were influenced heavily by the Latin sacred literature. They include ''Bogurodzica'' (Mother of God), a hymn in praise of the Virgin Mary written down in the 15th century, though popular at least a century earlier. ''Bogurodzica'' served as a national anthem. It was one of the first texts reproduced in Polish on a printing press; and so was the ''Master Polikarp's Conversation with Death'' (Rozmowa mistrza Polikarpa ze śmiercią).〔
In the early 1470s, one of the first printing houses in Poland was set up by Kasper Straube in Kraków (see: spread of the printing press). In 1475 Kasper Elyan of Glogau (Głogów) set up a printing shop in Breslau (Wrocław), Silesia. Twenty years later, the first Cyrillic printing house was founded at Kraków by Schweipolt Fiol for Eastern Orthodox Church hierarchs. The most notable texts produced in that period include ''Saint Florian's Breviary,'' printed partially in Polish in the late 14th century; ''Statua synodalia Wratislaviensia'' (1475): a printed collection of Polish and Latin prayers; as well as Jan Długosz's ''Chronicle'' from the 15th century and his ''Catalogus archiepiscoporum Gnesnensium''.〔
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