Volume 49, No.4 - Winter 2003
Editor of this issue: Stasys Goštautas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2003 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

M. K. Čurlionis Among Heirs to the King-Spirit

Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań

First published in Polish as "Język slonecznej milości" in the collection of essays Nie tylko o Norwidzie.
Ed. Jolanta Czarnomorska, Zbigniew Przychodniak, Krzysztof Trybuś, Poznań: Wydawnictwo PTPN, 1997, p. 59-80

The holiest lives
I shall thus describe.., and the bright spirits' golden sunflower
Ever turning its face towards the bright sun...
Thus I shall awaken this great country now crying
For freedom... its willows hanging over the tomb...
And our fathers who appeared in the eastern star
Above the Savior's crib... I shall clothe in their old bodies,
And so Lithuania, too—which then sat by the lakes.
            Juliusz Słowacki, I Dream Some Great Tale...

Quite interesting is his partiality towards Juliusz Słowacki
—what response did the bold and sad imagination of the great romantic evoke in his imagination?
            Valerian A. Chudovsky of Čiurlionis (Apollon 1914}1

On the Side of Imagination

A man on the top of a mountain, high above other people and above nature, looking down upon the earth and seeing into the mysteries and chasms of cognition—this picture of a romantic hero and creator is all too familiar. In Čiurlionis's Letters to Dewduraczek,2 this concept manifests itself very strongly, invoking on the one hand memories of the artist's journey to the Caucasus and on the other images from Mickiewicz's Crimean Sonnets, e.g., "The Road Along the Precipice at Chufut-Kale." The following passage was written in Krynica, a health resort situated between two ranges of the Beskidy Mountains: the Beskid Sądecki and the Low Beskid. The countryside there is beautiful but mild, with mountains lower than 800 meters and without steep slopes or precipices. The power of the romantic myth is thus all the more conspicuous:

Look, among the snowy crowns of the mountains, spiry mountains, soaring almost up to the sky, stands a man. At his feet a cloud has covered the whole earth; down there earthly history proceeds, muddle, din, babble, but the cloud has covered all. Silence. White, strange crowns around. Strangely huge, strangely beautiful, of opals and pearls, of topaz and malachite, of crystal and diamonds. Strangely magnificent, huge crowns and among them stands the man and looks with his eyes wide open, looks and waits. He promised that at sunrise— the moment when the crowns are on fire, when colors mingle and rays dance—he would sing a hymn to the sun. A hymn to the sun!3

A real-life situation could not have been more than a pretext here anyway

For the bard needs so little!
A flash in the eye;—he already welcomes the sun,
Something has yet to happen—to him it has already happened,
A miracle is yet in the bud—to him it is already in bloom.  
                                                            [Ill, variant 37, 33-36]4

Thus wrote Słowacki, and the bard's "flash in the eye," or, as another version of this line puts it, "flash in the spirit," inspired his Młada Polska [Young Poland movement] followers to compose dozens of poems about and to the sun, such as Maryla Wolska's "The Rite of the Sun" (Święto słońca"), Jozef Jedlicz's "Solar Song" ("Śłoneczna pieśń") and "Solar Hymn" ("Hymn słoneczny"), or Jozef Gluzinski's "Hymn to the Sun" ("Hymn do słońca").5 In his 1905 "Hymn Veni Creator" Stanisław Wyspiański voiced the appeal:

In the rite unfold your prophetic glory,
Take souls to the Sun in your flight.6

The work of Wyspiański, Jacek Malczewski, or Leon Wyczółkowski has often served as a background for the study of Čiurlionis. However, the comparative analyses have been superficial, albeit less so in Lithuanian studies than in the few Polish ones. And yet, just as the Hymn to the Sun from the letter quoted and the related 1907 "Sonata No. 1"—Saulės sonata, Sonata of the Sun", 1907) belong to the prevailing poetic trend of the time, Čiurlionis's artistic thought is very closely connected with its modernist background; to be precise, it is connected with Polish Modernism in the first place and only then with that of Western Europe. Polish Modernism and its primary source Polish Romanticism,7 were for Čiurlionis the crucial medium, possibly the main inspiration for his original ideas, his perception of the world, and his view of Lithuania.

Čiurlionis's image of Lithuania—both the one directly present in his works (Lietuviškos kapinės, Lithuanian Cemetery, 1909) and the implied, metaphorical one—is an image transformed into a myth, or rather, into a system of myths, an entire complex mythology. Like many of his contemporaries, the painter did not value the real, the ordinary, and the commonly perceived. Indeed, he could not have judged differently if he assumed the romantics' angle of vision—a view from above.

In a letter to his mother, published fifty years after his death in 1899, Słowacki wrote words, applied then in a paraphrase to the modernist, subjective art by one of the most eminent critics of the epoch:

People think the whole world is what moves, and behind this world is an abyss one must not and need not look into... It is not so, for the abyss is the real world, moving, always heading towards a goal, and this world is a tapestry seen wrong side out, where different threads show up and vanish again, as if without any aim or need. On the other side there are flowers and the design.8

The secret content and beauty are accessible to the poet, whose sight, especially spiritual sight, can penetrate the other, proper side of the tapestry. Therefore in romantic art and the neo-romantic "new art" the following principle was obeyed:

The more fully you subordinate reality to your own nature, the more of your subjectivity you pour into your work, the greater artist you will be.9

The author of the above statement, lgnacy Matuszewski—a great admirer of Słowacki and a theoretician of the "new art"—goes on to say that the world is "a medley of facts" and only the artist can master the chaos, endow facts with another dimension and "shackle them in garlands of suns and comets created with his own thought."10

