ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2014 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 60, No.3 - Fall 2014
Editor of this issue: Daiva Litvinskaitė

"We Must Toil Because God Bade Men Eat":
A Paradigm of Values on Food and Eating in
Metai [The Seasons] by Kristijonas Donelaitis


DAINORA POCIŪTĖ is a professor at Vilnius University. Her area of research is the literature of Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Lithuania Minor, the history of the Reformation, and early modern intellectual history.

In his famous poem The Seasons, the depiction of everyday life in the countryside is the constructive principle for Kristijonas Donelaitis's artistic worldview. In The Seasons, all aspects of daily life, such as language, appearance, food, and eating achieve an ethical dimension reflecting the author's philosophy of nature and Protestant values. The paradigm of food, the main focus of this article, plays an important part in the poem, since the provision of food relates to a countryman's personal and communal obligations and his earthly vocation. What a person eats and the way it is eaten testifies to either decency or indecency, dividing the righteous Christians from the sinners.

Not only The Seasons, but all the other surviving writings by Kristijonas Donelaitis, as well as all the facts known about his life, attest he was an earnest Lutheran by worldview and education. He studied theology at the University of Konigsberg as Pietism spread throughout Lutheran churches in Germany and Prussia, and signs of Pietism are noticeable in The Seasons.1 It must be emphasized that Pietism was a type of movement that did not question Lutheran dogma, but fostered forms of communal and individual forms of prayer more closely tied to ethics. Pietism had no intention of changing doctrine; therefore, the fundamental truths and values inherent in the teachings and worldview of Lutheranism were the same in the sixteenth century as in the eighteenth.

Fundamentally, the teaching that salvation came through faith, rather than by one's works, which the Protestant patriarchs formed and disseminated in detail during the sixteenth century on the basis of the Apostle Paul's writings, radically modified the social profile and ethics of Europe during early modern times. The idea of salvation was liberated from the concept of a covenant and understood as a purely religious value, part of a divine order that does not depend on personal merit. A human being is a divine instrument enacting his or her own vocation. Max Weber's classic study in this area, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, demonstrated that Protestantism paradoxically encouraged the comprehension of work as a religious value by refuting the idea of salvation as compensation for the performance of work. Work or profession was the earthly testimony of a chosen one, not some tiresome duty, but a vocation.

The division of the protagonists in The Seasons into the good and the wicked is traditional in the Lutheran world, in which some people execute their vocations perfectly, while others are doomed to perish and end up in hell. The Seasons attests that nature is an intelligent and ideal creation of God and that every iota of it, which is devoted to Him, performs its own designated function. The seasons occurring during the year supply various blessings; birds and other creatures glorify the Creator, while humans, who were created in the image of God but experienced original sin, demonstrate their vocation through their work and activities, and await their judgment. A person's mode of life testifies to that person's righteousness or wickedness. Nevertheless, Lutheran theology does not teach or encourage the community to judge others. The very first translator of the Bible into Lithuanian, Jonas Bretkūnas, who was a proponent of Lutheran Orthodoxy in Lithuania Minor during the sixteenth century, asserted, in his 1595 collection of sermons entitled Postilė (Postilla), that the Christian community on this earth will never be and could not possibly be ideal (an aim that radical Protestants, like the Antitrinitarians and Anabaptists, were pursuing). He further asserted that Satan's actions in the world were his daily work. Therefore, good and evil exist jointly and alongside one another in the lives of people, and society itself is divided into the righteous and the wicked: 0

Cathars, Novatians and Anabaptists, as if they were heretics or blasphemers, might proclaim that all Christian people should be good and holy and that there shouldn't be a single wicked person, as if there shouldn't be a thief, a drunkard, a philanderer or any other engaged in a life of sin amongst Christians. Oh, Lord God, wouldn't that be a good thing; it would even greatly suit God himself if there were no sinners anywhere around. But in this Evangel, our Lord Jesus Christ shows by comparison that there are the good and the wicked in Christianity, all the way to the end of the world.2

