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Henryk Sienkiewicz: English Translations of the Polish Literature
The works of Henryk Sienkiewicz: English Translation Comparisons
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It was a simpler time. My dad told me that when he was little, his father used to gather the entire family together in the parlor to read the works of Henryk Sienkiewicz.  My father, the youngest of eleven children, was born on Peckham Street in Buffalo, New York in 1905 and his father died in 1914 when my dad was just nine years old. I can personally vouch that my dad had vivid and fond memories of everyone sitting together listening to the exciting tales of one of Poland's greatest authors. After all, Sienkiewicz was a Nobel Prize laureate and he must have made quite a splash back in the day. Back then, that was fun.

When I was in college, my dad told me that someday I must read the works of Henryk Sienkiewicz. He lamented however, that because I could not read Polish I would be forced to read Sienkiewicz in translation, which he insisted could not possibly be as good. I believed him. Still do.

About ​ten years later, I read my first Sienkiewicz novel: 

"Quo Vadis" -- and I loved it! The novel immediately rose to the level of being my all time favorite! Much better than the film, I should add.

I was hooked and wanted more. So next I read Sienkiewicz's "Trilogy" of historical novels – With Fire and Sword, The Deluge, and Sir Michael – set in the 17th-century Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Wow! Even better! Since then I think I have read just about everything Sienkiewicz has ever written including his short stories. I just can't get enough of his stories. Thanks for the tip, Dad! Right again!

Everything by Sienkiewicz I have read so far has been in the form of English-language translations by Jeremiah Curtain. His translations are wonderful in my opinion, but being more than one hundred years old his work may seem to some a bit stilted and old-fashioned. Also, I understand Curtin translated the works of Sienkiewicz from Russian translations and not from the original Polish. That can't be good. Although I personally enjoyed reading his translations, I know that some critics  feel his translations are substandard. Professor Braun (University of Buffalo) suggested I read the more modern translations by W.S. Kuniczak. Sure, why not I thought. And that is what I am doing now.

Curtin was a Harvard-educated Irish American fluent in several languages; Kuniczak's mother tongue was Polish, so I think he had the 
Click on the above image for the complete works of Henryk Sienkiewicz

Jeremiah Curtin (1835 – 1906)
advantage. Perhaps not rising to the level of Joseph Conrad, Kunicki was in my opinion an extraordinarily gifted writer. I am utterly amazed how well some people can master second languages. Jealous, in fact'

So why am I writing this? If only to satisfy my own curiosity, I thought it would be interesting to compare the Curtin and Kunicki translations with the original Sienkiewicz version. I can only give you a glimpse of each, but that should be enough. To accomplish this, here is the beginning of Chapter 3 (Chapter 2 in Potop, the original Polish version) of "The Deluge: An Historical Novel of Poland, Sweden and Russia. A Sequel to "With Fire and Sword". I hope you won't find too many typos:
Sienkiewicz - 1884
    We dworze w Lubiczu, gdy przedeń pan Andrzej zajechał, okna gorzały o gwar dochodził aż na podwórze. Czeladź usłyszawszy dzwonek wypadła przed sień, by pana witać, bo wiedziano od kompanionów, że przyjedzie. Witano go zatem pokornie, całując po rękach i podejmując pod nogi. Stary włodarz Znikis stał w sieni z chlebem i solą i bił pokłony czołem; wszyczy poglądali z niepokojemi ciekawością, jak też przyszły pan wygląda. On zaś kieskę z talarami na tacę rzucił o towarzyszów pytał, zdziwiony, że żaden naprzeciw jego gospodarskiej mości nie wyszedł.
    Ale oni nie mogli wyjść, bo już ze trzy godziny byli za stołem, zabawiając się kielichami, i może nawet nie zauważyli brzęczenia dzwonków za oknem. Gdy jednak wszedł do izby, ze wszystkich piersi wyrwał się gromki okrzyk: „Haeres! haeres, przyjechał”— i wszyscy kompanionowie zerwawszy się z miejsc poczęli iść do niego, z kielichami. On zaś wziął się pod boki in śmiał się poznawszy, jako sobie już dali rady w jego domu i zdążyli podpić, nim przyjechał. Śmiał się coraz mocniej, widząc, że przewracją zydle po drodze i słaniają się, i idą z powagą pijacką. Przed innymi szedł olbrzymi pan Jaromir Kokosiński, Pypką sie pieczętujący, żołnierz i burda sławny, ze straszliwą blizną przez czoło, oko i policzek, z jednym wąsem krótszym, drugim dłuższym, porucznik i przyjaciel pana Kmicica, „godny kompanion”, skazany na utratę czci i gradła w Smoleńskiem za porwanie panny, zabójstwo i podpalenie. Jego to teraz osłaniała przed karą wojna i protekcja pana Kmica, który był mu rówieśnikiem, i fortuny ich w Orszańskiem, póki swojej pan Jaromir nie przehulał, leżały o miedzę. Szedł on tedy teraz trzymajać w obu rękach roztruchanik, uszniak, dębnieakiem wypełniony. Za nim szedł pan Ranicki, herbu Suche Komnaty, rodem z województwa mścisławskiego, z którego był banitem za zabójstwo dwóch szlachty posesjonatów.



