LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 25, No.3 - Fall 1979
Editor of this issue: Jonas Zdanys
Copyright © 1979 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Memory, like an amateur photographer, has not captured and fixed everything, perhaps has confused what was important and characteristic with incidental happenings, has not selected clearly. But a large pile of photographssunny and dark, telling and banalhas gathered as the years have slunk past. I am stirring through them now, trying to guess which is from what place and time, which could supplement a memory that seems to fade a bit more each day.
Those photographsfragments of a once unceasing sound movieare now just frozen and silent pieces of the past. But I can still hear the live voice of the principal actor. The torrent of his words is at times quite impetuous, more often, quite calm. It is the correct, measured speech of a cultivated man, not cluttered by all sorts of pausal "ahhhhs" or "you knowsI means." The voicebetween tenor and baritone, neither too sonorous or colorful. The voice of a man who speaks freely and easily, but not the resonant voice of the singer; fitting without strain into the range of a single octave.
One man's impressions and memories are always limited, subjective, selected often by the caprice of memory. One could be a friend to a complicated man and artist, one could love him, wonder at him, one could spend time with him in a multitude of places and at various times and still know and see just a part of him. These "photograph memories" of mine do not pretend to be anything else. He who is interested, from these imperfect yet honest reminiscences, may learn a little bit about what sort of man that goldsmith of poetry, that embodiment of perfect aestheticism, was.
I invite you to leaf through those silenced scenes with me, patiently and indulgently. For their shortcomings, I first of all ask my departed friend's forgiveness. He was a scrupulously conscientious, honest man, and, as I honor his memory, I first strive to present the truth as I saw it.
* * *
In the room, like conspirators, around a large heavy table, they sit. Behind the table sits the tall, serious leader, Balys Sruoga.(1) Around him sit the senior participants in the Theater Seminar: the thickset Ronkus; the tall, lighthaired Stonkus, the chess-player Stalioraitis who peers shyly through his glasses. We know those three by a collective nameRonkusStonkusStalioraitis. The thorough, clever, nervous Račinskas; the solid, well-built girl with the red cheeks, Bujokaitė; the equally red-cheeked, but less solid, Straubulis, behind whose back sit a pack of young Ateitininkai (2) girls; Kalvelis, who writes theater reviews for serious journals; the short, haughty poet Antanas Rūkas, my newly made, older friend; the fun-loving Antanas Gustaitis; the quiet Vengris, Kiznis, Grincevičius; and along the wallswe satthe youngsters, the undistinguished-by-names, the sort who passed through this seminar by the hundreds.
Henrikas Radauskas sits alongside the seniors, thin lips in a pale face, considerably thinned, straight black hair. His deportment seems to indicate that he is not a participant, but a guest. He is, generally, a member of no group: no corporation, literary congregation, ideological gathering or party. He belongs to himself. And though he does not proclaim it, there is an air of independence about him. An eternal stranger, to borrow his own words, "untameable as a cat."(3)
Does he ever speak? Rarely. I don't recall any paper or essay, or any longer evaluation. If Sruoga asked him something, he responded in a word or two. If any praise then always with reservation. If any reproach then always with irony, but simply, understandably: What else could have been expected of that play, of the director, of the playwright, butfor our theater, for our situation . . . Then he'd grow quiet, shrug his shoulders.
Most of all, he is not a man of that collective, slightly exhibitionistic, placard-bearing world which is the theater. Yes, he goes to plays and likes them, but only as a spectator as a sideline observer. He has never tried his hand at play writing, as Gustaitis, Rūkas, Adomėnas, Miliūnas, Krivickas, and others have done. In the theater, in this Theater Seminar, and perhaps even in this entire noisy world, he is a visitor and guest.
* * *
The theater was a loft in the Faculty of the Humanities.(4) Wewards of Sruoga's instituted and young actor-director Algirdas Jakševičius' directed Theater Workshop. In stairwells and in a few seminar rooms, on concrete floors, during evenings and weekends, we learned how to see, hear, respond to, and efficiently judge assigned scenes. We improvised sketches, with and without texts, mime-dramas.
Once, after a review performance attended by Sruoga and the Theater Seminar members, Radauskas spoke to me for the first time, uttering a few pleasant and heartening words. I felt then the way I did during the later years after other of his encouragementshappy and pleased.
But after that first instance came another, far and away less pleasant. Indeed, after that second minor incident I avoided Radauskas for some time. It occurred at the heavy table of the Theater Seminar, during a free period, as a friend and I were playing chess. I overheard Radauskas' sarcastic-parodic expression in Russian andinnocent lamb, ignorant of people as I wasI interrupted with an observation. It doesn't work that way in Russian, I said, you've made a mistake. I've known Russian quite well since my childhood, because my father married a Polish girl in Petersburg and their shared language was Russianuntil my mother learned the language of her children and husband in Lithuania. The reaction to my observation was stunning irritation, anger, a veritable explosion: What do you mean it's a mistake, who says it can't be said that way, on what authority is it forbidden?! I don't remember the exact words, but they were abusive and insulting. I defended myself and did not back down. We exchanged a few more volleys and then stopped talking, each having wrecked the other's disposition. How could I have known then that it was his privilege to correct the mistakes of others but not be corrected himself? That too-easily-provoked severity put me off, and for a long time I had nothing to do with Radauskas. Even much later, after we had grown close, I never reminded him of that episode. I just learned to understand him. His severity was a sham: behind it hid a gentle, sensitive, easily injured man. It was his thin-skinned defense. It was almost impossible for him to admit mistakes, and it served no purpose to push him against the wall. It was better to let things pass unnoticed, to keep still, in the name of a more important thinghis true and honest friendship. But I understood that only much later. When I already knew that mine was not the only friendship with him which had begun in throes of anger.
* * *
A long stretch of time, more than five years, separates the days of the Theater Seminar from other, more fragmentary encountersand now not with Radauskas, but with the Radauskases. If I recall correctly, it was in Berlin during the winter of 1944, after we had all already left Lithuania. I knew nothing of what he had been doing in the meantimehis life and work in Klaipėda and Kaunasand he knew nothing of my move to Vilnius, to the theater. Those few meetings were unclear and accidentalthere, somewhere on some street, I recall meeting both Radauskases with poet Alfonsas Nyka-Niliūnas.(5) I remember also the hotel room not far from the Friedrichstrasse railroad station, and the bombshelters there, where we spent many nights listening to the whistle of bombs dropping from allied airplanes. I have an impression of a gentlemanly or, perhaps more correctly, a lordly Radauskas. That hotel room was the room occupied by Škėma(6) and his family after they had arrived from Vienna. Škėma, as he recounted later, was irritated by the fact that Mrs. Radauskas, as they spoke, never took her eyes from her own reflection in the mirror and made all sorts of faces, as if she were trying to adopt an expression which fit her hat. I didn't find that spectacle all that pleasant either. And Škėma said that he felt tempted to sit down next to her in front of that large mirror and grimace and pose the same way, at the same time carrying on the discussion about the war, Berlin, food rationing cards, and friends. Alas, I can't remember what Radauskas was doing at that time.
Berlin was bombed each day and each nightthe war trundled toward an ever-clearer conclusionand we scattered at various times in various directions. I found Škėma somewhat later at a Displaced Persons camp near Augsburg in Bavaria, in the American occupied zone. I ended up in the town of Detmold in the British zone, where Antanas Rūkas and I, at the behest of actor Vytautas Valiukas, began to organize along with Henrikas Kačinskas the "Aitvaras" dramatic ensemble. And the Radauskases, having stayed the longest in Berlin, saw the fall of the city and the Soviet occupation.
