Idylls of Semeniskiai by Jonas Mekas,
translated by Adolfas Mekas
A poet and a filmmaker. Much has been written and published worldwide about Jonas Mekas’ numerous films and his relentless advocacy of independent-personal-poetic cinema. But his poetry written in the Lithuanian language is celebrated only in Lithuania. Though some of Jonas’ later poems were translated into French, Japanese, Polish, German, and other languages, his major work, Idylls of Semeniskiai, remains mostly unknown outside his native country. One of the reasons is the complexity of the language Jonas uses in his pastoral poems which cannot be easily translated.
This English translation of Idylls of Semeniskiai is as close to the original Lithuanian as it can ever be.
Jonas has published a long list of poetry books, but Idylls, his first book published in 1948, is considered a major work in the contemporary Lithuanian poetry.
Nature, all but unmediated, pulses through the poems of recollected childhood that renowned filmmaker Jonas Mekas wrote in displaced camps in Germany just after World War II. Barred from returning to his native Lithuania, which had been occupied by the Russians, he concentrated instead on conjuring lost landscapes in free-verse “idylls” that recall Virgil’s Georgics, Hölderlin, Stifter, Clare, Leopardi, Rilke, Pasternak, and William Carlos Williams, and are as direct as cinematography. His brother and fellow cineaste Adolfas, who was with him in exile and had shared those Kinderszenen, has performed a valuable service by rendering these marvelous poems in a crystalline translation whose clarity and emotional nuance are that of memory itself. Idylls of Semeniskiai is a spellbinding work of collaboration.
— John Ashbery
Foto: Hollis Melton.
In those days, in Wiesbaden and Kassel, we were re-discovering, re-inventing and re-writing the Lithuanian language.
Leonas Letas, Jonas and I found ways of making nouns out of verbs and adjectives. And verbs out of anything. We became experts in the use of the dative – we could use this case anywhere anytime.
Jonas, Adolfas and Leonas Letas in the Blue Room – our “University” in Mattenberg.
Foto: Adolfas Mekas.
In writing Idylls of Semeniskiai, Jonas used a combination of common Lithuanian, regional dialect, some words peculiar to the village of Semeniskiai, and words familiar only to the members of the Mekas family. Many words in the Idylls are no longer found in daily use in today’s Lithuania.
In Idylls of Semeniskiai, Jonas invented words in Lithuanian to describe the sound of rain, wind, snow, etc. –- the made-up words were suggested by the sound these phenomena produced. This caused problems in translation.
In the translation, I retained the unusual sentence structure, uncommon punctuations, unfinished sentences, sudden shifts in tense or perspective, and unjustified transitions.
Having grown up together, I shared with my brother the same life on the farm. In my memory’s eye I can see the images Jonas is describing in the Idylls. The blue flax made into white linen. The snow and the river ice. The squeaking of well sweeps. Cray fishing deep into the summer night or lying sleepless in the hay loft – listening to the sharp cry of corn crakes and mole crickets in wet ditches. Picking wild berries in the woods or sweating in the hot summer fields raking hay or picking potatoes in autumn’s freezing rain. Or helping our father kill a pig and watching mother cut it up to become ham, bacon, sausages, or bones and cartilage to be boiled to make soap.
— Adolfas Mekas
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