Monday, May 25, 2015

Earth, besmirched, is churned and shattered into chunks

I'm a bit amazed to see I have now written 3000 tweets, which looks a lot when put together as a long list.  The great epic of Old English, Beowulf, is 3000 lines long.  The same length sufficed for Parmenides to write On Nature (fifth century BCE), Bernard of Cluny to explore De Contemptu Mundi (1150) and Mayakovsky to sing the praises of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1924).  The manuscript shown above comprised 2997 hexameters and was the first significant poem in Lithuanian: Metai ('The Seasons'), composed by Kristijonas Donelaitis around 1765–1775.  It was first published posthumously in Königsberg in 1818, with a dedication to Wilhelm von Humboldt.  Seasonal poetry had by then been popular for some time in Europe - half a century earlier Prussians were reading Ewald Christian von Kleist's Der Frühling ('The Spring'), which had been inspired by James Thomson's The Seasons.  In an earlier post I mentioned another such poem, Počasy ('The Seasons') by Hendrij Zejler, the 'father' of modern Sorbian literature, and regretted that I didn't know whether it conveyed 'any particular sense of the Lusatian landscape.'  Fortunately there are some translations of Metai available online that provide an impression of how seasonal change was felt in the Lithuanian countryside.  Here are a few lines (translated by Demie Jonaitis) on the effect of autumn rain - the blubbering earth is one of many examples of anthropomorphism in the poem.
Earth, her every corner soggy, blubbers softly
For our wheels slash through her washed-out back.
Before, how smoothly two old horses dragged our load;
Now, with four good horses struggling, we bog down,
Wheel on axle, groaning, gags and, grinding, turns.
Earth, besmirched, is churned and shattered into chunks,
Fields in patches swim and splatter, drowning everywhere,
Rain, splish-splashing, washes down the backs of folks,
Bast shoes, stuffed in shabby boots, soak up the water,
While they stomp and knead foul mud like dough.
Ah, where are you now, you wondrous days of spring,
When we, re-opening the windows of the cottage,
Welcomed back your first warm flood of sunshine?

Record sleeve for a recording of Bronius Kutavičius's Metai oratorio.
  From the 'Kristijonas Donelaitis in art' page of a site (in English) dedicated to the poet.
The site also includes illustrations for Metai, including this autumn rain scene. 

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