“Maironis” was the pen-name of Jonas Mačiulis (1862 – 1932), one of the most beloved Lithuanian poets of the 20th century. “Those of us who were introduced to Lithuanian literature at Saturday school may have forgotten much of what we learned,” says Ona Mikaila in her article on the poet, “but Maironis is unforgettable. Most Lithuanian children growing up in the USA have been called upon at one time or another to recite a poem by Maironis in public.”
He was a man of various professions — priest, poet, professor, and mathematician — who grew up during the time of oppression by the Russian Tsars, through the establishment of independence in the early 20th century. Maironis’ poetry was very patriotic, expressing his love of Lithuania and its history and mythology, and his dreams of freedom. He is considered the “prophet of rebirth,” says Mikaila, “who inspired generations of young people to hope and work for freedom.”
The title of this post comes from the poem “News Has Come,” in which Maironis writes from the point of view of a young woman whose lover has gone to war against the Crusaders, a poem that indirectly speaks to the more current struggle of Lithuanians against Russian occupation.
But the poem I’d like to share here is one of Maironis’ best-known, in which he retells the legend of Jūratė and Kastytis, about the doomed love affair between the Baltic Sea goddess and a human fisherman. The legend was a way to explain why amber, our national treasure, washes up on Lithuanian shores. In retelling this story in 1920, Maironis tries to re-invigorate his readers’ interest in their national heritage, their history and folklore, now that they’d overcome the Russian authorities’ attempts to drown out Lithuanian culture through Russification.
Disclaimer: This isn’t the best translation… ^_^; But it’s the only one I could find so far. And yes, “legendized” is a word.
Jūratė and Kastytis
The sun is sinking in the west,
Turn back, Kastytis, in a hurry!
Your dear old mother finds no rest,
She will be wearing down with worry
Until she sees your flapping sails
Approaching on the foaming waves.
Will not listen!
He’s astounded by sea treasures.
Though the blushing sun is setting,
Playful fish he keeps on netting,
Musing over youthful pleasures.
The stars on high serenely shine.
The waters slowly surge and splatter.
But – lo! – emerging from the brine
Appears the beautiful Jūratė:
As white as foam, lit up with gleam,
Below her waist all clad in green.
Don’t you think you are immodest?
Why do you at night again
Cast your nets in my domain?
I’m Jūratė, a sea-goddess.”
Yet for the goddess to admire
The lad was far from turning coward:
His beaming eyes kept flashing fire,
His figure radiated power;
He caught his breath, then took an oar
And steered his small boat straight to her.
When she took
A better look
At this giant, young and smart,
She forgot her innocence
And divine magnificence,
Fell in love with all her heart.
A wrecking wind began to blow.
The heavens rose in indignation
And burst upon the sea below,
When conquered by the sweet temptation
Jūratė rushed to his embrace
And softly touched Kastytis’ face.
Living in the world of wonder
With Jūratė by his side
Sweetly kissing his blue eyes
In the palace of bright amber.
On seeing this from high above
The mighty Thunder was offended:
How dare a mortal fall in love
And touch the goddess, pure and tender!
The amber palace in a flash
Was by a streak of lightning smashed.
While the thunderstorm was dying,
Kissed and fondled by the wave
Lifeless came to land again –
To the beach where pines were sighing.
Just listen sometimes late at night
When restless waves grow sad and sombre
And from the seabed out of sight
They strew the shore with bits of amber;
Deep in the heavy mist and foam
You’re sure to hear a sobbing moan.
All this moaning,
All this groaning
Is Jūratė’s lamentation
For Kastytis, her sweet lover,
And her palace lost forever,
Ruined by the god’s damnation.
The Lithuanian girl today
Wishing her boy to stare with wonder
Likes sometimes in her charming way
To deck herself with beads of amber.
But when a song of love she sings,
As sad as a lament it rings.
Her sweet feeling
She can find no word to utter,
Yet she loves with deep emotion,
Sometimes stormy as an ocean,
Like the legendized Jūratė.