I can only guess why the Radauskases did not hurry out of Berlin to the West and stayed until the Russiansfrom whose clutches they had run out of Lithuaniacame. Was it an inability to deal effectively with reality, with which, as his poems of the period indicate, Henrikas Radauskas had only a superficial relationship? Was it all a miscalculation, a confusion caused by the bomb fires that tore through Nazi Germany? Was it Radauskas' characteristic pessimismin any event, you'll not save yourself?
Whatever the reason, the Radauskases remained in the Soviet-occupied sector of the city until well after the war ended, into early 1946, when they somehow managed to get to the town of Hahn in the British zone. There they stayed with Henrikas' brother, who then worked as a doctor in the Hahn Displaced Persons' hospital. The Radauskases were exhausted, ragged, and even their clothes had to be disinfected . . .
Later, during our innumerable meetings in Chicago or Washington, Henrikas loved to relate a few details which had particularly impressed him while they were in Soviet-occupied Berlin, but he never mentioned the hardships and terror they had weathered. I often imagine that I can still see those several scenes Henrikas described:
. . . The battles still rage, airplanes from both sides roar across the skies. In the Soviet-occupied sector, some German woman who has offered herself to the conqueror approaches a Russian soldier and curses Hitler's government as loudly and as strongly as she can. And he, forbidding her from continuing, points with his finger at a German plane in the sky and reminds her: Dein Sohn!
Another soldier responds sharply to the charge that they are raping the women of Germany. No, he says, we never raped themthe German women sami lozhilis, laid down willingly at our feet.
Or the story that both Radauskases were fond of, about a humorous roadsign in the city. As they were going to the subway, they saw before them a message written in thick chalk letters from one Russian to another who had missed the last train: "Vanya, we waited but you didn't show. Come on foot. Your guidepostthe circular tower." That "tower" was familiar because, when I walked or drove with the Radauskases and we didn't know in which direction to turn, we followed the tower, which was visible from any perspective.
In another sphereHenrikas' poems of the periodthe war was treated with an Olympian disdain. It was as if it did not even rage. In February 1945, as the great offense rolled in with smoke and cannonballs from the East, Radauskas in Berlin answered with his Fragonardian, almost Verlainean, "Holiday in the Park":
This wooden-soled musical rhythm
And this light-as-fluff heart,
Light as fluff, which spins flying,
And an unknown future.
* * *
We take wrong turns into black alleys,
Into the blossomed smells of trees,
Where the mourning moon pours itself out
Like oilinto lindens' leaves.
Is it necessary to say that that powerful nostalgia for beauty, that fragile poetic music, unscathed and untouched by shells of any calibre, is Radauskas' response to the surrounding violence and darkness? That serious self-determination is reaffirmed a month later in "Spring," dated March 18, Berlin (his wife's birthday), a poem in which Radauskas, with resignation and pride, expresses his understanding of the purpose of the poet:
And the sun was like the honor
Of poets: flaming and old,
I have to write so it will shine
Long after the day has died.
Still in that same reality-denying spirit, Radauskas in Berlin wrote "The Oaktree" in June, and on Christmas Eve the light, playful "June," whose ambiguous mood is revealed by the last two lines:
. . . when the wayfarer's light feet
Happily march through the graveyards.
Eventually, one more poem dated in Berlin in October lets us feel that spiritual isolation from reality that the poet then used as a shield to protect himself from the surrounding terror. Like a memory of a life-in-death stands "Blue Flowers in the Evening":
The grey eyes stare amazed:
From the bottom, from very deep,
Like fish, cornflowers swim,
Melancholy bits of the blue.
Interestingly, the eyes of both Radauskases were more grey than blue. Henrikas'somewhat distorted by the strong myopia-correcting lenses of his glasses. Vera'slarge, expressive, like those of the poet Alexander Blok. Once, as I was looking at a photograph of Blok, I mentioned that to her. "Aha, you noticed?" she answered, contented. And she related that when she was very young someone presented her to that great symbolist, who was then at the height of his power. Blok had said: "That girl (devchonka) dares to look like me."
The long period of time in Germany had to pass, and those first years trying to get established in Americain Waterbury, Baltimore, and Chicagobefore Radauskas let his impressions of the war and of Berlin surface in one of his prose poems. "Ball" from Žiemos daina, a poem dated Chicago, April 7, 1952, presents a chaotic, drunken joy, and that period's single work ends with these words:
the hall begins to cry out, screaming through the tearing orchestra's black lightning rumble, and it turns totally dark, and you remember the dead soldier's violet face (the fighting was then in West Berlin), and the wind rocks the only light in the whole cosmos and fills your eyes with a light rain and the dryly rustling leaves of an invisible tree.
Radauskas' withdrawal from immediate reality can mean not just a change in his psychological state, but, more accuratelyand more importantlya conscious creative method which requires objectivity and, therefore, distance and withdrawal.
* * *
I wasand always was conscious of beingyounger. A difference of seven yearsnot great, but not small. But the gap was closed because we loved and valued many of the same things. My youth's greatest, overwhelming fascination was with the poetry of Boris Pasternak. Once, while just nineteen, a copy in my hands of his book Sestra moja zhiznjSister My Lifeproved to be an experience with poetry of genius, a real revelation. But since then I had not had anyone with whom I could share that experienceno one, it seems, wanted to understand the private Pasternak. And then I met Radauskas, and he revealed himself to be an admirer of that remarkable poet. That fact alone drew us together. And we shared other likespoets, writers, artists, musicians, stage and screen stars.
I now believe that Radauskas' acceptances and likings, like his rejections and condemnations, were not spontaneous but rested on his established aesthetic criteria, which were as correct and unbending as laws. At the center stood a rule of formform as Radauskas understood itand all the other aspects occupied just a collateral and sometimes even unfavorable role. Here were included the ideological, the philosophical, the religious, the sociological, the national, and so on. Poets, painters, and musicians were measured by him according to these criteria. Those principles, doubtlessly, were formulated quite earlyduring Radauskas' youth, during his student years, so in them, in time, bold, formalistic theories of literature made their mark. His point of view was like that of the Impressionists, who freed art from congealed academicism and from the uncreative, life-copying tenets of Naturalism. These avant-garde thoughts, however, did not preclude a full right to wonder at the treasures of art and music which had been piled up during earlier centuriesthe best, until the beginning of the unfortunate 19th century, from which only Chopin could, half-willingly, be included. Consequently, according to those criteria, it was safe to love Vivaldi and the whole gang of Italian Baroques; almost to deify Mozart and Bach, but to begin to frown at Beethoven, jeer at Brahms' "moans" and at Berlioz' "grunting of crazed elephants" and so onuntil the emancipating sounds of Debussy. After that, it was bold to rejoice in Bela Bartok. That aesthetic belief proclaimed the courage of modernist explorations, but not impudence: real art cannot be created through avant-garde stumbles and starts.
There is an approximate parallelism in painting, though its greatest art, he believed, had begun to wane somewhat earlier and recovered with Manet, Monet, Renoir, with Cezanne and Van Gogh; and with the abstracts, it leaped off the edge.
A great many more "buts" and "ifs," exceptions and, it seems, inconsistencies, appear in Henrikas Radauskas' own sphere of artpoetry. For example, he would say that no emphatic emotion is allowed in and by our time, but to value the sentimental Heinrich Heine is no crime because he is "saved" by bold contrasts and rhymes, skepticism clouded with irony and humor. Although the poetic word is not a bearer of image, rhythm or music, and cannot be torn open for its exact meaning, the poet cannot lean too heavily against that meaning. Paul Claudel is a garrulous old man. And my new-found admiration in America for the work of T. S. Eliota complete misunderstanding, if not a betrayal of all the ideals.
