The song is a lively mazurka with lyrics penned by Józef Wybicki in Reggio nell'Emilia, Cisalpine Republic (now in Italy), around 16 July 1797, two years after the Third Partition of Poland erased the once vast country from the map. It was originally meant to boost the morale of Polish soldiers serving under General Jan Henryk Dąbrowski in the Polish Legions, which were part of the French Revolutionary Army led by General Napoléon Bonaparte in its conquest of Italy. The mazurka, expressing the idea that the nation of Poland, despite lack of political independence, had not perished as long as the Polish people were still alive and fighting in its name, soon became one of the most popular patriotic songs in Poland.
The song's popularity led to a plethora of variations, sung by Polish patriots on different occasions. It also inspired other peoples struggling for independence during the 19th century. One of the songs strongly influenced by Poland Is Not Yet Lost is Hey Slavs, a former national anthem of Yugoslavia. When Poland re-emerged as an independent state in 1918, Mazurek Dąbrowskiego became its de facto anthem. It was officially adopted as the national anthem of the Republic of Poland in 1926.
The original lyrics authored by Wybicki was a poem consisting of six stanzas and a chorus repeated after all but last stanzas, all following the ABAB rhyme scheme. The official lyrics, based on a variant from 1806, show a certain departure from the original text. It misses two of the original stanzas and reverses the order of other two. Notably, the initial verse, "Poland has not yet died" was replaced with "Poland has not yet perished", suggesting a more violent cause of the nation's possible death. Wybicki's original manuscript was in the hands of his descendants until February of 1944, when it was lost in Wybicki's great-great-grandson, Johann von Roznowski's home in Charlottenburg during the Allied bombing of Berlin. The manuscript is known today only from facsimile copies, twenty four of which were made in 1886 by Edward Rożnowski, Wybicki's grandson, and donated to Polish libraries.
The main theme of the poem is the idea that was novel in the times of early nationalisms based on centralized nation-states that the lack of political sovereignty does not preclude the existence of a nation. As Adam Mickiewicz explained in 1842 to students of Slavic Literature in Paris, the song "begins with verses which are the emblem of recent history: 'Poland has not yet perished, so long as we still live'. These words mean that people who have in them what indeed constitutes nationality are able to extend the existence of their nation regardless of the political circumstances of that existence, and may even pursue its re-creation. The song also includes a call to arms and expresses the hope that, under General Dąbrowski's command, the legionaries would rejoin their nation and retrieve "what the alien force has seized" through armed struggle.
The chorus and subsequent stanzas include heart-lifting examples of military heroes, set as role models for Polish soldiers: Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, Napoléon Bonaparte, Stefan Czarniecki and Tadeusz Kościuszko. Dąbrowski, for whom the anthem is named, was a commander in the failed 1794 Kościuszko Uprising against Russia. After the Third Partition in 1795, he came to Paris to seek French aid in re-establishing Polish independence and, in 1796, he started the formation of the Polish Legions, a Polish unit of the French Revolutionary Army. Bonaparte was, at the time when the song was written, a commander of the Italian campaign of French Revolutionary Wars and Dąbrowski's superior. Having already proven his skills as a military leader, he is described in the lyrics as the one "who has shown us ways to victory." Bonaparte is the only non-Polish person mentioned by name in the Polish anthem.
Stefan Czarniecki was a 17th-century hetman (military commander), famous for his role in driving the Swedish army out of Poland after an occupation that had left the country in ruins and is remembered by Poles as the Deluge. With the outbreak of a Dano-Swedish war, he continued his fight against Sweden in Denmark, from where he "returned across the sea" to fight the invaders alongside the king who was then at the Royal Castle in Poznań. In the same castle, Józef Wybicki, started his career as a lawyer (in 1765). Kościuszko, mentioned in a stanza now missing from the anthem, became a hero of the American Revolutionary War before coming back to Poland to defend his native country from Russia in the war of 1792 and a national uprising he led in 1794. One of his major victories during the uprising was the Battle of Racławice where the result was partly due to Polish peasants armed with scythes. Alongside the scythes, the song mentioned other types of weapon, traditionally used by the Polish szlachta, or nobility: the sabre, known in Polish as szabla, and the backsword.
