“Spring has come again already” – Lithuanian poetry through the ages

Like Maironis, Salomėja Nėris (1904 – 1945) was (at least at first) a patriotic poet who wrote about Lithuania’s struggle for freedom.  But she was also a controversial figure who officially sided with communism and the Soviet occupation.

Born Salomėja Bačinskaitė, she began her career as a poet in high school, publishing

Neris
Source: Antologija.lt

poems under the pseydonyms Liūdytė and Juraitė, later choosing Salomėja Neris (originally without the diacritic ė) as her pen-name, in honor of Lithuania’s second-largest river.  Her first collection of poems, Anksti rytą (In the Early Morning), was published in 1927, while she was at the University of Lithuania.  She received the State Literature Prize in 1938 for her fourth collection, Diemedžiu žydėsiu (I Will Bloom as an Absinth Flower) — her last collection published in an independent Lithuania.

While studying in Vienna in 1929, Nėris met the socialist-leaning Bronius Virbickas and fell in love, attempting to gain his favor by agreeing with his political views.  Back in Lithuania in 1931, Nėris became involved with the Trečias Frontas (Third Front) leftist organization, contributing several poems for their literary journal.  The chief ideological editor, Kostas Korsakas, insisted she not only contribute poetry, but also write declarations of her new socialist beliefs.

In 1940, Nėris was appointed to the pro-Soviet People’s Seimas, and traveled to Moscow to request the acceptance of Lithuania into the Soviet Union.  She also wrote pro-Stalin poetry at this time, prompted by Communist Party officials.  It was at this time that the poet changed her pen-name from Neris to Nėris, at the request of her former students, who called her a traitor and asked that she stop using the name of Lithuania’s beloved river in vain.

And yet, still later in life, her poetry expressed Nėris’ love for Lithuania.  Did she regret her cooperation with the Soviet regime?  Had her cooperation been genuine, or was she simply naive?  How could she write poems like the one below, in support of independence, and yet also support the occupation?

Blue Sister, River Vilija

Vilnele, run to Vilija!
And, Vilija, to Nemunas’ shore!
Convey this message: ‘We love life
But love our country even more!’

We battled hard and long – bloodstained
We come back to the battlefield.
In water pure our wounds we’ll bathe
And with green silk we’ll bandage them.

And, should you ask the stones what sort
Of men we are, they with one breath
Shall say how valiantly we fought
Our foes whose eyes were closed by death.

Blue sister, River Vilija,
Make haste, make haste to Nemunas’ shore!
Convey this message: ‘We love life
But freedom we love even more.’

Source:  PoemHunter.com

Next:  Judita Vaičiūnaitė, “poet of the city and the night”

5 comments

  1. What a great post! Thank you for sharing! Ilove how effortlessly you weave facts and knowledge into your posts. They’re always so interesting.

1/100th of an Altairian dollar for your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s