Thus, it is a subjective synthesis of impressions that matters; and, despite the rules of logic, only this synthesis can penetrate objective truth. This principle privileges aesthetic faculties over cognitive ones and imagination over intellect or affection, not to mention the moral sense. The depth of what is beyond consciousness will not be reached by logical reasoning; one has to travel to it on the light and misty wings of "mood."11 In Letters to Dewduraczek Čiurlionis
 explains that although he is "sick at heart" and "feels depressed and very tired," his "wings are fine [sound]." "I shall fly," he says, "to very remote lands, to the land of eternal beauty, fairy-tale, and fancy."12

In accordance with the artist's way of seeing things, different from common habits of perception, Čiurlionis
 saw the proper side of the tapestry and was able to reach beyond the real with his thought. Here is another passage from Letters to Dewduraczek:

I remembered [...] that there used to be a time when the world was like a fairy tale. The sun shone a hundred times more brightly, vast forests of glittering nut trees towered above the banks of dark lakes, and among the soaring golden-leafed horsetails flew an awful pterodactyl, strange and threatening; it flew with a rustle [...] and disappeared in the radiant distance of twelve rainbows which stand eternally above the silent ocean.13

Likewise, in Pornic by the Atlantic Słowacki's imagination went back to "the first days of creation/' when the kingdom of snakes "had already earned the miracle of flying in the pterodactyl."14

The real-life world gives—has to give—way to the true world, brought forward by memory, by the exclusive capability of anamnesis. Owing to anamnesis, a fragment of the shabby and transitory reality, worth little by itself, is supplemented with the eternal and beautiful picture that has been recalled, drawn from the right side of the tapestry. Thus, a flying monster from the prehistoric era, whether a revivified fossil or a product of imagination, can appear above the Baltic Sea or a Lithuanian lake.

The Primacy of Vision

Wyspiański does a similar thing. His works combine the order of the world and that of the beyond, while the visible, the observed, is usually subordinated to vision. This is already the case in his early paintings and writings. The 1897 painting Sesame Treasures (Skarby Sezamu, 1897) related, among other things, to the play A Legend (Legenda, 1897), shows human figures swarming among the roots of old trees somewhere in the backwoods, which—according to the hermetic interpretation by Zdzisław Kępiński—conveys the process of the disintegration of matter, its fermentation and purification to higher forms of being.15 The elements emerge from the depths to continue their struggle in the visible world. Thus, in Wyspiański's works, characters from contemporary times, from the more and less distant past, from literature, painting, and mythology exist on the same level.

In Act IV of Acropolis (Akropolis, 1904), a play set in Cracow on the historic hill of Wawel, Christ-Apollo appears in the cathedral. The harpist-king who calls and praises him sings:

I want to pray to you today
At this hour of dawn
To tell the Sun of myself
As I have been called to.16

Such a diversified world, however, exists not so much because of the coherence of views that brings it to life but because of the suggestiveness of artistic vision. This regularity, common to Wyspiański and Čiurlionis, is even more conspicuous in the work of Tadeusz Miciński, born in 1873, i.e. two years before Čiurlionis.

In Miciński's works, Poland is magnified to universal dimensions, her heroes coping with adversities, passions, and God just as the other metaphysical rebels of humanity do. In Nietota, a poetically tuned 1910 novel, (partially published in a literary magazine in 1908) the features of his prose manifest themselves in quite a grotesque manner. The Tatra Mountains, where the novel is set, are associated with the Himalayas. The Tatras-Himalayas are surrounded by a sea, from whose fantastically colored waters a green snake emerges, surrounds the Tatras-Himalayas. It is the King of Snakes. The protagonist of Nietota, Ariaman—a student of the occult sciences and a disciple of Magus Litwor, also called Hermes Trismegistos—has a vision while meditating and is brought to the brink of a precipice, whence "he could already touch the soul of the universe." There, carried away as if on the wings of a Caucasus eagle, he prays:

Indeed, my heart writhes like a cloud full of throbbing thunderbolts —the depths of hell become real—
But the voice of the King of Snakes calls me to fly to the tallest mountains, to glaciers illuminated by stars,
The comet, the eternal wanderer, is heading for the deserts
[...] 17

Earlier in the novel a mystery takes place. "A breeze from the sea and distant Lithuania" brings "unknown voices" that begin a dialogue with others, prophesying fantastic events. The visions include motifs found in Čiurlionis' paintings: bell towers in the marshes, bells, azure lakes, thunderbolts and rainbows, birds, snakes, sparks, suns or stars, planets, comets, black and luminous angels, a knight "flying on horseback" like "the King of the Earth," and a "nocturne" resounding among poplars.18 Among the heroes recalled in this cosmic dialogue is King-Spirit.

The Greatest Modernist

This figure deserves special attention. For it is King-Spirit, or, to be precise, King-Spirit that seems to explain the above-mentioned affinities between Wyspiański and Miciński as well as the affinities between those two authors and Čiurlionis. More than the other works by Słowacki, King-Spirit became for the Polish modernists the book of books, a fundamental source of contemporary ideas and images. These ideas permeated the atmosphere to such an extent that one could even feel exempt from reading Słowacki.

