Mintis ir uola / Thought and Rock

 

 

Edward Reilly

                   Lapidary Language: an excursion into stony territories        

 Extract from Presentation for ”Thought and Rock” book launch
on Dec 6, 2009 at the Lithuanian House in Melbourne.

 

. . . . . . .There are three elements to poetry: an all-embracing impulse that propels one towards the unknown, the tongue giving shape to that impulse and finally its utterance through language. But there is also a fourth element, song, which firmly places Šimkutė as a lyricist, a spinner of a new daina.  I refer to this particular term as the English folk-song is inadequate to convey the emotional depth and linguistic complexity inherent in daina, . . . . . .it is both a folk and an art form as much as the Irish sean nós [pr. šàn nós], or the Portuguege fado. Šimkutė’s developed practice is not that of the Anglophone ballad tradition, but rather draws from the sort, almost aphoristic jagged lines of the likes of Emily Dickinson (Amherst 1830 – 1886). It’s a minimalist style, allowing for great flexibility in delivery, and accommodates the incorporation of expressive gesture and musical accompaniment.

 

This collection begins with a question asked by the great Sufi poet, Rumī (Persia 1207 – 1273) – Speech comes from thought /but where do thoughts come from. . . . .. the lines have been carefully chosen and should be used as the foundation for reading each poem in its light. . . . .Rumī’ (in his poetry often) reveals his essential pantheism, in that he envisages the deity operating in and through the given world. This is the same sensibility as shown by Homer in his depiction of Poseidon, by M K Čiurlionis (1875 – 1911), the Lithuanian mystic, in his symphonic compositions and paintings.  This is Šimkutė’s expressed position as well, as in:

 

       WHEN SUNNY DAYS

       turn somersaults

       from continuous light

       to indifference

 

       unexpectedly

       a butterfly’s flight

       tunes language

       and makes words dazzle  (29)

 

. . . . a poet is also a shaman, an initiator of the walk into the unknown in order that one may gain proper knowledge, gnosis. Šimkutė takes that pantheistic concept a step further. . . . .  .in picturing “the women from Samogitia” at work in the rye fields, she has them unconsciously recreating the land as a “song”:

 

       RYE FIELD FACES

       bare feet

       sinewy limbs

 

       the women

       from Samogitia

       work the land

       into song (17).

 

These lyrics are prayers of making for they too are engaged in poēsis, just as she has been in the process of recording and celebrating their endeavours, and what is interesting is her assertion that these women “work the land / into song” in much the same way as later they will take the rye itself and knead dough to make the household’s daily bread, singing their way through the long days. Šimkutė uses the word daina in the Lithuanian version of the poem (16), indicating how deeply rooted these women are in their native land and culture, how elemental is their activity, going back further than any page of recorded history. Each of these women is one of the Moerae, fate-spinners, soul-singers, and their falling cadences echo right throughout the book.

The book as a whole is divided into four cycles. . . . . . .

. . . . .silences between words can be thought of as creating their own meanings, as in:

 

       THE SPACE
       in between

       gives the words

       their sound. (39)

 

The last cycle achieves a feeling of greater peace. Primordial, luminous images recur throughout, autumnal echoes of pines and oak, falling maple leaves, a “silent swan glide” which “stills the waves” of the Baltic Sea, a girl at play, fishermen humming as they work, a quiet simplicity:

 

       SUNFALL

       on your shoulder

       thoughts almost

 

       transparent (125)

 

. . . . . . .It seems that this book has been composed, in the musical sense, as much as assembled out of writings, and moves in an arc from stillness through to a contemplation of death, the mystery of life, then a cry of mourning for life’s losses and the world’s gloomy state, with a final acceptance of life’s impermanence, adopting the Eastern thought and pantheism of life’s oneness with nature whereby everything merges as in time washes /away words /sea and  sky are one /thought and rock (123).. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A case can now be made to view Šimkutė within a transcendental framework, expressed in language & style aligned to the supple translations of Sappho by the renowned Mary Barnard (1909 – 2001) and hence to the pithy lines of Emily Dickinson (Amherst 1830 – 1886), all of which lead back through the ages to her wide range of readings including Rumī and other mystics. . . and like them Šimkutė has gone, as had Sappho, “within”, exploring and documenting the tensions between this world’s external and internal spheres (Harris: 1994: 103)

 

 See: L. Šimkutė’s Word Radiance (R. Dragenytė) www.slic.org.au – (Culture) - Jan., 2009 

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