The Anyksciai Grove

Stump-littered hillocks, desolate and bare,
Can anyone believe you once were fair?
Where are your former charms? Where did they go?
Where is your humming when the wind would blow
And toss the white-wood foliage to and fro
And rock your pines, as centuries ago?
Where are your birds and nestlings to be found
Whose chirping such contentment spread all round?
Where are your living creatures large and small,
The burrows and the lairs that housed them all?
All, all has gone: in the deserted plain
A few disfigured pines alone remain.
With needle, cone and twig the earth is strewn –
A barren waste the sun bakes hard in June,
A sight the soul views with as much distress
As ruined palaces rank weeds possess,
Or heaps of rubble where a town once teemed,
Or bone-dry moss where marshland softly gleamed.
Once walking here you found your eyes would ache:
The forest would your soul so merry make,
Your heart so glad you wondered in surprise:
Where am I – in a wood or Paradise?
All that surrounds you with such beauty glows!
With every scent the forest woos your nose
And lively sounds you hear in every part.
You sense a deep calm soothing to the heart.

What scents abound! Pine resin fills the air.
The scent of flowers gentle breezes bear.
In clearings white-red clover, camomile
And thyme with fragrance rare your nose beguile.
The presence of an anthill you can tell.
Leaf, needle, pine-cone have a different smell
Each time you pass. A breeze however slight
Will bring new scents each time for your delight.
Here's aromatic cranberry and moss.
Here orchard-blossom scents you come across.
The forest like a living creature breathes:
The nearby field and meadowland it wreathes
In fragrance, while among its pines in turn
The scents of field and meadow you discern.
All mingle in the air, so thick they come
Your nose cannot distinguish every one.
It is as if wood, meadow, field combine
Their richest scents to make a perfume fine
Which to God's glory they are offering
As they together sigh, rejoice and sing.
Their voices weave a hymn of many parts
To touch with perfect harmony our hearts.
How fine are forest sounds, not only scents!
The forest hums, resounds with eloquence,
While midnight brings a silence that is so
Profound you hear each leaf and flower grow,
Hear tree to tree in gentle whispers call,
Each star through heaven move, each dewdrop fall.
The heart is hushed. Such peace reigns everywhere
The soul soars heavenward in quiet prayer.
But when the new day dawns with gleaming brow
And blades of grass, dew-laden, earthward bow
The forest wakens, night-time silence flees
And day again resumes its melodies.
That rustle? It's a leaf the breeze has stirred
Or, stirring in its nest, a waking bird.
That crackling? It's a homebound wolf who, loath
To hunt by day, breaks through the undergrowth.
A captured duck the fox bears to his lair,
A badger scurries from his burrow there,
A roe bounds past, a squirrel neatly takes
A flying leap onto a bough that shakes,
A stoat or marten rummages about…
The forest creatures are all up and out.

There was a time, a time when beauteous calm
The forest breathed, our hearts to soothe and charm.
For Lithuanians relish calm and ease
As lush grass relishes a gentle breeze
That stirs dark ripples as it passes by:
We often weep in woods, not knowing why.
For it is there we feel a pain is eased,
The heart soothed and anxiety appeased;
Warm tears born of a sentiment unique
Come rolling then like pearl dew down the cheek.
Long afterwards our lungs breathe the forest air,
Our breast as gently stirs as pines do there.
Such deep tranquillity pervades the soul
It bows as wheatears do when ripe and whole.
This is the source from which our tears and sighs,
Our solace and our poetry arise.
Now all has gone… In the deserted plain
A few disfigured pines alone remain.

Our folk have always lived at one with trees
And know few closer lifelong friends than these.
With windfalls only would they heat their hut,
Plait doors from branches, no boards would they cut
And no ax to a trunk they ever laid
Unless the tree already was decayed.
In turn the forest soothed and gave delight,
Loved Lithuania's folk with all its might.
It clothed and fed them, sheltered them as well,
To bar the way to enemies it fell,
In evil days – a refuge from our foes,
In time of grief – a place of sweet repose,
In happy days its charms it would unfold,
At all times granting blessings manifold.
Then hard times came. Of hunger people died,
Made bark soup, baked their bread with moss inside.
Such starving folk who hardly eat at all
In time of plague like trees will reel and fall.
The forest pitied them, dew tears it shed
And wet its crowns in grey clouds overhead.
"My starving brothers all!" it cried. "Fight back!
A blessing on the hand that wields an ax!"
They wept, did those who first a few trees felled.
Their children groaned – the ax salvation spelled.
Their children's children sighed, cut more trees down.
Their great-grandchildren carted logs to town
And when to market forty loads they sent
Rejoiced, assured of one day's nourishment.
With timber so abundant prices fell.
They sold until there was not much to sell.
Whatever money they received they drank
And into ways of dissolution sank.
And so no forest did our fathers find,
Yet found they were like brothers of one mind
To save land for the trees for which they pined,
So sorely bitter tears would their eyes blind
On viewing stumps: for Lithuanian souls
Whom forest beauty nurtures and consoles
In treeless bleak expanses run to seed,
They wither and expire in sorest need.
Our treeless generation from old songs
Learns forest lore and for a forest longs.
Our folksong from a love of trees has grown
And all the songs were to our fathers known.
So now a pinewood patiently they reared
And in their loving labors persevered.
They raised a handsome pine grove, dense as reeds.
The young at heart and children were well pleased.
Such care of their new grove did people take
No twig, however tiny, would they break.
Anyksciai town rejoiced – the trees looked good –
And people went elsewhere for firewood.
Then came a forester who toured the site,
Dug ditches, posted watchmen day and night,
Barred grazing, mushroom picking… He seemed strict
But on the sly sold wood and mushrooms picked.
He lied to his superiors; when folk
Complained he punched them and their teeth he broke.
He rooted pinetrees up year after year
And soon there was again a wasteland here…
Bare hills with stumps are all that now remain,
For which we weep and sing our sad refrain.
Unfinished is my lay: such pain at heart
Lies heavy on the soul and makes it smart.
That force which gnawed the forest for so long
Assailing heart and soul… curtails my song.

Translated by Peter Tempest
(Contributed by daniel on Wednesday, April 6th, 2011)
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Lithuanian Literature

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