Basia (a female name, diminutive of Barbara) and her father are fictional characters supposed to evoke a sentimental image of women and elderly men waiting for Polish soldiers to return home and liberate their fatherland. The route that Dąbrowski and his legions hoped to follow upon leaving Italy is hinted at by the words "cross the Vistula (Polish: Wisła), cross the Warta", two major rivers flowing through the parts of Poland that were in Austrian and Prussian hands at the time.
Przejdziem Wisłę, przejdziem Wartę,
Dał nam przykład Bonaparte,
Jak zwyciężać mamy.
Jak Czarniecki do Poznania
Po szwedzkim zaborze,
Dla ojczyzny ratowania
Wrócim się przez morze.
Już tam ojciec do swej Basi
Słuchaj jeno, pono nasi
Biją w tarabany.
Father, in tears
Says to his Basia
Just listen, it seems that our people
Are beating the drums
Jak Czarniecki do Poznania
Wracał się przez morze
Dla ojczyzny ratowania
Po szwedzkim rozbiorze.
Przejdziem Wisłę, przejdziem Wartę
Dał nam przykład Bonaparte
Jak zwyciężać mamy
Niemiec, Moskal nie osiędzie,
Gdy jąwszy pałasza,
Hasłem wszystkich zgoda będzie
I ojczyzna nasza
Już tam ojciec do swej Basi
Słuchaj jeno, pono nasi
Biją w tarabany
Na to wszystkich jedne głosy
Dosyć tej niewoli
Mamy racławickie kosy
Kościuszkę Bóg pozwoli. English translation
Poland has not died yet
So long as we still live
That which alien force has seized
We at sabrepoint shall retrieve
Germans, Muscovites will not rest
When, backsword in hand
"Concord" will be our watchword
And the fatherland will be ours
Father, in tears
Says to his Basia
Just listen, it seems that our people
Are beating the drums
The composer of Mazurek Dąbrowskiego is unknown. The melody is most probably Wybicki's adaptation of a folk tune that had already been popular during the second half of the 18th century. The composition used to be erroneously attributed to Michał Kleofas Ogiński who was known to have written a march for Dąbrowski's legions. Several historians confused Ogiński's Marche pour les Légions polonaises ("March for the Polish Legions") with Wybicki's mazurka, possibly due to the mazurka's chorus "March, march, Dąbrowski", until Ogiński's sheet music for the march was discovered in 1938 and proven to be a different piece of music than Poland's national anthem.
Wojciech Sowiński was the first to arrange Mazurek Dąbrowskiego for the piano. The arrangement, accompanied by the lyrics in Polish and French, was published 1829 in Paris. The current official musical score of the national anthem was arranged by Kazimierz Sikorski and published by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Sikorski's harmonization allows for each vocal version to be performed either a cappella or together with any of the instrumental versions. Some orchestra parts, marked in the score as ad libitum, may be left out or replaced by other instruments of equivalent musical scale.
In 1795, after a prolonged decline and despite last-minute attempts at constitutional reforms and armed resistance, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was ultimately partitioned by its three neighbors: Russia, Prussia and Austria. A once vast and powerful empire was effectively erased from the map while monarchs of the partitioning powers pledged never to use the name "Poland" in their official titles. For many, including even leading representatives of the Polish Enlightenment, this new political situation meant an end of the Polish nation. In the words of Hugo Kołłątaj, a notable Polish political thinker of the time, "Poland no longer belonged to currently extant nations, while historian Tadeusz Czacki declared that Poland "was now effaced from the number of nations.
Meanwhile, Polish patriots and revolutionaries turned for help to France, Poland's traditional ally, which was at war with Austria (member of the First Coalition) at the time. Józef Wybicki was among the leading moderate émigré politicians seeking French aid in re-establishing Polish independence. In 1796, he came up with the idea of creating Polish Legions within the French Revolutionary Army. To this end, he convinced General Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, a hero of the Greater Poland campaign of the 1794 Kościuszko Uprising, to come to Paris and present the plan to the French Directory. Dąbrowski was sent by the Directory to General Napoléon Bonaparte who was then spreading the French Revolution in northern Italy. In January 1797, the newly-created French-controlled Cisalpine Republic accepted Dąbrowski's offer and a Polish legion was formed. Dąbrowski and his soldiers hoped to fight against Austria under Napoleon and, subsequently, march across the Austrian territory, "from Italy to Poland," where they would ignite a national uprising.
