Teaching Eliza Orzeszkowa botany

When we discussed Eliza Orzeszkowa’s On the Niemen, Basia mentioned that her great-grandparents were friends of the author. We are grateful to her for sharing the photographs below.

These show Klemens and Kazimiera Kruszewski, her great-grandparents; a photograph sent to them by Orzeszkowa; Jadwiga Ostromęcka, Kazimiera’s sister, with Irena Kruszewska (Basia’s grandmother). Jadwiga’s memoirs contain an account of her relationship with Orzeszkowa and other important people. 

An entry on Klemens Kruszewski from a Polish regional encyclopedia gives some further background.

Kruszewski, Klemens (1858-1945)


Forestry engineer, graduate of the Puławski Institute.


He worked in the Bialowieza Forest at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. He was the deputy governor of the Forest at the time of Aleksander D. Kołokolcew. In 1897 he was given the task of completing the redevelopment of the Forest, led earlier by Edward E. Wallenburger.

Kruszewski lived in Białowieża with his wife, Kazimiera of Ostrołęckich. His wife’s sister, Jadwiga, a teacher, was friends with the writer Eliza Orzeszkowa. The Kruszewskis got to know the writer through Jadwiga and several times, from 1898, invited her to their home in Białowieża. Unfortunately, their home does not exist anymore (it was located in today’s Palace Park).


The Kruszewscy’s friendship was extremely valuable in developing the writer’s botanical knowledge. Klemens Kruszewski introduced the writer to the world of nature of the Białowieża Forest. She herself wrote in a letter dated August 2, 1898: “… I do not remember other such valuable, comparable occasions in my life as the two botanical trips with Mr. Kruszewski. They were long and demonstrative lessons that I could use thanks to my previous botanical amateurism … “.


Klemens Kruszewski also showed other writers around the Forest – Wacław Sieroszewski, who visited Białowieża in July 1898 and Maria Konopnicka in August 1899. He was also involved in preparatory work for the visits of Tsar Nicholas II to Bialowieza in 1897 and 1900.

Kruszewski Klemens (1858-1945)
Inżynier leśnictwa, absolwent Instytutu Puławskiego.
W Puszczy Białowieskiej pracował na przełomie XIX i XX wieku. Pełnił funkcję zastępcy zarządzającego Puszczą Białowieską, którym wówczas był Aleksander D. Kołokolcew. W 1897 roku otrzymał zadanie dokończenia prac urządzeniowych w Puszczy, prowadzonych wcześniej przez Edwarda E. Wallenburgera. Niestety K. W. Kruszewski również nie doprowadził ich do końca, choć był wybitnym fachowcem w sprawach leśnych. Puszcza Białowieska w pierwszych latach XX wieku uważana była formalnie za nie urządzoną.

  K. W. Kruszewski mieszkał w Białowieży wraz z żoną, Kazimierą z Ostrołęckich. Siostra żony, Jadwiga, która była nauczycielką, przyjaźniła się z pisarką Elizą Orzeszkową. Kruszewscy właśnie poprzez Jadwigę poznali pisarkę i kilkakrotnie, poczynając od 1898 roku, zapraszali ją do swojego domu w Białowieży. Dom ich, niestety, już nie istnieje, znajdował się na terenie dzisiejszego Parku Pałacowego.

  Znajomość Orzeszkowej z Kruszewskimi była niezwykle cenna dla rozwoju wiedzy botanicznej pisarki. W świat przyrody Puszczy Białowieskiej pisarkę wprowadzał Klemen Kruszewski. Ona sama pisała w liście z 2 sierpnia 1898 roku: „…Mało pamiętam w życiu chwil tak zajmujących, jak dwie odbyte z p. Kruszewskim wycieczki botaniczne. Były to długie i poglądowe lekcje, z których korzystać mogłam dzięki uprzedniemu amatorstwu botanicznemu…”.  

Klemens Kruszewski oprowadzał po Puszczy także innych pisarzy – Wacława Sieroszewskiego, który odwiedził Białowieżę w lipcu 1898 roku i Marię Konopnicką, goszczącą u nich w sierpniu 1899 roku. Zaangażowany był także w prace przygotowawcze do przyjęcia w Białowieży cara Mikołaja II w 1897 i 1900 roku. (oprac. Piotr Bajko)

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Polska Półka – Polish Bookshelf Project

Two videos from Polska Półka – Polish Bookshelf, which is a book gift campaign, enriching stocks of British public libraries with Polish literature written in English to commemorate 100 years since Polish regained independence and 250 years of Polish–British diplomatic relations.

