Selected poems from ‘Blue Sister, River Vilija’ under the lens of Socialist Realism.
Socialist realism is an approach to literature that focuses on social issues and that portrays a ray of hope flickers from the debris of despondency .It promotes nationalism,patriotism, the equality of women as well as the beauty of the life ordinary people. It condemns scorn for labor,which it values. Socialist Realism, an approach to literature was developed by Russian communist critics and party ideologues around 1930.It is an offshoot of Marxism. In the previous editions we hand seen the works of Salomeja Neris via the lens of New and Marxist critical approach. We had also analyzed some works from a feminist angle.
Before the storm
Around 1940 those countries in Europe, which foresaw Nazi Germany’s expansionist policy, were apprehensive of its lust for annexing neighboring countries out of its ill will of unfairly amassing fortune. To forewarn and to forearm her fellow countrymen that the Nazis could take Lithuania off guard Salomeja in her poem “Before The Storm” had sensitized them of the specter of war looming large and threatening to explode at any time. In her prophetic poem she hinted the anxiety and fear of those who foresaw the impending danger.
Using horror provoking figurative speeches that summon to mind the possible catastrophe was the literary style she employed to use. And as such she did manage to vividly paint facts on the ground. For the sake of clarity some figurative expressions from the poem are spotlighted below.
Devilish, ghosts, white desperate, storm, blackens the sea and the giant’s great jaw.
Also see, tightly, heavily and silently. Notice also the verbs too are in the same wavelength strike, clenched, tensed, cries, breaks, caught .
Here she metaphorically refers her countrymen by seagulls contrasting them with soldiers of the belligerent nation.
The word images and expressions in the poem that reveal the then anxieties of Lithuania’s citizens, who sensed the blow the war has in store for them are:
In expectation one’s nerves are tensed, seagulls with cries cross the sky’s expanse, what will become of us when the rain breaks. Ship caught out of sea by chance, show merchants or commuters caught.
Stones have hearts of stone
Marxists and Socialists fight injustices of every making. Their aim as Gorky puts it is to render this world a suitable home for mankind. And as such they hold there is no room for appeasing the aggression a powerful and belligerent nation launches on the relatively weak yet peaceful one. Appeasing aggression is no less than perpetrating it. The poem Stones have hearts of stone epitomizes the wrath and revulsion of a poet to such ‘crime by inaction’ on the part of the international community. It was out of this feeling why Salomeja in her satiric poem ‘Stones have hearts of stone’ condemned the moral petrifaction of those nations that turned a blind eye when Nazi Germany flexing its military muscle was crushing and annexing neighboring countries.
The metaphoric expression ‘Stone’ she adopted to associate it with those who had the heart to tolerate aggression reveals how indignant she turned over the international community that could have rescued helpless countries like Lithuania from Nazi’s obsession of expansion but preferred abstinence.
Let us scrutinize some of the images used to such effect. Boulder means a small rounded mass of rock. At the first line of the first stanza of this poem Salomeja used Boulder to convey the eccentricity and hardheartedness of those who appeased aggression. ‘Boulder split apart and let me in’ shows Lithuania was in dire need of a salivation. In this poem the persona signifies Lithuania. Boulder and stone from the same semantic set are repetitively used eleven times to draw prominence and attention by way of emphasis. This poem satirizes moral petrifaction such as appeasing aggression. The title itself hammers home the same message.
The repitition of Stones are stones-they all have hearts of stone twice in her poem shows it was via this figurative expression Salomeja gave a vent to her wrath over the moral petrifaction of the international community. She also portrayed the helpless position Lithuania postured on the eve of the war. The following figurative speeches throw additional light on this fact.
The storm will chill me to the bone (2 times)
In this extract storm stands for the unprovoked aggression while chill me means annihilate me. The extract below suggests Lithuania at that time was fast approaching its destruction.
Crane-like, towards Autumn fly my days
Clamoring, away from me they fly
Days, my days, like wheat you once stood high
But today an empty field am I
It is not the birch that bends me but woe
Even if Lithuania at that time sought for assistance her plea felled on deaf ear till Soviet embraced her. It is this tragedy Salomeja portrayed in her poem
Stones are deaf though to another woe
Like a beggar I will go, with shoulder stooped
Yet I stand before you, bending low
See also the monologue below shows Lithuania’s helplessness and hence melancholic mood.
