LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 46, No.1 - Spring 2000
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
Copyright © 2000 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
THE SYSTEM OF COLORS IN IRVIS SCHEYNIUS' POETRY
This study is based on a quantitative analysis of Irvis Scheynius' poems collected in his first poetry book Lithuanian Wisdom, published in Lulea in 1990 and translated into Lithuanian in 1997. The aim of the study is a textual analysis that concentrates on the use of colors and the possible meaning of specific colors in a concrete environment.
Some facts about the poet.
Irvis Scheynius was born in Stockholm in 1922. His father was a well-known Lithuanian writer, diplomat and publicist, Ignas Jurkūnas-Šeinius, who married Gertrud Sydoff, Swedish journalist and literature-lover. Irvis grew up in Sweden, studied Law, became a jurist and served as a judge in northern Sweden for almost 40 years.
He went to Lithuania for the first time in 1932 and spent some happy summers there during the interwar period. Then Irvis had no contact with Lithuania for 40 years, until he visited the country in 1978.
Even if his literary debut was late, he started writing poetry and prose in his teens. This explains the fact that some poems published in the book were written in the 1960s and others in the late 80s.
It's still problematic whether Scheynius is a Swedish or a Lithuanian poet. He writes in Swedish, but the motifs and themes in his books do not belong to Sweden. Many associations and reminiscences seem to come from Lithuania, from Lithuanian poetry and folklore, but it may be asked if the poet is aware of it.
In several interviews with Scheynius I discovered that many poems are based on biographic facts, Lithuanian history and the history of his family.
It's my father
If s my world
With yellow sun
And love given to him
Who wanted love
Who recognized the cornflower
In the world
Where a poet is
Unbroken strength of those
Who were forgotten
Šeiniūnai is mine
The variety of themes and motifs is wide, but if s important to make a general grouping. The poet concentrates on three motifs: Lithuania, God and nature.
As you can see, they are not specific to Scheynius. The individuality of his poetry lies in his use of colors.
The main theme of the book is the struggle between two oppositions: Good and Evil. Good is pictured with light colors and is often associated with God. Evil is dark, but the modern association with God, with an evil God is still there.
This black eye
which sees nothing
just hunts the victim
the eye which never feels
in this black eye
Are You the God
"Your Black Eye"
Scheynius experiments with language, finds new connotations and surpasses his reader's horizon, for example, when he talks about red stars or a yellow game. He uses colors to signify the subjects and the objects he describes. It's important to note that the poet colors the objects, but the subjects often remain colorless. The green, violet, silver and blank colors signify four and five subjects each.
Scheynius often works with binary oppositions. The poet reiterates white and black in several texts and marks the contrasts.
Scheynius' system of values concentrates on a human being, his surroundings and home. He shows us a black or blank thought; a gray or yellow person; a green, black or white forest; a silver-gray house. Black is often used to signify darkness, fog, night, path. The color which is stylistically most interesting is red, which signifies emotion. The red star points to an enemy's invasion and has political connotations.
We asked of course
the general with red stars
and the corporal
with small skulls on his wet collar
Every color has a specific symbolic meaning. Black signifies everything that is negative, such as Lithuania's occupation, violence and death. White symbolizes purity and sacredness (a white church), strength (a white horse) and death, a folkloristic motive (she lay dead in a red poppy). Scheynius seldom uses green, violet, silver, black and blue. Blue is only used twice, when the poet talks about a human eye or a flower. The most intensive color is yellow, which signifies antagonism and intensity, but it also means home and safety. It characterizes the whole book and its persona, who is searching for love and harmony and finds it in his own home, to which he can always return. The persona of the book seems in many cases to be the writer himself, since many texts can be identified with concrete personal experiences and biographical facts. The interpretation of Scheynius' poems becomes deeper and the associations and the language clearer when it's possible to use the information about the creation of the text. One example is the central poem of the book, "Lithuanian Wisdom, " where the poet makes an interesting comparison between freedom and a rabbit.
In the darkest corner of a garden
imprisoned in a rabbit's heart
The poem is based on a real incident, when Irvis' father took a rabbit and put it in one room of the house where the family was living during a summer vacation on Irvis' first visit to Lithuania. The father thought the son would like to play with the rabbit, but the son's real feelings came back in the poem and was expressed as imprisoned freedom.
The persona of the book goes through many transformations, he is in turn a helpless little boy, a young man falling in love, or a revolutionary poet fighting for everyone's right to be free. The persona of the book has in fact three situations: someone taking part in a concrete action, someone who is a part of the environment, someone who interprets his surroundings in the same way as we, readers, do, or goes through a transformation from a subject to an object himself.
he [the dog] took me
held me at his warm fur
loved me for a while
The persona of the book is also surrounded by colors. It's possible to classify all the different variations as three concrete situations that can be called typical for Scheynius' system of colors. Poems where the poet uses light colors, which generally express something positive, belong to the first one. The second are poems in which he talks about the soviet occupation, concentration camps, oppression and death, and where cold dark colors dominate. The most interesting is the transition from the dark to something that's bright and light. If s a process that can be characterized as a change in mood. The last term is not used in narrative sense, but it means a spiritual movement.
the gray light of that day
a dark boat was lying
beside the shadows of white flowers
a ship from time to time
a boat became darker
in sunlit river
A ferryman bowed
it looked at his soul
and knew something I'd never known
it'll never be
a way back
waterlilies white existence
it's an escape
to an eternal birth
* All the translations are by the author of the article.