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Patriotic poetry and verse : Lithuanian

  • Literature (poetry/verse)Lithuanian
  • Cultural Field:
    Texts and stories
  • Author:
    Sniečkutė, Marija
  • Text:

    In 1814, the peasant-priest Antanas Strazdas (Polish name-form: Antoni Drozdowski; 1760–1833) published a collection of religious and secular songs (<em></em><em>Giesmės svietiškos ir šventos</em>) in order to “preserve the memory of a very ancient nation and the Samogitian-Lithuanian language”. This is usually considered the first poetical publication in the language and also set a pattern whereby poetry in Lithuanian was to a very large extent produced by clerics, mainly Catholic priests. Four years later, in 1818, the theologian/philologist Ludwig Rhesa (1776–1840; professor and head of the Lithuanian seminar at the University of Königsberg) salvaged a lengthy pastoral poem in MS (<em>Metai</em> or “The seasons”, by Christian (Kristijonas) Donelaitis, 1714–1780). Hailing its author as the “national Lithuanian poet”, Rhesa published the text, with a dedication to Wilhelm von Humboldt, as <em></em><em>Das Jahr in vier Gesängen, ein ländliches Epos</em> (1818; the first complete edition of Donelaitis’s poem and other works was published in St Petersburg in 1865). Various significant poets emerged in Russian-ruled Lithuania Major on the eve of the 1830-31 uprising. The priest Silvestras Teofilis Valiūnas (1789–1831) published his lastingly popular <em>Birutė</em> in 1828, a poetic legend about the nation’s mythical mother-figure: mother of 14th-century Grand Duke Vytautas the Great, she was supposed to have been in her youth a virgin priestess serving pagan Lithuanian gods. In 1829, the philologist Simonas Stanevičius published a patriotic ode extolling the glories of Lithuania (<em>Šlovė Žemaičių</em>) and a collection of six fables inspired by Aesop and Lithuanian folk mythology (<em>Šešios pasakos</em>). Mention should also be made of the Samogitian nobleman Dionizas Poška (d. 1830), a correspondent of Lelewel with ethnographic interests, whose major work <em>Mužikas Žemaičių</em> <em>ir Lietuvos</em> was published posthumously in the journal <em>Auszra</em> (1886).

    The period between the risings of 1831 and 1863 was dominated by Bishop Antanas Baranauskas (1835–1902). His most famous poem, <em>Anykščių Šilelis</em> (1860-61; full version published 1906) contrasts the beautiful Anykščiai forest in old pagan times with the devastated forest in current days. Baranauskas intended to demonstrate that poetry in Lithuanian could rise to the heights of Mickiewicz’s Polish poems, and with it gained international attention among philologists. Baranauskas’s <em>Dainų dainelė</em> appeared in 1857, <em>Dievo rykštė ir malonė</em> in 1861. His verse <em>Nu Lietuva, nu Dauguva</em> was used as an unofficial national anthem until Vincas Kudirka’s <em>Lietuva, Tėvynė mūsų</em><em> </em>(1898) was adopted by the independent Republic in 1919.

    Other mid-century poets were the priest Kajetonas Aleknavičius (1804–1874); in the Polish introduction to his collection <em>Pasakos, pritikimaj, weselos ir giesmes</em> (1861), he advocated that Samogitian be the standard for the Lithuanian literary language; Josepas Źelvovic (1822–1866), also a priest, published biblically-themed <em>Gesmes arba poezja</em> in 1863, with a nationalist dedication to the united <em>lëtuv-źemajtems</em> countrymen; he also translated Aesop’s fables into Samogitian-Lithuanian (<em>Pasakas pradiejo Josepas Źelvovic</em>, 1863).

    The printing of Lithuanian in Latin (non-Cyrillic) letters was banned in 1864. The collections of the priest Silvestras Gimžauskas (1845–1897) accordingly appeared in Leipzig: <em>Linkmenes</em> (1870), <em>Ant Nauju metu Lietuvai dovaniale</em> (1879); his <em>Lietuvos Biczuolis</em> (1881), probably printed in Ragnit/Ragainė (present-day Neman, in the Kaliningrad district), extolled the language and the great past of Lithuania, and warned against a threat from the East (<em>maskoliai</em>). Other work appeared in emigrant communities in the United States, e.g. Antanas Vienažindys’s <em>Dajnos paraszytos kun: Antano Vienožinskio</em> (1894).