‘Who will understand Autumnal me-’
The figurative speech autumnal me also shows the deplorable situation of the persona (Lithuania).The extract all have hearts of stone shows the persona is condemning the international community.
At this juncture it is important to draw attention to Salomeja’s poem ‘Mother where are you?’ Salomeja shows Soviet rendered a helping hand to Lithuania, when Lithuania was in dire need of one. According to Marxism the oppressed shouldn’t fight with the oppressed of another nation, rather avoiding narrow nationalism, they should close ranks to foil aggression.
Trees along the roadways marvel
What can all this mean?
Bright as bonfires, crimson neckties
On children gleam
And the eyes of children glitter
With-unheard -of glee,
This days greets joyfully.
Child of war
Posterity should sustain the valor and heroic deeds the preceding generation demonstrated in foiling aggression and ensuring freedom and the territorial integrity of a motherland. Socialist Realists also hold the same view. Salomeja in this poem depicts the obligation of succeeding generations to take into account the shuddering fact that even children not fortunate enough to play their share as their age mates in the other parts of the world did march to the battlefield and fought tooth and nail to defend their country. Succeeding generationsborn after the reversal of aggression, and after peace and freedom reigned supreme may have no inkling to the price the generation prior to them paid bathing in the river of blood to spare their country the ill effects of colonization.
The poem ‘Child Of War’ shows the rifle that served in spelling death to aggressors should be kept as a heritage and exhibited to succeeding generations born under a luckier star. The metaphor Salomeja here used to describe children who march to war is little eagles.
O child of war, preserve your weapons
For future days let it stay,
For they will come and ask their question
What was the world like in our day?
This poem also exposes the debased nature of Nazi Germany, who was inured to the shameful act of fighting with a nation that has no alternative than sending the fledgling and feeble alike to war. Nazi Germany was doing that out of the ill will of subjugating others and plundering (looting) their resources. The extract below exemplifies how hard the war the combatant children faced was.
For them, born under stars more lucky,
It will be hard to understand
How hard the sky have exploded
While battle raged on sea and land?
How, flowing black with blood, could rivers
Rocks bridges bombs had battered down.
They’ll never see it-as you never
Saw sunshine in the world around.
Preserve your weapon, little eagle
Of many battles it will tell
Of days ferocious and heroic
For grandsons to remember well.
This poem by Salomeja aims at emboldening her fellow countrymen to get up, stand up and reverse aggression. In short it provokes a sense of patriotism in line with Socialist Realism. It as well pledges an all out support for patriots. Moreover it hints patriots are scarifying themselves defiant of aggression. It is to be recalled that Lithuania was occupied by Nazi Germany from1940 to 1945.In brother falcons the technique Salomeja brought into play is to use different metaphors borrowed from nature and to ironically convey the encroachment upon Lithuania by aggressors via the infestation of Lithuania by poisonous and prickly weeds. Autumn here is used as a symbol of war. Observe figurative expression autumn has donned its golden Armour. Such thing occurs when the sun is distant or covered with cloud. The extract autumn with heather stride further strengthens the symbol as heather has the denotative meaning of an outlaw, which could suggest an aggression. The metaphoric expressions, she employed to show the invasion of Luthania by Nazi Germany, is manifest in the following extracts Autumn, wolves, burdocks (Weeds), align winds from the west.
It is necessary here to appreciate how Salomeja with picturesque imageries superbly contrasted patriots with enemies. Special appreciation goes to the figures of association she created relating Oak trees(shades) and falcons(prey birds) with marchers grown-ups and young children respectively. Once more notice that the two metaphors are borrowed from the flora of Lithuania.
Autumn has donned its golden armor, Autumn with heater stride, Align winds from the west are blowing, Align winds from the west are raging, Enemies plunder the earth I cherish, Cranes fill the sky with strident clamor, Burdock flourish, My path by wolves was trodden
This poem, as a drumbeat, summons and emboldens youngsters and combatants to salvage their country and rescue their countrymen.