And because control of rhyme and meter is a virtue, then the poems of Benediktas Rutkūnas(7) are a good example, while those of Algimantas Mackus(8) are completely unacceptable. His friend Alfonsas Nyka-Niliūnas had written some good poems, but others were packed with all-destroying, foggy philosophy.
These are not exact quotes, just general impressions gleaned from discrete conversations. I don't know which of the Lithuanian poets Radauskas accepted without reservation.
Thus, there are only a few names which Radauskas always mentioned, frequently cited with full appreciation: of the older FrenchVerlaine, Mallarme, and Valery. I don't dare to mention any of the other greats, not being sure; and I don't know even a single contemporary. Of the Germans and perhaps the greatest of any landRainer Maria Rilke. OthersHofmannsthal, George. Of the Polesfirst Tuwim, after him Lechon. A string of others were also often mentioned. Of the RussiansPasternak, Mandelstam, Achmatova. From one or another perspective, with reservations or accepting only partially, he mentioned Blok, Sologub, Tsvetayeva, Chodasevich, and a few others. Radauskas, who learned English late, really had no preferences among the British or American poets. But I do remember him acknowledging Dylan Thomas' talent.
Such is the listingno doubt incompleteof the inhabitants of Radauskas' Parnassus. It is worthwhile to mention these members of that exclusive club, since they are not listed because of a caprice or whim but rather withstand the selection process based on his severe criteria. What Radauskas valued, it should be added, he strived to attain in his own poetry.
* * *
Reminiscences of Henrikas Radauskas unavoidably force us to turn from the paths of biography to the slopes of Parnassus; memories of the man also call to mind his verses. But let him now once again return to us on earth along the mountain's rock-strewn path, of medium height, a large bald head, a somewhat rickety walkas if he were a cavalryman. He wipes the beads of perspiration from his brow, fixes his glasses, which for some reason lie tilted on his large nose. Where are we?
In Chicago. In the F. W. Woolworth warehouse, not far from Midway Airport. Radauskasdiligent, dutifulalready stands before the cardboard box, set to work. The bell which signals the end of the break has just managed to ring and as the other workers begin lazily to rise and slowly amble through the warehouse doors to their jobs, Radauskas is already packing, concentrating, hot. Beads of perspiration the size of peas drip from his high forehead. Not far away, I, too, begin to push a flat, low wagon, loading packages of all sizes onto it. In a corner farther away works Marius Katiliškis(9), who has barely managed to withstand this slaveryhe, who, as he finishes work, bristling his mustache, runs from the bowels of this warehouse as if from a fire. At various times many Lithuanians, notable and unnotable, young and old, early arrivals and recent, have passed through here. I convinced Radauskas to work here in early 1951, and he remained in the warehouse until 1959. I left in 1952, for New York and, having married therefor Washington. From there I began to write to Radauskas, trying to convince him to get a non-manual job in the Capital. Eventually, having conquered his skepticism and the tangles of bureaucracy, with my former wife Aušra Bendoriūtė's skill at completing application forms, with the assistance of American poet Randall Jarrell, who knew and grew to like Radauskas' poetry through us, and with some luck, Radauskas joined the staff of the Library of Congress in Washington. But that is the last epoch.
The American part of Henrikas Radauskas' life began with his arrival in the city of Waterbury, Connecticut, where lived some of his more distant relatives, who had provided the proper affidavits and immigration documents. That was in the Fall of 1949, and Radauskas' short stay in New England is attested to by a single poem, "Evening Dawn," written there in November of that year.
When that year I flew to visit Nyka-Niliūnas in Baltimore for Christmas, I found there the recently arrived Radauskases, who had been asked to come by Nyka. How I remember those few already long-passed days, though we all then had just set foot in this new land, had just begun our unaccustomed manual labors; but our moodsthe best, despite our empty pockets; our strengths had not yet ebbed, our jobs didn't frighten us, our troubles were more comical than serious or real. We dashed down the old streets; looked carefully at each door near which stood two white marble steps; once, surprised, stared through an open cellar window at some swaying, circling meeting of a religious sect; in the Lithuanian Hall we tasted for the first time the local delicacycrab; we were friendly and warmly happy, bound together by our new, shared destiny. The friendship between Radauskas and Nyka, which had begun in Germany, expanded to include Nyka's wife Sandra, a dancer and painter, and lasted until Radauskas' death. In fact, during Radauskas' final years in Washington, only Nyka and Sandra and I remained Radauskas' friends and companions through all the Christmases and Easters, all the nameday feasts and birthday celebrations, and during other, common excursions or visits.
Now, as I leaf through the poems Radauskas wrote during those days in Baltimore, I find more than just the idyllic moods I remember from that earlier shared Christmas. In the poem "Sunset," written in July 1950, he wrote a verse which now seems to me almost prophetic:
Having mixed together wind and wine,
Having drunk it, I walk the streets
Searching for a joyful heart,
A happy, kingly death.
In the book of Radauskas' collected poems, Eilėraščiai, in the section Strėlė danguje (10) are four pieces dated in Baltimore: "A Passer-by" (12/49-1/50), "Rendezvous at Night" (January 1950), "Apollo" (May 1950), and "The Unfaithful Lover" (September 1950). Five years later, in Žiemos daina are four other Baltimore poems: the aforementioned "Sunset," "The Cruel Spring" (March 17, 1950), "Aphrodite and Narcissus" (March-April, 1950), and "May" (May 1950).
* * *
The Radauskases lived in Baltimore less than a year. There, Radauskas, as he himself used to joke, for a while worked at a "poetic" jobtrimming paper flowers in a small factory, but for that poetry he was paid only rabbit tears75 cents an hour. It was just as difficult for him with other manual jobs. So, in September of that year, Škėma and I met Radauskas and his wife in Chicago, at the railroad station, and took them by taxi to a new abode on the city's south side, on Greenwood Avenue. Either because of my urgings or because of mine and Škėma's insistence, the Radauskases agreed to seek their fortunethat is, a jobin Chicago, and here, in an area where Škėma and I, actor Kazys Gandrimas, painters Albinas Elskus and Jurgis Daugvila lived, the Radauskases spent a number of years.
As we rolled out of the city down Archer Avenue, I saw Mrs. Radauskas' frightened glance as she watched in passing the decaying surroundings, the empty lots through which the wind swept trash and dirt, those unsurpassingly ugly warehouses and small factories. I tried to find a word of comfort which would excuse or negate that first oppressive impression. And I said almost arrogantly, like an old Chicagoan: "You see before you a typical industrial landscape." Later my words "industrial landscape" repeated on me in sarcastic reminders by Radauskas or Škėma. Mrs. Radauskas, though, later tied herself to the city.
Because we had enticed them to Chicago, "the mother of the poor," we had to help them find work. The simplest methodin the early morning to open the large Chicago Tribune and diligently look through the employment pages, searching for where we might fit inwe, who in reality are unsuited for any of those jobs. For some jobs we lacked the muscle, for otherstraining, experience, for still othersa knowledge of English, which we understood best in written rather than spoken form. So only the simplest jobs remained.
