The Polish National Anthem

The Polish National Anthem is a song of hope. It was written by  Józef Rufin Wybicki in Italy in 1797. It was written to help general Jan Henryk Dąbrowski organize Polish Legions (Polish units serving in Napoleon’s army). He wrote it to celebrate the departure of these Polish legionaries from Reggio Italy, and this is where it was sung for the first time. By 1797, the tragic partitioning of Poland by it’s greedy and more powerful neighbors had already begun. In hopes of getting help to stand against these actions, some of the Polish Army joined up with Napoleon’s army. They fought in French campaigns outside of Poland, hoping that their involvement and contribution result in liberation of their Polish homeland. Of course, France did not succeed. But, the song caught on like wildfire and became a rallying point for polish nationalistic feelings.

The Polish National Anthem is formally known as Dąbrowski’s Mazurka, but is more commonly know by its first line,  Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła, or Poland is not yet lost. You can hear it and learn more about it here.In musical form, it is a mazurka, one of the folk musics of Poland, though the exact origins of this melody are unknown. You can get a good sense of the nationalistic fervor that this anthem entails if you take a look at the lyrics:

Poland has not perished yet
So long as we still live
That which alien force has seized
We at sabrepoint shall retrieve

March, march, Dąbrowski
From Italy to Poland
Under thy command
Let us now rejoin the nation

Cross the Vistula and Warta
And Poles we shall be
We’ve been shown by Bonaparte
Ways to victory

March, march…

Like Czarniecki to Poznań
After Swedish occupation,
To rescue our homeland
We shall return by sea

March, march…

Father, in tears
Says to his Basia
Just listen, it seems that our people
Are beating the drums

March, march…

Yes, it is tryly a song of great fervor and emotion, and I was a firsthand witness to that when I was in Poland. I was at Westerplatte on September 1st, 2010, at 04:48 AM, the exact moment 71 years earlier when World War II began (the story of this battle itself is quite moving and a story of great heroism and national determination). There was a moving ceremony there, but one of the most amazing things I experienced was this: The orchestra started playing the Polish National Anthem. Suddenly, hats were whisked off of head, to a person, and heads bowed, hands over hearts. And then the crowd gathered there began to sing. All of them. And I mean everyone. Young people, kids, teenagers, adults, old people, dignitaries–everyone. I’ve been to many an event in the US where our national anthem is played and young (and not so young) people just kind of move around in stupid apathy, hats on head, hands in pockets, looking around, waiting for the moment to pass. That was not my experience in Poland. Poland is a nation, it seems to me, where all are proud of their heritage and glad for their freedom, but respect freedom’s fragility. In the past 200+ years, Poland has lost and regained its independence a number of times. We can learn a lot from Poland. No matter what, the people of Poland had hope and confidence in the preservation of their national identity, and they have succeeded.

Poland and her history should be a lesson to all of us in the US who sometimes think that we’re so great, number one, a super power. That thinking and complacence got Poland into trouble hundreds of years ago, but the belief, patriotism, and hope of her people never wavered, never perished. Once again Poland is a great nation. We can learn lessons from her.

So, the Polish National Anthem is a song of inspiration, of determinance, of hope, of nationalism, and of confidence. It brings a tear to my eyes every time I hear it–and that means any time a family member calls my cell phone, because Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła is the ring tone I use for all my family members, and only for them.

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2 Responses to The Polish National Anthem

  1. Alicja Grabowska says:

    Leon, we’ll go there in the summer.

    Museum of the National Anthem in Będomin

    Eighteenth century manor house in Będomin, a small town near Koscierzyna, the birth place of founder Joseph Wybicki’s national anthem. Currently, it houses the world’s only museum of the National Anthem.

    In the Museum presented are two permanent exhibitions. The first, entitled “Joseph Wybicki and his epoch,” which shows the life and public work of Joseph and the background to the Wybicki “Dabrowski’s Mazurka.” Presents a historic mansion inside the Pomeranian nobility of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

    The second exhibition presents the role of “Dabrowski’s Mazurka” in maintaining the national consciousness of Poles during the partitions and their struggle to regain lost the state, from the nineteenth century until after World War II period.

    An added attraction is issued for the first time The first whole Wybicki family genealogical tree. The museum also includes a very valuable exhibits such as, National jewelry of the period of the January Uprising.

    In the summer, temporary exhibitions and sport and patriotic events are organized. For example “Dabrowski’s Mazurka Run” and “Picnic with General Joseph Wybicki” – And the historic outdoor event ” Napoleonic Batalia”.

  2. Pingback: Muzeum Hymnu Narodowego | Moja miłość do Polski

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