Volume 29, No.4 - Winter 1983
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1983 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Leonardas Gutauskas, Krantas. 

Vilnius. Vaga, 1982. 86 pp. Gutauskas is a relatively new poet on the Soviet Lithuanian literary scene — the present volume is his fourth. He is "new" in still another, more important sense: he belongs — alongside with Geda, Bernotas, Mikuta, Bložė and some others — to the generation of young Lithuanian poets in that occupied country which has created extremely dense textures of poetic language, with multiple subtexts, associations and symbolic signs in order, it would seem, to present a barrier made from language and thought, impenetrable to the degrading influences of official "socialist realism" and to russifying efforts on the part of the State.

There are poems in this collection, notably "Motina" (Mother, pp. 5-7), which create a mythological dimension without a specific myth. It is a certain ambiance, a level of discourse, consisting of ancient feelings, as present in recorded myth, legend, art, about time, death and the original point of conscious life. The thematics of death persist throughout the book, not as an obsession but rather as a constant stimulus to the imagination, a challenge to conquer non-being, even if only in language, by creating worlds of the spirit that, in one sense, have already existed, and, in another, shall always prevail. There is a certain dry, "antiquarian" quality to this texture of language, reminiscent of some poems of Judita Vaičiūnaitė in which she contemplates the streets and the antiquities of Vilnius, the baroque capital of Lithuania. Gutauskas, however, does not tie in his poetry with any specific place, unless it be Lithuania itself.

Powerful and moving images often arise from this dense poetic language, surprising and effective precisely in the illusion of simplicity which they at first convey. We read, for instance, in "Merkinė Kreta" (Merkinė, Crete), a poem about black ceramics (made in both places): "O, clay, combined with cow dung, holy/ The lizard's skull is in you/ Together with the vanished Prussian people/ And with old hands that live in you like roots . . ." (p. 25). Ancient history of murderous human drive for domination is in these lines, as if it were a continuation of a primeaval lizard's yearning toward consciousness, or flight, and the even more ancient presence of clay is penetrated with life that forever renews itself. One is tempted to call Gutauskas' verse a "metonymical" poetry, in the sense that his poetic utterances, without becoming metaphors, become a world onto themselves by establishing narrative links of contiguity between images and references where these could not exist on the level of direct discourse. Another example of this might be the lines on p. 18: "The winds again are building nests, like crows/ In verse-tops, and in clouds of words". We see at least three linkages of entities belonging to entirely different categories: winds, words and poems.

Gutauskas, always writing in a sort of timeless moment where past, present and future meet, draws to it the literary and moral worlds of other poets, contemporary and old, creating an ongoing discourse in which they all take part. The poem "Laikrodis Mančiagirėj" (The Clock in Mančiagirė) weaves an intricate net of subtexts and cross-references to other artists of the word, both Lithuanian and foreign, ancient and contemporary. An interesting example of this is the rather surprising, hidden reference to Dostoevsky's The Idiot in the lines:

When the murderer
Grasps the dagger handle The victim
Touches the mysterious copper
Which serves as a door handle
To underground paradise
Perhaps a little later, perhaps after the blow
(for in life everything is
different from Dostoevsky's works) pp. 55-56

We remember the moment of intense terror and ecstasy, of intense knowledge, felt by Prince Myshkin just a fraction of a second before his epileptic fit; a moment, also, when he saw Rogozhin's knife raised over him. In life, Gutauskas seems to say, Rogozhin does strike, and that is, perhaps, the greater and more terrible knowledge.

In a sense, this almost amounts to a sort of "literary criticism," or at least an implied discourse on art (which all true poetry is to some extent). Gutauskas, however, does not so much respond to what others have written as he transforms his perceptions of their art into images and symbols in his own.

Gutauskas seems to prefer brief statements, poetic vignettes, of which a long sequence makes up the larger part of the volume. Even when he presents longer poems, these are arranged in segments that could exist on their own. Perhaps this is due to the intense concentration of thought and image, difficult to sustain as an ongoing, flowing narration.

What we have before us is first-class poetry from a young author who can give us every reason to expect still better things to come.

The Ohio State University