One morning the three of usRadauskas, Škėma, and I took the rattling streetcar to a small factory where, among the hellish clattering of pressing machines, we found work: bending metal legs for tables and chairs. Each of us stood in front of his machine and made that same stunningly similar motion which made us feel just plain, incidental additions to the machine: with the right hand we took a metal tube from its box, stuck it in the proper opening, waited while the press bent it into the shape proper for a chair or table leg, and then threw it with the left hand into another box. And so on for eight hours in deafening noise. I didn't last longI quit and looked for other work. Meanwhile, Škėma was struck by misfortune: perhaps because he was too tired to be properly alert (in the evenings then we were rehearsing his play Živilė, which I was directing and in which he was acting), he stuck the top part of his thumb into the press along with the pipe. As Radauskas related, Škėma screamed in such a horror-filled voice that the others heard it even above the din, stopped their machines, threw down their work . . . The crushed part was later amputated. Until it healed Škėma could not work. For a time he was aided by unemployment insurance and workmen's compensation. With a crooked smile Škėma later told me that after his accident Radauskas ran up to him, threw a glance at the bloody thumb, gestured helplessly with his hand and, turning away, ran off. But, in truth, what could he have done to offer first aid?
Radauskas remained conscientious, job-keeping Radauskas bending those cursed pipes another six months. Meanwhile, after a number of unsuccessful attemptsin a museum, in two television factories, a steel mill, and a leather-working plantI found a job as a packer in the spacious, modern Woolworth warehouse, and convinced Radauskas to work there, too. And really, it was a comparatively perfect jobno real danger of injury, not too much physical hardship, no horrible, mechanical sameness and repetition.
But, nonetheless, when on weekends we escaped the warehouse and, walking through the decorous city center, with its museums and libraries, we suddenly found ourselves near a store signF. W. Woolworthit was as if we were quickly and painfully stabbed in the heart, as if we were suddenly shaken from our dream into reality.
* * *
Often we were only three. But there were some in Chicago, who were not infrequently with us: Antanas Škėma, who quickly disappeared from the horizon and returned to New York; publisher Vytautas Saulius who, with great devotion and no money, during the first year in America managed to publish Radauskas' Strėlė danguje (and before that, in Rome, Vizijos by Vytautas Mačernis (11), and who later published the rest of Radauskas' books; and painter Žibuntas Mikšys, who in time became a ward of Vera Radauskas, was treated by her like a son, and who responded with great attention and sensitivity.
Later, after I had moved from Chicago, first to New York and later to Washington, Vytautas and Salomėja Valiukas grew close to the Radauskases. He had been an actor at the Kaunas Theater and now worked as an engineer, and she was a singer.
I also must mention another, special friendship Radauskas hadwhich resulted in a kind of "epistolary novel"with Ivar and Astrid Ivask. They both are young Baits, he Estonian and she Latvian, both poets and professors, at that time teaching at a small Minnesota college, and both art lovers, enthusiasts of literature, especially poetry(12)in a wordpeople of Radauskas' world. Henrikas' work entered the international sphere of Ivask's interests. Somehow an intense correspondence full of discussions of poetry and art started up between Henrikas and Ivask, a tie they later affirmed through personal contacts. Today Ivask has almost one hundred fifty of Henrikas' letters.
* * *
When I try to determine why Radauskas, who was not just talented, intelligent, and a rare cultured humanist with a great love for man's creations, at times was so uncontrollably sharp and abrasive, I remember a whole list of unpleasant examples. Once, for instance, he pestered a young actress who had made the mistake of telling him that she liked poetry, especially Rilke. "And which of Rilke's poems do you like best?" he asked her, pushing close his suspicion-enflamed head. "Well, Miss, if you like him, can you name just one poem?" The girl, confused and flustered, said that, caught thusly, she couldn't remember which of that poet's works she liked. "Well, regardless, just one example," Radauskas demanded, beginning to grow angry, and the conversation drew a group of onlookers. The girl never did manage to name a single poem, and Radauskas left her in peace only after he felt that he had shown her that she did not know what she was talking about.
Why? Why was it necessary to place an unknown person into such unpleasant circumstances? Was he trying by that method to indicate his superior intelligence? It seems to me that the answer is an unqualified no, and that the reason is to be found elsewhere. As the incident with the young actress along with a string of other such incidentsindicates, his reaction was the result of some observation about poetry or art, not some common political issue or question of life in general. It was always an observation that he believed had been made without the knowledge to support it. And then he, insulted to the core, would fall to defend the only thing he held sacred on earth. Another might get equally heated by national, ideological, or religious questions if he felt that his beliefs had been treated with disdain or contempt. Radauskas' religion was art, and he was a fanatic member of that religion, a confessor, a wise elder, and on that score he absolutely could not allow to let pass unchallenged anything he considered profanation. Like Don Quixote, he fell to defend the untouchable sphere even when the threat was not real, just implied. Other people might like art, music, poetry, but for them it was not everything, not the only essence of life, as it was for him, and that's why they could afford to slough off the chatterings of ignorance. Radauskas also knew how to laugh, to make ironic comments when he met a manifestation of emptiness in the real worldpetty jealousies, boastings or other such nonsense about salaries, loved ones, jobs, cars. But one should not preach to him about one's love for art if one cannot there and then prove it; one should not say that one loved poetry if the last poem one read was for a high school assignment! If you know nothing, say that that area is foreign to you. You're a pharmacist, or a botanist, or a boxer. He'd talk with you amicably, would ask you questions about your profession, would shower you with his great curiosity. Just don't walk into his sanctuary with unclean feet!
A characteristic sentiment is expressed in his prose poem "Degas" (Chicago 1953), which is about one of that painter's works which fascinated him:
I look at the fabulous Degas couch which bubbles
with orange and green stains. It should stand in
heaven, protected by golden chains in case one of
the gods by mistake decided to sit on it.
One hundred percent Radauskas! With his respect for man's geniusand with wariness for other "gods," from whom one could expect only disrespect for art. The reader of Radauskas' poetry will feel that, as he mentions Bonnard or Domenico Scarlatti or Bach's flute which sings about death the same way as about Springquietlythat he's talking about that which he values most, about valuables for which it is worthwhile living. That's how Radauskas prayed. And it is in this way that we can understand his unusual sharpness, his abrasiveness and arrogance, when someone showed improper respect for the things Radauskas held holy.
Of course, Radauskas didn't value all art. He not only had no kind words for hacks and daubers, but he also had no patience for grey mediocrity. However, perfectionist that he was, he did value serious, if little-talented, attempts at creation. More than once he praised someone or other as being not bad according to "our stipulations" or "our scale." Respectable service to the cause of art redeemed a number of other sins, though it might be no more than modest in other respects. But he would not forgive even the greatest talent for an incomplete dedication. "A single teaspoon of tar ruins an entire barrel of honey," he would calmly and nonargumentatively explain.
* * *
Radauskas never spoke about his own work. And never offered to read any of it to others. Škėma and I knew nothing of that trait of his when, at the very start of our life in America, we went to ask Henrikas to read some of his poems (since other poets anxiously wait for such invitations, or even offer themselves), but he at first politelywe thought out of modestyrefused, and eventually even began to get angry at our persistence. I never forgot that lesson and never again asked him to read or inquired about what he was writing. Radauskas didn't like to talk abstractly about his process of creation, or about themes that concerned him, or about the problems he pondered. Later, during his years in Washington, he would spend long evenings discussing poetry with Nyka-Niliūnas. But someone who happened to overhear would never have guessed that two poets were speaking: they mentioned neither their own nor each other's work. In this way, Nyka-Niliūnas is exactly like Radauskas, though his work is certainly different.
But I remember a singleand therefore valuable occasion when Henrikas nonetheless did read a few of his own poems. I think it was in the early part of 1953 in New York. It was a wedding gift for me and my wife Aušra Bendoriūtė. It was twilight and the room was darkening, and among us was such a light and pleasant, and at the same time sensitive mood, that it was conducive to listening to music or poetry. I don't remember what he read, having pulled from his coat pocket a small notebook in which, in graceful and clear handwriting, he had written in small letters his finished poems. He had begun writing his poems in such notebooks during the war, as he was running out of Lithuania. The book he held had been with him in the bombshelters.