The aim of Polska Półka – Polish Bookshelf is to spread knowledge about Poland in the United Kingdom by organising events around books, authors and topics of current interest in public libraries throughout the country.

The Polska Półka – Polish Bookshelf project is an initiative of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London, the Polish Cultural Institute and the Polish Book Institute in cooperation with the Polish Educational Centre Literka, the European Welfare Association and the Polish Educational Society.

See #Polska Półka and #Polish Bookshelf on Facebook and Twitter.

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Zbigniew Herbert in Scotland, 1963

Herbert Collected Holy Iona

When last year we read Zbigniew Herbert’s Collected Poems 1956–1998 I came across a single reference to Scotland, in the poem ‘The Prayer of the Traveler Mr. Cogito’ or, to give it its Polish title, ‘Modlitwa Pana Cogito – podróżnika’. Here is the relevant section in the Polish original, followed by Alissa Valles’s translation from Collected Poems.

a także Miss Helen z mglistej wysepki Mull na Hebrydach za to że przyjęła mnie po grecku i prosiła żeby w nocy zostawić w oknie wychodzącym na Holy Iona zapaloną lampę aby światła ziemi pozdrawiały się

and Miss Helen of the foggy island of Mull in the Hebrides for offering Greek hospitality and asking me to leave a lamp lit at night in the window facing Holy Iona so that the lights of earth would greet each other

The poem is taken from Herbert’s 1983 collection Raport z oblężonego Miasta / Report from a Besieged City. I was curious to know more about the time he spent in Scotland, which was in fact twenty years before this collection appeared, in autumn 1963. According to Andrzej Franaszek’s 2018 biography of Herbert, using public transport Herbert travelled north from London, stopping in Leeds, York and Durham before arriving in Scotland, where he visited Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, Oban, Mull and Glasgow, before returning via Carlisle to London.

Franaszek quotes from a postcard Herbert sent from Edinburgh on 18 October:

Wdrapałem się na górę koło Edynburga i oczywiście spadłem trochę (niegroźnie). Tak trzeba. Ziemio ty moja szkocka ukochana! Jutro jadę, ale dobrze nie wiem dokąd. Dziś w nocy narada sztabu z mapą. Jestem bardzo szczęśliwy, żeście mnie wypchnęli w świat. (…) Przede mną góry i skały, kozice i georginie. Naprzód! Hej!!!

I scrambled my way onto a mountain near Edinburgh and I fell down a little (not dangerously). Maybe a good thing. My beloved Scottish earth! I am leaving tomorrow, even though I’m not sure where I’m going. Tonight there will be a conference of the High Command over the map. I’m very glad that you pushed me out into the world. (…) Ahead of me mountains and cliffs, mountain goats and dahlias. Onwards! Hey!!!

In another postcard, sent from Inverness, he described his mixed feelings about the country: he was ‘exhausted but happy, head over heels in love with Scotland; its beauty exhilarates the tourist. But life without sex… one has to go back.’

He returned via the west coast and, finding himself in Oban, decided to cross to the nearby Isle of Mull and from cross there to Iona or, as he consistently called it, using the English adjective, Holy Iona. ‘Holy Iona, czyli kartka z podróży’ (‘Holy Iona, or a page of travel’) was written in 1966 for the West German radio station WDR, and published posthumously in the collection Mistrz z Delft (2008). Of his perspective of islands, he wrote:

Wyspy nie należą do krajobrazu mego dzieciństwa. Urodziłem się w środkowej Europie, w połowie drogi między Morzem Bałtyckim a Czarnym. Pejzaż mojej młodości to podlwowskie okolice: jary i łagodne pagórki porośnięte sosną, na której najpiękniej kwitnie pierwszy sypki śnieg. Morze było tam czymś niewyobrażalnym, a wyspy miały posmak baśni.

Islands were not part of the landscape of my childhood. I was born in Central Europe, halfway between the Baltic and the Black Sea. The landscape of my youth was the area near Lwów, crevices and gentles hills covered in pine on which the first dry snow bloomed beautifully. The sea was something unimaginable there, and islands had a scent of fairytales.

