KOCHANOWSKI, Jan

(1530-1584)
Jan Kochanowski, the greatest lyric poet of the Polish Renaissance and one who wrote in the vernacular as well as Latin, was born in Sycyn, near Radom, into a noble family of average means. In 1544 he began his studies at Cracow Academy, where he studied for several years. In 1551 Kochanowski went to Königsberg and the following year to Italy, where he spent his formative years, studying and traveling. In 1559, after visiting France, where he probably met Pierre de Ronsard,* Kochanowski returned to Poland.
Kochanowski spent the next fifteen years at the courts of influential magnates and bishops; in 1564 he became secretary and courtier to King Zygmunt August (Sigismund Augustus). During this period Kochanowski participated in major political and intellectual debates and was strongly influenced by the literary milieu of the royal court and of Cracow, the capital of Renaissance Poland. In 1575 Kochanowski composed several panegyrics in Latin to celebrate the elec­tion of Stefan Batory, and later he wrote a triumphal ode to commemorate the king's victories. 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.
Kochanowski married Dorota Podlodowska in 1575, settled in his country estate in Czarnolas, and devoted himself to poetry. In 1579 this most happy and productive period of his life was interrupted by the death of his daughter Ursula and soon after of her sister Hanna. This personal loss is described in the moving poems of Treny (Laments, 1580). Five years later, at the age of fifty-four, Ko­chanowski died suddenly in Lublin; he was buried in Zwolen. Kochanowski was a master of lyric poetry. Throughout his life he wrote light poems called the Fraszki (Trifles, 1584); this collection of several hundred po­ems describes his thoughts, impressions, and activities, transforming ordinary sentiments and experiments into poetry. In the Songs (1585), more profound and meditative, Kochanowski borrowed some formal devices and general ideas from the Horatian tradition to proclaim his moral philosophy as well as give artistic expression to feelings inspired by love, beauty of nature, and patriotic exultation.
The goal of enriching Polish poetry with new genres and promoting the use of the national language inspired Kochanowski to undertake other artistic chal­lenges. His largest work, a poetic version of David's Psalter (1578), gave Polish literature the elevated language and diction that were capable of expressing deep religious emotions. He also wrote the first modern Polish drama, a play in the classical mold, The Dismissal of the Greek Envoys (1578), which brought to the stage numerous allusions to the political situation in the country.
Kochanowski was the most prominent Slavic poet until the nineteenth century. He was steeped in the great traditions of the ancient world, namely, Greek mythology, Greek and Latin literatures, and the Bible. He was familiar with the programs and achievements of Italian humanists and the poets of the French Pleiade. He also reached out to his native heritage and language, especially Polish country life, folk culture, and customs. Out of these deep sources of inspiration Kochanowski created modern Polish poetry, widening its thematic range and setting a course for its growth.
Bibliography
M. Mikos, Polish Renaissance Literature: An Anthology, 1995.
Michael J. Mikos

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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