On the morning of February 24th, the world was stunned by news that no human being could ever desire: a war was being waged in the heart of Europe. The Vilnius Book Fair, a beloved annual festival of literature began that very day. Only this year, the festival was imbued with sadness and the premonition of world war: not a single book presentation, discussion, concert or poetry reading was performed without a reference to the war. Thirty-two years ago, as Lithuania had been fighting for independence, poetry could be heard at every demonstration, rally and meeting: once again poetry has become an important form of resistance and a means for expressing civic responsibility. This time, the battle is being waged by Ukraine, and Lithuanian poets dedicate their verses to her and her people.
Lithuanian poets and writers have responded to the war in Ukraine in various ways: the voices of those who have lost their faith in the power and meaning of their art, those who feel paralysed, poisoned by anger and hatred, can be heard on social media. Others continue to write silently; still others contribute to relief work for Ukrainian refugees. Poet and translator, editor of the Vilnius Review, Marius Burokas, has become one of the most reliable war chroniclers on Facebook.
Ukraine‘s heroism has inspired the Lithuanian Culture Institute to create a poetry archive to document the authentic experiences of and contemplations on the war and the empathy for Ukraine. Some of the poems have been translated into Ukrainian and English and disseminated to wider audiences. An unexpectedly large number of authors, some well-known, others completely unknown, from Lithuania and beyond her borders, responded to the poetry initiative. We invite you to become acquainted with some of their testimonies.
Introduction by Rūta Mėlynė
Translated by Jura Avizienis
In partnership with Lithuanian Culture Institute
My child, they say, when boys are born to an entire generation, we must wait for war. At a similar time, we had sons – we rejoiced, all of the matrons of the family, but dark forms loomed, there was no calm. My grandmother saw those forms before the Second World War when she glimpsed the sign of the cross in the sky, women, alone, bearing all of the world’s burdens on their shoulders. On September 11 You will turn eighteen, and I watch the skies more nervously, follow the news in neighboring lands. And yet, I forgive You for being born, child of war. I can’t describe how much I’d never want to have to mark the door of our home with the blood of a lamb when you return. My hope is that you’ll never know how cold steel weighs on your hands and heart, how you break out in sweat during sleepless nights counting the fallen. Is it for You that I hope for this, or for me? Still, the most frightening things aren’t bludgeons, phantom limbs, our faded hair – the most frightening thing is that we’ll never be rid of the ghosts of the bare wind, nothing will be as it once was. And yet, I let You go, child of war – My reigns no longer hold back the horses.
By Lina Buividavičiūtė
Translated by Ada Valaitis
Lina Buividavičiūtė is the author of two poetry books in Lithuanian, a cultural commentator, a lecturer, and a writer. The poem ‘A letter to a child of war’ was written drawing on the collective experience and the motif of war (in many senses). With the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, this text took on added meaning and gravity.
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, USA, Ada Valaitis holds a Master’s degree in Literature from George Mason University. In 2007, she was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to Lithuania to continue her work studying and translating Lithuanian literature.
Ada’s translations have appeared in numerous collections and journals, including the Vilnius Review, Washington Square Review, The Dedalus Book of Lithuanian Literature, and How the Earth Carries Us – New Lithuanian Poets. She served as a contributor to Transitions of Lithuanian Postmodernism: Lithuanian Literature in the Post-Soviet Period and Lithuania on a First Date, and as a translator for the award-winning documentary film The Invisible Front.
Photo by Lisa Kalloo
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