Where are you brother falcons
Where are you hero braves?
Don army coats! Make haste
And tighten the belt at your waist
To indicate that the society will stand by the sides of marchers dispersed in every which direction to defend their country, the persona pledges her support and indicates she never falters from thinking about them.
Brothers my brother falcons
Oak-trees, my forest Oak-trees
Forked are your roads like branches
Sister will seek her brothers.
Blue Sister, River Vilija
One of the principles of Socialist Realism pertaining to patriotism is if one faces defeat or a tie in a battlefield one has to admit the temporary defeat and brace up for future confrontation assessing factors responsible for the failure.
We battled hard and long-bloodstained
We come back from the field.
In water pure our wounds we’ll bath
And with green silk we’ll bandage them.
In ‘Blue Sister, River Vilija’ apart imparting the motto of patriotism, Salomeja had capitalized a love for the motherland and freedom comes next to none. She stressed even the instinct for ensuring or sustaining life comes nowhere near maintaining freedom. River is usually taken as a symbol for the movement of people of a given nation,
in this poem Salomeja had metaphorically used three major rivers in Lithuania namely,
Vilnele, Vilija and Nieman, as a means of getting across her message to the people via a word of mouth.
Vilnele, run to Vilija!
And, Vilija, to Nieman’s shore!
Convey this message: ‘We love life
But love our country even more—
Blue Sister, River Vilija
Make haste, make haste to Niemen’s shore!
Convey this message: ‘ We love life
But freedom we love even more’
Saluting heroes and lauding patriotism is also among the principles of Socialist Realism.
See the following verses are coded to this end.
And, should you ask the stones what sort
Of men we are, they will with one breath
Shall say how valiantly we fought
Our foes whose eyes were closed by death.
Salomeja rendered this poem aesthetic effect using inversion, repetition and enumeration. Such superb aesthetic effect, grabbing attention, helps to ram home the message, people of a nation should put as their top most agenda ensuring freedom and the sovereignty of the nation.
The Nazi Tanks will Never pass
True to the principles of Socialist Realism here Salomeja underlines the need to defend in unison the sovereignty of one’s country and pass down to posterity a country, as the one bequeathed from forefathers, whose sovereignty is unblemished by the dark spot of colonization. This is a typical poem that promotes patriotism. Salomeja pened this poem to embolden her countrymen to palisade their country with their bones and bar every advance of Nazi Germany.
Like one man,stand all our soldiers
Like a warrior iron clad
All alert we stand and listen
All the steppe our keen eyes sweep
On the roads appears a dust- cloud
May be, tanks towards us creep
Fire, we clasp ignition-bottles
Hand-grenades lie near at hand
Far behind us stretch the steppe lands
Quite, spreads our native land.
In our hands, the hands of soldiers,
Lies the fate of mother earth,
All our grandfathers bequeathed us,
Kept for us until our birth.
On its guard we stand this morning
Heady smell the earth emits
Nazi Thanks will not break past us
They will be blown to bits.
Sing my heart
It is not the intent of Critical Realism to consciously transform the people. It affords victims of injustice the luxury of self-pity that swings a room for pessimism. But Socialist Realism accesses the past and present and conjures up in the mind of the victimized a rosy future that strikes shoots via bitter struggle. It is in line with the set objective of Socialist Realists ‘Sing my heart ’stresses inexorable fight and hopefulness. See the underlined words in the poem reveal the intention of the poet– a call for inexorable fight and hopefulness.
Sing, my heart, sing without pause,
Of life, and the sun, and the sky,
Of the warm caress, of the sandy path,
And of clouds adrift on high.
Sing with abandon, sing without care,
Sing as your heart demands;
Learn from the swallow dipping in the air’
From the little leaves clapping their hands.
And among your paeons, sing a lament
For your country, widowed by war,
Enwrapped in mourning veils of smoke,
And weeping upon the shore.
May the song you sing arrest the moan
Of the steppe, where the wild wind runs;
May the song on the lips of marching men
Silence the roar of the guns.
May the flames devouring innocent homes
Be quenched in a flood of tears,
As in your dry, your tearless eye,
The light of wrath appears.
