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The cover of "Pavasario balsai" (Voices of Spring), 1920. From Maironis Lithuanian Literature Museum collection.

From Voices of Spring

Translated by Rimas Uzgiris

 

 

A Very Short Introduction to Maironis

Maironis is the pen name of Jonas Mačiulis (1862-1932), and he has been called the “national bard” of Lithuania. Although he is not the first great poet in the Lithuanian language – that moniker belongs to Donelaitis – nor the second: Baranauskas – he is the first who took the Lithuanian language lyrical poem to the highest level of expression. Like his illustrious predecessors, he was also a priest. Like them, he was concerned with uncovering the possibilities of artistic expression and musicality in a language that had been dominated by Polish and Russian. Lithuanian hadn’t been the language of state and aristocracy for centuries (Mickiewicz, for instance, wrote his verses about Lithuania in Polish). Lithuania itself was under the repressive rule of the Russian Empire when Maironis began writing and publishing his work (the teaching and publication of the language had even been banned). And when, in 1918, Lithuania gained its independence, Vilnius was taken from it by Poland. Thus, Maironis’s work needs to be understood in the historical context of an anti-colonial struggle for national independence and freedom of expression (especially in one’s own language!). It must also be understood in the context of romanticism. Maironis published his first collection of poems, Pavasario balsai (Voices of Spring), in 1895. He continued to add to and revise this same book (much like the 19th c. American poet, Walt Whitman) up until the final authorized edition of his works in 1927. By English standards, and even by those of our neighbors in Poland, this is rather late in the development of romantic literature (due to the aforementioned historical circumstances). Nevertheless, his work is heavily marked by this influence. Emotions are at the forefront of the poems; the natural world becomes a reflection of the poet’s thoughts and feelings; heroic deeds are valorized; the virtues of the nation are sung, and its struggles bemoaned. Maironis has a satiric streak as well, especially after Lithuania’s independence is achieved, when he turns a critical eye on what he sees as the excesses and failings of society. But for the most part, Maironis’s place in the cannon rests on his extraordinarily musical articulation of Lithuanian identity and longing. Many of his poems have become widely known songs. His verses are memorized by every schoolchild. As much as anyone, he helped make modern Lithuania.

Rimas Uzgiris, PhD, MFA
Vilnius University

 

 

Don’t Cry, Dear Mother

 

Don’t cry, dear mother, that a young son

Will ride to defend your home.

When he stands tall, an oak in the sun,

He’ll wait for Judgement Day to come.

 

So don’t wring your hands like the wind,

Which rings the branches of trees.

You’ll have more sons, but a homeland

Lost can’t be regained by any pleas.

 

Bright regiments shine beyond rivers that glisten:

Lithuania they go to defend.

If a head will droop down, angels of heaven

Will each man with diamonds attend.

 

Many sons fell like in autumn the leaves,

But women will hold them in esteem,

For the Nemunas river roiled and heaved

With the blood of the foe in its stream.

 

Vytautas led his courageous knights

And punctured the pride of the enemy.

The Teutonic Order was sent into flight

Across the waters and through dark trees.

 

An incarnadine sun set on the Vilnius graveyard

As soldiers buried their brothers.

They gave up their souls for the Lord to safeguard,

Heroic as few others.

 

Don’t cry, dear mother that a young son

Will ride to defend your home.

When he stands tall, an oak in the sun,

He’ll wait for Judgement Day to come.

 

 

Trakai Castle

 

With moss and mold overgrown,

In Trakai, a worthy castle stands.

While its lords sleep soundly in stone,

The castle looks over the land.

But as the years run by, the walls now groan.

They dwindle each day, neglected, alone.

 

When wind comes troubling the water,

And the lake tries to climb onto shore,

The waves wash up to the tower,

And it crumbles like never before.

So the walls fall apart, day by day,

Filling our hearts with dismay.

 

Our glorious keep! Is this really your fate?

Such heroes came forth through your gates.
You saw the might of Vytautas the Great

As he road under history’s weight.

So where is your strength, your inheritance?

Where are the days, once dear, gone hence?

 

These silent walls, neglected by all,

Are now without guard and weaponry.

How can we those dear times recall,

As they march down the road to eternity?

Oh, dearest times! Will they ever return?