Stanislaw Przybyszewski was one of those who praised the romantic poet without really knowing his work.19 In his famous essay "For the Sake of 'New Art"' ("O 'nową sztukę"), published in the Cracow journal Życie in 1899 and included in the book On the Soul's Ways (Na drogach duszy) a year later, he wrote:

Every perfection [attained by man] was effected when he had shut his eyes to the real reality, descended into himself, examined and investigated the phenomena of his own soul, and the light radiating from that center of all being elucidated all mysteries and puzzles to him.
In this manner the Indian Mahatma, the biblical prophet, the Egyptian magus, the medieval sorcerer—and our Słowacki
 —gained superhuman power.20

The expanded spacing at the end of the above passage was introduced by Ignacy Matuszewski, who quoted Przybyszewski's opinion in his study of Słowacki and New Art (Słowacki i nowa sztuka).21 He confirmed its accuracy with abundant evidence, including references to history and, above all, to contemporary artistic and philosophical trends, outstanding artists and outstanding works. Besides, his argument demonstrated that a common opinion could be true. The critic referred Słowacki's poetry, especially the rhapsodies of King-Spirit, to the thought of Plato and Nietzsche, the music of Wagner, the painting of Raphael and the English Pre-Raphaelites, and the canvases of Bocklin and Moreau. He emphasized those elements of Słowacki's work that anticipated later tendencies in art, suited the modernist imagination and, in Matuszewski's view, surpassed the artistic expression of his own time.

Is there a work, asks Matuszewski, which is a rich synthesis of subjective impressions and at the same time a crystallization of all means of expression, both visual and musical?

And he replies,

Only one work has this characteristic, namely, Słowacki's King-Spirit.22

Matuszewski's book—a collection of articles gathered from literary journals and put together to form a coherent whole—was published in late 1901.

Home Reading

At the same time, in the late autumn of 1901, Čiurlionis was carrying on a dispute with his younger colleague, Lucjan Bogusławski.

The argument concerned changes in culture, including Przybyszewski's stance. In a letter of November 23, Čiurlionis enumerated the books by Przybyszewski he had read, one of them being On the Soul's Ways, and described his impressions while reading as well as the distaste they had left in his memory.23 All the same, he seemed to defend what he called "our art" (a term equivalent to "new art") against Bogusławski's bitter attacks. A letter to his brother Paweł [Povilas, who lived in Lawrence Mass.] written several months later shows clearly that, in the modernist dispute about values, Čiurlionis objected to decadent or analytic tendencies, strongly supporting neoromantic idealism. Conscious of his own inclination towards excessive self-analysis, he warned his brother against it all the more. For, as he said, "self-knowledge too is enticing, but the concept of the self cannot be defined accurately [...]. Let human thoughts not descend into abysmal depths but sail the infinite skies."24

This attitude was rooted in Čiurlionis's attachment to high romantic thought, formed in his family home. "Shelves filled with books" contained primarily romantic literature. Among them, as the artist's sister recalled: "were several books by Słowacki. Plays, poems, 'Lilla Weneda', 'The Father of the Plague-Stricken' ('Ojciec zadzumionych'). My brother would read aloud. I remember he liked Słowacki and would sometimes recite things from memory."25

The writer's wife, Sofia Kymantaitė, who pursued her university education in an atmosphere of Słowacki worship characteristic of certain academic circles in Cracow and Riga,26 confessed in a 1934 interview that, out of the few artists he admired, Čiurlionis "extolled Słowacki."27 He himself did not hide this fascination. Even the Russian critic Chudovsky learnt about it and, presuming that it was important, made comments about its influence on the painter's work.

Brought up on romantic poetry, notably on Słowacki, Čiurlionis must have referred his own artistic endeavors to the work of the Polish poet, which he venerated and vividly remembered. Moreover, he must have conceived of Słowacki's poetry as the artistic ideal on a universal scale, just as his contemporaries—both the boastful Przybyszewski and the inquiring Matuszewski—did. Besides, the study of New Art answered the Lithuanian painter's interests to such an extent that he could not have missed it. Given his great sensitivity, we must also assume that Čiurlionis noticed the fundamental dependence of many contemporary artists on Słowacki, a dependence mixed with the desire to match or even surpass the ideal.

Čiurlionis must have taken up the challenge consciously. Actually, this intention can be inferred from his work: one of the articles on Čiurlionis published after his death was titled "In Memory of Lithuania's King-Spirit" ("Pamięci Króla-Ducha Litwy").28

A Duel with King-Spirit

The works of Malczewski, Wyspiański, and Miciński are so conspicuously and extensively indebted to Słowacki's poetry that they cannot be understood properly outside of this context. In his rhapsodies Bolesiaw the Bold (Bolesiaw Smialy, 1900) and Saint Stanislaus (Swięty Stanisław) Wyspiański even ventured to continue the story the author of King-Spirit had not managed to complete.29 The stained-glass designs for the Cracow cathedral, produced at the same time, reveal his fascination with the poem, too, particularly with its expressive, frenetic imagery, characteristic mostly of Rhapsody One. Wyspiański
 took up the same topics in the plays Bolesław the Bold and Skalka, and echoes of particular solutions are found in his later works, such as Acropolis or his critical study of Hamlet.

In Miciriski's poetry, from The King in Osjak (Król w Osjaku), devoted to Boleslaw the Bold and included in the collection In the Murk of Stars (W mroku gwiazd), to his late works, there are so many inspirations of a similar kind that it is impossible to mention them all. He even produced a separate study of King-Spirit—the Self (Król -Duch—Jażń). Halina Florynska, who coined the expression used in the title of the present essay, has given Miciński the most prominent place among the heirs to King-Spirit. However, she has been concerned chiefly with the affinity of ideas, whereas in disputes about beliefs and attitudes "poetic image," as she says, provided much more reliable evidence.30

Malczewski, as Kazimierz Wyka has demonstrated, also frequently referred to King-Spirit. The angels that so often appear in his paintings find their immediate genealogy and explanation of their visible form in Słowacki's poem. Słowack was "the first to arrange a situation" in which an archangel assumed the form of a woman; Malczewski only filled this image with painted matter.31 His temperament, nonetheless, differed from Słowacki's, and, captivated by his earthly model, the painter made his she-angels very sensuous.


