Bolesław Leśmian (born Bolesław Lesman; January 22, 1877[1] – November 7, 1937) was a Polish poet, artist and member of the Polish Academy of Literature. He was one of the most influential poets of the early 20th century in Poland, one of the best poets of 20th century and cousin of another notable poet of the epoch - Jan Brzechwa and a nephew of famous poet and writer of Young Poland - Antoni Lange.


Photograph of Bolesław Leśmian

Bolesław Leśmian was born January 22, 1877 in Warsaw, Congress Poland, Russian Empire to a family of Polonized Jewish intelligentsia. He spent his childhood and youth in Kiev, where he graduated from the law faculty of Saint Vladimir University. In 1901, he returned to Warsaw. From there, he set off on a journey to various European cities, including Munich and Paris, where he married a painter, Zofia Chylińska. Heavily influenced by French modernists, Leśmian returned to Warsaw, where he became one of the founders of an experimental Artistic Theatre. There he also met one of his closest friends, Zenon Przesmycki, with whom he became involved in the publication of Chimera, an art newspaper.

Although he made his debut in 1895 (a series of poems published in Wędrowiec magazine), his works initially went unnoticed. To sound "more Polish", Leśmian adopted a slightly modified version of his surname which included typically Polish sounds (previously it had been Lesman). According to various conflicting sources, the author of the pen-name which eventually became his official surname was either the known poet and poet's uncle Antoni Lange, or a renowned bon-vivant of Warsaw, Franc Fiszer. The first booklet issued in Warsaw in 1912 (Sad Rozstajny) did not bring him much publicity either, and in 1912 Leśmian moved back to France. He returned in 1914.

From 1918 until 1934, he worked as a manager of large landed estates in Hrubieszów and then as a lawyer in Zamość. At the same time he published the best known of his books: Łąka (The Meadow, 1920) and Napój cienisty (Shadowy Drink, 1936). In 1933, he was accepted as a permanent member of the Polish Academy of Literature. In 1935, he moved back to Warsaw, where he died two years later. He is buried in Powązki Cemetery, in the Alley of the Meritorious, among other notable Polish writers, politicians and military men.

His daughter, Dunia Leśmianowna later married British adventurer and traveller Denis Hills. Actress and singer Gillian Hills was born of this marriage in 1944.[2]


Leśmian developed a unique style of his own. In his poems, in a fantastical, mythical and fabulous environment, often related to Polish folklore and traditions, he described his life philosophy. Protagonists of his works are usually handicapped humans, struggling between their culture and Nature, unable to accept their fate. He also expressed the idea that poets are examples of primitive mankind, the only ones able to live with both culture and Nature.

His style is also notable for numerous neologisms, many of which are still in use in everyday Polish language. Since his death, he has been called one of the greatest Polish poets ever and certainly one of the most interesting artists of the interwar period. He was also the creator of a unique stylised Polish folk ballad and personal lyrics. In addition, he is frequently mentioned as the most notable poet to write erotic poetry in Polish.


  • "Sad rozstajny", (Bifurcated Orchard, Warsaw, 1912)
  • "Klechdy sezamowe" (Sesame Tales, Warsaw, 1913)
  • "Przygody Sindbada Żeglarza" (Adventures of Sindbad the Sailor, Warsaw, 1913)
  • "Łąka" (Meadow, Warsaw, 1920)
  • "Napój cienisty", (Shadowy Drink, Warsaw, 1936)
  • "Dziejba leśna" (Forest Happenings, Warsaw, 1938)
  • "Klechdy polskie" (Polish Tales, London 1956)
  • "Skrzypek opętany" (Possessed Violin Player, Warsaw, 1985)
  • "Pochmiel księżycowy" (Russian, Lunar the-day-after, Warsaw, 1987; Polish translation by Jerzy Ficowski)
  • "Zdziczenie obyczajów pośmiertnych" (Savagery of Posthumous Habits, Cracow, 1998)


  1. ^ The exact date of his birth is disputed: the act of birth mentions 1877, Leśmian himself used 1878, while the date mentioned on his tombstone is 1879.
  2. ^


Further reading

  • Mortkowicz-Olczakowa, Hanna (1961). Bunt wspomnień. Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy.
  • Alexandra Chciuk-Celt, "Linguistic innovation in Boleslaw Lesmian," translation dissertation with heavily annotated double versions (verse and literal) of 68 poems, City University of New York Graduate Center, 1984.