In early July 1797, Wybicki arrived in Reggio Emilia where the Polish Legions were then quartered and where he wrote the Song of the Polish Legions soon afterwards. He first sung it at a private meeting of Polish officers in the Legions' headquarters at the episcopal palace in Reggio. The first public performance most probably took place on 16 July 1797 during a military parade in Reggio's Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square). On 20 July, it was played again as the Legions were marching off from Reggio to Milan, the Cisalpine capital.
With its heart-lifting lyrics and folk melody, the song soon became a popular tune among Polish legionaries. On 29 August 1797, Dąbrowski already wrote to Wybicki from Bologna: "soldiers gain more and more taste for your song. It appealed to both officers, usually émigré noblemen, and simple soldiers, most of whom were Galician peasants who had been drafted into the Austrian army and captured as POWs by the French. The last stanza, referring to Kościuszko, who famously fought for freedom of the entire nation rather than the nobility alone, and the "scythes of Racławice", seems to be directed particularly at the latter. Wybicki may have even hoped for Kościuszko to arrive in Italy and personally lead the Legions which might explain why the chorus "March, march, Dąbrowski" is not repeated after the last stanza. At that time Wybicki was not yet aware that Kościuszko had already returned to Philadelphia.
The ultimate fate of the Polish Legions in Italy was different from that promised by Wybicki's song. Rather than coming back to Poland, they were exploited by the French government to quell uprisings in Italy and, later, in Haiti were they were decimated by war and disease. Polish national hopes were revived with the outbreak of a Franco-Prussian war (part of the War of the Fourth Coalition) in 1806. Napoleon called Dąbrowski and Wybicki to come back from Italy and help gather support for the French army in Polish-populated parts of Prussia. On 6 November 1806, both generals arrived in Poznań, enthusiastically greeted by locals singing Poland Is Not Yet Lost. The ensuing Greater Poland Uprising and Napoleon's victory over Russian forces at Friedland led to the creation of a French-controlled Polish puppet state known as the Duchy of Warsaw.
Poland Is Not Yet Lost was one of the most popular patriotic songs in the duchy, stopping short of becoming that entity's national anthem. Among other occasions, it was sung in Warsaw on 16 June 1807 to celebrate the battle of Friedland, in Kraków as it was liberated by Prince Józef Poniatowski on 19 July 1809, and at a ball in Warsaw on 23 December 1809, the birthday of Frederick Augustus, King of Saxony and Duke of Warsaw. On the occasion of Dąbrowski's name day on 25 December 1810 in Poznań, Dąbrowski and Wybicki led the mazurka to the tune of Poland Is Not Yet Lost. Although the melody of Wybicki's song remained unchanged and widely known, the lyrics kept changing. With the signing of a Franco-Russian alliance at Tilsit in 1807, the fourth stanza, specifically mentioning Russians as Poland's enemies, was removed. The last stanza, referring to Kościuszko, who had grown suspicious of Napoleon and refused to lend his support to the emperor's war in Poland, met the same fate.
| The blow struck with such skill, with such force unsurpassed, |
That the strings rang out boldly, like trumpets of brass,
And from them to the heavens that song wafted, cherished,
That triumphal march: Poland has never yet perished!
...March Dąbrowski to Poland! The audience entire
Clapped, and all "March Dąbrowski!" cried out as a choir.
|Adam Mickiewicz, Pan Tadeusz|
The anthem is mentioned twice in Pan Tadeusz, the Polish national epic written by Adam Mickiewicz in 1834, but set in the years 1811-1812. The author makes the first reference to the song when Tadeusz, the main protagonist, returns home and, recalling childhood memories, pulls the string of a chiming clock to hear the "old Dąbrowski's Mazurka" once again. Musical boxes and musical clocks playing the melody of Poland Is Not Yet Lost belonged to popular patriotic paraphernalia of that time. The song appears in the epic poem again when Jankiel, a Jewish dulcimerist and ardent Polish patriot, plays the mazurka in the presence of General Dąbrowski himself.