In the poetry of Słowacki "angels are standing in the fields of my homeland" or, in an exotic setting, they look down from "the top of the pyramids," seen in the figures of Arabs and their robes, "black with white wings." In a later vision of the cosmos, expressed in Genesis from the Spirit, angels correspond to nearly all things, living beings, even phenomena, either as their makers or as their emanations, while the "global angel" "unites them in himself" and watches over the shape of the world. In Čiurlionis, we seem to recognize this "global angel" sitting on a high hill in the pose of a Sphinx (Angelas, Angel Prelude, 1909), accepting one sacrifice and rejecting another (Auka, The Offering, 1909), or walking above the universe (Žvaigždžių sonata, Sonata of the Stars, 1905).

Spirits cooperate or wage wars with other great spirits and humans as right and left angels or dark and light ones. Every form originates from them and returns to them since they are the mediators, the agents of the great process in which "everything is created by the Spirit and for the Spirit, and nothing exists for a corporeal purpose" (Andrzej Towianski's idea). Therefore they must be ethereal in form, like the "angels' waves," or white sails that disappear in the "pale blueness."32 Owing to the elusiveness of the outline and the color patch, the affinity between Čiurlionis' and Słowacki's angels is far stronger than that between the angels of Słowacki's and Malczewski's works. The painting Laiveliai (Sailboats, 1906) seen in this light appears to be related to the somewhat later angels from the first part of the triptych Himnas (Hymn, 1906), whose susceptibility to the wind can be understood more easily.

Let us stay by winged creatures for a while. In the Andante of the 1907 Spring Sonata (Pavasario sonata) windmills are soaring into the sky, carrying "hills of clouds" with them ("debesų kalnai"—Landsbergis's expression,33 as if they took along their earthly counterparts that stand on the undulating horizon. An analogous image can be found in Słowacki's poem:

The most beautiful, the holiest throne of God upon the earth,
For which the Lord sometimes waits several centuries,
Is the spirit of an immense bard and man,
As if a windmill with bright sunny wings,
Constantly carrying upwards the stone world.34

Now, turning from the poem to the painting, we notice that the wings radiate and the windmills play the role of the sun's messengers.

Jacob's Ladder of Beings

In a world thus conceived, movement is vertical, from the uppermost point down to the bottoms of graves and the ocean depths, as on Jacob's ladder with angels descending from and ascending to heaven. The heavenly homeland and solar capital, together with the Supreme Being who resides there and is represented by the figure of the sun as well as solar symbols, is the domain where creation attains direct contact with its Creator: both "a place of rest" and the source of spiritual work. Biblical images combine with symbols of different origins to form a heterodox whole. Both the components and the process of forming this whole are similar in Słowacki and in Čiurlionis. Słowacki wrote:

Therefore I never fear in spirit,
But I grew pale when deluded by the body,
[I, who am] destined for eternal struggle with form
Until I bring the solar Jerusalem.
                                [IV, II, 373-376]

With Čiurlionis, the reflections of the luminous Jerusalem that can be seen in many of his works find their full expression in paintings from the 1908 series The City (Miestas). A year earlier, in the Sonata of the Sun (Saules sonata) the artist first placed them among suns (Allegro), then sent them to the earth (Andante) and diffused a festive landscape throughout (Scherzo), and finally transformed them into another solar representation—a spider's web. "The circle of a spider's web" in the "reflection of the autumn sun" was the real-life anchor and focus of Słowacki's vision described in the "Letter to J. N. Rembowski." It represented emanation, the first radiation of spirit out of an invisible center, the inside of God himself.35 In King-Spirit the solar Jerusalem descends onto the earth:

Until some city with thousands of gold
Crosses.., with pavements of golden stone,
Like the sun when it lowers itself towards the angels
And touches the bright ring of rainbows,
[A city] blazing with sunlight and glory.
Descended.., and came lower and lower.
                            [IV, IV, 67-72]

Čiurlionis's Laidotuvių simfonija (Funeral Symphony, 1903) begins with the vision of a demon-like being and a metaphysical city united into one organism. It is probably here that both the cause and the destination of the funeral procession are found. The procession, shown from several angles in a changing landscape, winds in an endless line and disappears through a gate shining on the slope of a mountain. The path to the peak—the yard of the city-demon—must go this way.

In King-Spirit we encounter many gloomy images outlined in harsh colors, as if from the ominous perspective of a demon ("And from the towers I looked at this long chain/ Of those going to die, with candles, in chains" [I, II, 371-372]). "Frenetic" images, as Wieslaw Juszczak calls them, compete with "idyllic" ones.36 With Čiurlionis, the gloomy visions of his early period gradually give way to brighter and more serene ones. Echoes of the Funeral Symphony can be heard in Pilies pasaka (Castle Fairy Tale) of 1909. A road, perhaps crowded with pilgrims, goes spirally round the steep mountain to a lone building on its peak, basking in sunshine.

In the triptych Journey of the Princess (Pasaka, Karalaitė's kelionė, 1907) the first painting shows a castle against the background of the sun setting behind a tall rock, the third one - the princess in the palace, and the central, most mysterious one - an infant sitting on a hill surrounded by plains as a dark bird spreads its wings over him. The situation presented finds an unusual parallel in King-Spirit. The prophecy from Mieczysław's dream:

My little baby [is] not in arms but
Upon a shield. With his head bent to the side,
Frowning... proud like a young eagle on the rock,
Where it is having a feast of tiny little birds
                            [IV, IV, 225-229]

Is fulfilled in the birth of Bolesław the Bold:

[There is] already a new land around,
On a silver shield the royal infant,
Is slowly losing his angelic vision...
Black winged knights are nursing him...
                        [V, I, 297-304]

The ruler comes to this world from above, as God's messenger, another incarnation of creative individuality. Unlike ordinary mortals, he is born of spirit, or rather, revealed in a supernatural way above the earthly reality he is to raise to himself. It is a birth fit for the King, coming from and going to the heavenly Jerusalem.

