Friday 12 June 2015


Bociany Chełmońskiego
I had a busy day, so all you're going to hear from me is about Cyprian Norwid. Yes, it's a Polski Piątek, so prepare to expand your horizons east of the Oder.

Okay, so Norwid was a tragic, poetic Polish figure who knew all the great tragic, poetic Polish figures of his day, like Mickiewicz and Chopin. Like them he travelled around a fair bit, hanging out in Rome's Caffé Greco, Paris,  London, etc.  He even emigrated to the USA, but eventually rushed back off to Europe. He was poor and unappreciated and died of TB.

Naturally when it was much too late for his earthly happiness, he was discovered by a subsequent generation that thought he was the kolana pszczoły and made a big fuss over bringing what was left of him to Kraków. If it were me, I'd rather be left in the peace and quiet of my Edinburgh cemetery instead of being dug up and shipped to Canada, just so you know.

Anyway, Norwid's poetry is of tremendous and lasting importance to Poland, and it shows up in Polish films, and Polish made-for-TV biopics of Saint John Paul II, and now my Polish class. We have begun our last topic of the school year, and it is the names of birds, beasties and bugs that populate Poland. The most important of these, from our lesson's point of view, was the BOCIAN, the white stork, and behold Norwid wrote a verse about the importance of storks for Poles, and here it is:

Do kraju tego, gdzie winą jest dużą
Popsować gniazdo na gruszy bocianie,
Bo wszystkim służą...
Tęskno mi, Panie...

It means, literally

For that country, where it is a great sin
To break the nests in the pear trees of the storks [i.e. the nests of the storks in the pear trees]
Because they [the storks] serve everyone...
I long, o Lord...

So you see in the 19th century, even hipster Polish poets were Catholics with a fine sense of the sacred. (There are some in the 21st century who do too.) But I am not sure yet how storks serve everyone, unless it's because they eat pesky vermin. They are also handy for explaining where babies come from, of course.


  1. I'm not sure if this is the right explanation for how storks serve everyone, but I'll venture it. It's a very early childhood memory from my family's 3 years in Warsaw.
    Storks, my nanny told me, often nested in the cleft between chimneys and the roofs of houses, and were said to bring good luck (including, I think, fertility) to all the inhabitants. For that reason the nests, although large and rather messy with twigs and fillers, were in those days seldom disturbed. There was supposed to be a real taboo against it. If any Polish person wants to offer a correction, I'm open to it, but do tell them that this was - ahem! - 50 years ago.

    Alias Clio

  2. My internet research suggests your nanny and memories are correct!


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