- June 8, 2014
12th Days of Polish Studies at Vilnius University
Academic life consists not only of courses, seminars, and exams, but also of intellectually stimulating leisure activities. One of them are Days of Polish Studies that for twelve years have been taking place at Vilnius University Faculty of Philology.
The event was born spontaneously born out of the students and professors of Polish studies’ initiative. They decided to follow the example of the Philomaths, who were perfectly able to enjoy themselves while also doing something useful – namely, science-related meetings and trips during so-called May-day picnics.
The members of Akademicki Klub Włóczęgów Wileńskich (Academic Club of Vilnius Wanderers) at Stefan Batory University, active in 1923-1939, served as successors of the Philomaths and the Philarets during the interwar period. The main idea of the club was “material and spiritual wandering,” cult of movement and youth. The Days of Polish Studies refer to that activities, to what was wise and useful in the history of our university.
The student conference
The “useful” part of the Days of Polish Studies is the student conference, which is an international event thanks to the Polish students participating in Erasmus, a student exchange programme.
As in previous years, many Polish students were interested in participating in our conference. They gave a group presentation titled “Wolf in Slavic Languages and Culture.” Klaudia Łachacz, a student at University of Warmia i Mazury in Olsztyn, presented also her paper titled “Intertextuality as an Interpretative Category in Bolesław Prus’ The Doll.”
Some of the Polish students’ papers concerned the linguistic research conducted under the supervision of doc. dr Krystyna Rutkowska and doc. dr Mirosław Dawlewicz. Those students were Alina Pacino (“Slavic Loanwords in the Lithuanian Subdialect in Baltic-Slavic Frontier”), who graduated from Polish and Lithuanian studies this year, Agnieszka Malinauskaite (“Lithuanian Loanwords in Sociolect of Polish Teenagers in Vilnius”), a third year student. We were glad to see Monika Bogdziewicz, our last year’s graduate who is now the M.A. Student of linguistics; she presented a paper titled “On an Attempt at a Cognitive Definition of a Notion of ‘Wisdom’ in Polish and Lithuanian Proverbs.”
Two students presented papers on literature – Ingrida Masalskyte, a third year student of Polish and Lithuanian studies (“An Interpretation of Wisława Szymborska’s ‘Nothing Twice’”), and Mantas Tamošaitis, a first year student of Lithuanian studies, fascinated by Polish literature, especially Czesław Miłosz’s works, which, in his opinion, is even closer to students of Lithuanian studies’ hearts than Justinas Marcinkevičius’ poems. Mantas, who learned Polish during a course in a foreign language, presented a paper titled “Czesław Miłosz and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a Bastion of Chivalry.”
“The Miłosz Hour”
Czesław Miłosz, who died in August 2004, was also the subject of the “enjoyable” part of the event. After the conference, we watched a presentation on the author of The Issa Valley, prepared by Albert Tomaszewicz, a first year student of Polish studies.
We could hear the poet’s taped voice, see the landscapes he loved and praised, and recall the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in his memory at Vilnius University (2011). Afterwards, the students read fragments of Miłosz’s poems in Polish, as well as in Lithuanian and Russian. Those fragments sounded like aphorisms, moral instructions for those wish to transcend the mysteries of the poet’s imagination and stop time at least for a moment. How familiar for those are sensitive to poetry those words sounded: “Forget the suffering / You caused others. / Forget the suffering / Others caused you. / The waters run and run, / Springs sparkle and are done, / You walk the earth you are forgetting.” (“Forget”, transl. Jessica Fisher and Bozena Gilewska, 2000), or those: “Writing was for me a defence strategy / Of removing my traces. / Because people can’t like the one / Who touches the forbidden.” (“To”, 2000).
Miłosz’s reflexive poems prepared us for watching Papusza (dir. Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze, 2013), “a story of an extraordinary woman who had courage to be herself.” The titular Papusza (“a doll”) is Bronisława Wajs (1910-1987), the first known Romani living in Poland. She started writing poems at the age of 39, published 3 books of poetry (translated by a Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski) praised by many, including Julian Tuwim. However, the poet suffered a terrible fate – she was regarded as a traitor by the Romani community, suffered from a mental illness, and lived in poverty. Papusza’s story is a metaphor for fate of quiet geniuses, celebration of courage and a wish to serve art.
A trip to Kiejdany and Szetejnie
The last part of the Days of Polish Studies was an educational trip to his hometown, which was also an opportunity to recall the path undertaken by the protagonists of Henryk Sienkiewicz’s The Deluge. During our trip we visited Kiejdany (Kėdainiai), a lovely city at the border of Samogitia and Aukštaitija, where a residence of the Radziwiłł family was located.
No other city – apart from Vilnius, obviously – enables you to feel the multiethnic and multilingual culture of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. You just need to look at Scottish, German, and Jewish districts in the old town, and at rebuilt churches of various religions: two Catholic churches, an Orthodox church, a Polish Reformed church (the Radziwiłł family cemetery), and two synagogues, where now cultural community centers are located. In 1990, the City Hall made Czesław Milosz a honorary citizen of Kiejdany. One of the streets was also named after him.
We also visited Czesław Miłosz’s hometown, Szetejnie (Šeteniai), located 12 km (7.5 miles) from Kiejdany. When we came to the foot of the hill where the Czesław Miłosz Cultural Center – formerly a barn – was located, we saw an unusual sculpture depicting a book that is most important for the area – Miłosz’s novel, The Issa Valley (1955). The sizable masterpiece stands in the exact place where a mansion of his grandparents, the Kunats, was located. As it turned out, six similar sculptures are standing around the Center, each of them depicting a particular translation of the novel: Lithuanian, Russian, Belarusian, French, English, and German. After visiting the Center, we went on the Nevėžis River, depicted in the novel as Issa, to look at the magical meadow and understand these words:
Grasses and flowers grew there familiar in my childhood.
With half-closed eyelids I absorbed luminescence.
And the scent gathered me, all knowing ceased.
Suddenly I felt I was disappearing and weeping with joy.
(“A Meadow”, transl. the author and Robert Hass)
At the end of our trip, we visited Świętobrość (Šventybrastis) where Czesław Miłosz was baptized in a small wooden Church of the Transfiguration, and where his great-grandparents, Szymon and Eufrozyna Syruć, are buried in the cemetery by the church. We also could not miss a church in Apytalaukis (Opitołoki), where the parents of the poet, Aleksander Miłosz and Weronika née Kunat, got married.
Return to daily life
The 12th Days of Polish Studies at Vilnius University came to an end. Once again, the “useful” part has to be replace the “enjoyable” one. The graduates are going to defend their theses, while the rest of the students are going to take exams. We wish them luck, enjoyable holidays, courage, and optimism. Though it is not going to be easy, let their motto be, as Miłosz wrote, “To sing and dance in front of the Lord! / Just because complaining won’t do anything” (“Przykład”, 2001).
The project “Days of Polish Studies” was co-financed by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland through Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Vilnius. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Vilnius for co-financing the student trip and for purchasing book prizes for participants of the student conference.
Dr Irena Fedorowicz
Tłumaczenie by Michał M. Kowalski w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Michał M. Kowalski within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.