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A Melopoetic Struggle between East and West: Mickiewicz and the Popular Idiom

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Music and Literature book series (PASTMULI)


The 2018 album Mickiewicz—Stasiuk—Haydamaky by the Ukrainian folk rock band Haydamaky is a setting of ten poems by Adam Mickiewicz. The album combines recitations in Polish by the writer Andrzej Stasiuk with parts sung in Ukrainian. This chapter offers a reading of the album in light of its literary sources in Polish and Ukrainian Romanticism and of its historical context, showing a melopoetic tradition of folksong’s political force to which both Mickiewicz and Haydamaky subscribe. Mickiewicz’s Konrad Wallenrod, the source of the oriental ballad Alpuhara (track 4), builds an axis of conflict, articulated in terms of linguistic, religious and poetic genre contrasts between the German, knightly, ‘Highbrow’, Catholic ‘West’ and the oppressed, conquered, Lithuanian, Pagan ‘East’, whose priest and folk singer, the wajdelota, is presented as heir to Homer’s lyre. The Crimean Sonnets (tracks 1–3, 5, 7, 8) provide an additional layer to the East/West axis in terms of an ambiguous orientalism, eloquently re-appropriated by the Ukrainian rock band. It is my contention that Mickiewicz’s politically charged melopoesis is here recast as popular music to make a statement on Ukraine’s precarious position between East and West.


  • Romanticism
  • Melopoesis
  • Folk Rock
  • Haydamaky
  • East and West
  • Alpujarra

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-85543-7_8
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  1. 1.

    Whether this subversive strategy is effective remains doubtful. Users’ comments on the band’s YouTube videos testify that teachers now make it their pupil’s homework to watch these exact videos. See Eldo’s Stepy akermańskie which stages the whole rapped version of the opening Crimean sonnet as the pupil’s school recitation. Ironically, the teacher who is examining her pupils says ‘Adam Mickiewicz wielkim poetą był’ (‘Adam Mickiewicz—oh, what a great poet he was!’, my translation) which is a travesty of the famous scene in Ferdydurke where the teacher refers to the ‘second’ Romantic bard, Juliusz Słowacki.

  2. 2.

    In a live recording of a concert performance in Dukla (3 May 2019) of the Alpuhara ballad, Stasiuk brags that ‘Sometimes Polish teachers write to me to say that they play this song during classes dedicated to Mickiewicz’, (my translation,; accessed 21 September 2020). All remarks to musical qualities refer exclusively to the album version of the songs, which suffered a lot in live recordings.

  3. 3.

    ‘Der größte Sänger der Griechen, Homerus, ist zugleich der größte Volksdichter’ (Herder 1990, 3:320, qtd. in Billings 2011, 106; see also Krzyżanowski 1961, 320–349).

  4. 4.

    ‘Zdarzenie lub zdanie, które jest do pieśni gminnej przyjęte, jest prawdziwe i istotne, bo gdyby nie było takim, nie utrzymałoby się w ustach ludu. Ona jest przeto nieomylnym zwierciadłem prawdy […]. Każda pieśń nim się w mowie zwiąże, musi najprzód niemą swoją muzyką ozwać się w duszy. Początek poezji jest w ten sposób muzykalny’ (qtd. in Zgorzelski 1988, 44–45, my translation).

  5. 5.

    See esp. Mickiewicz 1998b, 50, lines 99–102, transl. Mickiewicz 1940, 37–38.

  6. 6.

    For more information, see Ziolkowski (2018, 139–145). It is noteworthy, that Ziolkowski uses the title of the much later Lithuanian translation (1891) instead of the original and that he consequently misspells the name of Almanzor.

  7. 7.

    ‘Wolnym rycerzom–powiadał–wolno wybierać oręże / I na polu otwartym bić się równymi siłami; / Tyś niewolnik, jedyna broń niewolników–podstępy. / Zostań jeszcze i przejmij sztuki wojenne od Niemców, / Staraj się zyskać ich ufność, dalej obaczym, co począć’ (KW, IV, 341–345). This verse, in its original diction ‘thou art a slave, and the single / Weapon of slaves is deception’ has been erased by the tsarist censor of the first edition. All editions print the censured version until 1860, when Januszkiewicz and Klaczko restore the missing verse, but in a slightly distorted version: ‘Tyś niewolnik: jedyna broń niewolników jest zdrada’ (Mickiewicz 1860, II:140). The English translation follows this distorted version (‘treason’ in lieu of ‘deception’), ignoring Bruchnalski’s 1922 edition which restituted the original (see Mickiewicz 1998b, 289–293).

  8. 8.

    The old bard is disguised Halban, but monk Halban is in fact a disguised wajdelota, so his disguise unveils his true identity by obscuring the false one.

  9. 9.

    ‘[When I fought] In the mountains of Castile / The Moors their ballads taught me’ (Mickiewicz 1925, 56; KW, IV, 631–632).