Just as there are both serene and terrible landscapes in the poem, the epiphanies described in King-Spirit can be either idyllic or terrifying. Sometimes the serenity and terror are two facets of the same event. In "Rhapsody V," what is perceived from an earthly perspective as the descent of the spirit is a fall when seen from heaven: "human souls start burning with love for heavenly spirits and pull them down into their bodies,"37 whereas the Knight falls from above "into a coffin—the body" (V, I, 275):

We on high... [We] awful spirits listen
To the threat. And to the human hubbub upon the earth,
From us [comes] the thunderbolt and the fur lining of gilded clouds,
From us darkness flashes with white swords...
In our zeal we shatter like broken glass,
The world breathes us—and multiplies form.
I myself, with fire on my lips and with a battle cry,
Burst with my steed into the tomb—and faded...
                        [V, I, 265-272]

In the painting titled Vyties preliudas (The Knight's Prelude, 1909), gloomy in tone, two overlapping shapes can be seen: the knight—a rider holding a weapon in his right hand and ready to strike, and the city—a modern metropolis, Athens and Jerusalem spread over hills and merged into one. The rider is galloping among "gilded clouds."

In Karalaičio kelionė (The Prince 's Journey, 1907), a series related to the previous triptych, Čiurlionis tells a mysterious story of creatures formed out of clouds. Artists have long used the pictorial script of clouds and there is nothing original in this idea. Nonetheless, it is worth stressing the correspondence between the painter's and the poet's imagination. King-Spirit says:

[...] I was
Drawing away from the field like a black cloud
Which will feed on marsh vapor
And carry away twisted seeds like sparks,
And twist everything... and [which]
Walks over dark forests in a rainbow belt—flaming
Deep inside... and throbbing with many thunderbolts,
Waiting for the rainy new moon.
                    [II, 273-280]

The passage quoted brings us to other paintings by Čiurlionis, such as Kibirkštys (Sparks, 1906, especially parts II and III), Perkūnas (Thunder, 1909), and Žaibai (Lightning, 1909). The inspiration drawn from Słowacki is associated with Lithuanian myths, just as in Vyties preliudas the knight becomes the figure from Lithuania's coat of arms, and the fantastic city merges with the image of Vilnius as both the Jerusalem and Athens of the North.

Those similarities and associations remain valid when we follow King-Spirit into lower and lower worlds and examine both his emanations and the beings he unites with and reshapes, from "gusts of stars" (II, 348) and comets to "thunderbolt arrows" and "autumn mists, clouded with swallows" (II, 17) and from woods, fields, and huts to graveyards, the interior of the earth, and the depths of the ocean. The series Pavasaris (Spring, 1907) presents a bell tower with swinging bells in part one, and water streaming in a bright cascade down to an overflowing lake with a slender tree on an island in part two. Part three and four replace the tree with two and three fantastically crowned trees respectively. Pavasaris seems to shuffle the views that extended before Pride, the protagonist of Rhapsody II:

Lakes glittered like silver
Shields—sometimes they seemed to emerge
From underground with underground bells—and tolled
With various moans—and with various tones;
And sometimes souls, which were under a spell
Emerged, wearing such beautiful crowns
As the ancient Amphitrite did not have.
Plaited out of little shining sea plants...

The water depths in King-Spirit are full of "lamps of little shining sea plants," "pearls, strange—enchanted huge moons" lying deep in the ocean, "dim underwater moons/' and beings "anxious about their shapes," close to damnation or ruin. A dormant cosmos lies there, striving, if possible, to rise through redemption to higher forms of being. Likewise, in the Jūros sonata (Sonata of the Sea, 1908) shining spherical creatures covering the sea bottom by the ruins of a city buried there—a city that appears as an infernal replica of Jerusalem—are rising like air bubbles toward sources of light and boats-mediators. In the world of Čiurlionis's paintings, as in King-Spirit, "below, death became necessary." It was there—"below"—that

Some terrible cemeteries appeared
Under that column, which at the top
Was becoming subordinate in form to the spirit.
                [IV, III, 85-873

If, following Słowacki and his Lithuanian disciple, we look in the opposite direction, turning from inanimate or primitive nature to higher rungs of the ladder, we see the process of the world's transformations as the figure of a pyramid. In this way, Słowacki conveys both individual effort:

Thus my spirit ejected itself into
Pyramidal shapes
                [I, II, 321-322]

and the work of the whole advancing cosmos:38

And above us some bloody dawns,
Full of silver stars—are rising all the time;
Ceaseless flashes strike us in our curious eyes...
[And] always frighten away the blazing disclosures of spirits,
All the time towards our golden pyramid
A great fire is coming from the spirit of the earth.
                [V. I, 75-80]

Thus, as the model of spiritual transformation, the pyramidal shape determines the order of the universe. It probably performs a similar function in Ciulionis, where it constitutes one of the landmarks in the topography of his world, from the Piramidžių sonata (Sonata of the Pyramids, 1909), which directly employs this motif, to compositions based on the figure of the triangle, used perhaps in the most intriguing way in the Allegro of the Sonata of the Stars.

The Order of Genesis

It is well known that Genesis From the Spirit, a poetic treatise about the spiritual history of the universe, was written in the form of a prayer, according to the revelation Słowacki had in Pornic on the coast of the Atlantic. This event is recalled at the beginning of the treatise,39 and while reading it we ought to bear in mind the circumstances of the disclosure: the poet standing on a stony cliff, separated from the noisy port and touching eternal truths.

