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Jan Kochanowski
Translated by Seamus Heaney
Date Published
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Jan Kochanowski (1530-1584) is acknowledged to be the first great poet in Poland’s vernacular literary tradition. His Treny (or Laments) represent the height of his achievement. They are an impassioned, yet impeccably controlled, expression of grief over the death of his daughter Orszula, and, while their power scandalized Kochanowski’s contemporaries, they came at length to be considered an enduring masterpiece.

As Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature, has written of Kochanowski: ‘His presence belies foggy notions common in the West about a barbaric Eastern Europe. And yet, the Renaissance literature of Poland is virtually unknown in the West because of the lack of translations. The Laments of Kochanowski should be ranked with the world classics. There were some attempts to translate Laments into English in the past, but now something has happened which allows the English-speaking reader to have nearly direct access to his work. Namely, the cooperation of two excellent poets, Professor Stanislaw Baranczak of Harvard, and Seamus Heaney. That team has translated Laments, preserving its metres and rhythms. It is a rare accomplishment, which brings joy to me as an inheritor of Kochanowski’s language and of the Renaissance tradition.’