Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont
|I was born on May 6th, 1868, in the village of Kobielo
Wielkie in that part of Poland which was under Russian rule.
My father was the church organist; the village curate
was my mother's brother, a former monk from the order of Pijar, a very
well educated and ascetic man who loved nothing but solitude. The most
ardent Catholicism ruled in our house. We led a hard life, almost like
peasants. My family had taken a very active part in the insurrections
of 1863 against Russia; some of its members had been killed; one of my
uncles had been condemned to forced labour in Siberia.
When I was six and already able to read and write Polish,
my uncle the curate taught me Latin. Since he had no suitable textbook,
he simply used the breviary. The lessons were tedious; the long stem of
the curate's pipe assisted him daily in his instruction.
I was slowly preparing to enter the college attended by my elder brother. But unfortunately my uncle the curate died, and my father, deprived of sufficient resources to give me a higher education, decided to make an organist of me. He put me behind a piano and thus began my study of sacred music, so vigorously and so often punctuated by the cane that I quickly learned to abhor it.
Apart from my musical studies I had to help my father at the church and keep the parish register of baptisms, marriages, births, and deaths, assist daily at Mass, help the priest with the dying, etc.
I loved these diverse occupations since nobody checked my spare time, which I was able to devote entirely to reading. By the age of nine I had a thorough knowledge of contemporary Polish literature as well as of foreign literature in Polish translation, and I began to write poems in honour of a lady of thirty years. Naturally, she knew nothing about them.
During this period my brother, who had left college, tried systematically to make me pursue a regular program of studies. He took infinite pains, but did not succeed in tearing poetry out of my heart. I was at that time intoxicated by the romantic poetry of our great writers. I arranged the world according to my private use, looking at it through the poems I had devoured.
Within myself I felt vague enchantments, dull restlessness, and uncertain desires. I had hallucinations when I was awake. What wings carried me to unknown worlds!
Already I felt sick and confined at home; daily life was a burden. I dreamed of great actions, of voyages - rovings across the oceans of a free and independent life.
For entire weeks I would keep away from the house and try to live in the woods like a savage. I formed monstrous shapes in potter's clay, or cut them in trees; I filled my notebooks and the margins of my books with rough sketches, and I spent more than one night crying without reason.
Such was my life until the age of twelve. I shall skip the following years until the age of twenty.
I lived in Warsaw and - being twenty years old - I
naturally had a wild imagination and a tender heart. Misery was my inseparable
companion; I was a socialist and the punishment was inevitable. The Russian
authorities expelled me from Warsaw after suspecting me of having taken
part in the strike that had then broken out in Lodz for the first time.
I was able to find a job in the technical service of
the railway. I lived in the province in a peasant's house between two
stations. My income was pitiable, my life hard and tedious, my surroundings
primitive. I had hit rock bottom. I was lucky to make the acquaintance
of a German professor, a convinced and practising spiritualist. He dazzled
and conquered me. A world of fantastic dreams and possibilities opened
before my eyes. I left my job and went to join the professor, who lived
For a while I worked for a landsurveyor; I was a clerk in a shop that sold devotional articles, then a salesman for a lumberyard. Finally I returned to the theatre. For several months I toured small places with a travelling company and did a great deal of acting, but when the company was dissolved I was left on the road. I tried to give ecitations, for I knew entire poems by heart. I offered my services as producer in amateur theatres and I wrote for provincial journals. But I soon learned to loathe these occupations and returned willy-nilly to the railway. As before I was employed in the technical service; I was to live in a village lost between two distant stations. There was no office building for the agents of the company; I had to content myself with a peasant cottage very close to the railway.
For a while I had a roof over my head, literally a
piece of dry bread, and quiet. I was surrounded by impenetrable forests
in which the Czar of all Russians hunted every year. I had installed myself
at the end of autumn. I did not have much to do and I had free time for
writing and being foolish. I lived on tea, bread, and dreams. I was twenty-two
years old. I was healthy, had only one suit, and boots with holes in them.
I suffered these torments for two years, but as a result I had finished six short stories that seemed to have possibilities. I sent them to a critic in Warsaw, but it took over six months until I received a favourable reply. He even condescended to recommend me to a publisher. After new efforts my stories were printed. My whole being was filled with unspeakable happiness: at last I had found my way. But this good fortune was not without results for my bureaucratic career. The management dismissed me; they needed workers, not men of letters.
I gathered my belongings, consisting chiefly of manuscripts, and with the generous amount of three rubles and fifty kopecks I went to Warsaw to conquer the world. I began a new Odyssey of misery, roving and struggling with destiny.
No help from anywhere! I broke completely with my family.
They did not understand me and lamented my fate. For the first six months
I did not know the taste of the most ordinary dinner. I went out only
in moonlight. My rags were too shabby for any occasion.
The more profound my faith became, the more violent my fascination with annihilation, and then incessant hunger pushed me toward the abyss.
At the beginning of spring, in April, I saw pilgrims going to Czestochowa, the bright mountain that had the picture of the Madonna famous for its miracles. I broke my chains and joined them. I do not remember which journal gave me an advance of twenty-five rubles for the description of that pilgrimage.
For eleven days I walked in marvellous spring weather,
under the sun and in the green. The account of that pilgrimage (Pielgrzymka
do Jasnej Góry, 1895 [Pilgrimage to the Mountain of Light]) appeared
in a Warsaw illustrated daily and attracted the attention of the critics.
Some months later I wrote Komedjantka (1896) [The Comedian]. During this
period I made the acquaintance of a group of spiritualists who included
the famous Dr. Ochorowiecz. I went to London to pursue spiritualist problems
at the Theosophical Society.
In 1903-04 I published the first verion of Chlopi; at first it was only one volume. I burned it and rewrote it. This time it was divided into four volumes (1904-09). Next I wrote Wampir (1911) [The Vampire] - the reflection of my spiritualist exercises - two volumes of novellas, and I began historical studies concerning the decline of Poland toward the end of the seventeenth century. I wrote a trilogy called Rok 1794 (1913-18 ) [The Year 1794]. The last volume of that work, Insurekcja [Insurrection], was written in Warsaw during the German occupation after the explosion of the Great War. I also published another volume of novellas. In April 1919 I left for the United States in order to visit my compatriots in that country.
I returned in 1920. In 1922-23 I wrote Bunt [Defiance],
and I began to have heart trouble. I still have many things to say and
desire greatly to make them public, but will death let me?