Volume 20, No.1 - Spring 1974
Editors of this issue: Bronius Vaskelis
Copyright © 1974 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


Jurgis Baltrušaitis: POEZIJA, ed. by V. Kubilius (Vilnius: Vaga, 1967, 365 pp., 1.38 rubles).

Jurgis Baltrušaitis: DEREVO V OGNE, ed. by J. Tumelis Vilnius: Vaga, 1969, 540 pp., 1.11 rubles).

Jurgis Baltrušaitis: ŽEMĖS LAIPTAI. KALNŲ TAKAS., tr. from Russian by L. Broga (Vilnius: Vaga, 1973, 279 pp., .43 rubles).

These three collections of Jurgis Baltrušaitis' poetry indicate that the poet's long cherished wish has been fulfilled; his poetry has been made available to his own compatriots in his native country.

Baltrušaitis' Russian poetry was published abroad: the first two collections, Zemnye stupeni (The Terrestrial Stairway), 1911, and Gornaia tropa (Mountain Path), 1912, in Moscow, and the third collection Liliia i serp' (The Lily and the Sickle) posthumously in Paris in 1948. Even with a considerable number of the poems having been omitted, nevertheless, the most recent collection to be published in Lithuania, Derevo v ogne (The Tree Afire) and L. Broga's translation Žemės laiptai. Kalnų takas (The Terrestrial Stairway. Mountain Path) do offer at last an ample opportunity to Lithuanians to become acquainted with Baltrušaitis' Russian poetry.

Although a complete edition of Baltrušaitis' Lithuanian poetry had been already published in Boston in 1948 (also under the same title of Poezija), this recent edition Poezija appears for the first time in its entirety in Lithuania. It is necessary to note that only several of Baltrušaitis' verses have appeared in periodicals during the time while Lithuania was independent (the first poem published in 1927 and the last one — in 1940). His satirical fable in verse Įkurtuvės (The Housewarming) was published in Kaunas during the Soviet occupation in 1941, and a year later during the German occupation the first collection of Baltrušaitis' Lithuanian poetry, Ašarų vainikas, Part I (The Wreath of Tears), appeared also in Kaunas. However, under those two occupations Baltrušaitis' poetry had a very limited circulation. During the post-war years, almost until the very end of the fifties, none of Baltrušaitis' works was allowed to be published in Lithuania; some of poems, however, copied by hand, were circulating clandestinely among Lithuanians, especially among university students in Vilnius and Kaunas.

Poezija contains all of Baltrušaitis' known Lithuanian poetry, except for a few fragments of poems: both parts of Ašarų vainikas, a collection of Aukuro dūmai (The Smoke of the Sacrificial Altar), Įkurtuvės and several verses previously published in periodicals or discovered in manuscripts. Poezija is a solid scholarly edition, such as The Autobiographical Notes written by J. Baltrušaitis himself and published in Russkaia literature XX veka 1890-1910 (Russian literature of the 20th century 1890-1910), vol. 2, Moscow, 1916, ed. by S. Vengerov. Furthermore, copious and thorough notes, several photographs of Baltrušaitis himself, facsimiles of several poems, etc., are also made available. The collection is preceded by V. Kubilius' introductory essay on Baltrušaitis' life and work. His treatment of Baltrušaitis in relation with Russian Symbolism and Lithuanian literature is interesting and accurate; in particular Kubilius' analysis of poetry exhibits his great talent and erudition. However, there is one area where Kubilius' creative talent is unable to manifest itself, namely, in his treatment of the philosophical and esthetic problems of Baltrušaitis' poetry; in dealing with these problems he so faithfully adheres to the established precepts of Soviet criticism on Russian Symbolism and on writers alien to the Soviet ideology that this analytical insight is not allowed to come into play.

One minor correction seems to be in order. Kubilius draws far-reaching implications from an incorrect comment of Baltrušaitis' wife and, therefore, depicts the poet's life during the second world war in Paris as having been much miserable than it actually was.

Derevo v ogne comprises selected poems from all three of the previously published collections of Baltrušaitis' Russian poetry as well as several short pieces of verse found in various archives. The edition contains two essays. Andrey Turkov's introduction to the collection leaves no doubt that he is sufficiently acquainted with Baltrušaitis' poetry and with some of Baltrušaitis' unpublished correspondence with Russian writers. However, the shortcoming of Turkov's supposedly scholarly essay is the tendency to select those portions of Baltrušaitis' work and letters which would shed the most favorable light upon Baltrušaitis. The incorporation of portions of various letters, articles and comments of various people is interesting, intriguing, and illuminating, yet it is regrettable that Turkov frequently fails to supply the reader with adequate information on the sources of his material.

Juozas Tumelis' brief essay on Baltrušaitis' life and on his Russian poetry is succinct, lucid, and scholarly; notes are supplied on each poem and they are painstaking and thorough. On the whole, Derevo v ogne should be highly praised for Tumelis' meticulous scholarship. However, it is unfortunate that some of the best poems (most of them exhibiting a religious and / or meditative mood) do not appear in the collection.

It is gratifying to see Linas Broga's remarkable translation of the complete edition of the first two collections of Baltrušaitis' Russian poetry. Broga, an engineer by profession, is, no doubt, endowed with an unerring esthetic sense and a thorough knowledge of both the Russian and the Lithuanian language. He is already known for his translations of works of such diverse poets as Pushkin, Lermontov, Ševčenko, Franko, and Omar Khayyam. But the translation of Baltrušaitis' poetry, a result of dedicated work for more than 20 years, should be considered as his best. It distinguishes itself by a profound penetration into the substance of the original and it surpasses also any previous rendition of Baltrušaitis' Russian poetry by other translators. Nonetheless, even in a translation as outstanding as is Broga's, the ultimate poetic substance of Baltrušaitis' poetry remains untranslatable: some of the intricate imagery, the symbolic connotations and the exuberance of several of Baltrušaitis' poems are lost. This is partly due to the fact that Broga focused his attention on preserving the rhythm, rhyme, and meter of the original.

Bronius Vaškelis
Lafayette College