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JAN KOCHANOWSKI - BIOGRAPHY
Jan Kochanowski was born in Sycyna, near Radom, in a family of a nobleman of average means. In 1544 he entered the Cracow Academy, beginning a fifteen-year period of studies. In 1551 Kochanowski went to Królewiec (Koenigsberg) and in 1552 to Italy, where he spent his formative years, studying under Robortello and Tomitano in Padua, and travelling. In 1559, after visiting France, where he probably met Ronsard, Kochanowski returned to Poland.
The next fifteen-year period Kochanowski spent at the courts of influential magnates and bishops in Little Poland, securing in 1564 a position as secretary and courtier to King Zygmunt August. During those years, Kochanowski participated in major political and intellectual debates and was strongly influenced by the literary milieu of the royal court and of Cracow, capital of Renaissance Poland. In 1575, to celebrate the election of Stefan Batory, Kochanowski wrote several Latin panegyrics and later, to commemorate the King's victories, he composed a triumphal ode. His Latin elegies and epigrams appeared in the volume
Ioann. Cochanovi Elegiarum libri IIII, eiusdem Foricoenia sive Epigrammatum libellus
published posthumously in Cracow in 1584.
In 1575 Kochanowski married Dorota Podlodowska, settled in his country estate in Czarnolas, and devoted himself to poetry. This most happy and productive period of his life was interrupted in 1579 by the death of his daughter Orszula (Ursula) and soon after of her sister Hanna. Five years later, at the age of fifty four, Kochanowski died suddenly in Lublin and was buried in Zwoleń.
Kochanowski excelled in lyrical poetry. Throughout his life he wrote light poems called the
(1584), in which he described his thoughts, impressions, and activities, transforming ordinary sentiments and experiences into poetry. In the
(1585), more profound and meditative, Kochanowski borrowed some formal devices and general ideas from Horace to proclaim his moral philosophy as well as to give artistic expression to feelings inspired by love, beauty of nature, and patriotic exultation.
The goal of enriching Polish poetry with new genres inspired Kochanowski to undertake other artistic challenges. His poetic adaptation of
(1578) gave Polish literature the elevated language and diction which were capable of expressing deep religious emotions. A play in the classical mold,
The Dismissal of the Greek Envoys
(1578), was the first modern Polish drama, bringing to the stage numerous allusions to the political situation in the country.
The Renaissance harmony and serenity of Kochanowski's poetry was shattered when the poet lost his beloved daughter Ursula. An artistic account of this moral crisis and the painful struggle to overcome it was immortalized in the
(1580), nineteen moving poems which described a great human drama.