    The literary landscape changed with the establishment of the periodical <em>Auszra</em> (“Dawn”) in 1883. The first self-styled Lithuanian poet, Maironis (Jonas Mačiulis, 1862–1932), published his landmark collection <em>Pavasario balsai</em> in 1895; his output over the next decades was considerable and covered various genres: poetry (e.g. <em>Tarp skausmų į garbę</em>, 1895; <em>Jaunoji Lietuva</em>, 1907; <em>Raseinių Magdė</em>, 1909; <em>Mūsų vargai</em>, 1920), an operetta libretto <em>Kame išganymas?</em> (1895), and, after independence, historical novels (the trilogy <em>Kestučio mirtis</em><em></em>, 1921-30; <em>Vytautas pas kryžiuočius</em>, 1925; <em>Didysis Vytautas – karalius</em>, 1930). His verse collection <em>Jaunoji Lietuva</em> of 1907 addressed the plight not only of Lithuanians, but also of other subjugated nations (Czechs, Hungarians, Finns, Greeks), looking forward, in the style of Mazzini and of Georg Sauerwein, then active in East Prussia (see below), to a European community of free and equal nations. Poets of this generation tended to proclaim values as specifically Lithuanian, in contradistinction to other nations. Pranas Vaičaitis (1876–1901) played on the opposing word-pair <em>tėvynė</em> (“fatherland”, figured as glorious, complicated, tragic) and <em>tėviškė</em> (cozy, simple, warm), and recycled Teodor Narbutt’s notions of the ethnic origins of Lithuanians, whom he contrasted with “the ugly Muscovites”. Juozas Miliauskas-Miglovara (1845–1937), author of <em>Raštai: Įvairios eilės</em> (1884), opposed Lithuanians (and in particular the idealized peasantry) to Poles, Russians, and Germans alike; Mečislovas Davainis-Silvestraitis (1849–1919), an <em>Auszra</em> contributor with verse collections (<em></em><em>Tėvynainių giesmė</em>) published in 1884 and 1905 and author of the verse narrative <em>Palemonas ir Girzduta</em> (1904), also opposed Samogitian Lithuania against Germany, Poland, and <em>Gudija</em> (the adjacent Russian lands, corresponding to what now is Belarus). Antanas Baranauskas specifically targeted the Polish-speaking nobility (rather than the common people), as did Aleksandras Burba (1854–1898, author of <em></em><em>Prozaiški raštai</em>, 2 vols, 1900-01).

    Separate mention should be made of Jonas Užupis-Šerenga (1848–1917; again, a priest), who tried to create a national epic on the lines of the Aeneid on the origins of the Lithuanian nation: <em>Lietuvos Eneida</em> (1913-14).

    By the end of the century, patriotic poetry in Lithuanian was also being written in East Prussia (Lithuania Minor), with a programme of cultural solidarity with Russian-governed Lithuania Major. One of the key poets of Lithuania Minor was Georg Sauerwein (1831–1904), alumnus of the University of Göttingen and polyglot (he wrote in more than 30 languages). An anti-imperialist and pacifist enthusiast for minority languages and minority cultures, his career took him to many European countries, between Wales and Norway, but he also regularly sojourned in Tilsit and Memel/Klaipėda. One of his poems became the anthem of Lithuania Minor. In Tilsit, Sauerwein founded, and initially chaired, a Pan-Lithuanian cultural association <em>Birutė</em> (1885; named after the myhical heroine celebrated in Valiūnas’s 1828 poem and by now a <em>lieu de mémoire</em>).

    Among the poets who advocated Lithuanian unification, Martynus Jankus (1858–1946, co-founder of <em>Birutė</em> and political activist) stands out; in his many works (<em>Mazgotė</em>, 1899; <em>Birutininkų dainos</em>, 1908) he criticized not only the policy of Germanization, but also the moral flaws of Lithuanians themselves. Other Lithuanian union-poets were Dovas Zaunius (1845–1921; ps. Draugams, 1885), like Jankus a political activist, Jerkmonas Penčiukas (1847–1896), and Fridrichas Bajoraitis (1883–1909). In addition, many anthologies appeared which included poets from both Lithuania Minor and Lithuania Major. The Birutė-themed collections published in Tilsit included patriotic verse by Jonas Basanavičius, Vincas Kudirka, and Maironis: <em>Birutės dainos</em> (1886, Tilsit; 5 reprints between 1904-19) and <em>Birutės garsas</em> (1904-14; 2 editions). The most substantial anthology of Lithuanian verse was <em>Lietuvos kanklės</em>, edited by Vilius Kalvaitis (1848–1914), which, alongside samples from Lithuania Major and Minor, also included folk songs and Lithuanian translations from Baltic-German originals.

    Word Count: 1465

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    Girdzijauskas, Juozapas (ed.); Lietuvių literatūros istorija. XIX amžius (Vilnius: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas, 2001).

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    Lankutis, Jonas (ed.); Lietuvių literatūros istorija (vol. 1; Vilnius: Vaga, 1979).

    Navickienė, Aušra; Besikeičianti knyga XIX amžiaus pirmosios pusės Lietuvoje (Vilnius: Vilniaus universiteto leidykla, 2010).

    Riškus, Jonas; Lietuvių literatūros istorija: XIX a. pirmoji pusė (Vilnius: Mokslas, 1982).

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    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Sniečkutė, Marija, 2022. "Patriotic poetry and verse : Lithuanian", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 04-04-2022, consulted 07-12-2023.