I had the opportunity to become better acquainted with that one and with a few other such notebooks, which varied in size, when Mrs. Radauskas gave them to me after Henrikas' death. From them I wrote down all of the publications dates of his poems, with the exception of the earliest ones which appeared in Fontanas.(13) During the days when he prepared Fontanas, he had no reason to descend to shelters with all his poems in a booklet near his heart.
When and how did Henrikas write? No one knew, not even the person closest to him in life, his wife Vera Radauskas. As she once related, he would, at times, go to the bedroom without saying a word and close the door. Perhaps he wrote then, or perhaps he simply rested. He liked to write lying down like that. She never disturbed him, and he never shared with her his thoughts during the time he wrote.
Those notebooks contain all of Henrikas' poems, those published in periodicals and in his collections, and a few next to which, in the corner of the page, was the remark "not for publication". There were only a few of those.
The last notebook contained 33 poems, which were written during the final years of his life, after Eilėraščiai(14) was published. A few appeared in Aidai(15) and Metmenys, some have never appeared in print. A few had variant stanzas or lines or words indicated alongside. Woksheets, which would indicate how a specific poem was born and how it developed, and from which we could learn if considerable rewriting was done (because such exactitude and precision are so obvious in his poetry), are nonexistent, so we don't know if that process took place on paper or in the poet's head. There would have been little mention of this if Radauskas, before his sudden and unexpected death, had managed to destroy the worksheet of the last poem he wrote. The worksheet of "The Unicorn", written just a couple of weeks before he died on August 27, 1970, in Washington, was left behind on a separate sheet of paper alongside the version written into the small notebook. It seems that Radauskas wanted to check something before destroying that page. And in it can be seen signs of a serious, conscientious search for the exact words, corrections, two and three crossings-out above the original line, variants indicated in the margins.
Those posthumous poems are in the hands of Radauskas' publisher, Vytautas Saulius, waiting to be published in book form. But the worksheet of "The Unicorn" has mysteriously disappeared. All that remains of the original is an unclear xerox copy, which has poorly reproduced the blue ink of the original. Saulius remembers that Mrs. Radauskas, who, during the final years of her life was his neighbor in Chicago, borrowed that worksheet once for some reason. He doesn't recall if she returned it. And it does not appear among the papers she left behind. Could it be thatloyal to the end she consciously destroyed that one remaining worksheet, knowing that he did not want anyone to see his poetic "kitchen?" It is a mystery to this day.
* * *
As I remember Henrikas Radauskas, I must also mention the closest friend he had in life, his Vera.
A typical evening at the Radauskases would find Škėma, Saulius and me engaged with them in conversation. For some reason our talk once turned to the question of where we were all born. It turns out that Radauskas was born in Cracow, Škėma in Lodz, Saulius in Riga, and I in Kelomakki, Finland. Vera Sotnikova, a Russian by parentage and the only "non-Lithuanian" among us, was the only one actually born in Lithuania: in Šiauliai, on March 18, 1903.
She grew up in a well-to-do family. There were some foggy references on her partalways half-lipped, unfinishedabout some sort of high, almost princely, ancestry. In her youth she studied ballet in the famous Czarist Russian school of ballet but, having suffered an unfortunate fall, having injured her leg, she never made it into the ranks of dancers. But all her life she remained a dedicated lover of the ballet, and in Lithuania worked with the National Theater and with the Oleka-Žilinskas Youth Theater as an instructor of expressive movement. In Kaunas she traveled in elite Russian emigre circles, hobnobbing with such true luminaries as Prof. Leonid Karsavin, philosopher Vasilij Sezeman, and others. After she married Henrikas, she no doubt introduced him into those culturally stimulating surroundings, in which the capacious ant talented poet could learn much. Mrs. Radauskas herself was an active, avid reader of books, and an artespecially theaterenthusiast.
Seven years older than Henrikas, she was not just a wife and friend. At him she also directed her motherly instincts, especially since they never had children. I have to take care of "my teddy bear," she would say, he's so helpless in the real world, he can't even brew himself a cup of tea. But more importantly, she was a singular "cultural environment" for Henrikas, who was solitary, unsociable, and who never had many friends. She became especially important to him after they had left Lithuania and lived in Reutlingen or Chicago. She wanted to share with Henrikas all his literary, theatrical, artistic, and musical experiences, and went with him everywhere. She knew that Radauskas, although difficult to approach, was an attractive, original personage, and she tried to grow close to those Radauskas did allow to get to know him.
She alone knew Henrikas' hours of weakness, his doubts, his pain and sensitivity to written or spoken words, and thus tried to understand him, to defend and comfort him. Though not a public or social man, he nonetheless needed to hear people's reactions, and he could never have many such confidants. So she not only tried to remove as many of life's worries from Henrikasall sorts of orderings, cleanings, purchasings and repairingsbut also tried to maintain his spirits, always interesting herself in his concerns. Together with Henrikas she wondered or loathed, affirmed his opinions, supported his tastes, so he, who was sickly and prone to melancholy, to depression, would feel less alone.
Friends were never so sensitivethey sometimes argued with Henrikas, angered him. And Henrikas had to avoid aggravation: his heart. That heart had long been capricious, at times enslaved him with pain and irregular rhythm. Because of it, Henrikas often stayed home from work for a day or two at a time, lay in bed, quite oppressed. He would tell her to say nothing about it, but, unable to bear it, she would tell us, his closest friendsme, Sandra, and Nyka that Henrikas again was ill. And she would ask, perhaps not completely unconsciously, that we watch out for him, not irritate him.
Their exclusive relationship, a two member club, cost them a price they themselves might not have understood. Their fanatic aesthetic reserve wafted of snobbism. Their avoidance of "common" non-creative people diminished their own humanity. Too often they scorned and belittled those whose wonderful, human attributes they did not know and did not want to know, and it would be too painful to mention concrete examples here. But more than one felt their undeserved contempt or severity. Sometimes it was difficult to defend themdifficult even to accept the fact that these two highly cultured people, who could be so sensitive to beauty, and especially to beauty created by man, could also be so inhumanly insensitive to other people.
All this was made especially painful because I knew quite well that Henrikas knew how to be charming, lively, of the most pleasant disposition, and full of wit in company. I always had the slight suspicion that Henrikas began to shine brightest if among us was a young, attractive woman. Then, original and lively observations, witticisms, and fit quotations or otherwise raised spirits bubbled forth from him like champagne. Only Mrs. Radauskas became strangely quiet and nervously chewed on her lip. For she surrounded Henrikas with the tireless, but at the same time relentless, envy of an older woman who, unfortunately, looked older than her years, while Henrikas a few years before his death always looked considerably younger.
Henrikas returned her love and dedication with sensitivity, attention, and loyalty. He never went anywhere without her. And where would he have gone, having no outside interests? He was never interested in sports, and especially the unknown-to-him American games of baseball and football. Once, after I had become interested in it, I tried to explain the rules of baseball to him. Henrikas said that he was uninterested in such a stupid game and had a particularly low opinion of those who gaped at it. He never gambled, never put money on the horses, did not play cards, did not smoke, and drank only rarely and moderately. In the opinion of outside observers, he never argued with his wife. What he earned at his job he did not throw out on nothingsfor example, at expensive restaurants, on clothing or furniture and instead bought art books, Chinese vases and plates, affordable paintings, and a multitude of records, to which he loved to listen in the evenings. He never bought a house or a car, and saved, and that money helped his wife to live without worry for three years after he died. For such virtues, rare among poets and artists, in heaven he should be given that aforementioned Degas couch!