Donelaitis remains a representative of that same, traditional Lutheran worldview reflecting the unavoidable end of the world. He writes, "Do not we daily see the devil rough/The hair of wicked people in his power."3 It is the duty of a Christian to know how to recognize signs of evil and to disassociate from them, but not to destroy or to judge them. Donelaitis presents images of the everyday life of the sinner and the righteous, not judging, but teaching, showing, and urging them, reminding us that humans are weak and far from omnipotent. The expression Donelaitis uses: "Every man's a fool in his own way,"4 indicates his conviction that every creation has its own designated destiny and an order organizing its life, which a person would be wise to recognize, understand, and carry out without attempting to overcome it. In this way, the details of a person's everyday life become expressive of that "way" and signs of the designated order. All aspects of daily life acquire valuable, ethical dimensions in Donelaitis's anthropology: speech, behavior, apparel, and even daily eating habits are used to label Christians as both righteous and wicked, as decent and indecent.

The Paradigm of Food and Eating

Delving into the poetic context of the Age of Enlightenment reminds us that The Seasons by Donelaitis appears amidst such creative works of eighteenth-century Europe as The Seasons (1726-1730) by the English poet James Thomson, Les saisons (1769) by the French poet Jean Franęois de Saint-Lambert, and others. Nonetheless, none of these others employ peasants, folk culture, and nature as the constructive principle for an artistic worldview. The immortalization of rural culture and the cycle of nature - along with the unexpected and exceptionally poetic Lithuanian language, for which the sentimentality, aestheticism, and decorativeness predominate in Western literature of those times is entirely uncharacteristic - constitute the integrity of the contents and form of Donelaitis's The Seasons. In eighteenth-century Western culture, peasants were visualized as stylized landscape details; The Seasons, however, is exceptional in its conviviality and colorfully represented characterizations.

The Seasons became a unique creative piece in the context of eighteenth-century Europe specifically because the underlying poetic principle of this poem (the cycle of four cantos) is the daily farm life in a village and its attributes, all of which depend upon the rhythm of nature. The Seasons is a classical, poetic interconnection of natural philosophy and Protestant values represented by depictions of everyday life in the countryside. Until then, the rhythm of a farmer's daily life was not considered important enough to represent values and ideas worthy of poetic attention. Donelaitis visualizes a working person who is dependent on the pulse of nature testifying to Christian values by his or her daily activities. In The Seasons, one of the clearest forms attesting to these values, the one that receives the most attention is the paradigm of food and eating.5 This is a particularly important paradigm in the life of the country folk: the farmer is the producer of food, and the provision of food relates to this person's earthly vocation's personal and communal obligations. The paradigm of food and eating is an integral part of the creative work of Donelaitis, reflecting his philosophy of nature in The Seasons.

"Polite" Dining

Donelaitis provided numerous poetic testimonies associated with the paradigm of eating as part of his eloquent visualizations of the peasants' day-to-day surroundings. Only two table utensils were known in rural areas during his time: a spoon and a knife. Both are mentioned several times in The Seasons. Without a doubt, these are the oldest customary table utensils in the history of civilization. The fork appeared in European culture around the fourteenth century in Italy. Nevertheless, this table utensil remained exceptional for a long time and was rarely used until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is known in Italian monasteries in the Middle Ages, but even during the Renaissance, use of the fork was more an exception than the norm, even in the manors of kings and the nobility of France and Italy. A great many townspeople and members of the upper classes, not just the peasants found in The Seasons, were still eating without forks in the eighteenth century. Pieces of meat would be cut off with a knife and put in the mouth with one's hand. In "Pričkus's Tale of a Lithuanian Wedding," Donelaitis describes this manner of grappling for large chunks of meat by hand as rude:

Štai Enskys tuojaus ištraukęs didelį peilį,
Virtas ir keptas mėsas jau pradeda pjaustyt
Ir ant luobų ar lentelių pameta stukiais;
Nės apsirijęs jau nežino mandagiai elgtis.
O kitsai jau taip be peilio ėda iš rankų,
Kad lašinių taukai per barzdą varva nuo zūbų.
Swiftly Enskys pulls out a knife so huge,
And tosses chunks on top the basts and planks,
Another with no knife wolfs down by hand,
Starting to chop up boiled and baked meats
Since in gluttony he’s forgotten good manners.
So bacon grease is drooling down his beard.6