Here, where gold and silver rocks encrusted with mica are burning behind my back [...], here, where the shot-off sun is pouring its rays onto my shoulders, and the continuous voice of Chaos working for form can be heard in the hum of the sea, here, where spirits are climbing Jacob's ladder of being by the same path as I used to follow; [.,.] let me, oh God, stammer like an infant the past work of being and read it in the forms, where my past is inscribed.40

Thus, what looks like Jacob's ladder when seen directly may be seen in greater depth, according to the order of events taking place since the beginning of the world. Memory reveals the historical dimension, the dimension of individual and collective destinies. As particular spirits have played a role in the world's transformations beginning with its origin, individuals' vicissitudes and the history of the universe intertwine.

Therefore Mieczysław, the protagonist of Rhapsody IV, endowed with the supernatural faculty of inner sight, is keenly aware of his eternal destiny and thereby—as the leading spirit of a community—conscious of his people's destiny as well. Mieczysław recognizes the meaning of life: he goes back to its source, apprehends his metaphysical task, and only then does he become himself. By the power of spiritual laws, the process described repeats the cycle of the creation of the world. Mieczysław is blind, and his first vision emerges as if from darkness:

As that spirit, I say, in a nutshell coffin
Would have slept for entire ages on both sides,
Like a fragrant vase of Egyptian balm—
Different only in that he has a star inside —
If the Lord had not shaken him
With a hand of lightning...
                                [IV, I, 329-334]

The star is born out of the inner night of man, like life, which—according to the next octave—bursts out from a seed or a bird's egg. This concept of light, lying in the womb of darkness and ready to burst out, to initiate the process of "becoming," brings to mind the first visions of Čiurlionis's Pasaulio sutvėrimas (Creation of the World, 1905-1906). Subsequent compositions from this and other, related series find their equivalents in Słowacki's images of spiritual metamorphoses, especially in certain fragments of Genesis from the Spirit. "[...] you have turned my spirit into a cloud of fire and hanged it over abysses," says the poet, "and now in the heavens [...] a golden angel has seized a handful of globes, whirled it like a fiery rainbow, and carried it away with himself."41

This movement of heavenly bodies is transferred into parts three and five of the Creation of the World as well as the dance of spherical lights in the series Sparks to cease only in the Sonata of the Stars. Słowacki further in Genesis From the Spirit asks: "Old Ocean, tell me, how did the first mysteries of the organism take place in your womb? The first developments of nervous flowers in which the Spirit blossomed"?42

In Creation of the World Čiurlionis shows as many as five transformations of plants, five visions, from Part VI, where white flowers appear above the water surface, to part XI, the richest and subtlest, as if to illustrate the statement from Słowacki's treatise: "And such is today the road of man's spirit as was the path he cut ages ago while working his way to the final goal in the leaf of the plant".43

The final, twelfth painting of the series again seems to be set in the watery depths, while the motif of the snake links the Creation of the World with the earlier five-part series Tvanas (The Deluge, 1904).

In Genesis From the Spirit floods destroy subsequent kingdoms, the third of which is the domain of snakes:

Thus, frightened and vexed by the resistance of the body, you started to spin silver ribbons in the sea depth and you began the third horrible kingdom of snakes.44

Słowacki's snakes are called to life with the stroke of a painter's brush. One cannot miss the analogy with the Creation of the World, where Čiurlionis also "spins" his fantastic plants, putting on the paint in parallel lines, as if to stress the effort of the whole hand or mark the trail of the creative process.

In The Deluge the snake is the protagonist of two scenes, its presence corresponding to the following fragment of the poem-prayer:

Lord! I can see the head of an enormous amphibian, the first head looking out of the calm sea, which seems the Queen of all nature, the queen of all perfection. I can see it eye gravely the entire sky, meet the sun's circle with its eye, and hide, frightened, at the bottom of darkness... And only after centuries of a snake's life does the same head dare to come out for another struggle with the sun...45

In the order of history, just as in that of space, the world faces the highest material emanation of spirit, i.e. the sun. This idea, essential for both Genesis From the Spirit and King-Spirit, found a condensed expression in Čiurlionis' Saulės pagarbinimas (Adoration of the Sun, 1909). In the foreground of that painting there is the sea; along the horizon marches a procession of creatures walking in order of size and importance. They are led by a color party with flags lowered in the direction of the rising sun.

The Golden String

Vytautas Bičiunas has compared Čiurlionis's oeuvre to Mickiewicz's "Great Improvisation" from his Forefathers' Eve, especially to the passage that extends the poet's creative power to heavenly spheres and lets him compose the music of the spheres. Typically enough, Słowacki transformed this vision:

[..,] My spirit beguiled
    [by the charm of heavenly music—R.O-K.]
Is whirling all moons, as it seems,
And seizes stars like musical notes...
And expresses them here in earthly voices:
Composing no longer a Song-Dream but a Giant's Song.
                                    [I, II, 468-472]

He did not depart very far from the prototype; he did, however, emphasize a certain kind of imagery only potentially present in the Great Improvisation, The conception of the creator as a cosmic composer, common in the romantic period, was given new metaphorical value as Słowacki presented heavenly music in the form of the score: "stars like music notes." In this way, Słowacki
 effected a transformation that became an important element of Čiurlionis's compositions in painting.46

In comparison with the use of musical notation in painting—a concept as conventional as it is bold and original—the other ways of combining musical and visual elements in the work of Słowacki and Čiurlionis become less impressive. The picture of the harp in Part III of the series Hymn is based on the metaphor of plants resembling harps (the harps of Part XII of Creation of the World) or, speaking in general terms, the motif of musical instruments inscribed into landscape. "The whole world was like a harp," says Słowacki in Rhapsody IV of King-Spirit, expressing with one simile what in Rhapsody II developed into an entire symphonic poem:

[...] And great was the whirl of stars...
Great the fires of red meteors,
The forest had its great turbulences,
Great turbulences of birds in the skies —
Nature all in sighs and in voices

