Excerpt from Five Polish Peasant Letters
I greet you from my heart, and wish you health and happiness. God grant that this little letter reaches you well, and as happy as the birdies in May. This I wish you from my heart, dear Olejniczka.
The rain is falling; it falls beneath my slipping feet.
Ι do not mind ; the post office is near.
When I write my little letter
I will flit with it there,
And then, dearest Olejniczka,
My heart will be light, from giving you a pleasure.
In no grove do the birds sing so sweetly
As my heart, dearest Olejniczka, for you.
Go, little letter, across the broad sea, for I cannot come to you.
When I arose in the morning, I looked up to the heavens and thought to myself that to you, dearest Okejniczka, a little letter I must send.
Dearest Olejniczka, I left papa, I left sister and brother and you to start out in the wide world, and to-day I am yearning and fading away like the world without the sun.
If I shall ever see you again, then, like a little child, of great joy I shall cry. To your feet I shall bow low, and your hands I shall kiss. Then you shall know how I love you, dearest Olejniczka.
I went up on a high hill and looked in that far direction, but I see you not, and I hear you not.
Dearest Olejniczka, only a few words will I write. As many sand-grains as there are in the field, as many drops of water in the sea, so many sweet years of life I, Walercia, wish you for the Easter holidays. I wish you all good, a hundred years of life, health and happiness. And loveliness I wish you. I greet you through the white lilies, I think of you every night, dearest Olejniczka.
Are you not ín Bielice any more, or what? Answer, as I sent you a letter and
there is no answer. Is there no one to write for you?
( 742) And now I write you how I am getting along. I am getting along well, very well. I have worked in a factory and I am now working in a hotel. I receive 18 (in our money 32) dollars a month, and that is very good.
If you would like it we could bring Wladzio over some day. We eat here every day what we get only for Easter in our country. We are bringing over Helena and brother now. I had $120 and I sent back $90.
I have no more to write, only we greet you from my heart, dearest Olejniczka. And the Olejniks and their children; and Wladíslaw we greet; and the Szases with their children; and the Zwolyneks with their children ; and the Grotas with their children, and the Gyrlas with their children; and all our acquaintances we greet.
North America [etc.]
Good-by. For the present, sweet good-by.
My dear Stas:
You ask me for my opinion about marriage, and you ask about [Miss] Swatowna. My brother, my Stas, I don't know what lot awaits me. About this Swatowna, as you know, I tried so hard to gain her favor, I took so many hard steps, and all this brought me nothing. I should have come out all right there for, as this Miss Swatowna told me, she "gave a basket" to Rudkowski because she loved me. But finally, when I expected to end the business, then my family began to find fault with it, particularly mother. Well, I gave up the game, I stopped calling on her. How they must talk about me there now! Swatowna is still a girl.
I don't know now what will be the end of the hopes with which I still deceive myself about the Kowalczyks in Czyzew. If God helped me, it would be the best there. All this is in the hands of God. But it is a hard nut to bite, for there is a crowd of various men around, and the Kowalczyks themselves look upon this business from several sides. I hear that they prefer me, but there was a time when things were so bad that I said to myself that I wouldn't go there again. I was there a few times and I never found her; evidently she hid herself. And she hid herself not because she hated me, but because different marriage-brokers laughed at her for receiving attention from me. Worse still, I noticed that the Kowalczyks began to treat me indifferently, particularly Mrs. Kowalczyk. This observation pained me much, but what could I do?
If I am to be successful with the Kowalczyks this money which you speak of sending from America would be a great help. It would be
( 743) necessary to show at least 2000 roubles there, so if you sent your money I would be that much bolder, because no stranger would know that it is borrowed money. I say at least 2000. It would be well to show I have 5000 cash of my own. I don't know, dear Stas, whether my efforts will bring me happiness or irretrievable loss. O, my great God! I implore you to help me. . . . Wiktor Markiewicz.
Zazdzierz, November 1st, .
