Contributor: Małgorzata Wichowska
Location: Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature, Warsaw, Poland
Description: This tie pin is part of the Mickiewicz Collection, the most important collection in Warsaw’s Museum of Literature, itself named after the poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), a founding figure in Polish Romanticism. The historical-literary museum’s mission is to gather manuscripts, books, works of art, photographs, and mementos relating to Poland’s diverse literary and artistic heritage of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Made of gold, the tie pin is in the form of a four-stringed classical lyre, decorated with diamonds set in silver. Tradition has it that the tie pin was a gift from the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) to Adam Mickiewicz.
Mickiewicz, convicted in the trial of the Vilnius Philomath Society and exiled to distant provinces of the Russian Empire, spent four and a half years in Pushkin’s homeland between November 1824 and May 1829. The two poets met in Moscow in mid-October 1826, some time after the arrival of Pushkin, who had been staying under police surveillance in his own estate far from the capital but had recently been summoned to Moscow by the Tsar Nicolas I, who pardoned him and became his personal censor. The poets met frequently through mutual friends, for example in the aristocratic salons of Prince Piotr Wiaziemski, Zinaida Wołkońska, and the celebrated Polish pianist Maria Szymanowska, the mother of Mickiewicz’s future wife. In March 1827 Mickiewicz wrote to his friend Edward Odyniec: “[…] Pushkin is almost the same age as me (two months younger), full of humour and riveting in conversation; he has read a lot and has a good knowledge of modern literature, he has a pure and lofty idea of poetry”. The admiration was mutual; Pushkin knew Mickiewicz’s work well and is reported to have said: “Of all the Poles, only Mickiewicz interests me …” Both also valued the work of Byron: Mickiewicz presented Pushkin with a copy of The Works of Lord Byron Complete in One Volume (Frankfurt 1826), inscribed “Byron presented to Pushkin by A. Mickiewicz, an admirer of them both.”
Amongst the family mementos in the Museum of Literature’s Mickiewicz collection there are several gifts from the Russian poet to Mickiewicz: a small lapis-lazuli bottle, a little walnut box, and this beautiful, precious, tie-pin in the shape of a classical lyre. The lyre is both a symbol of art, music, poetry and beauty as the instrument of the gods and muses, and of harmony, love and friendship. Hence this motif was popular in jewellery expressing emotion and feelings. It appears quite frequently in the first quarter of the nineteenth century as an element in breastpins, or pins for the cravat or hairpins. Pushkin could certainly afford such a valuable trinket. Considering its symbolic meaning and emotional weight, making a gift of it was a gesture that stemmed from a deep need to express his acknowledgement of, and friendship for, Mickiewicz.
We do not know the circumstances of that gesture, as there are no accounts by witnesses or the poets themselves. It may have occurred after Mickiewicz arrived in St. Petersburg in December 1827. In St. Petersburg the poets became close. They visited restaurants together, and went for walks; on out-of-town excursions they visited the country residences and salons of mutual friends, where they played charades and discussed literature in a relaxed atmosphere – though never politics, for there were many informants around. They read their works, and Mickiewicz improvised verse. These improvisations were a society sensation and he would be remembered as a poet who was pleasant, modest, wise – but above all, inspired. Pushkin – whom his friends thought sensitive and honest though often excitable and unpredictable – did not have this skill. Fascinated by artistic inspiration and the phenomenon of improvisation, he was enraptured by Mickiewicz’s performances. In Pushkin’s memory, as he wrote in his poem “He Lived Among Us”, the Polish poet was “inspired from on high”, at one with the very nature of poetry, imagination, inspiration. Before leaving Russia (partly thanks to the efforts of Pushkin and his friends), in March 1829 Mickiewicz came to Moscow to say goodbye to his friends, and he met Pushkin for the last time.
The two poets would, however, continue to inform each other’s imaginations and careers. Tragic events affected their subsequent relationship: the November Uprising and the Polish-Russian War of 1830-31. Believing in Russian imperial power, Pushkin did not support Polish ambitions and actions for independence. Though he assumed that “poetry should have no goal but itself”, he wrote two poems in defence of Russian power, Oszczercom Rosji [“To the Slanderers of Russia”] in 1831 and Rocznica Borodino [“The Anniversary of Borodino”] after the fall of Warsaw. Mickiewicz became acquainted with these works when he was in Dresden writing Dziady [Forefathers’ Eve]. In his poem Do przyjaciół Moskali [“To My Friends the Muscovites”] he accused Russian poets (without naming them) of betraying Decembrist ideals and of subservience to the Tsar. Pushkin entered into an open polemic with him in his poem Jeździec miedziany [“The Bronze Horseman”]. Whereas Mickiewicz discerned a nightmarish, despotic quality in this icon of St. Petersburg, the capital of the tsars, Pushkin saw it as the symbol of imperial power, a source of pride.
Yet the Russian poet would present Mickiewicz in his verse novel Eugene Onegin (1825-1832) as an inspired bard, dwelling in the sacred land of imagination but linked in thought to a lost homeland, a depiction alluding to Walenty Wańkowicz’s famous portrait of Mickiewicz, “Adam Mickiewicz na Judahu skale” [“On the Rock of Judah”] (1828) where Mickiewicz poses Byronically, deep in thought against a rocky hillside. For his part, after Pushkin’s death in a duel in 1837, Mickiewicz allegedly said: “We were divided by politics but united by poetry.” Mickiewicz wrote an obituary essay, signed “Pushkin’s Friend”, in which he stressed the immensity of the loss: “a terrible blow to intellectual Russia”.
Date: the first quarter of the nineteenth century
Creator: unknown (Russian probably)
Subject: Adam Mickiewicz, Alexander Pushkin
Media rights: photo by Anna Kowalska, Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature, Warsaw
Object type: jewellery
Format : gold, silver, diamonds
Publisher: Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature, Warsaw
Catalogue number: ML.R.418
Gomolicki, Leon. Dziennik pobytu Adama Mickiewicza w Rosji 1824-1829 [Diary of Adam Mickiewicz’s Stay In Russia]. Warszawa 1949.
Łanda,Siemion. Rosja: dramat dziejowy Adama Mickiewicza [Russia: The Historical Drama of Adam Mickiewicz (typescript)
Mickiewicz. Puszkin. Dwa spojrzenia Informator o wystawie, Muzeum Literatury im. Adama Mickiewicza, [Mickiewicz. Pushkin. Two Visions. Exhibition Catalogue]. Warszawa 1998.
Scholarly consultant: Anna Saratowicz-Dudynska, Centre for Art, Warsaw Royal Castle
For a specially commissioned soundscape inspired by this exhibit, see below.
Composed by Lara Poe. Performed by Elizaveta Tyun.
To play the video of the complete suite, ‘Romantic Sounds’, click here.