Jan Kochanowski (1530–84) was the greatest poet of Poland during its existence as an independent kingdom. His Laments are his masterpiece, the choicest work of Polish lyric poetry before the time of Mickiewicz.2
Kochanowski was a learned poet of the Renaissance, drawing his inspiration from the literatures of Greece and Rome. He was also a man of sincere piety, famous for his translation of the Psalms into his native language. In his Laments, written in memory of his little daughter Ursula, who died in 1579 at the age of thirty months, he expresses the deepest personal emotion through the medium of a literary style that had been developed by long years of study. The Laments, to be sure, are not based on any classic model and they contain few direct imitations of the classical poets, though it may be noted that the concluding couplet of Lament XV is translated from the Greek Anthology. On the other hand they are interspersed with continual references to classic story; and, more important, are filled with the atmosphere of the Stoic philosophy, derived from Cicero and Seneca. And along with this austere teaching there runs through them a warmer tone of Christian hope and trust; Lament XVIII is in spirit a psalm. To us of today, however, these poems appeal less by their formal perfection, by their learning, or by their religions tone, than by their exquisite humanity. Kochanowski's sincerity of grief, his fatherly love for his baby girl, after more than three centuries have not lost their power to touch our hearts. In the Laments Kochanowski embodied a wholesome ideal of life such as animated the finest spirits of Poland in the years of its greatest glory, a spirit both humanistic and universally human.