Pan Tadeusz: The Last Foray in Lithuania


Translated from by

Published: September 2018





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Book Description

In a panoramic view of early 19th century Polish society, Pan Tadeusz interlaces various narrative threads, from the homecoming of the eponymous Pan Tadeusz from his studies in the city, to a feud between local families over ownership of a ruined castle, to clandestine preparations for Polish participation in Napoleon’s anticipated invasion of Russia, to the mystery of Father Robak (“Worm”), a monk whose involvement in all the stories seems to tie them together.

The national epic of Poland and of the larger Lithuanian region, Pan Tadeusz has become ingrained in the Polish literary consciousness. Bill Johnston’s translation of this seminal text allows English-language readers to experience the richness, humor, and narrative energy of the original.

With its riveting narrative propulsion, intertwining plotlines, effortless ironic wit, and lovingly detailed portraits of a bygone gentry, Pan Tadeusz invites comparison with the best works of Byron or Pushkin.
National Translation Award statement on awarding Bill Johnston the 2019 National Translation Award in Poetry

I was amused and astonished by Johnston’s ability to channel the playfulness of Mickiewicz’s language throughout the text. ... It's Mickiewicz's brilliant play with language that makes this poem an engrossing experience. And​ ​this is where Johnston's ​"​performance​"​ succeeds most definitively: in capturing the author's wild fluctuations of register and brilliant associative riffs.
Eric Fishman, ArtsFuse

Reading Johnston’s meticulous, brilliant version feels ... like stumbling across a lost city, forgotten for ages and now brought back to life.
Josh Billings, Los Angeles Review of Books

The new translation by Bill Johnston, Professor of Comparative Literature at Indiana University, arguably makes the classic more accessible to and enjoyable for the modern reader. Uncluttered with archaisms, it is deeply visual, perhaps even cinematic ... There is much to be learnt from this poem about social structure, agronomy and environment.
Frank O'Reilly, East-West Review

Bill Johnston, celebrated as a translator of landmark Polish literature, has crafted a wondrously eloquent and entertaining new version of Pan Tadeusz. Over 450 never-flagging pages, he converts Mickiewicz’s 13-syllable rhyming lines into iambic couplets deployed with stupendous skill, grace and agility. Nimble half-rhymes, lithe enjambment and mischievous wordplay channel all the story’s humour and exuberance, and banish any risk of jingling monotony. At last, English readers can grasp why Pan Tadeusz belongs with Byron’s Don Juan and Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin in a glorious farewell trio that marked the swansong of the verse epic in Europe.
Boyd Tonkin, The Spectator

[A] story to stir the soul of the reader as they cheer the insurgents on, all the while dreaming of a brighter future for their homeland... Pan Tadeusz has all the elements of an entertaining story, and that’s exactly what unfolds.

Tony’s Reading List

Bill Johnston, one of the premier translators of our age, has here delivered his masterwork—a 450-page volume of rhymed verse that reads as compulsively as a great 19th-century novel. Pan Tadeusz, often solemnly revered as Poland’s and/or Lithuania’s “national epic,” is in fact a poem far more wayward and rambunctious—as Andrzej Wajda’s brilliant 1999 film adaptation showed. Like Wajda, Johnston conveys the cinematic sprawl of this great Shakespearian drama of rivalry and redemption, of insurrection and defeat, of kingdoms lost and retrieved in the nostalgic idylls of dream. And he does so in a contemporary English whose narrative verse-pulse is worthy of a Byron or Pushkin.

Richard Sieburth

Bill Johnston has given us the first truly readable version of Poland’s enchanting and unlikely national epic. Johnston’s flexible use of iambic pentameter captures a truly great poem, which has the charm of a fairy tale and the capaciousness of a novel. I was continually delighted and surprised by this contemporary version of a nineteenth-century landmark, the last chapter of the European epic.

Edward Hirsch

Adam Mickiewicz's verse novel is the single most influential text in the Polish language, period. But that's not why readers should flock to it in English. We should read it because it is a supreme work of Romantic irony—hypnotic, hilarious, melancholic, strange. And, in Bill Johnston's masterful translation, breathtaking.

Benjamin Paloff

The book is marvelous, its language preserved as a thesaurus of phrases whose origin has been long forgotten, now constituting a shared national vocabulary. ... It has now appeared in a very good translation by Bill Johnston, uncluttered by archaisms, quick and energetic, full of humor and warmth, unobtrusively rhymed. It is a gift to English­-language readers, revealing the depths of Lithuanian forests, squabbling warrior­-barons, and flirting ladies in search of husbands. And the underlying despair of the author—an exile forever separated from home.
Irena Grudzińska, Book Post

Read an interview with Bill Johnston on his translation career and the epic task of translating Pan Tadeusz.

Watch Bill Johnston discuss world literature and his recent works of translation.

video interview with Johnston, in English.

Read a brief biography of poet Adam Mickiewicz.

Watch a short biopic profiling Mickiewicz, in Polish.

Watch an episode of the Polish Cultural Institute in New York’s video series “Encounters with Polish Literature” about Mickiewicz, in English.

Read an article by Irena Grudzińska Gross about the enduring meaning of Pan Tadeusz.