Cried:— "God, eternal Lord!
Raise me all—having raised man!
Give me breathing—through a higher breath!
I joined in; and all the singing
Went like harmony heard from afar,
Stronger and stronger—with golden strings,
Like the vibrating womb of the earth's interior.
                                [II, 348-360]

The image of the harp identified with the world is not as artistically innovative as that of the cosmos-score, yet it is of great importance. In the harp's "golden strings"—the rays—sound and light merge; two homogeneous though notequivalent elements that constitute the basis of the visible form of the world. Not equivalent, since—according to Słowacki—light was subtler than sound, almost heavenly:

And that element—superior to voice because it is better able to convey God's ravishments—the golden light, oh Lord-shows itself to us in the future—as the most perfect instrument of the holy song—as our nourisher. In that capital city which is floating down to us from the clouds. 47

Therefore Słowacki gave priority to painting over music, the former being the art of colors, which originate directly from light. This attitude, inconsistent with romantic aesthetics, must have been shared by Čiurlionis, who, contrary to modernist trends (far more extreme than those of Romanticism) abandoned music for painting. For it is not musical tone, but brilliance, the language of flashes, that constitutes the immediate emanation of spiritual content:48

The language was taken from [solar] love,
Gilded with it... when it lowered itself, painted,
But all great, open, inspired,
And not spoken, but flashed out of spirit.
                            [II, 113—1163

In a letter to his mother Słowacki called the scenes of Rhapsody I "canvases," saying that "in those canvases [he] would like to express light, more than the colorfulness of nature—the light Raphael had in his eyes when he began."49 Wiesław Juszczak confirmed the success of this endeavor, describing the landscapes of King-Spirit as derailed, floating, "dematerialized by light."50

A modernist could agree with Zygmunt Krasiński, who contrasted Mickiewicz the sculptor with Słowacki the musician, "in whose music Correggio's and Raphael's paints flow, carried by Beethoven's tones."51 One might even want to refer this phrase—colors "carried by tones"—to the musical painting of Čiurlionis. However suggestive it may be, it remains superficial. Actually, in both Słowacki and Čiurlionis tones float in light. Contrary to the famous symbolic audition coloree, here it is colors that can be heard. And only this angle of vision made possible the composition of colorful scores. Unlike in modernism, which saturated works of art with musical content, nearly equivalent to emotion, in Čiurlionis the constructive, intellectual element is distinctly manifest.

Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine his innovatory ideas, anticipating abstractionist trends in European art, without this tendency toward intellectual treatment of form. It was here that Čiurlionis's genius found its fullest expression. At this point, though, it must be emphasized that his affinity with Słowacki, conspicuous chiefly on the thematic level, but discernible in composition and the technique of imagery as well, was even more fundamental, the very first principle governing the artistic matter of their respective worlds. In Rhapsody I of King-Spirit we encounter the image of a maiden who is burning in a sacrificial boat:

[...] Who seemed to the boat's golden wood
To be like a sunflower, While from the breath of the beyond
She already took a new voice and the brilliance of a flame...
Now she was a breath—now fire—now bodiless —
Now a fog—and yet she was still singing, [longing] for the world;
                                                            [I, 1, 283-288]

"Now she was a breath—now fire," "now a fog," closer and closer to "the brilliance of a flame"--- If we analyze this sequence of images, we find that the scene in question metaphorically reflects "the process of purifying art from the illusions of nature,"52 and simultaneously it is a poetic anticipation of a similar process, i.e., abstraction from realism, in the domain of painting.

This idea, present in other visions of King-Spirit as well, was ahead of its time by over fifty years. Čiurlionis grasped it and brought it to life.

This fact adds another beautiful and important, albeit hitherto forgotten, page to the bulk of correspondences between the literary arts and graphic artists. Alongside such literary and artistic geniuses as Coleridge and Turner or Lermontov and Vrubel, we must now place Słowacki—the Polish poet who inspired the creation of one of the most interesting styles of painting in our century and Čiurlionis— the Lithuanian painter who drew from King-Spirit such artistic consequences as the poet's compatriots were not able to develop.

Text and poetry translated by Magdalena Zapędowska
Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań


Valerian Chudovsky, 'The Poet of the Vertical Line," translated by Povilas Gaučys and Birutė Vaičjurgis-Šležas, in Čiurlionis: Painter and Composer, ed. By S. Goštautas, Vilnius, Vaga, 1994.
2 Dewaraczek, the nickname of Čiurlionis
's disciple, Halina Wol-man, is better known in its Lithuanian form as Devdorakšlis.
3 Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, "Z Listow do Dew-duraczka," Konteksty no. 3-4 (1993): p. 149.
4 Juliusz Słowacki, "Król -Duch," in Dzieła, ed. Julian Krzyżanowski, vol. 5 (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im Ossolińskich, 1952). All further quotations from King-Spirit are made from this edition and are cited parenthetically, subsequent numbers referring to (1) rhapsody, (2) song, (3) lines.
5 See Jerzy Kwiatkowski, "Od katastrofizmu stowiańskiego do synów slońca," in Młodopolski świat wyobrażni, at. Maria Pod-raza-Kwiatkowska (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1977).
6 Stanislaw Wyspiański, "Hymn Veni Creator," in Dzieła zebrane, vol. 11 (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1961), p. 133.
7 See Tomasz Weiss, Romantyczna genealogia polskiego modernizmu. Rekonesans, (Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydaw-niczy, 1974).
8 Quoted after Ignacy Matuszewski, Słowacki i nowa sztuka (modernizm). Twórczość Stowackiego w świetłe poglądów estetyki nozvoczesnej. Studium krytyczno-porównawcze, ed. and with an introduction by Samuel Sandier (Warszawa: Paristwowy Instytut 9 Wydawniczy, 1965), p. 108. Matuszewski, p. 111.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid., p. 135.
12 Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, Apie muziką ir dailę. Laiškai, užrašai ir straipsniai (Vilnius: Valstybinė Grožinės Literaturos Leidykla, 1960), p. 273.
13 Čiurlionis, "Z listów do Dewduraczka," p. 149.
14 Juliusz Słowacki, "Genezis z Ducha. Modlitwa," in Krąg pism mistycznych, ed. Alina Kowalczykowa (Wroclaw: Zaklad Narodowy im. Ossoliriskich, 1982), p. 40.
15 See Zdzislaw Kępinski, Stanisław Wyspiański (Warszawa: Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, 1984), pp. 95-102.
16 Stanislaw Wyspiański, Akropolis, ed. Ewa Miodońska-Brooks (Wroclaw: Zaklad Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1985), p. 210.
17 Tadeusz Miciński, Nietota. Księga tajemna Tatr (Warszawa: Gebethner i Wolff, 1910), p. 368.
18 Ibid., 320.336.
19 See Weiss, pp. 264 ff.
20 Stanisław Przybyszewski, "0 'nową' sztukę" in Wybór pism, ed. Roman Taborski (Wroclaw: Zaklad Narodowy im. Ossolńskich, 1966), pp. 155-156.
21 Matuszewski, p. 112.
22 Ibid., 154.
23 Čiurlionis, "Apie muziką ir dailę' p. 23.
24 Ibid., p. 83.
25 Jadvyga Čiurlionytė, Atsiminitnai apie M.K. Ciurlionį (Vilnius: Vaga, 1970), p. 202. The artist's sister adds in a footnote, "Having visited W. Morawski in 1968 I learnt that my brother really liked Słowacki and formulated very interesting thoughts about him in discussions about literature. Unfortunately, Morawski could not reconstruct them."
26 Vytautas Landsbergis, Čiurlionio dailė (Vilnius: Vaga, 1976), p. 74.
27 L. Stachurski, "Życie i twórczość Mikołaja Cziurlianisa na pod-stawie rozmowy z żoną znakomitego malarza," Kurier Poranny, no. 323 (21.11,1934).
28 "Pamięci Króla-Ducha Litwy, M. Cziurlianisa. Mój dar. Impresja," Kurier Krajowy no. 22 (6.02.1914).
29 Although Wyspiański objected to interpreting his play in relation to King-Spirit, his objection is difficult to accept. See Stanisław Wyspiański, Bołesiaw Śmiały Skałka, ed. Jan Nowakowski (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich. 1969), xxvii-xxviii.
30 Halina Floryriska, "Spadkobiercy "Król a-Ducha." 0 recepcji filozofii Słowackiego w światopoglądzie polskiego modernizmu (Wroclaw: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1975), p. 18.
31 Kazimierz Wyka, Thanatos i Polska, czyli a jacku Malczewskim (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1971), pp. 109-119.
32 This metaphorical image comes from the 1836 poem "Rzym" but it is typical for Słowacki's entire work.
33 Landsbergis, p. 190.
34 Juliusz Słowacki, "Najpiękniejszy, największy Boga tron na ziemi...", in Dzieła, ed. Julian Krzyżanowski. vol. 1: Liryki i inne wiersze (Wroclaw: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1952), p. 188.
35 "God the Father is only spoken of at the beginning of the letter to Rembowski and is represented figurally as a cobweb with an invisible or empty centre," says Jan Gwalbert Pawlikowki. Jan Gwalbert Pawlikowski, "Rzut oka ma mistykę Słowackiego," in Juliusz Słozvacki, "Król-Duch", vol. 2: Komentarz (Lwow: H. Altenberg, 1923), p. 99.
36 Wieslaw Juszczak, "Lekcja pejzażu wedlug "Króla-Ducha," Teksty no. 3 (1976), p. 38.
37 Jan Gwalbert Pawlikowski, "Komentarz tekstu glownego," in Juliusz Słowacki, "Król-Duch", vol. 2: Komentarz, p. 225.
38 Pawlikowski, "Komentarz tekstu głównego," in Juliusz Siowacki, "Król-Duch", vol. 2: Komentarz, p. 129.
39 See Kowalczykowa's note 5 to Juliusz Słowacki, "Genezis z Ducha. Modlitwa," in Krąg pism mistycznych, ed. Alina Kowalczykowa, p. 15.
40 Słowacki, "Genezis z Ducha," pp. 15-16.
41 Ibid., 17.
42 Ibid., 21.
43 Ibid,, 35.
44 Ibid, 26.
45 Ibid., 27.
46 It is worth noting that such an idea would have been much less likely to occur to the artist but for the fact that modernism valued music more than anything else and transferred its devices and terminology into other spheres of art. For example, when Matuszewski compared the luminosity of the Pre-Raphaelites' canvases to Słowacki's poetry, he described "The Golden Stair" by Burne-Iones as "a solemn introduction, a grave and graceful andante to some unfinished symphony, whose author used colours and lines instead of tones" (Matuszewski, p. 138).
47 Słowacki, "Genezis z Ducha,"p. 46.
48 Pawlikowski, "Komentarz tekstu glównego," in Juliusz Słowacki, "Król-Duch", vol. 2: Komentarz, p. 147.
49 Juliusz Słowacki, "Listy do matki," in Dzieła, ed. Julian Krzyżanowski, vol. 13 (Wroclaw: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1949). p. 486. Quoted after Juszczak, p. 40.
50 Juszczak, p. 37.6
51 Quoted after Matuszewski, p. 156.
52 Roman Zrębowicz, 0 nowoczesnym malarstwie. Wspomnienia i refleksje paryskie (Warszawa: Arkady, 1959), p. 151.