The crossing to Iona had something otherwordly about it. It was 29 October, his birthday, and the ferry was no longer sailing. The landlady of his B&B at Fionnphort phoned a local fisherman, who agreed to take Herbert on the short crossing. In his radio talk he described their meeting-place:

Zimny, wilgotny, siwy ranek. Stoję w pobliżu jetty, która jest po prostu betonową ścieżką wchodzącą w morze. Ocean jest wzburzony, wysokie fale rozbijają się na skałach urwistego brzegu. Nagle z mgły wyłania się mała łódka rybacka płynąca w moim kierunku. Było to jak podanie ręki marzeniu.

A cold, damp, gray morning. I am standing near a jetty, which is just a concrete path going into the sea… which was stormy, high waves crashing against a rocky coast. A small open boat appeared from out of the mist; it was like extending your hand to a dream.

Once on Iona, Herbert explored the recently rebuilt abbey complex. He was particularly struck by his encounter with a sculpture, Descent of the Spirit’, by the Lithuanian-born Jewish sculptor Jacques (Jacob) Lipschitz (1891–1973), who fled France for the USA in 1940.

williammarnochionaabbey2008
Photo: William Marnoch, Iona Abbey, 2008

Its inscription, in French, reads:

Jacob Lipchitz juif fidéle à la fonde ses ancêtres a fait cette vierge pour la bonne entente des hommes sur la terre afin que l’esprit régne

Jacob Lipschitz a Jew faithful to the heritage of his ancestors made this virgin for the accord of men on earth so the spirit might reign

Herbert, who had witnessed the destruction of Polish Jewry during the Second World War, appreciated the paradox of recovering signs of community in this, to him, remote place. He expressed gratitude to ‘the Jewish artist who had heard so many words of hatred and responded by reaching for the words of reconciliation’.

Herbert returned to Mull, and the Fionnphort B&B, that same day. The evening brought him the image of light which he later incorporated into the ‘Prayer’:

Po kolacji gospodyni prosiła mnie, abym postawił małą lampkę w oknie wychodzącym na Holy Iona. Taki jest zwyczaj. Nocą światła obu wysp rozmawiają ze sobą. (…) Nie wiadomo, co przyniesie przyszłość i jak długo trwać będzie rozdarcie świata. Ale dopóki w jedną bodaj noc roku światła tej ziemi będą się pozdrawiały, niecała chyba nadzieja jest pogrzebana.

After supper the landlady asked me to put a small lamp in the window overlooking Holy Iona. That is the custom. At night the lights of both islands talk to each other. (…) It is not known what the future will bring and how long it might be until the world is torn apart, but as long as one night of the year, the lights of this land will offer greetings, hope is not buried.’

*

My thanks to Robin Connelly, Grażyna Fremi, Michał Kuźmiński, Basia Macmillan and Robert Macmillan for their help in sourcing and translating material on Herbert’s trip. As well as the books mentioned above, online there is, in Polish, a useful article from 2007 by Piotr Toczynski about Herbert and Iona, and a recording of Herberttalking about Scotland (scroll down to the heading ‘Szkocja’).

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Zbigniew Herbert – sessions in Edinburgh secondary schools

In September I ran sessions on the poems of Zbigniew Herbert in four Edinburgh secondary schools (Broughton, James Gillespies, Drummond and Firrhill), working with older pupils.

Each session involved reading and discussing a Herbert poem, and a creative writing exercise which used the poem as a starting point. The poems we looked at were ‘Elegy of Fortinbras’, ‘Journey to Krakow’, ‘Prayer of the Traveller Mr Cogito’ and ‘The Russian Emigrés’. I used various activities to help them engage with the poems, including reading aloud in groups, and piecing together a poem like a jigsaw.

  

Pupils in two of the sessions gave written answers to evaluation questions, about what they felt they had learned about Poland, Zbigniew Herbert, and poetry, as well as what they’d liked, and what they’d change, about the session.

Their comments included:

  • Poland – invasion by Germany, and domination by Russia, as well as its shifting borders
  • Herbert – his time in the Home Army, and his travels to Scotland and Los Angeles
  • Poetry – poems can function without punctuation, rhyme and marked rhythm; their emotional content; a poem ‘doesn’t have to be complex and intimidating’
  • What they’d liked –interactive activities; writing using a line or lines from another text; reflections on immigration; ‘learning about a poem written by someone who is not Scottish’
  • What they’d change –include more poems; spend more – or less – time writing; less history, more biography
    One comment read – gratifyingly – ‘Polish people, more creative writing please’. We’ll do our best!