Curtin - 1898
    When Pan Andrei drove up to the mansion at Lyubich, the windows were gleaming, and bustle reached the front yard. The servants, hearing the bell, rushed out through the entrance to greet their lord, for they had learned from his comrades that he would come. They greeted him with submission, kissing his hand and seizing his feet. The old land-steward, Znikis, stood in the entrance holding bread and salt, and beating worship with the forehead; all gazed with uneasiness and curiosity, -- how would their future lord look? Kmita threw a purse full of thalers on the tray, and asked for his comrades, astonished that no one of them had come forth to meet his proprietary mightiness.
     But they could not come forth, for they were then the third hour at the table, entertaining themselves at the cup, and perhaps in fact they had not taken note of the sounding bell outside. But when he entered the room, from all breasts a loud shout burst forth: "The heir, the heir has come!" and all his comrades, springing from their places, started toward him with their cups. But he placed his hands of his hips, and laughed at the manner in which they had helped themselves in his house, and had gone to drinking before his arrival. He laughed with increasing heartiness when he saw them advance with tipsy solemnity.
    Before the others went the gigantic Pan Yaromir Kokosinski, with the seal of Pypka, a famous soldier and swagerer, with a terrible scar across his forehead, his eye, and his cheek, with one mustache short, the other long, the lieutenant and friend of Kmita, the "worthy comrade, condemned to loss of life an honor in Smolensk for stealing a maiden, for murder and arson. At that time war saved him, and the protection of Kmita, who was of the same age; and their lands were adjoining in Orsha till Pan Yaromir had squandered his away. He came up holding in both hands a great-eared bowl filled with dembniak.
    Next came Ranitski, whose family had arms, — Dry Chambers (Suche Komnaty). He was born in the province of Mstislavsk. from which he was an outlaw for killing two noblemen, landowners.
Kuniczak - 1991
    All the windows of the Lubitch manor house were ablaze with light when Pan Andrei's sleigh drew up before the porch in the snowy courtyard, and he listened with a wry grin to the roar of voices that spilled out of his house in raucous celebration. It didn't take his boon companions long to find the wine cellar, he thought in amusement, but the least they could have done was to come out to greet him.
    Then he shrugged, grinned again and leaped out into the snow. If he knew anything about them, they'd have been at the table for hours already; they probably never even heard the soft jingling of the sleigh bell amid the clink and clatter of goblets and flagons and through their howls of laughter. The manor servants were pouring out of the house to meet their new master, bowing to clutch his coat-tails, kiss his hands and clasp their arms around his knees, and he could see that they were both curious and uneasy about him because a change of an estate's ownership usually meant great changes in the lives of the house servants and the villagers alike. Old Znikis, the village headman and overseer of the manor holdings, stood bowing halfway to the ground in the entrance hall, holding the traditional bread and salt on a silver tray, and Pan Andrei tossed him a purse of silver coins to share among the lackeys, grooms, stable-hands, serving girls, and the thick press of curious staring of peasants who'd run up from the village.
    He pushed into the house, amused at the thought that his picked followers made themselves so at home in Lubitch while he was away, and promising himself to curb some of their more outrageous behavior, but all his good intentions disappeared at the sight of them. They greeted him with a roar of joy. All of them staggered to their feet just as soon as he appeared in the doorway, and marched towards him with cups and goblets held high in the air, pacing with the unsteady, solemn dignity of drinkers who were long past being merely three sheets to the wind, and bellowing their greetings.
    "Our host is here!" they cried. "Our good shepherd! Our friend and benefactor!"
    He laughed at them, pleased that they had managed so well for themselves in his absence, and he laughed all the harder as he watched them lurching drunkenly towards him, tripping on the litter of bottles underfoot, stumbling across the furniture and knocking over the stools and the benches.
    "Haeres! Haeres is here!" they cried, dipping into the Latin classics of their erudition which, like the curved, open-guarded karabela sabers that swung on their silk cords from their belts and sashes, was the mark of their station as gentlemen and nobles.
    "Long life to him! Vivat!"
     First in this staggering crowd came the gigantic Pan Yaromir Kokosinski, a young man not much older than Kmita himself, whose reputation as both a ruthless soldier and a savage brawler had given him a notoriety feared across the country. His thick, red face was disfigured by a saber slash that ran diagonally from across his forehead, split the right eye and cheek, and clipped one side of his mustache shorter than the other. Condemned to death and confiscation of his properties in the Smolensk region for arson, murder and the abduction of a young gentlewoman, this 'worthy good companion' now served as Pan Andrei's friend and first lieutenant, protected from the hangman by Kmita's influence and wealth, and by the fact that the tribunals were powerless in wartime and most court verdicts were held in abeyance.
    Close at his heels came Pan Ranitzki, a deadly young duelist and murderer, outlawed in the Platinate of Mstislav for sabering one powerful landholder in a drunken quarrel and shooting another out of a roadside ambush. He was a highborn noble descended from  a long line of senators and statesmen, but he'd have been hanged a dozen times over if it weren't for Pan Andrei's protection and the cahos that rendered the courts impotent in wartime.