Donelaitis notes that not all the peasants know how to carve skillfully. Noblemen, who are accustomed to it, are more suited to this undertaking:

Štai tuojaus Enskys, išsitraukęs didelį peilį,
Virtas ir kepta mėsas padalyt pasisiūlė.
Bet, kaip ponai daro, tranšieruot nemokėdams,
Tuo su nagais kaip būrs lašinių šmotus nusitvėrė
Ir skvarbydams ant torielių sumetė stukiais;
Nės, prisirijęs jau, nenumanė mandagiai elgtis.
Enskys, producing an enormous knife,
Offered to cut the boiled meat and the roast.
Unable though to carve as gentry do,
He took a lump of bacon in his hands,
Tore it up and threw pieces onto plates;
The glutton soon forgot how to behave.7

Generally, one might think the use of a knife when eating meat was already commonplace among Prussian peasants. As Donelaitis points out, however, this was still considered a gentlemanly custom. Thus, whenever a big group of peasants got together, especially since they would have already imbibed too much ("gorged with brandy wine"), they would forget their table manners and eat the meat by tearing it apart with their hands. Donelaitis denounces such behavior:
O kiti, taip jau girti, neturėdami peilių
Ir su rankomis apgniaužę, lašinius ėdė,
Taip kad jų taukai per barzdą jau nulašėjo,
Nės jie mislyjo, kad būrs, pas Krizą sėdėdams,
Kloniotis ir poniškai pasielgt neprivalo.
While others, also drunk, who had no knife,
Held a lump in their fingers as they chewed
With fat already dribbling down their chins,
For peasants were not bound at Krizas’ place,
They thought, to bow and ape the gentry’s ways.8

Good Food - the Product of Labor

The Seasons is a creative piece that validates the values of everyday Christian life. In this work, the defining of these values is served by all human behaviors and actions, including food, its preparation, and its consumption - a basic pleasure of human life described with exceptional vitality:

O po tam abu tiesiog už stalo nukvietęs
Su Ilzbe, savo kukarka, pasenusia boba,
Daug skaniai keptų ir šutytų atnešė valgių:
Jautienos riebios, kiaulienos irgi žąsienos,
Plaučių ir kepenų, ir blėkų didelį puodą.
Tuos valgius visus, svečiams į bliūdą supiltus,
Krizas su pačia meilingai ragina valgyt.
After inviting both right behind the table
With Ilzbe his kitchen helpmate, an old lady,
He brings in many delicious roasts and stews:
Fatty beef, pork as well as goose,
Lungs and livers and a big pot of tripe.
All that food poured in a bowl for the guests,
Krizas and his spouse lovingly encourage eating.9

There is considerable delight taken in naming different vegetables and grains in The Seasons: parsnips, carrots, turnips and swedes (rutabagas), kohlrabi, red beetroot, sauerkraut, leafy vegetable soup, beans, potatoes, and various grain dishes, as well as baked goods. The different meats of domesticated birds and animals are much appreciated: pork, beef, mutton, poultry (stewed chicken, goose and duck), internal organs (lungs, liver, intestines and tripe, a stew made of cut pieces of intestine) and fermented beverages (beer and wines).

The scenes in The Seasons describing the preparation of food raised and processed, along with the delight taken in doing so, are noticeably high-spirited and cheery. Eating and relishing food constitute a main source of joy in life:

„Ak, – tarė, – liksminkitės, jau vėl čėsnis pasidaro.
Tikt girdėkit, kad Bendiksas žąsiną pjauja
Ir kaip Paikžentis pasiritęs aviną smaugia.
Vauškus savo namams vienragį bulių stekena,
O Miklos darže taip smarkiai svilina kuilį,
Kad per mylią dūmai, nei debesiai pasikėlę,
Saulę su žvaigždėms ir šaltą mėnesį tamsin.
Taigi dabar dešrų visokių bus prisivalgyt,
Nės lašinių bei kumpių jau rūkyt pakabintų
Žiemai pas būrus daugybė didelė kaba.“
And said: “Good news! There’ll be a new feast soon.
Bendiksas is slitting a gander’s throat,
And Paikzentis throttling a ram he’s thrown.
Vauskus is slaughtering a one-horned bull,
And Mykolas singeing a hog so hard.
There’s black smoke spreading for a mile around,
And clouding all the stars, the sun and moon.
So now we’ll eat our fill of sausages,
Because in peasant homes there’s so much flitch,
And gammon hung to smoke for winter use.”10