– – –
Sing, remembering your dreams–
For their dear sakes you must-
If once you pause, your dreams will fall
And be trampled in the dust.
Though the devastating nature of the blow a war deals a country locked in an unprovoked aggression is unquestionable, it is mothers that usually got smote by profound grief, and mourn their children on top of their husbands to say nothing about their brothers and fellow countrymen. The grief becomes all the more entrenched, especially if young children, probably who just stopped breastfeeding, (fledgling), turn victims of blatant aggression.
It is this tragic scenario she witnessed in her time Salomeja painted with darker hues in her poem Starsfall. Her poems ‘What would mother have said?’ and ‘Mother where are you?’ are in the same wavelength
The technique the poet here used is a monologue between a mother and a child. The unfamiliar thing here is the response the dead child gives to his mother’s question. The child assures his mother others in their footsteps taking their rifles will defend Lithuania.
The star keep falling, ever falling,
Cold autumn stars pour from the skies.
And mournful, hoary-haired a mother cries.
“Where is my son?” she weeps, bent
The dead, like little boys, feel cold.
Her living glance, the sky reflecting,
Scans the dead eyes with grief untold.
She finds his eyes, his brow she kisses:
“Arise my son attend to me!”
She beats and sorrows like a seagull
“Who, who will set our country free?”
“Let tempest rage and rave and rave around us,
Autumn its bloody harvest reap.
I will arise, my darling Mother
And set our native country free!”
Let us turn our attention to indegenious poems
An indigenous poem under the lens of Marxist Criticism
Yekeremt Magedoch ( Splinters of wood of winter)
Below is given the paraphrased version of the poem ‘Yekeremt Magedoch’ by Debebe Seifu taken from his book.
“Like a damp twig, fighting with water, annihilating water, conceiving fire, we delivered fire. A fire, chocked and blinded by smoke we thus afforded peasants have boiled wheat and the working class a warm soup. Thus if we managed to illumine the hovels of the poor with a dimly flickering light let history then chant our songs and posterity commemorate the twists and turns we experienced and the dreary life we lead for the sake of the oppressed.”
dƒ” ›UÖ” …›UÖ”…›UÖ”
“ÚKÚM”Kƒ ¾ÉG¨<” ÔÐ kX ŸM ß^a
“ucM”Kƒ ²”É ¾›`f ›Å\” ”õa
¾c`„ ›Å\” Q´w Kce ÁK ia
]¡ Ã²U[¨< ¾—” ”Ñ<`Ñ<a::
²S” ÃSe¡[¨< ¾—” ¨<×¨<[É
The progressive members of a society, on the behalf of the oppressed pay selfless sacrifices on the altar of liberation. Gutted down to ashes by fire, splinters (fire woods) serve to cook the foods people eat. Sometimes the splinters get soaked, may be by rain. First the fire has to strike out the water before the splinters glow red. But in the mean time the cooks get chocked and blinded by the smoke, which forces them to continuously blink as well .It is with a brilliant metaphor creating analogy between the progressive members of a society, who sacrifices themselves to liberate the oppressed, with the gutting down of a firewood (splinters) to ashes serving a source of energy for cooking and illumining the dark. Debebe Seifu in his poem ‘Yekremt Magedoch’ demonstrated literature could be unleashed in supporting the oppressed class and exposing the exploitation of the majority in line with Marxist Criticism. He has managed to show boiled wheat and a warm soup are humble foods. Debebe in this poem shows the income of the peasant and the working class is so meager that it can’t afford them even to have these humble foods. He thus exposed the expropriation of peasants and the proletariat by their expropriators. He further showed the progressive members of a society should inexorably fight to see to the catering of bare necessities to peasants and the proletariat. It as well is in line with Socialist Realist’s theory of Klassovost.
A hero who did what every one dreams
to make the best of one’s self
The hero lived short, yet enormous
Showing what it means to be living
Shining out the flame of his heart
Reveling the power of love
Enjoying miracles of faith
The hero died, buried in hearts
To make more heroes, to wake sprits
The hero died to live longer.
The zigzag in line construction she used on the first stanza shows the persona lived alacritous to the dictates of his wish.///