The best years of my life, said the writer and journalist Neal Ascherson, have been spent outside England, and my instinct is to inspect this strange country through the lens of more sophisticated nations – Poland and Scotland, in particular. Inspecting one nation through the eyes of another is a popular pastime, and Anna Tomczak has collected some quotes from a variety of sources to reflect some of the ways in which the Polish and the English have felt about each other.
The English about the Polish
Lord Byron, The age of Bronze
‘................................. Ye who dwell
Where Kosciusko dwelt, remembering yet
The unpaid amount of Catherine’s bloody debt!
Poland! o’er which the avenging Angel past,
But left thee as he found thee, still a waste,
Forgetting all thy still enduring claim,
Thy lotted people and extinguished name,
Thy sigh for freedom, thy long-flowing tear,
That sound that crashes in the tyrant’s ear -
Kosciusko! On - on - on - the thirst of War
Gasps for the gore of serfs and of their Czar.
The half barbaric Moscow’s minarets
Gleam in the sun, but ‘tis a sun that sets!
William A Calder, (the Commander of a Station of three Polish Fighter Squadron), in a secret RAF Report dated 8/9/1941 on 'The Polish Fighter Pilot'
These Poles differ individually as much as one Englishman differs from another, but they have some common qualities.
- Their Pride is without Vanity….Polish Pride includes such attributes as Courage, Honour, Patriotism (and its younger brother, Esprit de Corps), Self-respect, Good Manners, Skill, Determination and, at the lower end of the scale, obstinacy.
- All who meet the Poles are impressed by their good manners. They are scrupulously polite to superior officers and to women, but at the same time natural and friendly and without affectation.
- Polish Pilots seldom take alcoholic drink. This may be because drinking would impair their capacity to kill Germans. They can enjoy thoroughly merry parties without alcoholic stimulants but on the rare occasions when drink is taken they like the party to go on until dawn.
- They are artistic and appreciative of music. The Poles sing admirably in chorus and are seldom stumped for the words or music of a fold-song.
- They spend much of their time diligently learning English and pick up our language very quickly.
- Their sense of humour is quick and akin to our own and they take leg-pulling and ragging in excellent spirits.
- In any event, there are no fellows more admirable and loveable than the Polish fighter pilots.
All quotes from Iris Murdoch’s ‘Nuns and Soldiers’
- .... Everyone seemed to think of Poland, if thinking of it at all, in a sort of mechanical diplomatic sense as part of some more general problem: as a constituent of the Austro-Hungarian empire, as one of the ‘eastern democracies’. The eternal ‘Polish question’ was never, it appeared, really about Poland at all, but about some use to which Poland could be put or some hindrance which Poland represented in the larger designs of others...
- .... What did it avail, the suffering of the virtuous, the death of the brave? Had any country ever been so malignantly vowed to destruction by its neighbours? The English had ruined Ireland, but casually, thoughtlessly. While History, like Bismarck, seemed dedicated to ‘tear up Poland by the roots.’ ....
- .... Maybe it’s all to do with being Polish. My country has had nothing but persecution and misery and the destruction of every hope, it’s been kicked to pieces by history....
- ..... Ireland is a bit like Poland after all, a miserable stupid mixed-up country betrayed by history and never able to recover from the consequences....
- .... The Poles always discuss their history ... they are like the Irish ....
Christopher Owen Hum, former British Ambassador to Poland, in a lecture at the Institute of International Studies, University of Łódź, March 1998
.... There is no doubt that for us Poland is the most important partner in Central Europe. We see a country with self-confidence, a strongly expanding economy and a clear vision of its place in the world.......
..... we feel we have an obligation - a moral obligation - to help Poland when at times in the past we were unable to do so. We look forward to seeing Poland finally take its full place - after so much delay and too much suffering - in our European family of nations. ......
The Polish about the English
W.A. Zbyszewski - a Polish exile in Britain after WWII
..... the English are easy to respect, difficult to like and impossible to love.....
Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, from Ode on Leaving England (Oda pisana rzucając Anglię), 1787
.... England, more splendid than other nations,
The country of equality, happiness and freedom,
Before the roaring waves carry me away,
Before I depart leaving you for ever,
Hear the voice of a friendly Pole,
Who, as you, was once happy and free!
Ludwik Kondratowicz ( 1823 - 1862), from Locomotive (Parowóz)
Germans and Britons, cold people,
They patched together an iron locomotive,
With coal and steam they made it move
And now they think how clever they are
Henryk Sienkiewicz, from Without Dogma (Bez dogmatu), 1891
.... Both Germans and the English are positive people who know what they want. They too go deep into an immense sea of doubt, but they do it methodically, as scientists, not as people who feel or geniuses without portfolio.