They lived quietly and correctly, each year becoming more alike, always narrowing their circle of friends.
* * *
That refusal to be part of a wider circle of acquaintances, it seems to me, affected Henrikas, since his opinions, though at base sensible, revealed a tendency toward rigidity, to be unbending, to become almost categorical. It was as if his defense of the purity of poetry deafened him to other deeper voices which, he thought, unforgivably dragged other "incidental" ideas into art.
In this he was correct not in essence but only in expression. It is clear that even the noblest expression of thought, if it is not elevated to the plane of art, has nothing to do with poetry. But, transformed by intense poetic feeling, dressed in images, those same thoughts can become poetry. And, in the final analysis, Henrikas' poetry is no less affirming, confessional, argumentative and battling than that of any "fanatic of ideas" he condemned. The difficulty lies not in philosophy itself, but in the difficulty of presenting it through the poetic voice. Thus, Henrikas sometimesas the Americans put it"threw the baby out with the bath water." And when he set his mind against something, he would allow no arguments to change his resolve, just as he never would admit a mistake. And as far as that which he did not know or about which he was doubtfulit did not exist. Here, perhaps, * could be included the whole large sphere of human emotion linked to religion, the belief in the immortality of the soul, the power of prayer, mysticism, fate, the premonition of death, astrology, and chiromancy. An attitude toward religion usually is formed in childhoodas the child says his prayersand as far as I know, in Radauskas' parents' family the question of religion was dominated by indifference. And so Henrikas' poetry which, though full of the decorative gods of classical antiquity and painterly angels, has no real hint of a Christian worldview: there is no admitting of man's weakness in the eye of God, no such categories as transgression and retribution or pangs of conscience. Even on the aesthetic plane there are no symbols, attributes, or names. In that sense, Radauskas' poetry is classicalof pre-Christian temperament. On the other hand, in it one can find no attack against or scorn of religion or of religious feelings and beliefs. Only a perfect indifference to the whole question.
* * *
My friendship with the Radauskases underwent a number of subtle changes as our surroundings changed and brought new worries and difficulties, and affected the character of our association. If we sometimes drew apart, it was my fault. Submerged in the affairs of living, I took too long to answer their letters, and, once we were all living in the city of Washington, I went for long periods without finding myself under their warm roof.
One such change was my marriage and, thus, while it lasted, we met as familiesbetween the end of 1958 and the middle of 1960. Before that, my wife and I had begun an attempt to tear Henrikas Radauskas from the Woolworth boxes and find him a more suitable job in Washington preferably in the Library of Congress where then, as now, there were a number of our countrymen whose recommendations could prove useful. We decided to seek assistance from poet Randall Jarrell who, at that time, 1956, was the Library's poet-in-residence and who, we naively believed, had the power to influence those in power. We first had to convince him that Radauskas was worthy of aid. Aušra, and later I, went to see Jarrell, and my wife, who knew English better than I, gave Jarrell several of her translations of Radauskas' poems. The sensitive, quickly-grasping Jarrell demanded to know all the associations and colors of the poems, and only then was he convinced. More correctly fascinated. He took on the task of translating Radauskas from literal versions in English, and so in his book The Woman at the Washington Zoo, alongside translations of Rilke and Goethe, stands his wonderful translation of Henrikas' "The Winter's Tale," which does not seem at all like a translation. Jarrell enthusiastically marched off to see some head of some department (probably one which needed employees able to speak a number of languages) and said that he had just encountered the work of a Lithuanian poet which was "fascinating." That poet needed a more suitable occupationhe was now tied to a manual job. The next time we saw Jarrell, he sadly told us about the cold bureaucratic glance which seemed to say: "We need workers in our department, not poets."
So the assistance that came from that poetic acquaintance was only moral: Jarrell, as he later said, as he travelled to various universities with poetry readings, with some success used to read one or two of his translations of Radauskas. I seem to remember him mentioning, also, "A Fire in the Panopticon." Assistance in finding a job came from another source: an old employee, wanting to help Radauskas, advised him to write less about poetry and such things on his employment application and to stress instead the fact that, trimming flowers in Baltimore and working in the pipe-bending factory in Chicago, Radauskas had "become acquainted with technical terminology." In his possible position as a translator in the Library, he'd need such experience. Though in reality one became acquainted with American curse words in such factories and not with any technical terminology, Henrikas' applications began to move along the proper channels. He was all along quite skeptical about all our advice and seemingly fruitless attempts to get him a job.
Radauskas once visited us in Washington during a trip to see about a jobin our modest first floor apartment near Stanton Square, where stood a bronze statue of that general on horseback. He then appeared at the Library in person and attracted the attention of the aforementioned old employee, a half-chief in one of the large departments. I can't remember the details, but it seems that that meeting passed pleasantly. I do recall, though, a minor detail of that visit: for some reason, Radauskas decided to go with me to a store a few blocks away (I had not yet managed to buy an automobile we had to carry our purchases), and we, happily chatting, passed the funeral home in which, ten years later, the wake for Henrikas was held.
Henrikas, however, refused later to go see Jarrell, to meet him and thank him for his assistance and for his translations. The translations, it seems, were not true enoughthe rhyme scheme was not maintained. In general, he valued Jarrell more as a critic than as a poet, and admitted as strong only one short poem of Jarrell's about war: about a dead soldier whose remains were washed out of a crashed plane by a stream of water.(16)
Before getting his job at the Library of Congress, Radauskas in Chicago worked hard on his English. He had even sent a few simple examples of his translations of his own poems, and they were typically Radauskas: Aušra did not find in them a single error. And once he had begun working in the Library, he quickly rose through the ranks. He did not actively have to make translations: he was given the task of checking the work of others. His wife later joked: Henrikas has gotten a job close to his heartto correct the mistakes of others.
* * *
Shortly afterwards, Henrikas was sent to Europe, and he and his wife left by boat for Wiesbaden in West Germany. His frequent, interesting letters reveal his perfect mood, detail his travels in Germany and, during vacations, through Holland and Italy. In a photograph he sent to me, he and his wife sit on a bench near large beds of tulips. Later, much later, I would read two wonderful lines from his poem "Holland" in the last notebook:
There, where in Vermeer's painting time turns into light, Spinoza explained to the tulips that God lives among them.
Henrikas wrote about the Rhine, about the rock of Lorelei, Goethe's home in Frankfurt, Venice. But most of all in his letters from Europe, as in those from Chicago, is a detailed listing of his recently purchased records, new books, visited exhibits. I did not manage to safeguard a letter (alas, it burned with my trunk thanks to a drunken guard's carelessness) in which he laconically wrote about Fernando Leger's painting, which he called "a battle between brown and blue bits of macaroni." And, because he had used the battle comparison, he added: "It seems the brown will win."
When the Radauskases returned to Washington from Germany in March 1963, I had already separated from my wife and again, as we had done in Chicago, the three of us went out together. We spent holidays with Nyka and Sandra, and on other free days the five of us saw each more interesting film, attended performances of visiting ballet companies, took advantage of the blossoming Spring, when Washington becomes a garden, and on hot days, not satisfied with the familiar roads along the Potomac, we went for a day or two down to the Atlantic. Only Henrikas liked to swim; Mrs. Radauskas did not leave the shade of the beach umbrella. At other times we just sat on his veranda.