My own reflections on the sessions follow.

I had struggled to choose poems for in the sessions, in terms of finding a ‘representative’ Herbert poem; each shows as it were only one aspect of his interests. I enjoy his poems with classical references, but felt they might require too much explanation. Of the four poems I focussed on (‘Elegy of Fortinbras’, ‘Journey to Krakow’, ‘Prayer of the Traveller Mr Cogito’ and ‘The Russian Emigrés’) some background notes were needed for all of them, perhaps most of all for the first (some pupils had read Hamlet, but none recalled who Fortinbras was). It became clear in the first session that Herbert’s language was simple enough, and his ideas complex enough, to engage the pupils, even if they didn’t understand all the references and lost some nuance.

I was able to evolve new activities for engaging with poems in the classrooms: reading aloud as a group, piecing the stanzas together like a jigsaw, using 2 or 3 lines from a poem to begin writing a new text. I thought these activities helped pupils engage with the poems: to read them carefully and think about how they were structured, where the emphases lay, who these characters were and why they did what they did, and how these poems might relate to their own interests and experiences.

When I was at school it was a rarity to read any Scottish authors; perhaps the pendulum has swung so far the other way that pupils now have an appetite for non-Scottish authors, and a curiosity about authors writing not in English.

My own interest in Herbert’s work was refreshed, thanks to the pupils’ curiosity.

I’ve also written a teaching resource on Herbert’s poems, which is available to download as a pdf.

Ken Cockburn

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Zbigniew Herbert – poetry teaching resource

Celebrating the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert (1924–1998) is a new poetry resource for secondary school teachers.

Zbigniew Herbert (1924–1998) is one of the best known and most celebrated Polish poets of the 20th century. His life and work shed light on some of the major events of 20th century European history, including World War Two, the Cold War and the end of Communism in eastern Europe. Twenty years after his death, 2018 has been declared the Year of Herbert by the Polish Sejm (Parliament).

To mark the Year of Herbert, Zielony Balonik: the Scottish-Polish Book Group commissioned Ken Cockburn to write this resource for use in secondary schools. It introduces Herbert and his work to teachers and pupils in secondary schools in Scotland (and beyond). As well as a brief biography of the poet, one of his poems is presented in Polish and English translation, with ideas for using it in the classroom. Further ideas are given for working with other Herbert poems, together with a short booklist, and links to websites where his poems are available, along with background material.

A number of related public events and school sessions linked to Herbert’s work have also been arranged with the help of the Scottish Poetry Library, including sessions looking at Herbert’s poems in four Edinburgh secondary schools, which I’ve written about here.

Our thanks to those who have offered financial support for the resource and the events programme:
Polish Ex-Combatants Association in Great Britain Trust Fund;
Scottish Polish Cultural Association; 
Polish Consul General in Scotland.

The resource is designed by Emma Quinn Design.

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Wiesław Myśliwski in Strzebrzeszyn

The Strzebrzeszyn ‘Capital of Polish’ festival, now in its third year, has just created and awarded the first Man of Word accolade to none other than Wiesław Myśliwski, whose A Treatise on Shelling Beans we discussed a few months ago.

In his word of thanks, Myśliwski suggested Jan Brzechwa, the author of the delightful and wicked Chrząszcz, as his successor for the award. There is already a statue of a cricket (świerszcz, or chrząszcz) in Strzebrzeszyn but. according to Myśliwski, it’s high time the poet got one as well, if only for popularising the town as our own Shibboleth. 

Myśliwski, who is currently finishing Ucho Igielne (Eye of the Needle) which by his own admission he may never submit for publication, was astonished to be described by the literary critic Piotr Biłos as an erotic writer. He eventually agreed. He also admitted that Biłos has discovered whole new worlds in his novels which he, Myśliwski, had no idea he had created. 

One of the points raised during the festival was the apparent disappearance of the vocative from the language of polite debate. Used correctly, this case shows respect for the interlocutor and promotes a civilised exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, these days it is used mainly to hurl abuse at (perceived) political enemies, i.e. anyone who does not support the ruling party.  

The festival took place in Strzebrzeszyn, 6-12 August. Other eminent guests included Hanna Krall, Dorota Masłowska, Szczepan Twardoch, Wit Szostak, Marcin Podolec, Urszula Kozioł and Rev. Adam Boniecki.

Ewa Sharwood Smith,  Wyborcza, 10 August 2017

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