Or will we, like for youth, merely yearn?

 

When I took the road through Trakai,

My heart cried out in sharp pain.

A tear washed my cheek on the sly,

And my eyes couldn’t take the strain.

I felt my hopes for solace flee.

Dark night was all that I could see.

 

 

The Summit of Mt. Rigi

 

Form the top of Mt. Rigi, above the clouds,

Lithuania can but be supposed –

A wreath of peaks makes a handsome crowd

All wrapped in winter clothes.

 

The Alpine lands stretch in their wake

With blooming roses engraved.

They are cradled by four emerald lakes

That caress them with gentle waves.

 

No sound is heard, the sky is calm,

And nature’s dreams seem unafraid.

The alphorn echoes as the sun goes down

And waterfalls crash far away.

 

The fog from their foam is constantly rising

Like holy incense in honor of God.

Nature’s innocent offering

Is here with rainbows be-shod.

 

With such beauty the heart is freed

For the traveller who yearns to roam.

If only the eye could still see to see

The shores of Dubysa, my home.

 

 

If the Earth Seduced My Heart

 

If once the earth seduced my heart,

Its prayers where never answered.

Through earthly dreams it travelled apart,

In search of what was unanchored.

 

No, nothing here, and if I ever believed it,

If I went astray like most others do,

I still walked without touching the dirt,

My eyes always looking for what remains true.

 

Happy is he who dreamed without body,

And saw a star in the sky,

He never saw his ideals grow tawdry,

When they descended from up high.

 

Like nervous birds that quickly scatter,

A person’s dreams are full of deceit.

Like flowers on the road that quickly wither,

You’re left with stalks in the heat.

 

O Lord, You gave me an infinite heart

That only You can understand.

And it’s You who can freshly give it a start,

For at the crossroads, cowards lie in the sand.

 

You alone are the beauty which does not lie,

A sun that shines without evening,

And all the heart’s feelings will fly

To you, who gives them their meaning.

 

 

Sorrow for a Distant Friend

 

Without you, my friend, I’m earth without rain.

I stretch my yearningarms into space,

And search for the shadow of your face.

I find but the joy of monks who abstain.

 

Since fate has flung us into other countries,

We can’t give each other a hand,

Or help when it’s too hard to stand.

We have only the past’s scalding memories.

 

So do roses now bloom by your windowsill?

Do the endless dreams of young days sing?

Or has experience now given them all a sting,

So that you grin on seeing an innocent will?

 

And yet when white-eyed evenings shine

With stars that twinkle mysterious, serene,

I know your eyes will follow their gleam

And feel the peace that echoes mine.

 

 

***

 

What the devil is with this crazy human race!

You’ve made a hell on earth for each other.

You complain that for eternity, without grace,

You’ve been called to struggle with your brother.

Would you really lack bread, the sun’s warming art,

If altruistic love would speak from your heart?

 

So little is needed for a person to be happy,

Just don’t trouble his pure heart on a whim!

A moss-covered shack with family, serenity

and the church, lets the poor man heaven win.

But even white bread will taste bitter or tart

If money is all, with no love in your heart.

 

 

Spit on All That, My Friend

 

Spit on all that glitters, friend!

Sing out, while your voice is fresh!

New feathers will grow in the end,

And soon you’ll be dumb as the rest.

 

Think how you now waste your youth,

Then go plow the earth so wide.

Here you sweat the ledgers, but forsooth,

New paths you need to stride!

 

Why wait to gain the mind of all?

Just a little more, you must confess.

With a warming nest – a roof and a hall,

Yawning, you’ll then boast to guests.

 

As you grow rich, eating another’s oats,

You’ll feel ashamed at a poor man’s home.

With lit cigar and a belly that bloats,

You’ll laugh at all your dreams of old.

 

With Persian carpets your flat looks neat.

You sit in comfort, emit sweet sighs:

Eating and reading, you put up your feet,

But your thoughts don’t fly too high.

 

The day has fled as through God’s will,

And righteously you start to dream.

A worry might rise as grist for the mill:

But it’s as petty as your life’s theme.

 

Spit on all that glitters, friend!

Sing out, while your voice is fresh!

New feathers will grow in the end,

And soon you’ll be dumb as the rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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