The smoking, baking and stewing of meats from domestic animals and birds are especially appreciated in The Seasons. The dishes prepared from them are frequently named "tasty" and given special attention amidst other foods. Donelaitis does not propagate asceticism. The food produced by toil is a primary source of joy in everyday life; it is how a person is compensated for daily toil:
Darbo reik, nės taip kožnam Dievs paliepė valgyt,
Valgio reik, kad dirbančius syla nepamestų.
Taigi nečėdykim mušt, pjaut ir skerst savo valgį.
Vaike! Numušk drąsa jautuką sau nupenėjęs;
Pjauk avių kelias, nečėdyk aviną luiną;
Kišk žąsis, pyles, vištas į didelį puodą;
Skersk daglus paršus, pasiskersk nutukusią kiaulę;
Valgyk sveiks dešras, iš kruopo sau pasidaręs.
Imk raumens stukius, sukapojęs kimšk smageninę;
O kad dar negana, nusitvėręs didelę žarną,
Kimšk drąsa plaučius, n’atbok, kad plyšdama driksters,
Ir kepenų n’užmiršk, kad storą pridrebi dešrą.
Nės tokie daiktai, tau gal didei susigadyt.
We must toil hard because God bade men eat
And we must eat so we have strength to work.
So without stint let’s slaughter, carve and chop.
Slaughter the young bull, boy, you fattened up,
Slay sheep and do not spare the hornless ram,
Shove geese, ducks, hens into a good-sized pot,
Kill motley piglets and the fattened pig,
Relish the sausages well-stuffed with grits
And cut lean meat to fill pig stomachs with.
If that be not enough, go stuff chopped lung
Into a bigger gut. No, it won’t burst!
Add liver too to make thick sausages,
Because such things can stand you in good stead.11  

The grown food must be wisely managed ("And also think well what you keep in store"). Donelaitis criticizes immoderation and any sudden consumption of all the food raised during autumn or indulging too much on a daily basis ("cheering the guts"), and then, upon the arrival of spring, eating "your fare unspiced."

Therefore, The Seasons is not the glorification of delighting in food, but a lesson about the virtue of moderation. Donelaitis notes that neither such satiation and pleasurable eating, nor enjoying the fruits of one's labor, are everyday reimbursements. Taking delight in eating to one's content often switches to a modest intake of food during the time of daily work:

Mes besidovydami daugsyk kruopas nedarytas
Ir plutas menkas blogai kramtydami valgėm.
Tankiai mes tvanke, prastai maišydami skinkį
Ir vandens malkus iš klano semdami, gėrėm.
How many times we’ve ate unseasoned groats
And chewed with difficulty tiny crusts!
Often in heat waves nothing but thin beer
And water from a puddle we have drunk. 12 

Wholesome and Unwholesome Foods

The episode about table utensils and aesthetics at the table has shown that the paradigm of eating in The Seasons by Donelaitis can be polite or animal-like, as evidenced by the two verbs used in Lithuanian to denote eating: valgyti, to eat like a human being, and ėsti, to eat like an animal, i.e., with or without good manners. Food and the manner of eating have a dual nature; they can be signs of goodness, decency, and Christianity, or negativity, sinful, and a life removed from normal customs.