COMMENTARY- NOTES
​I must say I did not expect to either of the translations to be to differ so greatly in length! Someday, I will try to get my hands on corresponding translation in French to see how it compares. I am very surprised!
















Thaler - The thaler was a silver coin used throughout Europe for almost four hundred years. Its name lives on in the many currencies called dollar and the Samoan tālā, and, until recently, also in the Slovenian tolar.

Haeres - Ultimus haeres (Latin for ultimate heir) is a concept in Scots law where if a person in Scotland who dies without leaving a will (i.e. intestate) and has no blood relative who can be easily traced, the estate is claimed by the Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer on behalf of the Crown.















W.S. Kuniczak
Born in Lwow, Poland February 04, 1930
Died: September 20, 2000

W.S. Kuniczak and his family escaped to England after the Nazi and Russian invasion of 1939. He came to the United States in 1950 to finish his education, which he did at Alliance College in Crawford County and at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York. He fought in the Korean War to avoid being deported and became an American citizen in 1958. He was a journalist, novelist, professor, and translator in 29 countries around the globe.
The success of the modern English translation is due to its translator W S Kuniczak. The previous translator Curtis translated from the Russian translation, and it was a poor effort. Kuniczak was also a great author, writing his own trilogy. I recommend reading his books. 

Quote:
The Tragedy of W. S. Kuniczak 

Wieslaw S. Kuniczak, born in Lwow in 1930, died on September 20 at Quakertown Hospital near Philadelphia at the age of seventy. We may be to close to his death to sum up his literary heritage. (…) His opus magnum is monumental trilogy consisting of The Thousand Hour Day, The March and Valedictory. The initial volume was published in 1966, and it almost immediately appeared on the Book of the Month Club list. (…) 

Putting it in a nutshell, The Thousand Hour Day portrays a tragedy of the Polish nation, when in September 1939, its army faced and was defeated by the best equipped military machine of the modern times, that of Nazi Germany. (…)  Its sequel, The March, published by Doubleday in 1979, deals with the drama of the Polish nation after the September campaign. The action is diffused over the years following the invasion of Poland by the Germans from the west and the Russians from the east. The novel concentrates on the drama resulting from the Soviet’s brutal overrunning of the eastern part of the country, which proved tantamount to the cruelest invasion. 

The author focuses on a small number of protagonists such as Abel Abramowski, a young poet whose love for Catherine is reflected in the broken mirror of the war years. Tarski, a professional officer, epitomizes the manner in which the Soviets treat Poles, perishing in the Katyn Forest, where many thousands of Polish officers were massacred in one of the most haunting crimes of World War II. (…) 

The final book of trilogy, Valedictory, is a heartrending cry of pain and anguish masterfully put into words. Its massage is that Poland has been betrayed. After the heroic performance of Squadron 303. which tipped the scale in favor of the British in the Bottle of Britain, and equally faithful service by Polish airman, soldiers and sailors on every battlefront in Europe an Africa, Poland was handed over to Stalin on a silver platter by Roosevelt and Churchill. (…) Valedictory is not only a great and moving novel, it also stands as a document of very special significance. (…) 