Walenty ín Dobrzykow, built a small mill upon his water in competition with us, but he grinds only three-quarters of once-ground flour a-day. Well, we don't know how it will be further. As to Elzbietka, she has a boy, a butcher from Lubien ; I don't know whether she will marry him or not, but she says that this winter she will surely decide ; if not this one, then another. I have trouble enough now for my sins. Always new guests, always some new fashion, always these new things, so that my income does not suffice. And you know that your father always says: " When anything is not there, we can do without it." But sometimes it must be had, even if ít must be cut out from under the palm of the hand! So, dear son, I beg you very much, if you can, send me a little money, but for my own needs. Elzbietka is grown up, Polcia ís bigger still, Zonía begins to overtake them, and they all need to be dressed, while it is useless to speak to your father about it. If you can, send it as soon as possible, because if I sell some cow, or hog, or grain, it must be put aside. Your father says that it cannot be spent. We gave Pecia 100 roubles [when married] and 200, but we must still give 200 more. Bicia also [must have money], so we must put money aside. Well, we have nice hogs, nice cattle and a nice horse, but I must work conscientiously for all this. Your father just excuses himself with his old age, and I may work with the children so that my bones crack. He says: "Then don't keep so much farm-stock, don't work! Do I order you to do all this?" But when he wants anything, he has to have it. As to the crops, everything is not bad . .. only we must work so much.
Everywhere only work and work, so that my bones lap over one another. But what can be done? Unfortunately my teeth decline absolutely to work any longer and I must have some new ones put in, but I have not money enough for it, for I have other things to spend it on. So if it is not a great detriment to you I beg you for a few roubles for my teeth. But if not, it cannot be helped. Well, grandmother wants to move to us now, but your father is honey and sugar and your
( 744) grandmother is gall and pepper. Whoever has tried ít knows the taste. Oh, all my life I have enjoyed this honey and this sugar! I have it often under every nail. But what can be done? It is the will of God...
Your loving mother,
Warsaw, May 12, 1909.
My dear, my beloved Uncle:
I received your letter this week. It was so sad that it frightened me and therefore I write directly in order to share my thoughts with you. I regret that I caused you pain without even knowing it. It is true that lately I did not give you any sign of life, but believe me, I was so ill that I could not take a pen in hand, and brother Wadio is as afraid of writing as a Jew of water, and moreover nobody can write for me as I write myself; therefore I did not ask either my other brother or my parents. I believed that I should die and then my parents would write to you. Meanwhile it has turned out otherwise. I am still alive, I don't know for how long a time. In any case every letter that I write seems to me the last which I can write. Therefore you see, dear uncle, in what a position I am; please don't wonder, if I am late in writing, although I will try to avoid it as much as possible. You don't write whether you are in good health. How are auntie and my cousins doing? I know only that they are working but that is not enough for me. With us there is no news. My parents and brothers are in good health and in the best of spirits; it is always so, only sometimes it changes under the influence of higher forces, but everything ends happily.
I had lately the honor of getting acquainted with our countryman from Lipsk. Perhaps you remember him, Mr. Adam Chomiczewski. He deigned to come to us because his cousin, Skokowska, who is in Warsaw for treatment, lives with us. You have no idea what a man he is, you cannot remember all the benefits he has done to people, all the wealth and relationships he has! He is a friend of the first persons in Warsaw and in the whole country ! He poses egregiously, but he evidently does not know that whoever listened to him, says, "Stupid man !" I like people from my country, but this one does not please me.
I will write to-day about no general questions, because to tell the truth, I am very sleepy, it is late already, and during the day I have no time to write because I am preparing to go away next week, or in some days. Then, there is nothing of importance. About personal questions also much cannot be said. I shall write you at length after
( 745) getting to Wyzarne, I shall have more time there and my thoughts will be freer. I hope to live for those few weeks, and if it happens otherwise, well, then my parents will inform you that your correspondent has removed from here to eternity. But I confess that, if formerly I wished to die, now such an ending ís distasteful to me. I want to live. It seems that I perceived too late that life is beautiful in spite of all. I am curious whether in dying we have all our presence of mind, whether we understand what is going on at this moment with us and around us. If so, excuse me, please. I don't wish to die in full consciousness. I cannot imagine what occurs in the head, in the thoughts of the dying person, what he feels and thinks. Do you know, I have the intention of dying with a pen in my hand, namely to write what I feel in those last moments. Of course if it is possible to do it and if regret for the flying life does not oppress me.
I write as if I were already with one foot in the grave, but it is not so,
because I don't even lie in bed, but I walk, I even sew sometimes with the
sewing machine. Only this "death" persecutes me, and I cannot write more to-day,
because all my faculties are covered with mourning-crepe.
[Greetings and kisses.]
Lipsk, June 20, 1909.
