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In Metai, rebellious Donelaitis depicted indigenous Lithuanian serfs subjected to mistreatment at the hands of German colonizers. Darius Kuolys, a prominent Lithuanian public figure and researcher of Lithuanian cultural history talked to the Lithuania Tribune about the beloved Lithuanian poet and the significance of his legacy.
Why should a writer born years ago matter to anyone other than a handful of literature scholars? Let me ask you this: why should anyone care about Homer , Virgil, Dante, or Goethe? Classic texts go through phases of popularity and relative obscurity.
They can be forgotten for a bit and then resurface. In short, they are about universal things, told in a rich, lively language of a farmer. I believe Donelaitis remains very important to Lithuanians as a scholar of national literature. For some, he is a monument in the distance, a traditionally respected symbol. For others, he is simply a compelling narrator. However, if we look deeper, at the literary significance of Metai and the imagery in that work, there is a year-old Lithuanian literary code buried within it.
The gist of it is a strong affirmation of life and existence. The poem itself is eloquent and mysteriously metaphysic— canonical Lithuanian literature handed down from one generation to the next. Can you explain your observation that Donelaitis comes from the age during which the signposts of the modern Western world were hammered in?
The Age of Enlightenment created present European society. Many of our achievements and ideals, such as the very idea of progress, the concept of relying on the human mind, the trust that people are capable of improving society, even the concept of the European Union, are all rooted in the Enlightenment. Both men taught in the Lithuanian-populated Prussian villages for some time. On the other hand, Donelaitis also got involved in the discussion of the myth of progress, a characteristic feature to the Enlightenment thinkers.
Can you bring the reader into the political and cultural environment of the 18th century, when Metai was written? Remember, Donelaitis lived and wrote in what was the Kingdom of Prussia back then. Prussians viewed the Lithuanians in two contradictory ways at that time. They were viewed as the native inhabitants of the land. The state supported publishing Lithuanian religious books. On the other hand, Lithuanians were also seen as primitive and backward. The local authorities responsible for Lithuanian churches and schools would argue that the Lithuanian language was about to go extinct and that it would be more efficient to teach Lithuanians German and use German books and texts instead.
A lot of Lithuanians died in a plague epidemic that ravaged Prussia at the turn of the 18th century. With so much of the Lithuanian population gone, the Prussian kings were able to push the colonists from as far away as Germany , Austria, and Switzerland into the Lithuanian villages left behind.
Many Lithuanian priests resisted colonization and engaged in campaigns to protect the Lithuanian language and rights of Lithuanians. Kristijonas Donelaitis was among those who stood up for the cause. Incidentally, Kant also argued in favor of protecting Lithuanian rights. The Kaliningrad Region, which is the former Eastern Prussia, today remains very significant symbolically to Lithuanians, Poles, Germans, and Russians, who now control it. I think it could be a space for intercultural dialogue.
Do you see a political manifesto in the Metai? The epic is a rebellious, politically-charged work. To Donelaitis, the germanization and colonization of Prussian Lithuania was an evil that destroyed the God-given order and should be resisted. He identified Lithuanians with the old Prussians and intertwined Prussian history with that of Lithuania. Donelaitis was not a lone wolf in his pursuits, he followed a long tradition, tracing back to the 16th century, of Lithuanian priests writing and speaking positively about the primeval residents of the land, the Balts and the Prussians.
Scholars really began to document and research Lithuanian folklore at the start of the 18th century and Donelaitis obviously benefitted from this new surge of interest. As a Lithuanian poet, he appears to have been valued and supported by his contemporaries. On the other hand, the epic author was certainly an intellectual of the Enlightenment and a very independent individual who deliberately chose to devote his life to documenting Lithuanian culture and the oppressed peasant class.
Like Homer and Virgil, Donelaitis used hexameter in his writing. Donelaitis borrowed plenty of poetic measures from both Iliad and Aeineid. They are portrayed as a polilogical community of free and independent people.
Their intellectual discourse is the dialogue of heroes. There are six Lithuanian-language fables remaining, as well as the four-part epic Metai, two fragments of an early draft of Metai, and three German verses. Donelaitis also wrote songs and religious canticles. Maybe someday Russian and German archives will turn up new Donelaitis works. When was the last time that you visited Tolminkiemis?
How was it? Is Donelaitis honored there? In fact, I was there quite recently, in late July. And yes, the remembrance of him is very much alive there.
It was destroyed during the Soviet era and was almost turned into an Orthodox church. We also need to hire a gardener to maintain the freshly replanted Donelaitis garden. They are traveling to visit Tolminkiemis in quite big numbers now.
Donelaitis - Metai.pdf
K. Donelaičio “Metai” analizė