During his final few years, Radauskas and his wife moved to a large apartment house a few blocks from the Library of Congress, and Henrikas came home for lunch.
Henrikas and Vera spent most of their time alone together with their good English record player, on which they always played Baroque music or French songs; with poetry and art books; with her French books borrowed from the city library.
In addition, the Radauskases appeared from time to time at social gatherings, invited by this and that Washington family. They were seen, too, at meetings and at the Lithuanian Legation. Yet, despite that, they remained solidly unaffiliated. From all their socializing they returned to their shared shell.
Among strangers and those he knew only slightly, Henrikas wore two cloaks: one, his usual clothing, neat and reserved, with a tie that was not always needed; the other, his invisible armor, his need to defend himself from the ever present possibility of attack. He believed that the best defense was an offense, so that gentle and sensitive poet would often raise his hedgehog quills. He wore no mask, feigned nothing; instead, he showed his lack of confidence with a child's directness.
After the Radauskases had returned to Washington from Germany, a new companion joined them at the dinner table, perhaps as a pathetic substitute for a child or housepet: a glass penguin with oddly splayed wings which they had named Lambrusco, after a wine they had liked in Italy. He was the slightly imperfect product of a Venetian glassblower which had been set aside. Mrs. Radauskas took pity on the excluded and bought the penguin, despite Radauskas' disapproval. But in Washington we saw that Henrikas had grown to love it, too. He once glanced around the table at which we were all requested to sit and asked, "And where is Lambrusco? Who's insulting my little bird?" Mrs. Radauskas became somewhat agitated, excused little Lambrusco, took him out of her handbag and placed him in the middle of the table. And Henrikas bent the bird's glass beak down to his wine glass and said: "You drink, too, little bird." The whole ritual was carried out with that "dramatic reality" demanded by Stanislavsky and with which children know how to play. And poets.
When, three years after Henrikas, Mrs. Radauskas died, Sandra and Julija Saulius placed Lambrusco by her side as she lay in her coffin. But that was still some time off and we, meanwhile, were happy, blessed by Lambrusco's outstretched wings, joked, tippled wine. After we ate we sat at the table for a long time and Henrikas, quite happy, began to parody the so-called "expressive dance"portraying some fastidious creature or other, with a serious face, his thin lips pulled taut, he pranced around the room, gracefully flapping his arms . . .
* * *
The beginning of the end was linked to his job. Henrikas spent a large part of 1969 worrying about rumors as to what was to happen to his department. Each day he brought his wife different, usually disquieting, news: eight have already been let go; ten more have been laid off, they promise more will go; the department will be abolished; no, the department head is having discussions with his bossmaybe he'll save us; they're going to transfer us somewhere to the Midwest; ten more have been let go. Such news wafted throughout the summer, and Henrikas was understandably worried. He was approaching 60 and, because he had no practical speciality, what kind of job could he expect to find?
Because I mentioned practicality, I should say that Henrikas had not even the smallest aptitude for any sort of mechanical work. It was not without reason that Mrs. Radauskas always asked me to open cans and jars, not wanting to take on the task herself and not even bothering to ask Henrikas. And it was not without reason that she called me on the phone once to ask if I would come at least a half hour early for dinner because the light in the kitchen had burned out and there was such a strange lampshade on it that Henrikas, after a long time exploring, could not figure out how to take it off. I found later that it involved a small screw which could be removed easily by hand. No, no, it was not for Henrikas to begin to study for some kind of mechanical job.
In the meantime, more and more people were being laid off. At the end, only a handful remainedthe most necessaryand among them, Henrikas.
In the fall we all gathered to celebrate Vera's nameday. It was a day when the Orthodox celebrated four powerful women's names, which meant Faith, Hope, Charity, and, mother of all, Reason. When I, a little late, knocked on the door, which Vera opened for me, I saw a truly unusual sight: Radauskas was boisterous, had his arm around Nyka's shoulders, and was dancing with him, endlessly happy, as if something uncommonly successful had taken place, as if this were the end of a joyous evening and not the beginning. Mrs. Radauskas whispered to me: "Henrikas was let go today."
Then I, too, tried to pretend that nothing had happened, that everything was just as it should be. We were happy! Just as in that French war song which goes something like this: "Everything is as it should be, Madame Marquise, only the yellow stallion is gone. Why? Because he died when the barn burned down. How did it happen? It caught fire when the house was aflame. How!? When the Marquis knocked over a candle as he shot himself."
* * *
Having worked for ten years at the Library, Radauskas received unemployment compensation for several months, during which time he found a number of incidental translation jobs. The two of them did not suffer and remained together in their last home. Nyka and I walked together in the garden near the Library of Congress without Henrikas, who used to join us when he worked there. The routines of our lives and of our acquaintance did not change. I again went to Baltimore with the Radauskases for Christmas Eve. We celebrated Henrikas' birthday together. There, as before, among the food and glasses of wine in the middle of the table stood Lambrusco the penguin with outstretched wings. Only then our moods were somehow differentfragile, melancholy. It was as if we felt that that was the last time we would be all together, and I said so. Mrs. Radauskas would later remind me of that innocent prophecy . . .
Sometime later, in the Spring, I again walked with the Radauskases among the white and reddish dogwoods. Everything was as it always was, we were all just a little more weary. In the summera hot and smothering onewe decided to go together to climb a small hill, among several large rocks, from which the Potomac falls loomed impressively. But even there it was hot and humid, and the cicadas whistled annoyingly. Henrikas was pale, in a bad mood; he had difficulty with the heat and we climbed down, toward my car, toward home.
One of our last excursions that summer, in early August, was to see Nyka. There, beneath the large trees next to Nyka's house, Henrikas reminded us of one of his favorite images from Tuwimabout the cat who, head turned upward, looked "at the singing meat"the bird in the tree. And, having gladdened us with that image, he reminded us of another of Tuwim's poems: about how the nightingale's husband returns to his nest late and explains to his agitated wife that the weather was so nice that he decided to walk home . . . Those few photographs we took there at the table in the yard were the last of Radauskas' life.
* * *
On August 27, just before noon, I received a call at the Voice of America from Nyka, who was at Radauskas' apartment: Henrikas died. Come.
It takes a long time for such news to settle in and become understandable. Mrs. Radauskas completely refused to accept it: it can't be, he left here this morning happy, healthy, in good spirits because he finished his week-long job as a translator for an educational conference. Henrikas had taken the bus at 10 o'clock to the State Department, to the closing session of that international conference, and at 11when it just so happened that Nyka had dropped bytwo uniformed policemen, a man and a woman, came to inform her that Henrikas had died suddenly at the conference. Doctors couldn't rouse his heart, his body had been taken to the morgue, someone had to go and formally identify it. Mrs. Radauskas explained all that as if she was explaining some bit of nonsense, a nightmarish misunderstanding.
Henrikas' twin brother, Dr. Bruno Radauskas, arrived shortly afterward from a suburb of Baltimore, where, at the time, he was director of the large Spring Grove psychiatric hospital. He accepted the burden, agreed to take care of things. I went together with him to the morgue, and then to that funeral home near Stanton Square, where we selected a coffin. Of the three cemeteries offered, we chose Cedar Hills, which stands on a small hill just outside the city limits, because we thought Henrikas would probably have liked the small tree-overgrown hillocks where in the Spring many dogwoods blossomed.