A scene of slaughter from Donelaitis’s
The Seasons
illustrated by Vytautas K. Jonynas

The Seasons ascribes positive meanings to food that is produced, cultivated, and raised by the people themselves: the meat of farm animals, grain culture, and vegetables, the typical and traditional foods in a village. They signify the decent, righteous, and Christian lives of people, whereby labor is what earns the food. These are the foods Lithuanians eat in The Seasons. Donelaitis measures ethical and Christian values by the life style of the local people, those who have been toiling on this land for ages. The newly-arrived, immigrants, and squires are associated with a different paradigm, an improper manner of eating and indecent food: oysters and wild beasts and birds; i.e., what can be "taken" from nature without actually raising it, making it undeserved. This food involves no toil in laboring; instead, it entails shooting, trapping or overtaking the animals and birds in some other way:

Viens nešvankėlis mėsinėjo vanagą juodą,
O kitsai, su nagais draskydamas ištisą zuikį,
Kirmėlių gyvų lizdus iš vėdaro krapštė;
Ale trečiasis, du bjauriu ryku nusitvėręs,
Rupuižes baisias į bliūdą tarškino platų;
Nės tas rupuižes mūsų ponai garbino skaudžiai.
One godless rogue was dressing a black hawk,
Another tearing a whole hare apart,
Scraping a nest of live worms from its guts,
The third man, grabbing hold of two foul pots,
Was throwing oysters into a wide bowl
Because our squires hold them in high regard.13 

Wild foods taken from nature, those not requiring human labor to raise, are given a negative connotation in The Seasons. Such food causes nausea and vomiting in honest, decent people:

Taipgi bežiūrint man jau dūšiai pikta pastojo,
Ir aš, pro duris iššokęs, vemti pradėjau.
Just as I stood there watching I felt sick,
I dashed outside and started throwing up.14 

Delighting in unearned food taken from nature (that is meant to glorify God) is considered an ungodly thing in The Seasons. Farming peasants do not avail themselves of it; only the landlords or the Germans do. It follows that the way the gentry eats, when "gorging" or "pouring into the paunch" without working, "not thinking of God or heaven" ("Autumn Boons," 319), is condemned as sinful, and even invokes dangers. The squires dining on caviar (kabiar) are warned:
Ar nesibijotės užspringt, kad kabiar ėdat?
Ar kad jūsų namus perkūns į plentą supleškys?
Aren’t you afraid you’ll choke with caviar
Or lightning strike your house and burn it down?15 

Following the description of a scene of sinful eating by the gentry, Selmas pronounces his observation about the end times: "Master and servant hurry down to hell" ("Autumn Boons," 327).

Different values are ascribed to wild and domestic animals and birds in The Seasons. Wildlife is not designed for people to eat, because these beings are for worshiping God; their function is representative, involving the glorification of the Creator. The function of these creatures is especially clearly represented by the birds described in the beginning of the "Birdsongs of Spring." People are only meant to consume the results of their own labor, the birds and animals they've raised on their farms. 

As Donelaitis notes, only these animals, the ones raised by the work of people, have a utilitarian purpose, earmarked for feeding humankind. People love and care for domestic birds, as Donelaitis observes, not for their voices (unlike nightingales and storks), but for their meat:

Ale nedingokit, kad mes dėl alaso mielo
Ar dėl jūs dainų šventų jus šeriame tvartuos;
Ne! mes dėl mėsos tiktai jūsų giriame balsą.
But don’t think it’s for your good cheer or for
Your rousing songs we feed you in our byres!
It’s for your flesh, naught else, your voice we prize.16 

For an Ending - It's All About Dung

Food earned by one's labor, not taken from nature for one's own benefit, is righteous and due compensation in the Christian sense. A positive meaning is achieved specifically in this context of values, not only by the pleasurable results of one's work (tasty and fatty food derived from domestic animals and a garden), but by all that relates to food production by constant labor. This is clearly indicated by illiterate rhetoric of the basest kind - "dung," "midden," "shit" - which serve here not as obscene rhetoric, but as emblems of the righteous life of a farmer earning his or her food. Donelaitis names it briefly and succinctly: "And Christian blessings come from stinking dung":

