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Janina Degutytė (1928–1990) was a poet, translator, and children’s book author. She belongs to the generation of Lithuanian poets who were forced to endure war, occupation, postwar persecution, and exile. Degutytė was born in Kaunas and studied Lithuanian language and literature at Vilnius University. A longtime resident of the Antakalnis neighborhood in Vilnius, she worked as a librarian, a Lithuanian language teacher, and since 1958, an editor at the State Publishing House of Fictional Literature.

Degutytė began publishing poetry in the late 1960s. Her first poetry collection titled Ugnies lašai (Drops of Fire) was published in 1959 and amassed a wide readership. Her intimate, emotionally charged, and lyrical poetry made her stand out among her contemporaries, and during the Thaw period, she became more liberated from her initially straightforward work that expressed reverence for the Soviet regime. The principal themes found in Degutytė’s poetry are Lithuania, its history and nature, folklore, myths, memory, and reflections on reality as well as the individual’s relationship with their environment. Degutytė became a laureate of the Poetry Spring festival in 1968. She passed away right before the reinstatement of Lithuania’s independence, in 1990.

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Graphic Novels

Janina Degutytė in Vilnius, around 1965. Maironis LIthuanian Literature Museum archives photo.

Translated by Lionginas Pažūsis

 

AN ILLUSION OF THE NORTHERN SKY

Sometime
Like a tree in November
I'll cast off all my leaves –
Joy and hatred,
Grief and mirage,
Fear and will –
And with wild naked longing,
Like a baby’s first cry
With which man hails the world,
I will draw
On the temperate northern sky
Like on grey primordial granite –
A fluttering bird.
Then with hundreds of branches and sprays,
Cracked and pungent
I’ll embrace
Like the wind of November
My own life.

1965

 

CRESCENDO

Midwinter’s sullen sky,
descend into my eyes.
Briny unbounded sea,
flow out into my blood.
Silent grasses and waving trees,
take root in my body.
Sunrays and pigeons,
alight on my palms.
Whistling snowstorms from streets and squares,
pierce me through.
Hey, come on!
All the same you will all abandon me
leaving me by myself – with earth.

1966

 

A PITCHER

Summer!
A tall inexhaustible pitcher!
Brimful of whispering streams and hot silence.
As you wish, you may drink an oriole’s warble
or blustery rainstorm...
Drink! The hours of our lifetime are shorter than ever...
Drink the tremulous, wavering, green cool of lindens...
The red-winged oriole, both timid and bold,
in your chest is still stirring
(it fears to be no more, but does not fear to die).
Drink! You will spill the last gulp for gods...
That tall inexhaustible pitcher!
Foam of clouds and the bitter of woods at the bottom...
Close your eyes
and drink,
thousands of years drink –
to yourself and to me.

1966

 

***

Rain rain rain
a symphony of the November rain
linden-trees like old silvery castles
are full of monotonous ringing
a crystalline currant bush glistens
over there by the window
it’s easy to go on
for the soul touched by rain
rain rain rain
an infinite symphony
all the earth and the sky
mix and swell somewhere deep
under layers of hope and despair
one more second
and you won’t endure
you'll turn into a raindrop
flowing down on the pane

 

 

* * *

A mirrorlike summer evening.
In each leaf you can see your own face.
A young lapwing gets lost
in the silence and grass –
like your childhood.
Heavy mist starts to creep from the woods,
from the lake which has dimmed its reflections,
through the valley now filled
with mystery, down
the trail of a snail – all around
you can see your anxiety,
shyness,
unforgetfulness,
muteness - - -
On a mirrorlike summer evening
you see
your own blindness,
your own grasslike craving
to be.

 

 

BIRDS OVER THE SEA

In a sombre triangle,
in a sombre triangle
they fly in the red evening sky.
But we remain here.
To wait.
Our wings were cut many times
by executioners and prophets.
We have long got accustomed
to the warmth of the hearth.
We have long got accustomed
to look through the frosted glass
And at night in a snowstorm to rock
a green field of winter crops...
Someone’s got to remain.
With the bent grass and fir-trees.
And through hard frosts of January
to kindle the fire...
So that someone could meet the birds...

In a sombre triangle,
in a sombre triangle
across the red evening sky.

1968

 

 

* * *

We come to get our breath back
in the shade of a tree –
but we cut the tree.
We come to listen
to the song of a bird –
but we shoot the bird.
We come to love each other –
but we just pass by.
We come to understand the world –
but this world is within us
under an impenetrable shell.

 

 

* * *

Holy June, month of fields,
touch the grass-scented earth
with pure fire of lightning.
Blossom out with a shower –
as a silvery rose
in the fields salted with
our sweat.
May it wash our eyes
to behold the glisten of grass,
may it wash our feet
to stand a long journey.
Holy June, month of fields,
bless our hands
so that streams would not dry,
so that trees would not die,
sot that corn-crakes would sing
on bright nights
in the field of oats.

1975

 

 

***

To live is to long for eternity,
to plant a tree – to pave the way
to another world
which is in us –
to drink up love to the last drop,
so to halt the fleeting moment –
to bear a child under your heart,
so to prolong your longing –
up on a sky-high
silvery lily
to climb to a star
and there
in the infinite
to leave your footprints
as a sign
that we’re bigger than ants.

1978

 

 

BETWEEN THE SUN ANDA VOID

Between bread and a kiss
there fades our day
between the song of a bird
and the fire of rockets
there ripens our fate
darksome surging of blood
graceful lightness of clouds
the harsh light of volcanoes
a landscape with trees
the dead banners behind our shoulders
the pain we call history
homeland we all call Earth
the only
unchangeable
unthinkable
fate
as there lightly keeps beating the heart
that we call Lithuania
the fate
between the sun and a void.

1979

 

 

 

From "The Vilnius", 1995, Spring edition

 

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