It's whole title is: 'Pan Tadeusz or The Last Foray in Lithuania. A Tale of the Gentry during 1811–1812 in Twelve Books of Verse'.
It is a tragicomical story of the life of Polish gentry in then north-eastern corner of a historical Poland-Lithuania, but already at that time under Russian occupation (and now within the borders of Bielarus, not Lituania and not Poland, since after the World War II the borders of Poland have been moved - by the allies - far to the West, with over one/third of the territory of pre-war Poland lost to the Soviet Union).
Pan Tadeusz invited interesting comparison among its foreign reviewers: an English edition reviewer called it a mix of Don Quixote and Iliada, while a French one called it a combination of El Cid and Three Musketeers.
Grzybobranie (Muszroom picking) - painting by Franciszek Kostrzewski.1860
But - perhaps most of all - Pan Tadeusz, the poem, is an expression of nostalgia of Mickiewicz, an involuntary expatriot in Paris, of his longing to the (idealized, despite the bitter criticism) Poland of his childhood and youth.
Thus the poem is full of loving descriptions of everyday life of Polish gentry, of a special way to make coffee, of making bigos, a traditional Polish hunters' stew, a desciption of old Polish expressions of courtesy, typical entertainment (hunting, mushroom picking, formal dinners in the castle and impromptu lunches in the woods.... and praise of the beauty of Polish landscape and even the sky over Poland, full of varying clouds, light and heavy, unlike the - boring, according to Mickiewicz - sky over Italy, which is always blue.
My memory of this poem also lingered mostly on its nostalgia aspects
-- after all, although born about one and a half of century later and under a communist rule, I also spent my early childhood in a "little country manor" like the one in the movie, and used a similar type of horse drawn carriage, like the one Tadeusz uses in the first scene of the movie) not so much on either romance or forays or all doomed Polish insurrections against the Russians
(after all the action of the poem is placed in 1811-1812, where the Napoleon army -- with many, many Polish noblemen as first row volunteers: first to fight, first to be slaughtered -- marched through Poland to fight the Russians, while the final - lets hope! - independence from Russia - save for a 20 years interlude between WWI and WWII - Poland gained first in 1989, that is looooooong, loooooong later).
Pan Tadeusz, the movie by Andrzej Wajda, made in 1999, cuts a lot of these nostalgia parts of the poem to tell its main action story... and yet the movie is both beautiful and satisfying both to Poles and foreigners, and I recommend it wholeheartedly (it is available on Netflix) to all my friends and readers.
Just watch its last scene, a grand Polonaise, as a preview.
While, then, you may ask, watching this movie discouraged my daughter from watching any more Polish movies???
Well, it was my fault. She set it up, choosing the Polish language version without English subtitles... and her Polish, although fine for a brief casual conversation, turned out to be totally inadequate (she left Poland when she was 8 years old) to follow an early XIX century Polish poem.
Knowing that she never studied the history of Poland I explained the historical background of the movie, but failed to notice she had linguistic difficulty.
I found it out when I invited her to watch "Chlopi" ( another Polish historical movie, located in central Poland, in Masovia, near my hometown of Lowicz, and showcasing the rich Polish customs and ethnic costumes of this region)... and she refused.
OK, next time we shall watch Pan Tadeusz - and other Polish movies - with English subtitles.