Forefathers’ Eve, Part II by Adam Mickiewicz – Preface

February 24, 2009


This is a loose and shortened translation of Adam Mickiewicz’s drama Forefathers’ Eve, Part II.According to George Sand and George Brandes Forefathers’ Eve was the greatest realisation of the Romantic drama theory, among such works as Faust by Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Manfred by George Gordon Byron

The original is written in the elegant thirteen syllables rhyme used by Polish romanticists. I didn’t even attempt imitating it, the translation reflects only on the content. Similarly, I didn’t use the play writing manner of marking who speaks before each sentence. I transformed it into prose instead. It is far from perfect, but to my knowledge no other English translation is available.

Forefathers’ Eve, Dziady in Polish, is a kind of feast performed on the eve of All Saints’. Its equivalent in the Western world is Halloween that is stripped of its original spiritual dimension. Since Poland has always been a multireligious country some pagan traditions were never suppressed, merging with Christianity instead. Forefathers’ Eve was especially popular in the eastern parts of the Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth. Today this region is in Belarus, where the tradition is still alive. The people who perform the rites in Mickiewicz’s rendition are Greek-Catholics.

Here’s a fragment from the introduction to “Forefathers’ Eve, Part II”:

Forefathers’ Eve is a celebration performed among plebs in many parts of Lithuania, Prussia and Courland, memorialising forefathers – the dead ancestors. This festivity goes back to the pagan times, and was once called the feast of a goat, led by a shaman – a priest and a poet in one.

Today, since the enlightened priesthood and landowners strove to put an end to the pagan practices, the plebs celebrate Forefathers’ Eve in secret in chapels or abandoned houses in the area of cemeteries. A feast composed of choice meals and beverages is prepared, and the souls of the dead are called. Interestingly, the custom of offering food to the dead seems to be common to all the pagan people in ancient Greece, in the Homeric times, in Scandinavia, in the East, and till now on the islands of the New World. Our Forefathers’ Eve is peculiar in that the pagan rites became mixed with the image of Christian religion, especially that the day of All Souls is celebrated together with the festivities. The plebs believes that with food and drink they bring relief to the souls in Purgatory.

Adam Mickiewicz, Forefathers’ Eve, 1823-32

Parts I, II, and IV were influenced by Byron, and are perhaps the most similar to the Gothic style in English literature within the Polish romantic writing.

At the end I added annotations mixed with elements of Mickiewicz’s biography, his views, some people from his acquaintance, including Margaret Fuller, and his feminist attitude.

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