With Fire and Sword

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Overview

This is the complete book in one volume. Several illustrations are included and was produced using rich text formatting.

Above the Marienkirche, in Cracow, rises two towers of unequal height, and crowned with strange cupolas like Oriental turbans.

Before the cathedral opens the old-world market place with its arches. If you stand in the market-place in the morning, or when the evening sunlight reddens the citadel of the Wawel, strange music suddenly breaks out overhead, sad, silvery; the clarion call of a by-gone age. It re-echoes away up in the blue, coming from one sees not where, and flows in waves of ringing, pathetic melody over the old capital of the Poles. Then the music suddenly ceases, and there is a stillness, a stillness even more mysterious than the sudden outburst of sound.

That music is a voice from the past. When the hosts were gathered against fair Cracow a minstrel in the highest tower of the cathedral cheered the hearts of the besieged with the martial strains of his clarion, that resounded with warlike challenge over the city, while the battle raged around the walls. A bullet from the enemy cut short his signal and his life ; and ever after, morning and evening, the same melody rings out over the city for a memorial, but now in piercing sadness, like a dirge, and stops suddenly at the point where the minstrel fell, breaking oflF in the middle of a bar. The life of the Polish nation might well take that broken music as its symbol : it, too, ended in the middle of a bar, cut off from among the nations. High up in the citadel, on its rocky eminence above the town are the crowns and robes and scepters of the kings of Poland, and all the royal finery of jewels and gold. The trappings of kings, but no kings to wear them. For the kings of Poland lie there, in their cold shrines of stone, in the vaults of the fortress and every morning and evening they hear the clarion dirge of the nation suddenly broken off. And the rest is silence.

In his great epic of Poland, Sienkiewicz has shown us the nation at the summit of its power-a kingdom-a commonwealth as strong as any in Europe, which had beaten the Tartars and Swedes, and before which even the grand dukes of Moscow had more than once retreated vanquished. Poland stretched from the Black Sea to the Baltic, across all Europe, and from the Dnieper to the Oder. The Polish arms had a thousand splendid achievements on their roll of honor, and were yet destined for signal victories over the Turks, which should leave all Christendom their debtors.

But the novelist also shows the seeds of the nation's ruin, ready to grow rank and luxuriant, even at the noontide of glory. The Slavonic world was divided into three parts: the despotism of Moscow, beginning a new life under the young dynasty of the Romanoffs; the kingdom of Poland, really an association of powerful oligarchs, in which the mass of the people had no voice nor freedom; and the wild hordes of the Cossacks, where every man was his own lord among the great rivers that flow into the Black Sea.

To-day the despotism stands alone. It has overshadowed the free hordes of the Cossacks; it has overshadowed the kings of Poland, and driven back the Tartars to the uttermost verge of the ocean. It has, indeed, overshadowed much more-a sixth part of the whole world. Sienkiewicz has shown the elements of disintegration at work among the Cossack hordes. He has also shown clearly the causes that ruined Poland : the kinglets rising up around the elective king with almost royal might, and with ambition too great even for kings. Then round the magnates Pototskis, Kalinovskis, Vishnyovyetskis, were the lesser nobles, withstanding them in their turn, as the magnates withstood the king. Then, beneath all, the people, dumb serfs, downtrodden, with no voice in their destinies, and not even the name of freedom....

This powerful novel, "a Polish Gone with the Wind" New York Times Book Review, is set in the 17th century and follows the struggle of the kingdom of Poland to maintain its unity in the face of the Cossack-led peasant rebellion. Foreword by James Michener.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth still controlled eastern Europe in 1647, but during that year everything changed. The first sparks appeared in the Ukraine, where a domestic dispute between Bohdan Hmyelnitzki and his neighbor mushroomed into a full-blown Cossack rebellion against the gentry. Long-smoldering resentments flashed into a wildfire of rape, pillage, and murder as the peasants joined the Cossack army and fought their way toward Warsaw, bringing with them the dreaded hordes of Tartars from the east. Fighting in this epic conflict, Yan Skshetuski, commander of armored knights in the prince's army, falls in love with the beautiful Helen, only to have her stolen by the Cossacks. Thus, the string of ensuing battles becomes not just a struggle for Poland's survival but a search by Skshetuski and his fellow knights for Helen, the symbol of all Poland was and now stands to lose. With Fire and Sword , the first installment of Sienkiewicz's ``Trilogy,'' will take its place beside such works as the Iliad as one of the great pieces of epic literature. The Polish author, winner of the 1905 Nobel Prize for Literature, captures the historical essence of a culture in eclipse, expressing it through characters at once larger than life and engagingly human. While his Quo Vadis? is widely known, until now the ``Trilogy'' has been virtually unread outside Poland because it lacked a readable translation and was suppressed by Poland's Communist government. However, Kuniczak's magnificent rendition now offers this literary gem to a wide audience. As the next two volumes appear, the applause will surely grow. Most highly recommended.-- Paul E. Hutchison, Pequea, Pa.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781410100573
  • Publisher: Fredonia Books (NL)
  • Publication date: 11/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 452
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 1.20 (d)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2007

    A reviewer

    Sweeping historical fiction of the events and aftermath of the Khmelnetsky Cossack rebellion , the characters interact with historical personages in a truly realistic and captivating way.Fairly represents the Polish and Ukrainian sides of these times.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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