When he turned to rendering Henryk Sienkiewicz’s trilogy into English, Kuniczak proved, if proof was needed, that a great writer may also excel in the art of translation. In 1991, his translation of Ogniem i Mieczem appeared under the title, With Fire and Sword. (…) The same year(…) he published Sienkiewicz’s two-volume Potop under the title, The Deluge. (…) Pan Wolodyjowski, saw the light of day as Fire in the Steppe. (…) The undersigned was the author of the introduction. (…) 

Wieslaw S. Kuniczak, born in Lwow in 1930, died on September 20 at Quakertown Hospital near Philadelphia at the age of seventy. We may be to close to his death to sum up his literary heritage. (…) His opus magnum is monumental trilogy consisting of The Thousand Hour Day, The March and Valedictory. The initial volume was published in 1966, and it almost immediately appeared on the Book of the Month Club list. (…) 

Putting it in a nutshell, The Thousand Hour Day portrays a tragedy of the Polish nation, when in September 1939, its army faced and was defeated by the best equipped military machine of the modern times, that of Nazi Germany. (…) 
Its sequel, The March, published by Doubleday in 1979, deals with the drama of the Polish nation after the September campaign. The action is diffused over the years following the invasion of Poland by the Germans from the west and the Russians from the east. The novel concentrates on the drama resulting from the Soviet’s brutal overrunning of the eastern part of the country, which proved tantamount to the cruelest invasion. 

The author focuses on a small number of protagonists such as Abel Abramowski, a young poet whose love for Catherine is reflected in the broken mirror of the war years. Tarski, a professional officer, epitomizes the manner in which the Soviets treat Poles, perishing in the Katyn Forest, where many thousands of Polish officers were massacred in one of the most haunting crimes of World War II. (…) 

The final book of trilogy, Valedictory, is a heartrending cry of pain and anguish masterfully put into words. Its massage is that Poland has been betrayed. After the heroic performance of Squadron 303. which tipped the scale in favor of the British in the Bottle of Britain, and equally faithful service by Polish airman, soldiers and sailors on every battlefront in Europe an Africa, Poland was handed over to Stalin on a silver platter by Roosevelt and Churchill. (…) Valedictory is not only a great and moving novel, it also stands as a document of very special significance. (…) 

When he turned to rendering Henryk Sienkiewicz’s trilogy into English, Kuniczak proved, if proof was needed, that a great writer may also excel in the art of translation. In 1991, his translation of Ogniem i Mieczem appeared under the title, With Fire and Sword. (…) The same year(…) he published Sienkiewicz’s two-volume Potop under the title, The Deluge. (…) Pan Wolodyjowski, saw the light of day as Fire in the Steppe. (…) The undersigned was the author of the introduction. (…) 
- Henryk
Some critics - The American novelist, James Michener, was among those most critical of Curtin's translations. In the foreward to Kuniczak's translation of With Fire and Sword he writes, " [Curtin's translations] were an abominable affair adapted not from Polish but from a cheap Russian redaction, fleshed out with passage lifted not from the books themselves but from the newspaper serials in which they first appeared. The result of this inattention was that even readers like me, who were hungry to study things Polish, were cut off from one of the great masterpieces of European literature, and my loss was deplorable.

Jerzy R. Krzyzanowski of Ohio State University adds this sobering information about Curtin's translations: 
"Ruthlessly divided in the 1790's between the neighboring empires of Russia, Prussia and Austria, the Polish nation fought back in bloody uprisings that left their fields and forests littered with their dead and dotted their landscapes with ruins and gibbets. Arrests, mass deportations to Siberia, curtailment of civil rights to such a drastic point that the Polish language was banned in schools and offices, and tragic persecution on all social levels, had left Poles with no means of national existence other than dimly recalled memories of disaster. The realistic novels of Polish writers were so heavily censored by the Tsarist Russian authorities in Warsaw that the best of them, The Doll by Boleslaw Prus, couldn't even mention Poland's Russian masters."

Also in the introduction -- and I find this reprehensible... "A typically aspect of Jeremiah Curtin's first translation into English, made more that 100 years ago, lies in his strange decision to provide his version of With Fire and Sword with a labored and lengthy Russian "apologia" in which he argues against Sienkiewicz's vision of the kresy borderlands and the relationships between the various nationalities who lived there. That kind of editorial intervention forms a wholly unwarranted intrusion into a work as universally oriented as this one, with heroes and villains richly apportioned to each side, and no one in either the literature of the history, presented without some redeeming features."

CONCLUSION - It appears my father's fears that any English translation of the works of Sienkiewicz is destined to be inferior has some merit. As I am only now beginning to read the more modern translation by W.S. Kuniczak, a Pole and a gifted novelist, I am looking forward to reading something much closer in spirit to that of the original Polish novel.