  10. 10.

    The original reads ‘Uderzył lutnię i głosem niepewnym / Szedł za dzikimi tonami Konrada, / Jako niewolnik za swym panem gniewnym’ (KW IV, 637–640).

  11. 11.

    I owe this application of the terminology used in speech act theory to the classical Mickiewiczian tension between Word and Deed (cf. Witkowska 1983) to Uffelmann (2012, 293–295).

  12. 12.

    Uffelmann emphasises that the Germans are presented as dumb (2012, 275, 279, 292). The present discussion permits to reframe his observations.

  13. 13.

    See J. Czeczot’s account Adamowe (Łucki 1924, 52).

  14. 14.

    ‘Wer den Dichter will verstehen / Muss in Dichters Lande gehen’ (cf. Goethe 1819, 241).

  15. 15.

    Terms in square brackets indicate my verbatim translation.

  16. 16.

    Izabela Kalinowska (2001) advocates the cycle’s character of a non-violent, open, intimate dialogue with the foreign Muslim culture. The cycle is not necessarily guilty of orientalism in the Saidian sense, because it was conceived in the form of a genuine, respectful dialogue with another civilisation. This is how Wiesław Rzońca (2018, 176) interprets the fact that the sonnet Widok gór ze stepów Kozłowa—in its Persian adaptation by Dzafar Topczi-Baszy—appeared in the 1826 St. Petersburg edition.

  17. 17.

    This would be the viewpoint from a ‘Ukrainian perspective’. The historical allusion is problematic on the grounds of Polish collective memory. It is nevertheless consciously deployed in Haydamaky’s music and has an actualised sociopolitical meaning, as evident in the song Babilon System, sung in Ukrainian and Polish with the band Voo Voo. The song praises the ‘world music and world Koliyivshchyna’ as ‘warriors of light’ against the ‘bloody Babilon, drunk with petroleum’ from ‘that pipe’ (Haydamaky and Voo Voo 2009, my translation).

  18. 18.

    References to this are also made in the titles of Shevchenko’s volume of poetry (Кобзарь, 1840) and Haydamaky’s album (Kobzar, 2008).

  19. 19.

    Cf. John Paul II’s aphorism ‘From the Union of Lublin to the European Union’ added spontaneously to his speech at St. Peter’s Square on 19 May 2003. The slogan, regardless of its historical accuracy, became extremely influential.

  20. 20.

    ‘Na stepie dźwięków nikt nas nie ścigał, byliśmy wolni, więc gnaliśmy od Wschodu do Zachodu, od Litwy do Morza Czarnego’ (Stasiuk and Haydamaky 2018, s. l.).

  21. 21.

    Where he went to support the Ottoman Cossack Unit created by Michał Czajkowski (Sadyk Pasha).

  22. 22.

    When it comes to the Hallelujah, the Latin alphabet becomes the only differentiating factor, because the Hebrew acclamation is present in the Eastern Liturgy no less than in the Roman.

  23. 23.

    ‘Подай же руку козакові, […] Возобновим наш тихий рай!’ (Shevchenko 1876, 2:210).

  24. 24.

    Not only in musical terms (intonation, rhythm), but in terms of poor diction and even distortion of Mickiewicz’s text.

  25. 25.

    ‘Gdzież jest król, co na rzezie tłumy te wyprawia? / Czy dzieli ich odwagę, czy pierś sam nadstawia?’ (Mickiewicz 1998a, 343).

  26. 26.

    The authors of the album use the online popular edition of Mickiewicz’s works and assume that [Pytasz, za co Bóg] is one of the so-called Lausanne lyrics, written in Lausanne 1839–1840. However, this is not accurate, as the poem is dated approx. 1833–1836 by the editors (Mickiewicz 1998a, 406). Still, it was written in the West, so if what they meant by closing the album with it was an ‘Eastern travel with a Western happy end’ they achieved their goal, regardless of this inaccuracy.

  27. 27.

    I identified fourteen settings, ranging from Maria Szymanowska’s song (1828), through various other settings including an opera aria in Wł. Żeleński’s Konrad Wallenrod (1885) as well as cantatas and simple tunes contained in popular songbooks of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Another rock setting is featured in Woźniak (2003) and seems to illustrate the Waydelota’s lute by alluding to its ‘uncertain chords’ in the guitar intro. However, no trace of the idyllic childhood tune can be found.

  28. 28.

    The chorus on track 6, the ballad The Living Dead, is sung by Iarmiola in Polish albeit bearing a heavy Ukrainian accent.

  29. 29.

    I would like to thank Jeremy Coleman and Paweł Stępień, as well as the Editors of this volume, for their helpful comments on the earlier versions of this chapter.

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Czarnecki, J. (2021). A Melopoetic Struggle between East and West: Mickiewicz and the Popular Idiom. In: Gurke, T., Winnett, S. (eds) Words, Music, and the Popular. Palgrave Studies in Music and Literature. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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