• August 24, 2014
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In Miłosz’s Raudonka

Raudonka. This is how Czesław Miłosz used to call a village near Vilnius that officially was named as Raudówka or Rawdonka. Poet’s father, Aleksander Miłosz, was an avid hunter and he bought a wooden manor house and few hectares of ground in Raudonka.

Right next to it, there was the Rudniki Forest, rich in capercaillie and moose. Aleksander Miłosz often took his son Czesław with him for hunting.

They were going from Vilnius to the south, in the direction of Jaszuny. On the way they just passed Marijampol and were already in Raudonka. Milosz himself in the book Abecadło confessed: Descriptions of hunting in The Issa Valley were not taken from the district of Kėdainiai, but from the holiday hunting in Raudonka, which was used to being named like that probably because of the rust-coloured water in a small river, because “raudonas” means red in Lithuanian.

Behind the small river a lot of vipers nested in the swampland. In the autobiographical poem “Vipera berus” (this is the Latin name of the common viper), the poet goes back to the days of his boyhood memories. Here is a fragment of the poem:

Stoję na mszarynie w Raudonce koło Jaszun (I’m standing in the swampland in Raudonka near Jaszuny)

i ogon żmija właśnie znika w kępie mchu (and the viper’s tail has just disappeared in a clump of moss)

pod karłowatą sosenką, (under the little young pine,)

kiedy naciskam cyngiel (when I press the trigger)

i wywalam ładunek śrutu z berdany. (and blow out pellets from the Berdan rifle.)

We decided to find Raudonka, which no longer can be found but only on old maps from before the Second World War. In Mariampol we met Janina Gryniewicz, who works in the prefecture, and who helped us locate the former colony.

Today, after 70 years, the area overgrew with trees and only the avenue of old maples leads into the forest, where there used to be buildings, including wooden summer house of the Miłosz family. Ms Janina brushes away the leaves and pine needles with a stick. It reveals the stone underpinning. Here is a clear outline of the foundation of a larger building and a track of the basement – there probably was a basement cottage house. Silence. And only slender pine trees are the guard of memory.

When we go back to the car through the old maple avenue, our guide tells us that her husband, who comes from here, told her that in his youth, when they went to the forest to pick mushrooms and berries, they always took a “rogacina” with them, which was a thick, forked branch. In case that if they encounter a viper, they would have something to defend themselves, to push the reptile to the ground.

Józef Szostakowski

Photograph: the author

„Tygodnik Wileńszczyzny”

Translated by Paulina Baca within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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