Ar nežinau, kad būrs nor grečną grūdą sulaukti,
Tai pirm to jisai tur grečną šūdą pakrėsti?
Puodui juk kasdien, kad kokį viralą verdi,
Druskos ne tiktai, bet dar ir uždaro reikia.
Kam nesisūdęs ir n’užsidaręs nesrebi sriubą;
O tu dar juokies, kad klapai mėžinį rauso
Ir pardovytoms dirvelėms uždarą taiso?
Taigi nutverk rykus, kurie tam yr padaryti,
O mėžk greitai ir linksmai pakvipusį skarbą!
Iš menkų daiktų daugsyk dyvai pasidaro,
O iš mėšlo smirdinčio žegnonė pareina.
Don’t say you don’t know that to get good grain
A peasant first has got to spread good shit?
Does not the cooking pot, when you make soup,
Need more substantial flavoring than salt?
That’s why, if it is lacking, you’ll not sup.
Yet you mock peasants rummaging in dung,
Preparing seasoning for hungry fields.
So grasp the implements made for the job
And gladly gather up the pungent wealth.
Many a wonder has from base things sprung
And Christian blessings come from stinking dung.17 

Paradoxically, dung and pies belong to the same paradigm in The Seasons as the lower and the upper vertical components. In the value system of The Seasons, the person who eats unearned food ("without that dung enjoy those oven pies") is an exploiter of nature and other people:

Tūls nusvilęs ponpalaikis rods juokiasi būrams
Ir besišypsodams jų darbus niekina bloznas,
Lygiai kad toksai be būrų gal įsiremti
Irgi be mėšlo jų pyragais gal pasivalgyt.
He is a fool, the shabby squire who mocks
The peasant farmers and derides their toil.
As if without them he could strut around,
Without that dung enjoy those oven pies.18 

Eating and food are the codes of values Donelaitis formulated in The Seasons regarding the philosophy of nature and Protestant traditions: they are life's indicators of good (gained through working) and sinful (exploiting God's creations). The barn and the dung are signs of decency, whereas caviar and oysters, as well as clearly signs of foreign manners and tastes, are signs of indecency. People living moral lives eat only the food they earn by their own labor. Immoral people use the fruits they never earned by toil, and thereby harm the divine order in the world and Christian ethics.

Translated by Vijolė Arbas

1    Numerous authors who have examined Donelaitis's creative work noticed the influence of Pietism. This aspect was widely discussed in Gineitis, Kristijono Donelaičio aplinka.
2    Bretkūnas, 211; this citation is translated by Vijolė Arbas.
3    Donelaitis, The Seasons, “Autumn Boons,” 867-868. References
throughout are to the line numbers in each canto.
4    Ibid., “Winter Cares,” 543.
5    Saulius Žukas has written an article about the food and eating code (referred to with the archaic word alimentarinis) found in The Seasons in "Donelaičio Metų rišlumo klausimu," 92-109. There, food and eating are judged differently, as epistemic my-another's values
6 Donelaitis, Raštai, "Pričkaus pasaka apie lietuvišką svodbą," 47-50. Translations from this work are by Vijolė Arbas.
7    Donelaitis, The Seasons, "Autumn Boons," 163-168.
8    Ibid., 171-175.
9    Donelaitis, Raštai, "Pričkaus pasaka apie lietuvišką svodbą," 40-46.
10    Donelaitis, The Seasons, "Autumn Boons," 341-350.
11    Ibid., 376-388.
12    Ibid., 364-367.
13    Ibid., 280-285.
14    Ibid., 288-289.
15    Ibid., 320-322.
16    Ibid., 66-68.
17    Ibid., "Summer Toil," 267-277.
18    Ibid., 278-281.


Bretkūnas, Jonas. Postilė [Postilla]. Compiled by Ona Aleknavičienė. Vilnius: Lietuvių kalbos institutas, 2005.

Donelaitis, Kristijonas. The Seasons. Translated by Peter Tempest. Vilnius: Vaga, 1985.

______. Raštai [Writings]. Vilnius: Vaga, 1977.

Gineitis, Leonas. Kristijono Donelaičio aplinka [The Surroundings of Kristijonas Donelaitis]. Vilnius: LLTI, 1998.

Žukas, Saulius. "Donelaičio Metų rišlumo klausimu [On the Issue of Continuity in The Seasons by Donelaitis]." In Žmogaus vaizdavimas lietuvių literatūroje [Visualizing a Person in Lithuanian Literature]. Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1995.