We drove Mrs. Radauskas that night to stay with Nyka she could not be left alone. And the next day we were unable to snap her back to realityshe hesitated and did not want to see Henrikas' body and said that he would just not be the same. During our sad leave-taking, she participated in a kind of macabre theater, seriously but still not believing what was taking place around her. In reality, it was then that she began to die, dying slowly and half-consciously for three years. We were all dying with her, only Henrikas remained living. She would speak to him at home, surrounded by his books, paintings, Chinese vases and photographs. She would tell me that as she spoke she asked Henrikas to answer, to give some sort of sign that he heard her, and once, suddenly, a flower fell from a large vase filled with roses.
A few weeks after Radauskas' death I was the solitary, frightened witness to his wife's conversations. She was being treated for very high blood pressure, was taking tranquilizers, and was physically wasting away and weakening. Once she asked me to take her with me as I went shopping for food for her, but she grew extremely tired and almost fainted in the store. At home she collapsed on the blue sofa beneath a painting by Kasiulis, began gasping for air and trembling. As I searched with quaking hands for her medicine, half shouting she exclaimed: "Henrikėli, I'll be with you soon, wait just a minute, I've not yet settled my affairs, wait, Henrikėli . . ." And I then shivered and felt that he was right there, impatient, imploring her not to tarry by herself, confused, unhappy, and ill. He, that same, always impatient Henrikas.
And she addressed me, all of us, as if we were all behind some thick mist, and she had difficulty hearing us, did not understand what we said, did not respond to what was really taking place. Perhaps, to her, we were of the other side, ghost-like.
When she gave me the notebooks of Henrikas' poems, in which I found many unpublished verses, I understood, surprised, that for some reason she did not dare to read them. But she did want us, his remaining friends, to concern ourselves with their publication.
She could not remain in the home they shared and could not for long escape it. Eventually she moved to Chicago because she found an apartment next door to the Sauliuses. Only then did she tell me that she knew even while Henrikas was alive that she had developed cancer, but had said nothing and had done nothing, and now she chose to continue to do nothing: "It's my form of suicide," she told me.
It was the last time I saw her alive. After we had said good-bye to each other in Saulius' house, she called me back to the door: "Jurgis, look at my face closely once moreyou'll not see me again." I returned, comforted her, kissed her cheekI told her that I would of course see her again. "But not the same onenot the same," she answered. She died a month lateron July 1, 1973.
In Washington she and I had selected a black stone for Henrikas' grave, on which was reflected a chestnut tree branch carved by Albinas Elskus. Beneath the branch was only his last name, as was the requirement of the cemetery. But this time that rule did not anger me: the laconic, nobly ringing RADAUSKAS on the stone suited the man.
In poetry that word, Radauskas, fits only him, but in life and in death, the both of them. In their shared plot of earth were placed two bronze plates with their names and dates of birth and death. For Henrikas she had selected an epitaph of two lines from his new poem "The Return:"
You took away
The radiance of the green leaf.
And for herselfa single linea solemn pledge of loyalty which materialized as in her prepared grave appeared the cover of her coffin:
On earthand beneath the earth.
December 14, 1976
Translated by Jonas Zdanys
lt began to rain, and the night grew wet
And smelled of fish and empty places,
And you took away
The radiance of the green leaf.
And you were left with that greenness,
A dog red as the sunset,
Slow-passing time, grey smoke,
And a hilltop thick with clouds.
If, lost, you sometimes sleep
In the desert, beneath the brutal sun,
You'll be able to return to the shade
Of the tree glimmering on the lake.
You'll see the darkening banks
Where fishermen drag the moon
And the shadow of the dog who understands
Your destination all these years.
Having kept your promise,
You'll hear the raindrops fall
And you'll stand like Odysseus,
Unsure of your return.
Translated by Jonas Zdanys
Translations of Radauskas' Poetry into English
1. American Poetry Review, 4,2,
2. Ironwood 4
3. Lituanus No. 3 (1959)
Tr. W. K. Matthews
Blue Flowers at Evening
4. Lituanus 23:1 (1977)
5. Mundus Artium 9:1
Beneath Autumn's Tree
6. Rapport 5 & 6
Conversations of Dogs
7. Rapport 7
8. The Complete Poems of Randall Jarrell
The Winter's Tale
9. The Green Oak, ed. Algirdas Landsbergis
Apollo, tr. Astrid Ivask
10. The Prose Poem, ed. Michael Benedikt
11. Selected Post-war Lithuanian Poetry,
12. Selected Poems of Henrikas Radauskas
Essays in English on Radauskas and His Work
Ivask, Ivar, "Eleven Modern Poets of Eastern Europe," Books Abroad 43:1 (1969).
Ivask, Ivar, "Henrikas Radauskas: Eilėraščiai," Books Abroad 40:4 (1966). (Review essay)
Ivask, Ivar, "Henrikas Radauskas: Žiemos daina," Books Abroad 32:1 (1958). (Review essay)
Ivask, Ivar, "The Contemporary Lithuanian Poet Henrikas Radauskas," Lituanus No. 3 (1959).
Šilbajoris, Rimvydas, "Henrikas Radauskas: Timeless Modernist," Books Abroad 43:1 (1969).
Šilbajoris, Rimvydas, Perfection of Exile: Fourteen Contemporary Lithuanian Writers. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
Šilbajoris, Rimvydas, "Radauskas," Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, W. B. Fleischmann, ed. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1971.
Šilbajoris, Rimvydas, "The Arts as Images in the Poetry of Henrikas Radauskas," Baltic Literature and Linguistics. Columbus, Ohio: The Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies, 1973.
Zdanys, Jonas, "The Applied Aestheticism of Henrikas Radauskas," Lituanus 23:1 (1977).
* This essay first appeared in Lithuanian in the journal Metmenys, 33
1 Balys Sruoga (1896-1947) was a Symbolist poet and playwright. He was imprisoned for several years in a Nazi concentration camp during the second world war and died a sick and broken man shortly after his release.
2 A Lithuanian Catholic youth organization with a strong religious orientation.
3 The source of this line is the poem "Atradimai; (Discoveries) from Strėlė danguje (1950).
4 A division of the University of Kaunas.
5 Alfonsas Nyka-Niliūnas (born 1919) is a major Lithuanian emigre poet and translator who now works for the Library of Congress.
6 Antanas Škėma (1911-1961) was an actor, director, novelist, poet, playwright, and short story writer, and the major representative of the "Absurd" in Lithuanian literature. He died in an automobile accident.
7 Benediktas Rutkūnas (born 1907) is a minor Lithuanian emigre poet.
8 Algimantas Mackus (1932-1964) is one of the most important Lithuanian emigre poets whose work examines with great force the uncompromising vision of exile as the fundamental and inescapable condition of modern man. He died in an automobile accident.
9 Marius Katiliškis (born 1915) is a novelist and short story writer who lives in Lemont, Illinois.
10 Poems published in 1950.
11 Vytautas Mačernis (1920-1944) wrote complex, philosophical, "visionary" poetry. He was killed by an exploding bomb during the second world war.
12 Ivar Ivask is now Professor of Modern Languages at the University of Oklahoma and Editor of the influential international literary quarterly World Literature Today (formerly Books Abroad). His wife Astrid is an accomplished Latvian poet and translator, whose translation of Radauskas' Apollo appears in The Green Oak, ed. Algirdas Landsbergis.
13 Published in 1935.
14 Eilėraščiai, Radauskas' collected poems, were published in Chicago by Vytautas Saulius in 1965. The poems in the last notebook, then, are those written between 1965 and 1970.
15 Aidai is a cultural magazine edited by poet Leonardas Andriekus, OFM, and published by the Lithuanian Franciscan Fathers. Metmenys is edited by Prof. Vytautas Kavolis of Dickinson College; it is a liberal journal of art and criticism.
16 Blekaitis refers to "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner," from Jarrell's Selected Poems (1955).