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Antanas A. Jonynas (b. 1953) is one of the best-known Lithuanian poets. He made his debut in 1977 and since then has published a collection of poems approximately every three years. Jonynas is also one of the most distinguished translators of poetry in Lithuania and has translated Goethe’s Faust. Until recently, he was the chairperson of the Lithuanian Writers’ Union. He is the recipient of many literary awards, including the Lithuanian National Award for Literature and Arts. His new poetry book New Sonnets was published in 2020.

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Aušra Barzdukaitė-Vaitkūnienė, In the Resort Park, 2012, canvas, oil. From the MO Museum collection

Poems from the book New Sonnets

Translated by Rimas Uzgiris

 

 

Midday Rome

Did that old rogue from Dresden, Germany
tell the truth when he said the dead stroll
the streets of Rome and their souls
spoke to him in a Trastevere trattoria?

They were a pleasant elderly pair
who came from the cold seas above.
His briefcase meant enough stuffed
with the dusty scores of Arvo Pärt.

With such documents for Judgement Day
two pigeons conducted the steady
flow of the living and the dead

as a wind blew up from the Vatican
making coffee cups roll, yet coffins
calmly took the Tiber on their way.

                     

Descartes by the Sea

How the sea did roar! Well, a tiny roar:
the waves rolling slowly to the shore
as I gazed at the disc of the moon
like a philosopher who has lost his stone.

The pines stood with their needles raised
weary of watching unchanging night scenes,
neither gulls nor eiders nor ideas soared,
even the wind hid huddled in its demesne.

Only one thought brought me sudden grief,
it pricked me with doubt and vanished again:
were my sins in the end worth anything?

Descartes and I did not exactly chime,
but loved ones denied me many times
like some proof insufficient for belief.

 

Testament

I read I lived I travelled I stole
I shared my booty even though small.
If someone has lived more wholly
I respect them but harbor no envy at all.

I wouldn’t say that the might of days
pitilessly cast me to and fro like waves,
but my library of ancient reminiscence
still collects the waste-matter of experience.

I probably don’t know the price to put on
life, and who am I at all: Cain or Able?
Maybe I will never know so much:

that the library remains is enough,
the fact that after death it will be gone
is not a problem I find very painful.

 

***

Why did you write all that?
Because everything is like that all in all,
prophets pray on the desert’s mat
kneeling under a sailboat’s pall,

and what will we do from the city escaped
as light seeps through prickly landscapes
and wide-eyed conspiratorial homunculi
sing in the cracks of steep cliff-sides?

Did we really agree on a date?
A snake hides under a large rock
on which a nude has been located,

so let’s relax as the night arrives.
I already know the world survives
as long as poetry exists, or its lack.

                     

A Poet’s Room

A gloomy interior,
the drapery inferior,
even the books on the sill
looked unfit for a will.

A tabby cat huddled
by a closed door
forlornly mewled.

A shabby lamp-shade –
what an eerie light it made! –
collected dust galore.

The picture was not ruined
by a goblet of red vermouth,
only the skeleton of a youth
in the corner was cause for rue.

 

Thrush

The morning star from its height
spills some crumbs of light,
and as the dawn arrives, women
gingerly tiptoe beside the coffin.

French cognac you will not get
nor so much as the tail of a hound.
Someone mumbles verse by the pit
giving emotion to the untidy crowd.

The morning star is in full blush
as a murmuring herd gathers
in front of the Jewish grocer’s

looking for a cheap way to get by
as feathers fall from out of the sky
and then the riddled bird, the thrush.

 

Song for the Time of Plague

Again they cart the corpses away
to build next to town a flambeau,
while the virus dances a tango
in the sky as a mad orchestra plays.

I’m sitting in the grass on the road-side
where brome blades tickle bare thighs.
I once thought I would never die,
but now I feel I never even arrived.

Wagtails wade through a puddle
as the sunset glows with distant color,
and on the cloud as on an old threshold

the beatified ghosts of ancestors
mumble words unknown
while playing nicely with their legos.

 

 

 

 

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