Modern Poland's Homer
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his lifetime achievements as a Polish journalist and as a historical novelist, most notably Quo Vadis, Sienkiewicz was described by George Brandes as "The writer of greatest narrative talent among the living authors of Poland…" Brandes goes on to relate the following incident: "Passing through the side wing of the great Kremlin palace at Moscow, which contains the armoury (Orusheinaya Palata), we see, in the lower storey, twenty-two marble busts of Polish
kings and distinguished Poles; in the storey above, in the large round hall, the Polish throne, and, nearby, the crown worn by the last king of Poland, Stanislaus Augustus; and finally, in the adjoining room… sixty Polish banners, captured from 1831 to 1863, with Polish inscriptions, torn by
bullets, and to the right of these, on the floor, a beautifully made closed casket. In this casket is deposited the Constitution of the 3rd of May 1791… To be fought against, to be persecuted, to be treated as a criminal, when you are in the right, may be borne; but to see yourself treated as dead, to see your memories, your pride, your banner, your charter exhibited to the scorn of another as his possessions, as trinkets in a grave… to see with your own eyes…yet to go on living and believing in it — Yes, Poland, thou art the great symbol. The symbol of pinioned freedom, whose neck is trodden upon, symbol of those who lack any outlook, yet hope against all probability, in spite of all." This stirring narrative rings true in the heart of many who
have seen their country oppressed. Out of this national consciousness, Sienkiewicz wrote With Fire and Sword, The Deluge, Fire in the Steppe, The Teutonic Knights, and On the Field of Glory, all of which helped Poles scattered throughout the world as well as in the still-partitioned lands of
what had been the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, to recall and understand their national past and their polskość which three contiguous Empires had sought to suppress and eradicate forever. Upon receiving the Nobel Prize, Sienkiewicz remarked that receiving the award was a momentous event for Poland: "She was pronounced dead, yet here is a proof that she lives on. She was pronounced defeated — and here is proof that
she is victorious."