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Poland's National Anthem
by Bart Czyż

Poland's national anthem, Mazurek D±browskiego (D±browski's Mazurka) was originally a patriotic soldiers' song. It had several predecessors, but none of the earlier soldiers' songs became a truly national one. The earliest song of this character was the anthem Bogurodzica which became popular during the 13th century. It was sung by the Polish knights on the battlefield of Grunwald, one of the greatest battles of the Middle Ages during which the combined Polish-Lithuanian forces under king Jagiełło defeated the Teutonic knights.

King Stanisław August Poniatiowski, Poland's Last King, was the first to call attention to the need for a national anthem. In 1774, the poet, Ignacy Krasicki, wrote an anthem entitled ¦więta Miło¶ci Kochanej Ojczyzny which means "Oh Sacred Love of the Beloved Fatherland." It gained considerable recognition, but did not become fully accepted.

During the Ko¶ciuszko insurrection of 1794, many patriotic songs were composed to the tune of French revolutionary tunes. "To arms, brothers, to arms" was one that was composed to the tune of the Marseillaise.

The National Anthem invokes D±browski's name in that its refrain begins with the words "Marsz, Marsz D±browski" (March, March, D±browski). At the time the song was written, D±browski had become the commander of the Polish Legion stationed in Italy where it fought on the side of Napoleon's French forces. D±browski was a Polish general who, during the insurrection of 1794, had participated in defense of Warsaw against the Russians.

After the suppression of the insurrection, D±browski had left Poland aspiring to create abroad an army which, one day, could liberate Poland. That was how the Polish Legion came to exist. Far from home, the soldiers of the legion were, however, in much need of a song that would inspire them and generate enthusiasm and hopes for a quick return to Poland. Thus the song's refrain asks D±browski to march from Italy to Poland. Under your command - the legionnaires sang - we will reunite with the nation.

The song was written by Józef Wybicki, to the tune of a popular mazurka. Its heart warming lyrics and the familiar tune caught on and were soon popular among the Polish soldiers. The song reached Poland where it was enthusiastically received.

The opening words of the mazurka Jeszcze Polska nie zgineła póki my żyjemy (Poland has not perished as long as we are alive) evoked the conviction that, if the people retained their national consciousness and were ready to fight for their freedom, the partitioned nation might survive in spite of its enslavement. The remaining words expressed faith in the nation's own future and strength.

The legionnaires's song became, at once, the symbol of Poland indestructibility and hope of her rebirth, a symbol rallying all Poles without distinction of social rank or class. It was sung on the fields of battle during the insurrections and in street demonstrations. Although various other texts to the same tune appeared, the original never lost its popularity.

After the defeat of the November rising of 1830, the D±browski mazurka was banned by the partitioning powers as a seditious song. However, its lyrics spread among the Poles in exile in other lands. As a song of the freedom fighters, it won popularity among liberal circles in England and Germany. The phrase "Poland has not yet perished" was translated into many languages and became a declaration in favor of the freedom of all nations. It became particularly popular among Slavic people. The notes of our mazurka were even heard in the Yugoslav national anthem.

In the years of the first World War, when hopes for Polish independence were rising, the D±browski mazurka was sung often. After Poland regained its independence there were many discussions regarding which of the various popular songs should become Poland's national anthem. The debates ended in the victory for D±browski's mazurka which became the official national anthem in 1926 and has remained so to the present day.

The above is the text of a presentation made on the occasion of the celebrations of Poland's Constitution Day on May 3, 1996.   It is reprinted from the June 1996 Bulletin of the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo.



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