The Middle Ages
Poland’s acceptance of Christianity in its Western form in 966 resulted in the long-lasting domination of Latin as the language of written communication. It was three centuries later that Polish emerged as the language of literature. Paradoxically, the first known poem in Polish is, at the same time, the most accomplished literary product of the whole medieval period. “Bogurodzica” (Mother of God), an anonymous religious hymn from the thirteenth century preserved in a fifteenth century manuscript, consists of two stanzas with a highly complex parallel construction and sophisticated verse structure. Such a masterly piece could not have been created in a cultural vacuum; some tradition of oral poetry in Polish must have existed around that time, although nothing except “Bogurodzica” has been preserved in a written form.
Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Polish literature was characterized by the prevalence of religious poetry. The increasing participation of laypeople in religious life brought about the growth of popular devotional literature in the vernacular. Its lyric genre breaks down thematically into Lenten and Easter songs, Christmas carols, hymns to the Virgin Mary, and so on. While being, for the most part, adaptations from Latin, some of these poems manage to strike an original note. “ale Matki Boskiej pod Krzyem” (the lament of the Mother of God at the foot of the Cross), a first-person monologue, is distinguished...
(The entire section is 402 words.)