‘Warszawianka 1831 roku’ is a Polish patriotic song written in support of the November Uprising of 1830-31- a Polish nationalist rebellion, led by the army of Congress Poland, against Russian rule. The song was subsequently sung by rebels fighting the Russians as well as by civilians in areas that had been liberated, albeit briefly, from Russian rule. It is a rousing call to arms; Poles are encouraged to take up their Bayonets in the name of their independence. It also invokes moments from Polish history in order to stir up nationalist sentiment and affirm the nationalist notion that the Poles have a unique, shared history. The song became one of the main symbols of the Uprising and of the nascent Polish national movement more generally.
In spite of it being a Polish patriotic song, it was originally written in French with the title ‘La Varsovienne’ by the French poet Casimir Delavigne and later translated into Polish by Karol Sienkiewicz. Delavigne was writing in Paris where he was surrounded by Polish emigres who informed him of their plight and inspired his sympathy with the Polish struggle for independence,. In the 19th century strong connections were forged between Poland and France. Many Poles had fled to France during the partitions (1772, 1793 and 1795), and during the Napoleonic Wars the French had briefly restored a sovereign Poland between 1807 and 1815. The third stanza of the song makes reference to these joint Polish-French actions during the Napoleonic campaigns in Italy and Egypt. Furthermore, in its first stanza “Warszawianka 1831 roku” references the French July Revolution of 1830, As Delavigne suggests, this was an inspiration for the Polish November Uprising which began in the same year. Both the context of the song and its lyrics reflect the fellowship of France and the Polish national movement, and the foment of ideas that took place between the two peoples during this revolutionary epoch.
The music accompanying the song was written by Polish composer Karol Kurpinski - a romanticist who played a key role in developing a Polish national style. This involved combining classic music with traditional Polish folk styles. This imbued his music with a national quality so that, alongside the patriotic lyrics the music served to embody the national spirit. His songs were very popular among Polish nationalists. “Warszawianka 1831 roku” is no different, its catchy and rousing melody made it a particular favourite of the rebels. When listening to the song it is clear that Kurpinski has included musical elements from “La Marseillaise”. The lyrics also display similarities, the chorus of “Warszawianka 1831 roku” calls Poles “to the bayonets”, strikingly similar to the call “to arms” of La Marseillaise. This further highlights the revolutionary connection between France and Poland.
Once the song had been translated into Polish it swiftly gained popularity across partitioned Poland. It was first performed on 5th April 1831 at the National Theatre in Warsaw- conducted by Kurpinski himself. This was particularly symbolic as Warsaw had been liberated from the Russians and the Poles who were now free to express their national identity and celebrate their freedom – if briefly.
The lyrics of the song reflect the history of the Polish struggle for independence since the partitions. It laments the failed Kosciuszko Uprising and the massacre of Polish civilians in Praga by Russian troops, which led to the final Partition in 1795 which wiped Poland off the European map. The song also mentions the brutality of the Russians and the Cossacks towards Polish troops during the Balkan wars of 1829. The author’s invocation of the Poles traumatic experiences at the hands of their enemies highlights the contrast between the Poles and their neighbouring (and partitioning) neighbouring powers, and shapes both a collective memory and a national ideal. With this emerges the theme of resistance and the determination that the nation be reborn. The lyrics assure the people that the ‘martyrs’ of the opposition to the partitions did not die in vain and that in the end the national movement will triumph.