My dear Uncle :
Two weeks have passed already since I left Warsaw, and not until to-day have I found time to write to you, dear uncle. I had to renew my old acquaintanceships, and had other obligations also, which did not permit me to do until now what I should have begun with. How is your health, dear uncle and auntie? Are my little cousins in good health, do they play or work? I am curious how the weather ís and the temperature in America, because here it is bad, not wet, but very cold. Do you know, not all the potatoes have yet come up? The summer will be very late.
I feel worse than bad in my health. It has come so far that, while five years ago I weighed 148 pounds, now I weigh scarcely 1 1 ; it is perhaps the smallest weight that a grown-up person can have. I have little hope of living for a long time, and still less of having the health and strength which I need so much for work. That is the reason I cannot carry out your advice, dear uncle, about long walks. From Wyzarne to Lipsk is 6 versts, to Peolyki 4 times as much. It is not for my strength to walk so long a way, since if I walk a little through the forest I feel terribly tired. Corsets and narrow shoes I don't
( 746) wear even in Warsaw, the more so in the country. I eat as much soured and sweet milk as I can and everything made from milk, I also eat all vegetables, but what is the use of all this? In the country indeed I get better during the summer and some pounds are added to my weight, but. the winter takes all this away and more still. How long will it last, and what kind of illness is it? No doctor can know it. The home remedies, the so-called old women's remedies, don't bring the desired results either. I try everything that anybody advises me to do, and in vain. Now somebody got the idea that it is a tape-worm, and they gave me some poison; but I fear to use it lest I may poison myself in truth. Death does not let us wait very long for itself. Why should I hasten its visit?
In Lipsk I found everything as it has been from old; no changes reach these retired places. If there were not the frequent, too frequent immigration to America and back, people here could remain for a long time "as in God's house behind the stove" [Proverb: happy and calm], without knowing that there exists a world besides Suwalki, Grodno, Warsaw and Czestochowa, and that in this world people are more intelligent, richer and better prepared to live. Here those who have money enough sit every day in the tavern — no, it is not a tavern, these belong to the past — but a "restaurant"! Lipsk has been able to do this much for the comfort of its citizens, and those who have not so much money work the whole week in order that they may at least on Sunday"be equal to men" and sit at the same table, or under the same table. Not everybody is like this, but an enormous majority. The cause of all this is the lack of schools, and, therefore people who are a little more intelligent cry "enlightenment," but their voice is a voice calling in the wilderness. The rich and noble are abroad, and only they could do something if they would. And in general people grow indifferent to everything that is Polish and for Poland — not indifferent to the brilliant and splendid Poland which clinks with its thousands of roubles, but to this poor, gray, vulgar, and stupid Poland. What do they care if the children of hired workmen remain poor hired workmen? That for a long time still they will believe that by charms and curses, illness and different other troubles are chased away. On the contrary, they endeavor to maintain as long as possible this unnatural state, because they know that when there is not a single illiterate, from this moment the thousands will no more flow so easily as now to their bottomless pockets.
Thence comes this indifference for all exhibits which have the local industry in view. The rich industrial does not care for such an exhibit, because he will always find a sale for his products, if not here then elsewhere; and then, his clients are rich people who imitate
( 747) what they see abroad. What do they care for local industry ? And we poor people, we disregard this, and do you know why? Because such expositions have no practical importance. In America perhaps they are as they ought to be, but with us it is simply a "turning of the head."
Such a "turning of the head" is, for instance, our "Association for Knowledge of the Country" to which you wrote once, asking, what is the object of this Association. If you thought that it occupies itself with the question of enriching of the country, you erred greatly. They travel through the land, it is true, but for the pleasure of it, not in order to study what is done in this part or the other and what could be done in a given place. They care only for a nice locality, for old ruins of castles, palaces, churches, and nothing more. All this is very nice, but in my opinion it is not the time to do it now; we have so many questions of more importance, concerning the present and the future, that it is impossible to occupy ourselves with the past. So our peasants' reason tells us, which is contrary to the "fine reason of the lords" as the Jews say. In America people are more practical, therefore it is better there than here.
Staying in the country annoys me very much, not because I am without occupation — I have enough for my strength — but much time remains which in Warsaw I spent in reading books, and here I have none. I am robbed of this only pleasure that remained, because I like books better than all amusements and play in society, all visits, etc. In Warsaw I surrounded myself with books like a true bookworm; here I cannot borrow them anywhere, and I am sad.
[Greetings and kisses.]