With Napoleon's defeat and the Congress of Vienna in 1815 came a century of foreign domination over Poland interspersed with occasional bursts of armed rebellion. Poland Is Not Yet Lost continued to be sung throughout that period, especially during national uprisings. During the November Uprising against Russia in 1830-1831, the song was chanted in the battlefields of Stoczek, Olszynka Grochowska and Iganie. In peacetime, Polish patriots performed it at homes, official functions and political demonstrations. New variants of the song, of various artistic value and length of life, abounded. At least 16 alternative versions were penned during the November Uprising alone. At times, Dąbrowski's name was replaced by other national heroes: from Józef Chłopicki during the November Uprising to Józef Piłsudski during the First World War to Władysław Sikorski during the Second World War. New lyrics were also written in regional dialects of Polish, from Silesia to Ermland and Masuria. A variant known as Marsz Polonii ("March Polonia") spread among Polish immigrants in the Americas.
Mass political emigration following the defeat of the November Uprising, known as the Great Emigration, brought Poland Is Not Yet Lost to Western Europe. It soon found favor from Britain to France to Germany where it was performed as a token of sympathy with the Polish cause. It was also highly esteemed in Central Europe where various, mostly Slavic, peoples struggling for their own independence, looked to the Polish anthem for inspiration. Back in Poland, however, especially in the parts under Russian and Prussian rule, it was becoming increasingly risky to sing the anthem in public. Polish patriotic songs were banned in Prussia in 1850 and from 1873 to 1911, German courts passed 44 sentences for singing such songs, 20 of which were specifically for singing Poland Is Not Yet Lost. In Russian Poland, public performance of the song often ended with a police intervention.
In the Middle Ages, the role of a national anthem was played by religious hymns. Among them were Bogurodzica ("Mother of God"), one of the oldest (11th-12th century) known literary texts in Polish, and the Latin Gaude Mater Polonia ("Rejoice, Mother Poland"), written in the 13th century to celebrate the canonization of Bishop Stanislaus of Szczepanów, the patron saint of Poland. Both were chanted on special occasions and on battlefields. The latter is sung nowadays at univesity ceremonies. During the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, several songs, both religious and secular, were written with the specific purpose of creating a new national anthem. Examples include the 16th century Latin prayer Oratio pro Republica et Rege ("Prayer for the Commonwealth and the King") by a Calvinist poet, Andrzej Trzeciński, and Hymn do miłości Ojczyzny ("Hymn to the Love of the Fatherland") written in 1744 by Prince-Bishop Ignacy Krasicki. They failed, however, to win substantial favor with the populace.
The official anthem of the Russian-controlled Congress Kingdom of Poland was Pieśń narodowa na pomyślność Króla ("National Song to the King's Well-being") written in 1816 by Alojzy Feliński and Jan Kaszewski. Initially unpopular, it evolved in the early 1860s into an important religious and patriotic hymn. The final verse, which originally begged "Save, Oh Lord, our King", was substituted with "Return us, Oh Lord, our free Fatherland" while the melody was replaced with that of a Marian hymn. The result, known today as Boże, coś Polskę ("God Save Poland"), has been sung in Polish churches ever since, with the final verse alternating between "Return..." and "Bless, Oh Lord, our free Fatherland", depending on Poland's political situation.
A national song that was particularly popular during the November Uprising was Warszawianka, originally written in French as La Varsovienne by Casimir Delavigne, with melody by Karol Kurpiński. The song praised Polish insurgents taking their ideals from the French July Revolution of 1830. A peasant rebellion against Polish nobles, which took place in western Galicia in 1846 and was encouraged by Austrian authorities who wished to thwart a new uprising attempt, moved Kornel Ujejski to write a mournful chorale entitled Z dymem pożarów ("With the Smoke of Fires"). With the music composed by Józef Nikorowicz, it became one of the most popular national songs of the time, although it declined into obscurity during the 20th century. In 1908, Maria Konopnicka and Feliks Nowowiejski created Rota ("The Oath"), an anti-German song protesting against the oppression of the German Empire's Polish population through evictions and forced assimilation. First publicly performed in 1910, during a quincentennial celebration of the Polish-Lithuanian victory over the Teutonic Knights at Grunwald, it too became one of the most treasured national Polish songs.
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